SINGAPORE — What are the key matches and storylines to look out for in the next round of English Premier League (EPL) action? Yahoo News Singapore lists the top three:
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Chelsea vs Manchester United (Monday, 12.30am Singapore time)
With Manchester City looking imperious at the top of the EPL table, the more intriguing battle at this juncture of the season is for the remaining three Champions League spots, which are currently occupied by Manchester United, Leicester City and – surprisingly – West Ham United.
But no one is ruling out the next three teams in the table: resurgent Chelsea, wounded but still potent Liverpool, and steady Everton. Chelsea, in particular, are enjoying a new lease of life under new manager Thomas Tuchel, going six league matches unbeaten since the German took over the reins.
Tuchel has been a steady hand in getting the trust among the Blues players, with striker Timo Werner starting to regain form after struggling under previous manager Frank Lampard. Yet, Tuchel has also shown his ruthless side in their last EPL match against Southampton, benching substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi for not showing the required performance standards.
On Sunday (28 February), Chelsea will welcome second-placed Manchester United, in what will be Tuchel biggest test so far in his tenure. A win could vault them over West Ham into fourth place.
Man United have returned to winning ways last weekend with their 3-1 win over Newcastle, which came after two consecutive draws. With an all-important clash against Man City coming up next weekend, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be keen to maintain the Red Devils' winning momentum against Chelsea and Crystal Palace in midweek.
His biggest pressing problem is in midfield, where linchpin Bruno Fernandes is showing signs of being overworked in the absence of the injured Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. Veterans Nemanja Matic and Fred lack the dynamism of the absent duo, forcing Fernandes to cover much more ground that he used to.
Against Chelsea, Solskjaer may also revert to a more defensive tactic, as he has done against the top teams. Would another low-scoring affair ensue?
SCORE PREDICTION: Chelsea 1 Manchester United 1.
Manchester City vs West Ham (Saturday, 8.30pm)
With 13 matches left to go in the season, the biggest surprise success story has to be David Moyes' West Ham, still flying high at fourth spot in the league.
Widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season, the Hammers have instead thrived under Moyes, who has instilled a well-drilled, consistent side with stalwarts such as Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna.
It has been a personal triumph for Moyes, who was written off as a top-class manager after his poor stint with Manchester United in 2014, when he took on the thankless task of replacing the legendary Alex Ferguson.
Yet, as the 57-year-old Scot has shown with West Ham – and also with Everton, whom he was a popular manager from 2002 to 2013 – he always gets his team to play at a consistent level throughout the season. In short, they always show up at every match.
Whether they have the nous to beat league leaders Manchester City, however, remains a big question mark. Pep Guardiola's side are, quite simply, unbeatable at the moment. They are fluent in offence and remarkably stingy in defence – a potent combination that has given City a comfortable 10-point lead.
They do have to deal with the midweek exertions of a Champions League away tie, after their 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday. Could they recover well enough for the early Saturday kick-off?
SCORE PREDICTION: Manchester City 2 West Ham 0.
Sheffield United vs Liverpool (Monday, 3.15am)
And so the struggling defending champions will be dragging their battered squad to face the biggest strugglers of the league this season, bottom-placed Sheffield United.
Remarkably, both Liverpool and Sheffield United have the same number of league victories this year – just two each. Both are also on four-match losing streaks in the league. It has been dire for both clubs, who were the undoubted success stories of last season.
It seems increasingly unlikely for Liverpool to make the top four spots and qualifying for next season's Champions League, just as it seems unlikely for Sheffield United to avoid the dreaded drop into the Championship. Yet, both sides are known for their never-say-die attitude, and will be desperate to end their dreadful runs as soon as they can.
Jurgen Klopp will be agonising over yet another key injury absence, this time of captain Jordan Henderson, who has been subbing in as a makeshift central defender with all three of the Reds' first-choice centre-backs out for the season.
Will Liverpool be able to overcome the loss of their influential skipper? Perhaps, against Sheffield United, they might be able to ride on their talents, but with key matches coming up such as the midweek clash against Chelsea and the upcoming Champions League second-leg tie against RB Leipzig, the Reds are running themselves ragged with their depleted squad.
SCORE PREDICTION: Sheffield United 0 Liverpool 1.
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