Friday 23 February 2018 / 05:37 AM


Highlighting the crucial points and what to look for in the upcoming weekend of EPL action

Match of the week — Man United vs Chelsea

There’s no rest for the weary. Fresh off a dramatic 1-0 win over third-place Tottenham, Manchester United will have to again prepare themselves for a battle when they travel away to face the next ‘next best team in the competition’. Chelsea were beginning to rediscover their form, winning their last three Premier League games, before a mid-week 3-0 routing at the hands of Italian club Roma in the Champions League continued their two steps forward, one step back pattern.

Chelsea like to grind, but they won’t want to leave things too late — 10 of the 47 EPL goals scored in the last 10 minutes of game this season belong to United, good for 21% of the total. As they proved last week with an 82nd-minute winner, they have the poachers to pull it out late.

That said, up until that point United barely looked likely, and Conte will be persistent about a defensive improvement after conceding three times on Thursday morning, lifting their average to 1.84 goals conceded over their past six matches – a far cry from the defensive juggernaut they were shaping up as early in the year. Despite the absence of Harry Kane, many acknowledged the Red Devils’ win over Spurs as the confirmation of their legitimacy in the title race, so back-to-back wins over top-tier opponents will leave no room for doubt.

The storylines run deep, whether it’s Nemanja Matic facing the team that sold him after a title win or Mourinho returning to his old home to scheme against the team he also lifted the trophy with. Chelsea have had the running in recent times, with United’s victory in their last meeting the only time in the last 13 meetings they were able to walk away victorious.

The stage is set for another cracking encounter with season-altering consequences.

Surging City

Man City are sitting pretty as they prepare for a showdown with Arsenal, completely peerless in their title pursuit so far. No team has ever reached 28 points with this goal differential through their first 10 games of the season — the only other two to equal them on points (Chelsea 2005/06 and City 2011/12) both went on to win the title, so things are looking good.

After another triumph mid-week — this time over Italian competition leaders Napoli in a breath-taking affair that was filled with non-stop, high-paced and at times mesmerising football— does raise the concern of fatigue due to their sheer workload and output so far, but the depth of this squad is overwhelming.

City currently have four of the top seven goal-scorers in the competition (as well as John Stones scoring as many goals as Messi in the Champions League!), and their never-ending talent pool is helping them remain at full-throttle across all competitions: after falling behind mid-week for a grand total of 13 minutes, the Citizens have now trailed for a total of 58 minutes this season across all competitions, a truly staggering measure of their dominance.

Home advantage might be more important than it appears, with Arsenal winning just five of their fifteen away fixtures in 2017. On the other hand, City have put up 20 goals in their last four home league games, which is more than all but one of the other teams in the EPL. Staggering dominance that will be again tested. Nothing would cap their success better than one more win to head into the international break with all the conceivable momentum.

Pondering Palace

Riding high after going toe-to-toe with the world’s best, Real Madrid, and coming out convincing winners, Tottenham will look to transfer that precious momentum over to their match-up with the lowly Crystal Palace, who are coming off brief respite after clawing their way to a draw by equalising in the 98th minute against West Ham last week.

Palace possess the weakest attack in the Premier League, and after only managing one goal in their last four meetings with Spurs, chances are that isn’t going to change this week. That puts them in dangerous territory: they’ve yet to net an away goal this season in six matches, the second team to do so in history, with Derby County holding the current record with eight goalless games. A draw would be a win for Palace here, anything to stop the bleeding and allow them to recuperate over the break.

Wat now?

Who would of thought that Everton would be under pressure and severe underdogs in the lead-up to a home game against Watford. At times, the Toffees haven’t known which way is up, and with two own goals bumping them up, Everton have the least potent attacking unit in the league sans Crystal Palace.

The good news? In their last 10 matches against Watford at Goodison Park, they’ve enjoyed 9 wins and a draw. The bad — another loss would put the club in meltdown, and a win will do very little to ease the pain. But it’ll be a start.

Keep an eye on….

  • The Europa battle continues: Liverpool are still aiming to lift themselves out of this logjam and regain speed with the top five, and have a great chance to do so against West Ham. Burnley and Watford will look to hold off fellow Europa hopefuls Southampton and Everton, respectively, in tough but winnable games, and Newcastle lurk as a potential jumper if anyone fails to take points. A crucial round for jostling positions in the mid-table.
  • Leicester vs Stoke: these two teams aren’t used to having the ball, currently ranked 18th and 19th in average possession in their games. With both so accustomed to playing without the ball, this could be fireworks as the offences get to open up. Or, it could get scrappy.
  • Perspective on Palace’s defensive vulnerability: they’ve have conceded with the first shot they’ve faced four times this season.
  • Manchester City have scored 35 goals already this season. Seriously.
  • Pochettino has finally found the right spot for Dele Alli, alongside Eriksen and in behind Kane. The success mid-week should encourage him to stick by it.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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