SINGAPORE — What are the key matches and storylines to look out for in the next round of English Premier League (EPL) action? Yahoo News Singapore lists the top three:
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Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur (Monday, 12.30am Singapore time)
Their managers may be downplaying their ability to challenge Liverpool for the EPL title, but even this early in the season, a win for either Chelsea or Tottenham in their key clash this weekend would make them out as the most likely contenders to the Reds’ supremacy.
Indeed, both Spurs and the Blues have arguably been more impressive than Liverpool are at this juncture of the EPL season. Tottenham have gone eight matches undefeated while Chelsea are also on a seven-match unbeaten run. Both have the joint-best goal difference among the 20 EPL teams (+12).
No doubt, the biggest reason why Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard are shrugging off suggestions that they are legitimate challengers is that both of them are fewer than two years into their tenure at their clubs. While their clubs’ current forms are stellar there are doubts whether they can last the distance as well as the Reds.
Yet, make no mistake, these two clubs are progressing superbly under their managers. Tottenham under Mourinho have been far more organised and steely in repelling opponents. And striker Harry Kane has been transformed into a surprisingly good playmaker, as he drops back from his advanced position to link play superbly with leading scorer Son Heung-min.
Chelsea have also addressed their defensive Achilles heel effectively, getting rid of error-prone goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and installing new signing Edouard Mendy as first-choice custodian. With new defenders Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell offering far more stability than their shaky backline last season, the Blues have a far more balanced squad to challenge for honours.
It will be a fascinating tactical clash between Lampard and his former boss Mourinho in what will surely be a tight tussle between these two in-form sides. Will the student outwit the mentor, or will the “Experienced One” come up with new tricks up his sleeve to subdue his protege? All eyes will be at Stamford Bridge.
SCORE PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 Tottenham 1
Arsenal vs Wolverhampton Wanderers (Monday, 3.15am)
A sense of dread is creeping up among Arsenal fans, as they watch their side struggle mightily with something they once did with such style and panache – scoring.
It has been 476 minutes – almost eight hours – since the Gunners last scored from open play, and last week’s dreary 0-0 draw with Leeds has pushed everyone at the club on the edge of panic, notwithstanding Nicolas Pepe’s brainless head-butt and red card.
It was barely a year ago when scoring goals was the least of their problems. When Mikel Arteta took over as manager last December, his most pressing concerns were in defence and midfield. And just when he thought he had improved and stabilised those two areas, he now has an even bigger headache with his misfiring frontline.
Several pundits have been critical of Arteta’s overly-cautious tactics, which has badly affected the effectiveness of their forwards such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Yet, Arteta may have no choice: he inherited one of the weakest Gunners squads in decades and had to use all his managerial nous to lift his side to their FA Cup triumph.
If anything, it is clear now that Arteta needs to retool even more in order to find the right balance amid the Gunners. There’s talk that Arsenal are considering a deal for former Spurs star Christian Eriksen, who is struggling at Inter Milan. He would bring some creativity to the squad, although whether he can replicate his brilliance at Spurs after a poor year with Inter is a big question mark.
But in this compressed season, the matches just keep on coming, and Arteta needs a short-term solution to Arsenal’s goal drought in the EPL, with Wolves and Tottenham coming up next. It will be the biggest test of his young managerial career.
SCORE PREDICTION: Arsenal 0 Wolves 1
Brighton vs Liverpool (Saturday, 8.30pm)
At which point will Liverpool’s injury problems catch up with their relentlessness? Ominously for the rest of the league, the Reds have three relatively easy matches coming up – against Brighton, Wolves and Fulham – which they can deal with despite their decimated squad. By then, quite a few of their walking wounded would be back in contention against high-flying Tottenham on 17 December.
With Spurs negotiating a difficult stretch of their season, the Reds have a chance to make use of their easy stretch to open up a lead atop the table. Yet, their schedule is going to infuriate Jurgen Klopp.
Saturday’s early kick-off against Brighton comes after a Wednesday evening Champions League clash with Atalanta, while they also have a short turnaround for their Fulham clash on 12 December, less than three days after an away Champions League tie with FC Midtjylland.
These crammed fixtures will take a big toll on the stretched Reds squad, and Klopp must hope the likes of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara can recover from their niggling injuries before all the tight schedules arrives.
SCORE PREDICTION: Brighton 1 Liverpool 3
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