EPL TALK: Spurs, Liverpool negotiate tough tests to be perched atop the table
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:
Clinical Spurs buoyant after swatting Man City away
WHAT HAPPENED: The biggest takeaway from Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday (21 November) is that it is not that much of a surprise result this season.
Spurs have been clinical and steely amid an eight-match unbeaten run since their season-opening defeat by Everton; meanwhile, all season Manchester City have been struggling to produce any semblance of their fluent and fluid football of their past three seasons.
Well-taken goals by Son Heung-min – who is now leading the scorers chart with nine goals – and substitute Giovani lo Celso underlined how well Spurs have improved under Jose Mourinho. They are well-organised and incisive, with Harry Kane revelling in his new role as deep-lying, playmaking forward as he leads the league in assists (nine so far).
While they are deserving league leaders on goal difference over champions Liverpool, the next few weeks will show if they have the ability to last the distance. Besides their Europa League commitments, they will be facing Arsenal, Chelsea and Crystal Palace in the league before the all-important clash with Liverpool on 17 December. It is undoubtedly a pivotal period of their season.
Meanwhile, Man City look in need of a reboot, just as manager Pep Guardiola had signed a two-year contract extension last week. They look uninspired in attack and porous in defence as they lie in 13th place, already eight points off the top of the table but with a game in hand.
There have been talks that Guardiola needs to rebuild his squad and phase out ageing players such as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero, yet these players’ current deputies are nowhere near as effective this season.
Must Guardiola shop around for better talents? Or should he make do with the current squad and perhaps forgo the league to focus on the one trophy that the clubs’ Abu Dhabi owners crave: the Champions League?
These are questions that will dog Man City amid their struggles this season. There is still time for Guardiola to figure out what is ailing his squad, but if City are still far from the top of the table when the Champions League knockout stages begin in February, he may have some tricky decisions to make to ensure the season is a successful one.
WHAT’S NEXT: Spurs will host Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad in the Europa League on Thursday before a tough away assignment against in-form Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. City travel to Greece for their Champions League tie against Olympiakos on Wednesday, before hosting struggling Burnley on Saturday.
Injury crisis? Liverpool prove they are made of sterner stuff
WHAT HAPPENED: They were missing five of their regular first-team starters: Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah. Three of their second-stringers are also walking wounded: Thiago Alcantara, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain.
So Liverpool fans were understandably nervous on Sunday when the defending champions hosted Leicester City, who were leading the EPL table before the international break. A 63-match unbeaten streak at Anfield was on the line, and many feared that the Foxes – with their in-form evergreen striker Jamie Vardy – could end the streak against a heavily-depleted Reds.
Yet, the champions put on a defiant show of excellence in a 3-0 win that really should not have happened, given the injury crisis they were having to deal with. In fact, the victory margin would have been wider had it not been some desperate defending and goalkeeping heroics by a disappointing Leicester.
The win was reminiscent of Liverpool’s 4-0 rout of the Foxes in last season’s Boxing Day clash, which proved pivotal in galvanising the Reds towards their first-ever EPL title triumph.
Can this win do the same? The Reds are level with Tottenham on 20 points at the top of the table, albeit with an inferior goal difference. While it is still relatively early in the season, the victory is at the very least a huge morale booster to the squad, giving their injury woes.
It also shows the meticulous preparations behind the scenes at Liverpool, which made their long-awaited move to new training facilities during the international break. High-intensity training and video analysis have become the norm for the Reds’ pre-game preparations, ensuring every player is on the same page to carry out on-pitch duties for the team.
In short, a weekend that could have been filled with demoralising setbacks has instead turned into one full of positives. A club-record 64 matches unbeaten at home, a sparkling win over a title-challenging rival, and an ominous sign for all their challengers that the Reds are able to find ways to win despite their injuries.
WHAT’S NEXT: A home Champions League clash against Atalanta on Wednesday is swiftly followed by a trip to 16th-placed Brighton on Saturday for Liverpool. Leicester, on the other hand, travel to Portugal to face Braga in their Europa League clash on Thursday, before hosting 17th-placed Fulham next Monday.
Red Devils, Gunners struggling for consistency
WHAT HAPPENED: Right in the middle of the EPL table are two former champions still struggling to rebuild after their glory years. Manchester United, in 10th spot, and Arsenal, in 11th, are sadly shadows of their former dominant selves as they continue to seek the elusive formula to return them to league success.
Both of them have the same points (13) and goal difference (-1), although Man United have a game in hand. And of late, neither of them have shown any semblance of fluency to string a bunch of victories to climb up the table.
United’s 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford was their first home win in five attempts this season. And while the three points earned was much appreciated among their fans, the lacklustre manner of victory – which came via the penalty spot again – continues to worry their faithful.
“We need to improve” was manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s honest verdict after the match; indeed the Red Devils are craving consistency all season – and struggling mightily to attain it. And they could continue to plod through their fixtures, giving their unbalanced squad rife with underperforming players – a result of questionable recruitments ever since their greatest manager, Alex Ferguson, ended his 26-year reign at Old Trafford in 2013.
Like United, Arsenal have also been mired in inconsistency since their great manager, Arsene Wenger, left the club after 21 years of service in 2018. Unai Emery had come and gone, and now Mikel Arteta is also struggling with team performances after a good start to his tenure.
While the Spaniard has brought stability to the Gunners’ defence and midfield, it is in attack which he has struggled. Arsenal have gone 476 minutes without a goal in open play after their 0-0 draw with Leeds on Sunday, and their unexciting, low-risk offence is a stark contrast to the stylish attacking football under Wenger.
After the match, Arteta was furious at record-signing Nicolas Pepe’s idiotic head-butt and sending-off that hampered Arsenal against Leeds, Yet his side suffer the same malaise as Man United – lacking in synchronicity and fluency. It may take a few more matches before the Gunners can find the right balance of attack and defence.
By then, however, both Arsenal and United may be cut adrift from the European-qualification spots, given the open and unpredictable nature of the season. And that may hamper both their rebuilding efforts, and the vicious cycle of poor recruitment and bad results could go on.
WHAT’S NEXT: United will host Istanbul Basaksehir in their Champions League tie on Tuesday, before travelling to high-flying Southampton for a tough away clash on Sunday. Arsenal, on the other hand, travel to Sweden’s Molde for their Europa League fixture, then host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
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