Wednesday 24 January 2018 / 02:41 PM


What to look for in the upcoming weekend’s EPL action

Can City convert possession into goals?

Last week Manchester City again moved the ball beautifully, shape-shifted as they primed to attack, strung passes together, and then… nothing. Again.

It’s starting to look all too familiar. City flat out dominated the toffees, leading the count for passes into the penalty area 25-1. With such quality position, you’d be looking at a 75/25 split between inside and outside shots, yet City sit dead on 50% for the season. Teams are too comfortable sitting deep into their own goal and watching city dance around before nabbing the ball and heading the other way.

The poor attack is leading to defensive deficiencies: Jon Stones still looks like a baby giraffe learning to walk, a scary thought considering his lofty responsibility — Rooney made him look amateurish when he snuck past him for the opener. Their defence shouldn’t be tested too heavily against Bournemouth, but if they do turn the ball over with momentum heading the other way, theres a chance they get exposed again. City still haven’t turned the corner.

Hot Starts

Huddersfield, Watford and West Brom, three of the leagues early surprises packets, will be out to hold serve and continue their winning ways to head into the first international break with some valuable momentum. Getting a leg up on opposing mid-tier teams early in the season is vital, the importance cannot be understated — with the table still to be fleshed out as everyone settles into their spots, getting wins up early before the dust settles can give you a significant head-start, leaving less work to do down the back end of the competition.

All three have winnable games — Watford should be confident in taking three points from Brighton, West Brom make for an interesting matchup with Stoke, whilst Huddersfield will need to show off more of their spirited attack to break down Southampton. All will make for enticing match-ups and give us an idea of how accurate the early performances have been.

Spurring on

It’s almost fair to argue no one has had a more concerning start to the season than reining runners-up Tottenham. Their play hasn’t been necessarily bad, better described simply as ‘the same’. They got out of jail week 1 because Newcastle were unprepared, this week wasn’t the same fate. They managed to break down Chelsea and set up camp in the final third (67% possession), but once again failed to find the final pass that turned territory into points. Chelsea were typically scrappy and relied on their engrained identity to grind out a win. Thats fine, because it was backs to the wall, and they were the champions — this is a proven formula.

The same can’t be said about the Spurs. Games like this won’t usually finish in a loss — Chelsea scoring two goals off 4 on-target shots to win is unlucky — but with the lion’s share of possession, 14 corners their opposition inviting them into their own end, to produce nearly as many shots outside the box than in (8-11) and only score off an own goal suggest the final ball isn’t their yet. They need to be better against Burnley.

How pesky are Everton?

Everton came into City with a gameplan, and even the happenings of the game didn’t change their mind. Scoring early and City picking up a red card gifted them an advantageous position, but they still opted to sit back and grind out, ultimately resulting in the Citizens finding a way through. How that’ll translate against Chelsea is yet to be seen — the Blues are as comfortable pushing the issue as they are firing back on the counter.

Everton are slow: it fits their personnel and gets the most out of Rooney (he can’t lag behind if everyone is lagging), but it leaves them toothless on the counter, passing up valuable opportunities in favour of control. New recruit Gylfi Sigurdsson definitely isn’t going to help that cause.

At the end of the day, they left Etihad with a point, which is nothing to complain about, it just feels short considering the position they found themselves in. If they were to do the same against Chelsea, that would too be considered a success. They may not finish in the top 6, but they’ll influence who sits at the top.

Keep an eye on

August drought: Considering the shots he’s fired off through two weeks its amazing Harry Kane still hasn’t found a premier league net in August. This week is his last chance to break the hoodoo for another year.

Antonio Valencia: The Red Devils unsung hero has been superb through two games, seamlessly toggling between pushing forward and providing coverage at the back. With the imminent return of Luke Shaw, the selection decisions just got interesting.

Chelsea’s formation: Conte’s innovation proved to be a difference maker against Tottenham. Their midfield was constructed to be brutal — Luiz, Kante and Bakayaoko made life difficult for the Spurs enough to stall and recover, but there are still flaws: they lacked creative control, the calming presence and decisiveness in the final third (otherwise known as the ghost of Matic). It’s unclear whether that will work moving forward. Marcos Alonso was best on ground, partly due to the freedom provided by the unorthodox coverage, and Victor Moses looked more comfortable without heavy defensively responsibilities. What Conte runs out this week will be of interest.

Will United continue to impress?: Leicester prefer to let their opposition dictate the pace and respond accordingly, a dangerous game against a confident United outfit.

Liverpool vs Arsenal: Considering how similar they’ve been, it’s fair to suspend all early judgements until after they play each other. Undoubtedly the most important game on the docket.

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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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