Tuesday 20 February 2018 / 10:49 PM


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

Pressure Palace

The aim of switching managers is usually to reinvigorate the passion at the club, a new voice recapturing the locker room. Whatever relief was afforded by a 1-0 win over Huddersfield in the EFL Cup will have to be digested quickly, staring down the barrel of the Premier League’s best three teams consecutively in the upcoming weeks.

The hope is Palace can get themselves out of the relegation zone: they have enough talent to climb out the hole, but if they fail to take points in their next three, they’ll be 0-8 and very lonely down the bottom — it’s almost a 50-50 chance they make it back at that point. A three-game run of City, United and Chelsea couldn’t have come at a worse time, and new coach Roy Hodgson will have to have his defence in order fast.

Man City’s offence is humming, and they’ve taken the next step — punishing teams in transition, with 12 of their goals coming in the open field. That’s the most in the EPL, and makes this a nightmare match-up for Palace, who are dead last with the most turnovers (30.4).

City are still pushing hard and hope to remain equal-top with United, so there’s no doubting they’ll be motivated. Their downfall over the past few seasons was always dropping points and taking one step forward and one step back. Unfortunately, Palace may become Exhibit A as the Citizens confirm they’ve truly turned the corner.

Stuck in the middle

Everton are in danger of slipping into the abyss. Their 3-0 success midweek finally gave pause to a horror run that saw them go down 0-12 through their last four outings. Falling way down the ladder, their upcoming fixture with Bournemouth (one of only two teams below them) is a timely chance to pick up some points and find a rhythm that has been completely lost in a torturous month.

Particularly, in an encounter where they should control proceedings, we need to see their middle line move forward and bring the game to the opposition.

It’s been an obvious shortcoming thus far: they rank 18th in play in middle third (42%), and the spacey coverage is giving easy access to their defence, with 33 percent of their games being played in their own end, tied for the second-highest in the EPL. Those are numbers reflecting a relegation-level team, not a big club hoping to claim a Europa spot.

These numbers are skewed, but for good reason — they’ve come against higher level opposition, and whilst it has highlighted only Everton’s weaknesses, it gives them the chance to fix the hitch early before it completely derails their season. Without the threat of Bournemouth catching them out — they rank last in key passes from the midfield with 0.8 a game — the Toffees have to press forward and display what they can do when they control tempo. The fate of their season hangs in the balance and a loss could be catastrophic.

Reds at a crossroads

Liverpool’s flaws always threatened to limit their success, but after only five games, they already threaten to wreck their campaign altogether.

The Reds are an open door: penetrating their soft midfield is easy, direct access to a vulnerable back four that hasn’t shown up thus far, poor defending set pieces and too often succumbing to the slightest physicality. They currently rank first in opponents’ shots inside the six-yard box, a terrifying statistic that underpins everything that will hold them back in the title race.

Leicester will be a fascinating test, especially because of the style clash. The Foxes are bullish through the middle, but they’re most comfortable sitting deep and clearing their own lines. They also block 8.2 passes and 5.8 shots per game, the fourth- and second-most respectively. Nothing gets through them and they commandingly reject any attempts to break their lines apart.

Meanwhile, six of Liverpool’s nine goals have come from open-field play, with another two on the counterattack, so we’re yet to see them successfully break down a defence. We’ll see where that’s at as they attempt to take it to Leicester, who they lost to at King Power midweek in the EFL Cup.

Road to recovery

The Gunners have started this season far from their best, but better times are looming. They weren’t their usual spongey selves last week in a scoreless draw with Chelsea, and showed hope they may be able to lift for big games, an encouraging sign considering the pandemonium after failing to show up against Liverpool a few weeks back.

They still didn’t win, but they at least managed a slight course correction. There’s still plenty of work to be done, and considering Burnley pose no threat through the centre — playing only 41% in the middle third, the lowest rank in EPL — Arsenal should use the match to continue to solidify and grow in confidence, hopefully erasing the aftereffects of their porous form.

Also keep an eye on…

  • How Pogba’s injury influences United. Was he a product of a good team playing well, or the driving force behind a true contender?
  • Match of the week – Chelsea vs Stoke: Perfect timing, as two teams that are on the brink of determining just exactly who and what they are come up against each other at a pivotal and defining point in their seasons. Stoke fell behind the race of the mid-tier in a loss to Newcastle whilst Chelsea sit perched as the clear third best team but still far behind the leading Manchester clubs. How they perform, and especially in context to one another, is massively important on multiple levels. We’ll know more about both after the weekend.
  • Last week we looked at Renato Sanchez’s potential to boost Swansea if he clicks, but the problem has become clear — he’s simply trying too hard. His 6.5 turnovers per game is the highest average in the league, and he’s giving away valuable ball that his team is working for long stretches to earn. Patience will overcome discomfort, but he needs to let the game come to him.
  • Aside from territory and pace, Everton also lack width — they rank behind only Swansea as the least expansive team in the league, 79% of their attempts coming centrally. They are crying out for variance.
  • Aaron Mooy has become a linchpin for the Huddersfield offence, but it’s his defensive numbers that catch the eye. The Australian midfielder averages 3.8 tackles a game – good for third across the entire league – and is rarely beaten, completing an efficient 82% of tackles.

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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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