SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:
Personnel problems dogging champions as they endure poor festive run
WHAT HAPPENED: Champions Liverpool are officially in a slump, following their 0-1 defeat by Southampton on Monday (4 January). It was their third match without a win, and second match in which they failed to score. Make no mistake, there are growing problems amid the Reds machine that need to be nipped in the bud.
Last season, Liverpool’s successful title charge was partly built upon a superb 100-per-cent win record during the festive season, batting away all comers amid the busy schedule and opening up a huge lead as other challengers faltered.
It could not have been more different this season, as the Reds failed to win any of their three matches amid the festive schedule, and find themselves barely leading Manchester United on goal difference, with their arch-rivals also having a game in hand.
What happened to that relentless team of last season that went 26 matches unbeaten en route to that momentous title win?
It seems as if their vaunted front-line trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have collectively lost their spark. Excluding last month’s 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace – now looking more like an aberration – the trio have scored just eight goals in nine matches since the start of November.
More crucially, without the “insurance” of their two top central defenders – the injured Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez – fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, both crucial to the Reds’ attacking verve, have become tentative and ineffective as they are unsure whether to bomb forward or to protect their backup centre-backs.
And with their only creative midfielder Thiago Alcantara just returning from injury, and it is evident that Liverpool’s offence has curdled and become predictable of late. Together incorporating rusty players returning from injury back into the team’s intricate tactics, and manager Jurgen Klopp has a lot to ponder about to drag his team out of the slump.
WHAT’S NEXT: Following an FA Cup third-round tie with Aston Villa, Liverpool will have to gear themselves up for a momentous top-of-the-table clash with Manchester United at Anfield on 17 January. It will be tough, but there could not no better opportunity for the Reds to get themselves a big boost to get them out of their slump.
Lampard could pay price for shocking Blues slump
WHAT HAPPENED: Just a month ago, Frank Lampard was getting plaudits for guiding his Chelsea side to a 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions. The Blues seemed to have solved their defensive issues, and have a young and vibrant core of attacking players to rely on for goals. Everything seemed rosy for Lampard.
Cut to the start of the new year, and the club great is suddenly dealing with rumours that he may get the sack, after the Blues slumped to a dreadful 1-3 defeat by Manchester City, a match which they were down by three goals in the opening 35 minutes and never looked like recovering.
A poor run of just one win and four losses in their last six EPL matches has put Lampard under immense pressure to set things right quickly. And even so, given the trigger-happy tendencies of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, he may not get a reprieve.
What has gone so wrong so quickly? Many point to Lampard’s inability to get the best out of the Blues’ two biggest off-season signings, striker Timo Werner and playmaker Kai Havertz. Werner, a £47.6 million purchase from German side RB Leipzig, has not scored in 12 games – his worst scoring drought for more than four years – while Havertz has struggled to adapt since his £70 million move from Bayer Leverkusen.
There are of course no guarantees that big signings will be successful straight away, and most other clubs would be willing to be patient for a couple of seasons. However, Chelsea are not like most other clubs; they are notorious for dismissing managers who had even won trophies for them.
So the pressure is on at Chelsea for Lampard, undoubtedly one of the greatest players for the club. It would be a crying shame if he goes, after an underrated debut season last year when he guided a youthful team to a respectable fourth-place finish. Yet, his relative inexperience as a manager is threatening to derail his dream job.
WHAT’S NEXT: Following an FA Cup third-round tie with League Two side Morecambe, Chelsea will make the short trip to Fulham on 15 January. The two matches offer a good opportunity for Lampard to get his team back to winning ways and stop the current slump.
In-form Man United well-positioned to challenge Liverpool
WHAT HAPPENED: Are Manchester United genuine title challengers? After their gritty 2-1 win over a not-to-be-underestimated Aston Villa side on New Year’s Day, the Red Devils are level on points with league leaders Liverpool, and their fans are buoyant after a nine-match unbeaten run in the EPL.
After a shaky start to the season that included a 1-6 humbling by Tottenham Hotspur at home, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has engineered a stunning improvement – if not in playing style, then in being strong enough mentally to grind out victories from losing circumstances. And that is a compliment to the Norwegian’s man management nous to get his players fighting hard for the club.
At this juncture, Man United certainly look like feisty challengers to Liverpool’s grip on the EPL title. Their strikers remain devastating in swift counter-attacks, their defence has been improving fast and, most of all, their midfield has become a cohesive unit capable to breaking up opponents’ attack and instigating their fast-paced offence seamlessly.
There is a still a nagging unease that this is a team also prone to long slumps along with going on lengthy unbeaten streaks. If a couple of their stalwarts – in particular Bruno Fernandes – lose their excellent form, the Red Devils could struggle even against teams in the lower half of the table.
Nonetheless, morale is on a high amid the club and their legions of fans, and who wouldn’t like a truly titanic title battle between two of the most well-supported clubs of the league? Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has already declared that the title race would go to the wire, and that would be an exciting prospect for even the neutrals.
WHAT’S NEXT: Two Cup ties – a Carabao Cup clash with Manchester City and an FA Cup tie with Championships side Watford – precede an away trip to Burnley, before the big one – a daunting visit to Anfield to take on Liverpool on 17 January. All eyes will be on that.
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