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 Manchester United (Monday, 12.30am Singapore time)
The two best-supported clubs in the league. The defending champions versus the table-toppers. The best home record against the best away team. What more can fans ask for?
The scene could not have been set better for the first clash between arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester United this season. Rarely have the two clubs approach their clash with both vying for the EPL title at the same time, and the excitement has been building ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men made their charge up the table during the festive season.
Man United have made a mockery of critics who lambasted them at the start of the season for their uninspiring performances. Admittedly short of fluency after a shortened off-season, the Red Devils have played themselves into form – after a 1-6 thrashing by Tottenham in their third game of the season, they are currently on an outstanding 11-match unbeaten run in the league.
While Solskjaer has predictably played down his team’s title hopes, one can see semblances of his side to some of those title-winning Man United sides led by his mentor Alex Ferguson. Both are sturdy in defence, and can counter-attack with devastating effect – a potent combination that has served both managers well.
At the same time, Liverpool are finally experiencing a significant dip in form and results, after sweeping to their first EPL title in dominant style last season. Injuries – and more importantly, the tentativeness caused by the constant personnel changes due to the injuries – have seen the Reds mired in a three-match winless run.
While they certainly would not be short of motivation to topple Man United from the top of the table, Liverpool looked tired and bereft of attacking verve amid their slump. And it is not just their renowned front trio who have looked lost and befuddled of late – their much-vaunted fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are also far below their usual swashbuckling standards.
One thing that counts for the Reds for Monday morning’s clash is their monumental 67-match unbeaten streak at their Anfield home ground. Manager Jurgen Klopp has often spoke about the need to make Anfield a fortress, and the players have consistently raised their game in defending their proud record.
Man United, though, have been quite the masters at getting victories away from their Old Trafford home, with seven of them already this season. The wins might not have been pretty, but the Red Devils have been unerringly effective in grinding out positive results everywhere this season.
Can they stun the Reds at Anfield and extending their lead atop the table? On paper it looks highly unlikely for United, but given Liverpool’s form slump, they might be able to nick a draw – and stay at the top.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liverpool 1 Man United 0.
Sheffield United vs Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, 10.05pm)
Finally, after 18 agonising matches, Sheffield United have won their first match of the season on Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United. Cue immense relief amid the players as well as beleaguered manager Chris Wilder.
The Blades are far from safe though, with eight points – or three more wins – to make up in order to overtake 17th-placed Brighton and escape the relegation zone.
And they have an extra-daunting run of league fixtures coming up: after Sunday’s home tie with Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, they will face league giants Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in three of their next four matches.
The prospects are bleak, but the Blades have proven last season that they can eke out upsets against top sides. They will need every point they can get from these high-flying sides to conjure a stunning escape act in the coming months.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have cooled significantly from their hot start to the season, with only one win in their last six league games. Table toppers a month ago, Spurs have fallen to sixth spot – six points behind current leaders Manchester United – after managing only a 1-1 home draw with Fulham on Wednesday.
Manager Jose Mourinho has come under criticism for his over-conservative tactics in recent weeks, with his team often falling back into a defensive shell after taking the lead.
Yet, his tactics also showed up the defensive deficiencies in his team: despite going in front against Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanders and Crystal Palace last month, they had failed to protect the lead and allow their opponents to earn draws.
Another major concern for Mourinho is his side’s over-reliance on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min for offensive flair. Granted, the duo are undoubtedly two of the best players in the league right now, but as opponents are figuring out how to stifle them, other Spurs players will need to step up and shoulder more attacking responsibilities.
How Mourinho manages this current slump will define a large part of Spurs’ success this season, and the clash with Sheffield United offers a better-than-average opportunity to ramp up their attack and get back on winning ways.
Yet, given how desperate the situation is for the Blades, Tottenham’s defence will also need to be prepared for a physical battle against the anxious Sheffield United players. A intriguing clash awaits.
SCORE PREDICTION: Sheffield United 0 Tottenham 2.
Fulham vs Chelsea (Sunday, 1.30am)
Can it be that 18th-placed Fulham and ninth-placed Chelsea are both without a victory in their last three league matches? It does not speak well for Frank Lampard’s expensively-assembled Blues side as they seek to end their troubling slump and reignite their push for Champions League qualification.
There had been rumours swirling that Lampard was about to be sacked due to the poor run, yet it seems as though he does have enough credit in the bank after guiding a youthful side to qualify for European’s top competition last season. Being a club legend also buys him time among the Chelsea fans to drag him team out of the mire.
Nonetheless, he does not have much time to figure out how to get his disjointed squad to click, nearly halfway through the season. After splurging on six new players in the pre-season, the Blues have yet to become a cohesive unit, with the new signings troubled either by injuries, COVID-19 or being played out of position. (Or in Kai Havertz’s cases, all three of them.)
There is no denying the pedigree of the new players, so it is all down to Lampard and how he moulds them to fire on all cylinders – and blend in with the other talents in the squad.
Against Fulham, whose defence is hardly among the best in the league, Chelsea would to seem to have a better-than-decent chance at ending their lean spell. Ahead of a month in which they face tricky opponents in Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley, Lampard will be hoping his players can play themselves into fine fettle against Fulham.
SCORE PREDICTION: Fulham 0 Chelsea 2.
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