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Saturday 31 August 2013

Souness: 'North London clash will be close'

Former Tottenham man, now Sky Sports pundit, previews Liverpool v Man Utd, Arsenal v Spurs

  • Robin van Persie scores in Man Utd's 2-1 win at Liverpool last season

  • Souness believes Arsenal will find Spurs harder to break down than they did last season

  • Souness (centre) will be in the studio for Sky Sports' coverage of Super Sunday

Two of the biggest matches in the Barclays Premier League calendar will take place on Sunday when Manchester United host Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur make the short trip across North London to take on age-old rivals Arsenal.

Both matches are being covered by Sky Sports exclusively live in HD, on Sky Go and also available via Sky Sports Day Pass on NOW TV. Ahead of 'Super Sunday', premierleague.com caught up with Sky pundit Graeme Souness, who explained why Liverpool are going to "go after" United at Old Trafford and why he thinks a new-look Spurs will be able to contain Arsenal’s "lightweight" midfield in the North London derby.

"It can be a hostile atmosphere which, if you’re a big player, you’ll enjoy"
Graeme Souness

Liverpool v Manchester United

Premierleague.com: Do you think this fixture come at a good time for Liverpool?
Graeme Souness:
Well they’ve played two, won two. Their tails will be up. Manchester United will feel they are playing well, too, and this historically is the big fixture for both sets of supporters. The rivalry goes way back to before I played so both teams will be full of confidence going into this game.

PL.com: You know what it's like to be in the Anfield hotseat. How is it for a manager in a fixture of this magnitude?
GS:
Well, you’re aware of the history of this fixture. Right now, Man United are the team to beat. They're the reigning champions, they've dominated English football for the last 20 years so it’s a challenge for Brendan Rodgers. But obviously the challenge is there for David Moyes as well to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, who is responsible for this domination, so there’s pressure on both of them.

As a manager you are aware of the historical rivalry and if you’re not, you’ll soon realise it when you walk up the tunnel and you feel the atmosphere within the stadium – and it can be a hostile atmosphere which, if you’re a big player, you’ll enjoy.

PL.com: Both managers are striving to leave their own legacy at their respective clubs, but is it fair to say the pressure is more on Moyes? Is it a game he can't afford to lose?
GS:
There's never a game you can't afford to lose. As champions United are the team to beat. They never have any easy games because when the fixture list comes out, people look at when they are going to play United.  So Liverpool will have been looking forward to this one, because they will see this as an opportunity, they will be thinking, 'If we can turn over United the confidence in the stadium going forward and the belief in the players going forward will propel us to another level of confidence.'

United test

For Man United, they are a team that’s used to winning and dominating the league this is a different type of test. 'We're turning up with a new manager, we're current champions; can we keep it going again?' These are big players who will enjoy the hostile atmosphere that will be in the stadium. If you've anything about you, these are the games you want to play in. And you don't just want to play in them, you want to show that you’re the top man at this level. And there are some big players out there on Sunday.

"This is the No1 fixture that Liverpool will play at Anfield all season"
Graeme Souness

PL.com: What have you made of Liverpool so far this season?
GS:
They were expected to beat Stoke in the first game and it was a good result against Aston Villa. After Villa's result against Arsenal that one was billed as a difficult game, and it was difficult because Villa are full of youth and they will have gone into that game with their tails up having beaten Arsenal. I wouldn't use the Capital One Cup win over Notts County in extra-time as any gauge for Sunday's match. This is the No 1 fixture that Liverpool will play at Anfield all season: Man United coming to town.

PL.com: What approach do you expect Liverpool to adopt on Sunday?
GS:
They’ll go after them. Brendan Rodgers has got them playing the right way, he’s got them trying to put teams under pressure from start to finish. And that’s an obligation if you’re a Liverpool player, especially at Anfield.

PL.com: Is that not a dangerous policy to adopt, though, against Man United?
GS:
United are a dangerous team full-stop. They’ve got people who can run the game single-handedly, they’ve got a defence that all know their strengths and weaknesses which make them a formidable unit. They’ve got a midfield that might not be the strongest they’ve had but it’s still very functional. You’ve got Tom Cleverley, who’s perpetual motion; you’ve got Michael Carrick, who’s a clever passer of the ball. If Antonio Valencia plays, he’s another Cleverley type: non-stop, perpetual motion.

Moyes intelligence

Man Untied have got a mixture that has served them well for years and they won’t be doing too much different in terms of their attitude to games, in the style of football they try to play, in where they were with Fergie to where they are with David Moyes. Moyes is clever and intelligent. He's not going to go there and ask them to play in a different way. This is a team that’s used to winning trophies every year and playing in a certain way; you’re not going to change that.

