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 Leicester City (Monday, 3.15am Singapore time)
Almost a year ago, a top-of-the-table clash took place between Liverpool and Leicester City. Liverpool had not yet won the Premier League then, but had a 10-point lead over Leicester, who were rebuilding promisingly after their astonishing 2016 title triumph.
A sensational 4-0 away win by the Reds, despite them being at the end of a brutal schedule that involved them travelling to Qatar to play (and win) the Club World Cup, was seen as a key milestone in their eventual success in clinching their first-ever EPL title.
Almost a year later, the two clubs meet in yet another top-of-the-table match-up. This time though, Leicester are the league leaders, with a one-point advantage over third-placed Liverpool, who are level on points with second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
And given the unpredictable nature of this season, the weekend clash is unlikely to be as definitive as last year’s encounter, when Liverpool opened up a 13-point lead over Leicester after a scintillating performance that underscored their dominance last season.
This time around, the Reds are struggling with massive injury issues amid their defence. Both first-choice central defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been ruled out for the majority of the season, while elite right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is a no-go with a calf injury. Left-back Andrew Robertson is also nursing a hamstring problem after the international break, and is a doubt for the clash.
With Mohamed Salah also likely to be ruled out as he recovers from COVID-19 infection, and captain Jordan Henderson struggling with tightness in his legs, the Reds’ squad strength will be stretched to the limit. For the first time in a long while, Liverpool look highly vulnerable.
Leicester, though, have injury issues amid their squad too, with stalwarts Wilfred Ndidi, Caglar Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira ruled out with long-term injuries. Yet, manager Brendan Rodgers has proven an astute improviser of formations, rejigging the team from a 4-1-4-1 setup at the start of the season to a 3-4-2-1 formation that offers more defensive solidity.
And with lone striker Jamie Vardy – last season’s top scorer – still in fine fettle with eight goals so far this season, the Foxes are on a four-match winning run that propelled them to the top of the table.
The question, as always with Leicester, is whether they have the resources to last the distance like they did so wondrously in the 2015/16 season. Last season, they succumbed to injury woes to slip to fifth spot; they would be motivated to prove detractors wrong this time around.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are some ways from their dominance last season, when they won the league with a record seven games to spare. Injury setbacks have forced Jurgen Klopp to chop and change his line-ups, and the Reds have hardly been at their fluent best this season.
They are still grinding out the points, and occasionally showed glimpses of swagger as they stay unbeaten against key rivals Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Against Leicester, they would be eager to maintain their astonishing unbeaten run at their Anfield home, which stands at 63 matches spanning back to April 2017.
Can Leicester do the unthinkable, and lay down a marker for another unlikely title challenge? With Liverpool trying to patch up their wounded defence, the Foxes may have a sliver of a chance with Vardy’s unerring eye for goals.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liverpool 1 Leicester 1.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City (Sunday, 1.30am)
Is this the match for Tottenham to announce themselves as the top challengers to Liverpool’s title reign? Or will this be the match that would finally ignite Manchester City’s title challenge this season?
The next instalment of the rivalry between two of the greatest managers of the past 15 years – Spurs’ Jose Mourinho and City’s Pep Guardiola – will see them pitting their wits to kickstart their respective teams’ season into high gear.
Spurs have not lost since the first game of the season, and Mourinho has already shaped the team in the typical mold of his best sides – tough to beat, well-organised and capable of moments of brilliance.
The Portuguese has already brought out the best scoring form of Son Heung-min’s EPL career, with the Korean topping the EPL scoring chart with eight goals, and has re-shaped Harry Kane from a deadly striker to one who is equally capable at creating opportunities for others.
It is still early days, but Tottenham’s resurgence after a disappointing 2019/20 season is rehabilitating the image of Mourinho, who was viewed as an outdated tactician after being sacked by Manchester United in 2018.
In contrast, Guardiola – whose philosophy of stylish attacking football is the antithesis of Mourinho’s pragmatic style – is arguably still struggling to tweak Man City back into that juggernaut that won two straight EPL titles in 2018 and 2019.
Losing the title to Liverpool last season, coupled with his inability to rid City of their perennial Champions League mental block, have somewhat tainted the Spaniard’s “genius manager” persona. Instead, he is now doubted as someone who overthinks his tactics and makes less-than-astute player recruitment, with City plodding with unimpressive performances this season.
So the two managers meet on different career trajectories on Sunday, and arguably Guardiola is under bigger pressure to outwit Mourinho and kickstart Man City’s campaign. Yet, Spurs are flying high and it would take a massive effort from City to clinch a victory.
SCORE PREDICTION: Tottenham 1 Man City 1.
Leeds United vs Arsenal (Monday, 12.30am)
Another matchday week, another “Big Six” club in a supposed crisis. Arsenal were reeling after a limp 0-3 defeat by Aston Villa just before the international break, and critics are already sharpening their knives over manager Mikel Arteta’s defensive tactics inhibiting his strike force.
While a poor run of three defeats in four league matches – with only one goal scored – is a cause for concern, surely Arteta can be afforded time to fix his team’s scoring problems, given that he was appointed only last December and had done admirably to toughen up the previously-brittle Gunners.
Yet, the worry is that 11th-placed Arsenal may be cut adrift from the top half of the table by the time the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe rediscover their scoring touch. Amid an unpredictable COVID-19 situation, it would be damaging for the Gunners to not be in contention for European qualification.
A trip to 15th-placed Leeds United – who are also struggling after two straight 1-4 league defeats – may seem like an ideal time for the Gunners to break out of the slump. Leeds’ defence have already shipped in 17 goals, the joint most in the league with West Bromwich Albion, and Arsenal’s frontline will be eager to use this opportunity to end their lean spells.
Yet, Leeds have also scored 14 goals, the joint most among the bottom 10 clubs with West Ham. So while the Gunners would be wary of containing their opponents’ firepower, would it stunt their own attacking instincts?
Arteta would need to find that delicate balance fast, before more criticism comes his way.
SCORE PREDICTION: Leeds 1 Arsenal 2
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