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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Liverpool vs Arsenal (Tuesday, 3am Singapore time)
For a second consecutive week, Liverpool will face off against a top London club who are intent on closing the gap between themselves and the champions this season.
Arsenal have looked a far more formidable side under manager Mikel Arteta, who took over from the struggling Unai Emery last December and has already made significant improvements in their defence and midfield.
Under the Spaniard, the Gunners look sturdier and much more capable in defending opponents. With a lethal frontline of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Allexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, they began the season in fine fettle; two wins out of two have got their fans high on optimism, after several years of underachievement.
They can bank on more optimism, as they are on a two-match winning run against Liverpool. Yet both wins come with caveats: the 2-1 league win in July came when the Reds were coasting after sealing their EPL title, while their penalty-shootout win in August’s Community Shield was essentially a friendly tie.
Still, any morsel of positivity will be needed against the Reds, who will be on a buoyant mood after a spectacularly triumphant week.
How the moods had changed so quickly. Two weeks ago, Reds fans were left anxious after a nervous, error-prone 4-3 win over newly-promoted Leeds in their season opener. With no significant new signings, Liverpool seemed vulnerable in their title defence as they prepared to face a Chelsea side who had splurged on five highly-touted recruits.
Suddenly, Liverpool made their move, signing two quality players – central midfielder Thiago Alcantara and forward Diogo Jota – in one Thursday. Both signings astutely addressed the areas which the Reds could improve, and there was plenty of excitement in anticipation to what they might offer.
Then on Sunday, the Reds visited Stamford Bridge, and emerged with a surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win over Chelsea. Not only that, there were several morale-boosting performances: Alisson Becker saving a penalty, Fabinho looking imperious as a makeshift central defender, and Thiago slotting into central midfield with such ease that he set a Premier League record of the most completed passes by a player who played a maximum of 45 minutes (75 passes).
So Liverpool will be full of confidence as they face Arsenal, even without the roar of the fans at their Anfield homeground. A third win on the trot for the defending champions, and suddenly all their rivals will have start chasing them – again.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 0.
Manchester City vs Leicester (Sunday, 11.30pm)
Man City began the new season a week later than other clubs, owing to their involvement in the Champions League. They registered with a superb 3-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, yet it seemed that the ground sentiments have shifted away from them despite the victory.
Before last weekend, City had been many pundits’ choice to regain the EPL title from Liverpool, after they made astute acquisitions in defender Nathan Ake and midfielder Ferran Torres, both of whom addressed their shortcomings last season.
Yet, Liverpool’s double purchases of Thiago and Jota, as well as their imperious 2-0 win over Chelsea, have swung the pendulum back to the Reds. Through no fault of their own, City are not seen as favourites anymore.
Perhaps this may suit Guardiola’s side better, as they are under less pressure to deliver. Certainly they will feel confident against a Leicester side who have proven to be tricky, tough-to-beat opponents.
However, the Foxes suffered a major setback in midweek, when manager Brendan Rodgers revealed that midfield linchpin Wilfred Ndidi will be out for as long as three months with a groin injury during their Carabao Cup loss to Arsenal.
Ndidi was key to Leicester’s fifth-place finish last season as he formed a vital shield to their defence line. With first-choice defenders Jonny Evans and Ricardo Pereira still out injured, it will be a daunting task for the 2016 champions to get anything from their trip to the Etihad Stadium.
SCORING PREDICTION: Man City 2 Leicester 1
Brighton vs Manchester United (Saturday, 7.30pm)
Whatever optimism the Man United fans had for this season was severely dented after their limp 1-3 defeat by Crystal Palace last weekend.
Judging by online comments, the fans are getting fed up with the United directors for failing to sign enough reinforcements to get the English giants back into title contention. Yet, the main problem with the directors is not the lack of reinforcement, but the lack of sales of their fringe players.
United have a bloated squad filled with little-used players, with many on big wages – Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Diogo Dalot, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward may be keen on managing the clubs’ finances prudently during this COVID-19 pandemic, but he may be unable to sign new players if he fails to move these fringe players on.
With no reinforcement since that Palace defeat, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must somehow life his squad for a must-win match against Brighton.
However, the Seagulls are on a high after a 3-0 win over Newcastle United last weekend, and will be keen to end a three-match losing streak against the Red Devils. Man United would be wise not to underestimate their opponents, lest they get sucker-punched again like they did against Palace.
SCORING PREDICTION: Brighton 0 Man United 1