SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? And how will they fare in their next matches? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this new weekly series:
Winning by any way possible
WHAT HAPPENED: They may not be the best attacking force the EPL has seen (that honour should go to the 2017/18 Manchester City side), the stingiest defence (the 2004/05 Chelsea side let in just 15 goals all season), or even the most inspirational title-winning side (no one can beat Leicester City’s fairytale 2015/16 win).
Yet, this season’s Liverpool team – who are all but certain to clinch their first top-flight league title in 30 years – may be the most “inevitable” side the league has ever seen.
Inevitable, in the way Thanos – the uber villain in the popular Avengers films – described himself, as he managed to decimate half of the universe despite being deterred by a host of Marvel superheroes.
Yes, the Reds may play badly, may concede careless goals, may waste plenty of scoring chances – but inevitably, they will find a way to win their matches this EPL season.
Throughout 27 games so far this season, Liverpool have rarely reached their fluent best; the 4-0 away thrashing of Leicester in December perhaps a rare example of them at their most devastating.
Yet they have amassed a barely-believable 79 out of a possible 81 points, with their 26 victories gained in all sorts of manners: last-gasp triumphs, underwhelming one-goal victories, comfortable but boring wins or – like their latest 3-2 win over West Ham on Monday (24 February) – heart-stopping thrillers.
They truly seem unstoppable, because they never wavered from their belief that their brand of high-intensity football will eventually reap positive results.
Against the Hammers, they were down 1-2 after 55 minutes and struggling to convert scoring chances. Yet, they stuck to their game plan and did not panic. No wild long shots, no hurried passes – they simply played the same way, albeit with an even greater intensity. Sure enough, the goals came from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane late in the match as the Reds won for the 18th straight time.
Therein lies the greatness of this Liverpool side: an utter conviction that they are able to turn any situation in their favour. Even in their lone draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, they had seemed destined to lose before getting an unlikely equaliser from seldom-used veteran Adam Lallana. A hard-to-swallow loss to their fiercest rivals was averted.
Indeed, everything has turned into Liverpool’s advantage this season, even the fortunes of their fellow title challengers. Man City were hit by untimely injuries; Leicester have a thin squad despite their surprise success; and traditional powerhouses (Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham) have had glaring team weaknesses to work through.
Yet, this is not to discount the sheer relentlessness that has propelled the Reds to being 22 points ahead of second-placed City, and needing just four more wins to seal the trophy their fans yearn most for.
As those long-suffering supporters will attest, this has been one of the most stress-free title assaults ever. And really, that should make this Liverpool side one of EPL’s greatest-ever teams.
WHAT’S NEXT: Liverpool should continue their inevitable march to the EPL title when they face second-from-bottom Watford on Saturday. Yet, their faltering performances of late will require some tweaking from manager Jurgen Klopp, especially since captain Jordan Henderson is sidelined for the next few matches with a hamstring injury. Still, a routine win for the Reds. Prediction: Liverpool to win 2-0.
Gunners revival begins to take shape under Arteta
WHAT HAPPENED: Tottenham fans, look away – Arsenal are catching up under the astute leadership of new manager Mikel Arteta.
It is a scenario few Spurs die-hards envisioned before the start of the season. Their arch-rivals had been floundering badly under previous boss Unai Emery, while Tottenham were fresh off a Champions League final appearance, with a spanking-new stadium and a squad of swashbuckling talents under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino.
Yet, it is fast becoming a reversal of fortunes between these two north London clubs. Pochettino has been replaced by Jose Mourinho, key players like Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are out injured and Spurs are struggling to win consistently.
After their 1-2 defeat by Chelsea on Saturday, they have dropped from fifth to sixth spot, with only two wins out of seven league matches this year. With Kane and Son out until at least the final games of the season, Tottenham will have their work cut out to fend off a host of teams contending for European qualification.
And one of them is Arsenal, who are just three points behind Spurs. Like their arch-rivals, the Gunners have replaced their manager, booting out Emery for their former player Arteta, who has been understudying Pep Guardiola for the last few years at Man City.
And evidently, Arteta has learnt from Guardiola’s brilliant management, bringing a similar, eye-pleasing style of play to Arsenal. They have not lost since the start of the year, and there have been impressive victories over Man United (2-0), Newcastle (4-0) and Everton (3-2) on Sunday.
Against the Toffees, the Gunners were confident in stroking the ball around, looking for the right opportunity to send Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang open to score. And the Gabonese striker underlines his fine form with two well-taken goals to take him to the top of the EPL scorers chart, joining Leicester’s Jamie Vardy on 17 goals.
If Arsenal keep improving under Arteta, they may just have the momentum to push for European qualification – an early success indicator for Arteta given how badly they fared under Emery. And Spurs will be sweating hard.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Gunners will play a Europa League tie against Greece’s Olympiakos and an FA Cup clash against Portsmouth, before returning to the EPL to face third-from-bottom West Ham at home. On paper, Arsenal should comfortably win, but with the Hammers desperate to avoid relegation, it could be a fiercely-contested affair. Prediction: Arsenal to win 2-1.
Villa in danger of falling into drop zone
WHAT HAPPENED: It is increasingly likely that EPL’s bottom side Norwich City are doomed for relegation. They are mired at 18 points, six points away from second-last Watford and eight points away from safety.
Which other two clubs will follow the Canaries? Right now, there is a fascinating tussle among five clubs – Watford, West Ham, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Brighton – to avoid become those two teams. Only four points separate 15th-placed Brighton (28 points) and 19th-placed Watford (24).
Villa, one spot above the relegation zone, are mired in five-match losing streak and are desperate to arrest the slide. Ironically, they are in the Carabao Cup final this coming weekend, though few expect them to beat Man City at Wembley.
Once traditional powerhouses, Villa are enduring tough times in the last five years. They have already endured relegation once in 2016 and, having climbed out of the second-tier Championship last season, will be desperate to avoid the drop again.
Yet, save for midfielder Jack Grealish, their squad is woefully thin on talent. Last Saturday, they faced mid-table Southampton and could muster just two shots on target to the Saints’ eight. It is nowhere near the form needed to pull themselves out of this deep funk.
WHAT’S NEXT: Villa’s next few matches are tough, as they will face top-eight sides Leicester, Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool and Man United. It is hard to envision how they can even nick a point or two on their current poor form. Prediction: A 0-2 defeat at Leicester.
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