What to look for in the upcoming weekend’s EPL action
Match of the Week: Liverpool vs Man City
Undoubtedly the biggest match-up of the season thus far, two competition heavyweights clash as both their trajectories seem to be on a clear upwards swing. The game is infested with storylines: Coutinho’s possible return, City’s possession-to-scoring conversion woes and Liverpool’s defensive issues are likely to headline the match’s talking points.
From a game-play perspective, the styles will reveal plenty about either side moving forward — Liverpool laid waste to Arsenal by finally unlocking their whirlwind attack, puncturing the backline at will whilst flashing a deadly counter-attack. The latter will factor in tremendously, especially with City’s affinity with controlling possession and camping in the final third whilst being particularly vulnerable when they turn the ball over and momentum heads the other way.
Arsenal were toothless whilst attempting to play essentially the same style as Liverpool, so last week’s triumph isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation of their defence, and City pack a real punch when they get things right. Whether or not they can hold up and capitalise in the open field may decide the game’s outcome, and direction of their season moving forward.
The numbers reflect the slim margin between them — include Everton in the top tier, and with Klopp at the helm the Reds have only lost once in 22 outings (12 wins), whilst City have only lost once in their last 23 home Premier League games, currently on an 11-game streak.
Let’s all take a deep breath. There’s no doubt Arsenal have been particularly poor to start the season, but we should hit the brakes at the talk of crisis. Sure, a 4-3 escape against Leicester was more foreshadowing than it was exciting, Stoke played them tight and stole a victory before the Reds wiped the floor with them. Their 16th-place billing with only three points isn’t anything to cheer about, but have we really seen anything we didn’t expect?
If the Liverpool loss felt like a monumental crisis point, that has to be chalked up to a misevaluation of the Gunners’ ability. This team has an oversaturated, poorly-constructed roster and Wenger has tinkered with the formation and failed to get it right so far. Bournemouth were energetic and pushed City to literally the last minute, but they are one of the few teams that sit below Arsenal, yet to register a competition point. If the Gunners don’t take care of business, and convincingly, then we can talk about this so-called ‘crisis’.
Can the Spurs break out of their funk?
It’s far too early for a contending team to be dealing with form issues, but Tottenham have found themselves in a precarious position, barely treading water whilst putting on a full display of the issues that held them back last season.
If they continue to passively attack and waste field position without chalking up goals they’ll find themselves struggling to crack the top four, let alone challenge for the title. Everton are as good as it gets without playing elite competition, and their defence is dead-on league average.
The Spurs have to start opening up the engine and take some chances. No longer in his least favourite month of August, look for Harry Kane to get back to work and find the net. What Sergie Aurier and Fernando Llorente can add to the equation is also of intrigue.
Freshly promoted Huddersfield Town have competed with surprising comfort in their debut campaign, finding their way to third place behind two stunning victories. They sit alongside United as the only team yet to concede a goal this season.
Their unbeaten run has a great chance to continue, as they travel to London Stadium to take on bottom-placed West Ham, who have struggled to carve out any consistency with a wildly incoherent game-plan. Huddersfield have shown they have no problems taking the fight to their opponents, and will be full of confidence hoping to continue their magical run.
No place like ‘home’
Aside from Coutinho’s possible return, a few teams will look to reintroduce key pieces to their lineups after attempted transfers. Virgil Van Dijk will strengthen the Southampton’s defence despite handing in a transfer request. Riyad Mahrez will remain at Leicester despite making his intentions clear and how tenable the relationship between Aresnal and star forward Alexis Sanchez is anyone’s guess following the nightmare botched move to rival City. The performance of these four will be of particular interest.
- Chelsea appeared to find a rhythm heading into the international break. Leicester will be scrappy, but that is the Blues MO.
- I can’t wait to see Oxlaide-Chamberlain in this Liverpool lineup, but this isn’t the game to introduce him. Next week against Burnley feels like a better introduction.
- With Tim Krul’s loan move to Brighton, Matt Ryan’s game time is in serious jeopardy.
- Willian would get my vote for player of the year through the first three games. Not getting enough credit for keeping Chelsea afloat.
- Word is Frank De Boer is in serious jeopardy of losing his job should Palace not beat Burnley
- Pep Guardiola has big decisions to make with both his formation and lineup. Mendy was impressive, but clearly underdone. LB Danilo looked fantastic, but so did Kyle Walker before getting suspended. There is a chance he uses all three, but with a plethora of attacking options that is equally as difficult.