Tuesday 20 February 2018 / 10:47 PM


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

Kane Spurs a change

Spearheaded by Harry Kane’s sensational form, Tottenham have made strides in overcoming their shooting woes that held them back through the first month of the season.

Spurs were guilty of wandering aimlessly on offence, setting up camp and moving the ball around the box before taking an inefficient shot because nothing materialised. Slowly, they’ve worked through the issues, and 10 goals in their last three matches would suggest improvement.

We’d still like to see their number of crosses (25 per game, first in EPL) and outside shots (46% of total shots, 8.9 per game, also first) come down a few notches, which will see their efficiency shoot up even further. The key is opening up clean looks at goal in the right areas that allow their many talented finishers to shine.

It appears that they’re past their scoring struggles, mainly due to their striker catching fire, but an option so potent may be enough to lift them out of the hole. They should control the majority of the possession against Bournemouth, so let’s see them orchestrate some goals with patient, steady build-up. And if that doesn’t work, just give it to Kane.

Crystal Clear

Another week, another tough matchup for Palace. After facing City and United in their last two outings, they get dealt another brutal card with Chelsea, arguably even better designed to dismantle the Eagles.

Chelsea have slowly chipped away at their early-season faults, finding comfort in reverting to their edgy, defensive orientation by sitting back and letting the game come to them, relying on the presence of their midfield to shift forward.

In this lies the danger for Palace: their fatal flaw — outside of a lack of talent — is their careless dribbling: despite only playing with an average of 46% possession (13th) and rarely pressing the opposition goal (27% of total territory), they lead the league in dribbles per game.

They also lead the turnover account with a whopping 30.4 each week. Essentially, they’re defending long stretches and gunning it down the field carelessly every time they capture the ball. The lack of patient build-up play is a major part of the reason they’re goalless, and if they stay the path against Chelsea they’ll have more than the 2.5 goals they average put past them.

With such a heavy mismatch — and Tottenham back in the race — Chelsea need to assert their dominance and make a statement.

Match of the Week — Liverpool v Manchester United

Liverpool’s season is coming to an apex fast, and the Sadio Mane injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. It won’t affect them immediately: the Reds are well stocked and have a readymade replacement in Sturridge up front, but it hurts the depth chart especially staring down the Champions League barrel.

It doesn’t, however, change how we approach their matchup with United. Rather it’s in the midfield that the matchup looks unfavourable. The issue commonly cited is their defence, and whilst that is true, there isn’t any helping their lack of talent in that area. The change — as detailed here — that will help mask the issue will have to come in the middle.

Liverpool’s spongy midfield play has failed to provide enough security defensively for a vulnerable backline, an issue they simply can’t afford against the top sides. United are particularly talented in this area.

Klopp has experimented, but we’re yet to see any substantial change prove genuinely effective. The formation, as well as the lineup, will be massive in both the context of the matchup with United, and in fixing their shortcomings that will impact their season.

United’s dribble penetration has broken down all opposition, but they’ve yet to be truly tested by a threatening offence coming back the other way. Their soft schedule is the only factor that holds back following the instinct of calling them certified contenders, so whilst a battle with an inherently flawed Liverpool squad isn’t true confirmation of their title credentials, this will be as close a barometer as we’ve got so far.

Questions around United are oriented towards how good they can be, but we’re still asking if Liverpool are good at all. After Saturday we’ll be much closer to answering both.

The Vacuum

Who can gain steam in the running for best of the rest?

Burnley have been the most impressive, a pesky unit that plays fundamentally sound football and remains in the contest regardless of circumstance. They’ve only lost once so far, picking up three wins and three draws in the process. They have a chance to solidify their position up high in their matchup with 15th-place West Ham.

Watford started strong but stuttered after their 6-0 thrashing at the hands of City. Drawing Arsenal this week, we’ll find out whether it was a one-off or if they really do struggle defending against high-level attack.

Stoke has been a case of one step forward, two steps back thus far, looking competent shutting out the likes of Arsenal and United but struggling against Chelsea, Newcastle and Southampton. Matching up with City is their biggest challenge yet, and we’ll have a grip on whether they’ll be able to rediscover that patience that allows them to grind out wins late in games.

The clash between Southampton and Newcastle is particularly fascinating, especially in this context. Both sides have been thereabouts, but failed to consolidate flashes into consistency.

Finally there is Huddersfield, the gutsy promotion team out to get anyone who disrespects their ability to push the tempo and dictate proceedings in matches. Their strength in their middle third should shine against Swansea who have struggled in that area.

After the top six sort themselves out, the battle for the remaining two spots is wide open, and with the expected candidates Everton and Leicester toiling down the wrong end of the standings, the space is totally unoccupied. Comparing these teams in a vacuum makes them all seem similar in ability, so how they match up with each other may decide who comes out ahead.

Keep an eye on…

  • Can City maintain form after international break?: They’ve clearly evolved, overcoming usual missteps that had plagued their last few campaigns (Eg: taking care of business against lowly teams) sustaining form, especially after time off is the final frontier. Aguero’s possible shock return could be a massive boost.
  • Aaron Mooy ranks second in the league for tackles made (minimum four appearances), his 3.9 a game trailing Wilfred Ndidi by just 0.1, whilst directing the attack confidently. He’s possibly been Town’s best so far and a major reason why they’re overachieving. Yet he isn’t good enough to start for the Socceroos…
  • Gunners’ course correction: After the dust settled from the premature panic of the opening month, they’ve recalibrated sneakily well. It’s been somewhat under the radar; they need to put forth a confident display make the league take notice.
  • Interesting subplot to United-Liverpool is how the Man U defence handles Coutinho.


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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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