CHAPMAN: Man U’s choice of Rangnick lauded as smart

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Just 12 games into the season, Manchester United became the sixth Premier League team to sack their manager last week. After embarrassing losses at home to main rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, the United board felt OK not making a change prior to the international break to give them two weeks to reset.

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They stuck with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but then a 4-1 drubbing by 16th-place Watford was the final straw. They named Solskjaer assistant Michael Carrick as ‘caretaker manager’ for their Champions League win vs. Villareal and this weekend’s daunting game at Chelsea, but next week Ralf Rangnick will become interim manager for the rest of the season. Following that the Red Devils are expected to make a hard run at Paris St. Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino. Rangnick, who has served as a Director of Football in Germany as well as being a manager, is being talked about staying on in a role similar to that if they get Pochettino.

While United have been a rudderless, reactionary mess since Sir Alex Ferguson left, the appointment of Rangnick is being met with universal praise. Organized, purposeful and one that follows a coherent plan, he is seen as a mentor to two of the Premier League’s top managers, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. If the board backs off and lets him make the decisions, it could finally see United make progress.

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The other game to keep an eye on is West Ham visiting Manchester City. With United and Leicester faltering West Ham looked to be the surprise team to break into the top four, especially after handing Liverpool their first loss of the season just prior to the international break to move into third place. But they dropped a spot with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Wolves last week. Can they halt City’s momentum or are they staring at a second-straight loss. West Ham don’t play the possession game the top teams do, they just 11th sit in passes, but they do generate chances even if they’re more direct in doing so, and are fourth in shots taken.

This is also the part of the season where midweek games join the schedule and the fixtures come thick and fast. Following the weekend you’ve got a menu that gives us the normally intense Merseyside Derby between Everton and Liverpool, Manchester United taking on Arsenal and Manchester City taking on Aston Villa. Depth, injuries and luck all play a big part this time of year and this time next week the storylines could shift drastically.

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SATURDAY: Arsenal v. Newcastle; Crystal Palace v. Aston Villa; Liverpool v. Southampton; Norwich v. Wolves; Brighton v. Leeds.
SUNDAY: Brentford v. Everton; Burnley v. Tottenham; Leicester v. Watford; Manchester City v. West Ham; Chelsea v. Manchester United.
TUESDAY: Newcastle v. Norwich; Leeds v. Crystal Palace.
WEDNESDAY: Southampton v. Leicester; Watford v. Chelsea; West Ham v. Brighton; Wolves v. Burnley; Aston Villa v. Manchester City; Everton v. Liverpool.
THURSDAY: Tottenham v. Brentford; Manchester United v. Arsenal.

SPANISH LA LIGA

If you accept that Barcelona are in rebuild mode after as disastrous an offseason as you could imagine, then the big story in Spain has to be the indifferent form of defending champions Atletico Madrid. They lost in the Champions League to AC Milan this week to see them drop three in a row in that competition for the first time ever. They have two wins and three draws in their last five league matches and sit four points off leading Real Madrid. But they have scored 10 fewer goals than their cross-city rivals.

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While manager Diego Simeone is known for his boring, tight defensive style, the list of attackers they have is staggering. Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, Angel Correa, this team should be scoring more goals.

Cadiz could be the perfect tonic this weekend, while they sit in 16th, only last-placed Levante have given up more goals this season.

The other match to watch is Real Madrid hosting third-placed Sevilla, who have the second-best defensive record in La Liga only giving up nine goals in 12 matches. A win would see them vault Madrid, however second-placed Real Sociedad could stay ahead of them with a win against Espanyol.

FRIDAY: Athletic Bilbao v. Granada.
SATURDAY: Alavés v. Celta Vigo; Valencia v. Rayo Vallecano; Mallorca v. Getafe; Villarreal v. Barcelona.
SUNDAY: Real Betis v. Levante; Espanyol v. Real Sociedad; Cádiz v. Atlético Madrid; Real Madrid v. Sevilla.
MONDAY: Osasuna v. Elche
WEDNESDAY: Real Madrid v. Athletic Bilbao.

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ITALIAN SERIE A

What a week last week was. Napoli lost their undefeated record letting Internazionale back into the title race, but AC Milan couldn’t take advantage as they also lost their first to Fiorentina.

Napoli and MIlan could have really pulled away at the top, but now Inter sit just four points back of the pair.

Juventus were in doubt of really fading into oblivion, but their win last week brought them to within four points of the Champions League places. They followed that up with a dreadful 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea in the Champions League which has the Italian press in a frenzy. They have a massive pair of matches in the next seven days facing fourth-place Atalanta and then Salenitana.

You would expect them to win the latter match, but if they lose to Atalanta they’ll be seven points out of the last Champions League spot and that just won’t be acceptable to their board or their fans.

FRIDAY: Cagliari v. Salernitana.
SATURDAY: Empoli v. Fiorentina; Sampdoria v. Hellas Verona; Juventus v. Atalanta; Venezia v. Inter Milan.
SUNDAY: Udinese v. Genoa; AC Milan v. Sassuolo; Spezia v. Bologna; Roma v. Torino; Napoli v. Lazio.
TUESDAY: Atalanta v. Venezia; Fiorentina v. Sampdoria; Salernitana v. Juventus; Hellas Verona v. Cagliari.
WEDNESDAY: Bologna v. Roma; Inter Milan v. Spezia; Genoa v. AC Milan; Sassuolo v. Napoli.
THURSDAY: Torino v. Empoli; Lazio v. Udinese.

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