"Moyes is clever and intelligent. He's not going to go on there and ask them to play in a different way"
Graeme Souness

PL.com: What do you make of Daniel Sturridge’s displays this season?
GS:
I’m a fan. The only question mark against  Sturridge is there must be a flaw in his character. There must be something missing somewhere.  He’s been at Man City and Chelsea, two fabulous football clubs, and he’s not done the business yet. Why? He’s at another great football club, the supporters will love him if he does the business, but at the same time will get after him if he’s not putting the effort in. He’s a young man with enormous potential who needs to get himself in the England team and be a regular. He’s got to find that consistency now.

PL.com: Can Liverpool challenge for the title this season?
GS:
No, I don’t think they’ve got the strength in depth. It’ll be between Man City, Man United and Chelsea, and come Christmas the New Year, Champions League teams, who have the bigger squads, that’s when you see them kick on when the others suffer from fatigue and injuries.

Arsenal v Spurs

PL.com: With Spurs having made a decent start and having strengthened considerably in the transfer market, do you detect a power shift in North London?
GS:
The ones they’ve brought in appear to be sound investments. Is there any star quality? I can’t talk about Erik Lamela because I’ve never seen him play. Etienne Capoue and Paulinho look to be very steady midfield types. We can pass judgment on them about Christmas time, but they’ve certainly improved the general quality throughout the squad but they’ve appeared to have lost genuine star quality in Gareth Bale. So let’s see whether it takes these foreign arrivals a season to understand the demands of the English game. Two games in, though, I’m not going to say there’s a power shift in North London, no.

"They’ve certainly improved the general quality throughout the squad but they’ve lost genuine star quality in Gareth Bale"
Graeme Souness

PL.com: Is this a good time to play Spurs, whose new players are still looking to gel?
GS:
Well, is it a good time to play Arsenal? I wouldn’t say it’s a good time, no. Neither of these teams are going to win the league. The time to judge both these teams will be at Christmas. Whether Arsenal’s inactivity in the transfer market causes them a problem or on the reverse side of that whether Tottenham’s activity in the transfer market turns them into a team that can threaten to win the title, we’ll see, but I don’t think either will win the title. It’s still way too early to draw conclusions.

PL.com: You mention Arsenal’s inactivity in the transfer market, but is that they have not lost any key players, as in the past, a strength going into this game?
GS:
Any Arsenal supporter would tell you, ‘No’. Barcelona don’t want any of their players, Man United don’t want any of their players, Real Madrid don’t want any of their players this time around. It’s a reflection of where Arsenal are.

PL.com: So who do you make favourites for this match?
GS:
Home advantage is a big thing but Tottenham will go there with a new midfield which appears to be more difficult to break down. I can see it being a draw. Tottenham are a more solid outfit now, but will they have the same wow factor without Gareth Bale? No.

'Solid' Spurs

PL.com: So we can’t expect another 5-2 this time around?
GS:
No. Tottenham look a solid outfit. They’ve got a an excellent goalkeeper, a young left-back now, Danny Rose. Tottenham look solid throughout without the wow factor, Gareth Bale. Whereas Arsenal are no different to how they were last year.

"Arsenal look to dominate the ball, especially when they’re playing at home, but their midfield is quite lightweight"
Graeme Souness

PL.com: They’ll be without Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who are both injured. So where do you see the battle being won or lost. Who will be the key protagonists?
GS:
Arsenal look to dominate the ball, especially when they’re playing at home, but their midfield is quite lightweight. I look at Tottenham’s midfield and I see big, powerful men, like Paulinho and Capoue, Mousa Dembele and that more powerful midfield could be the area where the game is won or lost.

PL.com: Arsenal Wenger has said that he is looking to augment his squad in the transfer market. Do you think then this is the area that needs addressing?
GS:
What they need is a different type of midfield player. They’re all quite similar. They’re lightweight and they look great on the ball but when they’ve not got the ball they’re too easy to play against.

PL.com: Arsenal have already suffered one home defeat? Do you think they are susceptible to being picked off again like they were by Aston Villa?
GS:
  No, I don’t think you can compare that result. This is a derby game and in derby games that old cliché exists: anything can happen. It’s going to be interesting, as Tottenham will be turning up with a new team and Arsenal are turning up with the same old, same old. Derby games are always tough to call. You get teams at the bottom of the league playing teams at the top and because it’s a derby there are different pressures involved and things happen. But on this occasion I think it’ll be a close encounter.

Super Sunday starts at 12:30pm this weekend and features Liverpool v Manchester United followed by Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur exclusively live in HD, on Sky Go and also available via Sky Sports Day Pass on NOW TV. To find out more go to www.Nowtv.com.

For a look at how Sky Sports operates behind the scenes, click here.

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Key Points

  • Premierleague.com speaks to Sky Sports' Graeme Souness ahead of Liverpool v Man United and Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday
  • Souness says Liverpool will 'go after' United at Anfield in pursuit of a confidence-boosting win
  • The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder says a more 'solid' Spurs side can negate Arsenal's home advantage in the north London derby