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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Manchester City vs Liverpool (Monday, 12.30am Singapore time)
The first meeting between the last two EPL champions sees both Liverpool and Manchester City gaining some momentum after suffering early setbacks in the season.
Liverpool have responded well from likely losing their key central defender Virgil van Dijk for the entire season, winning all their five matches in all competitions and conceding only two goals. Young backups Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips have slotted in adequately as van Dijk’s stand-ins, and there has not been any semblance of crisis yet amid the defending champions.
Nonetheless, it will be a major challenge for both these inexperienced defenders should either of them be called upon to partner Joe Gomez to fend off the formidable Man City forward line. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez will prove a stern test for Liverpool, who have been leaking goals at an alarming rate despite leading the league table.
Man City, though, have been grinding out results despite losing strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus through injuries. Jesus is likely to return against Liverpool after coming on as a substitute in their midweek Champions League win over Olympiakos, but questions linger on his effectiveness after his spell on the sidelines.
The home side will also have to be on guard to repel Liverpool’s lethal front line, especially now that they have a new forward in superb form – Diogo Jota, signed from Wolves, has scored six goals in his last four appearances, even plundering a hat-trick in midweek against Atalanta.
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp will have to decide whether to drop mainstay Roberto Firmino – who has looked jaded of late – and slot Jota alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. He has also to decide whether to play Thiago Alcantara, who has been nursing a knee injury since their bruising derby with Everton but can offer much-needed stability in midfield.
With matches coming in thick and fast since last month, both sides will be hoping to have enough left in the tank to eke out a crucial victory in the title race. Yet it is also likely that they may cancel out each other amid their desire not to lose at this juncture of the season.
SCORE PREDICTION: Man City 1 Liverpool 2.
Everton vs Manchester United (Saturday, 8.30pm)
How times have changed. Whereas it was usually Manchester United in fourth place taking on Everton in 15th spot, it is the other way around this season with the Toffees flying high and the Red Devils struggling for form.
Both are however coming off morale-sapping defeats in the EPL last weekend, with Everton falling 1-2 away to Newcastle and Man United succumbing 0-1 at home to Arsenal. And the meek manner in which both sides got beaten would have grated on managers Carlo Ancelotti and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Which makes Saturday’s early kick-off a crucial match for either side to quickly turn things around before the mood sours further in the dressing room. Man United will have the added difficulty of getting adequate recovery after their dismal 1-2 midweek Champions League defeat by Istanbul Basaksehir.
While Ancelotti – who is in his first full season at Everton – may still be afforded patience in rebuilding the squad to his liking, Solskjaer could be on the firing line if he still cannot lift his misfiring players after 101 games in charge.
The Norwegian has chopped and changed his side’s formation and personnel, yet has still to find a reliable starting line-up for consistent success. One minute his team are on song; the next, they are struggling to string even a few passes together – infuriating for both Solskjaer and United’s sizeable fan base.
Ancelotti, by contrast, quickly settled upon a trusted group of players who can thrive in his tactical system, and the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and James Rodriguez have responded with superb performances that made Everton one of the early pacesetters of the season.
As Everton had the whole week to prepare against Man United, they will have the edge in their clash on Saturday. Yet, United under Solskjaer are often at their best when faced with tough, must-win matches, and they badly need a victory to revitalise their season’s fortunes.
SCORE PREDICTION: Everton 2 Man United 1
Leicester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers (Sunday, 10pm)
With Everton and Aston Villa beginning to fade after their fine starts to the EPL season, Leicester and Wolves looked like the next candidates to challenge the supremacy of the “Big Six” clubs in this unpredictable season.
The Foxes are riding high in second place after a sparkling 4-1 victory over Leeds United on Monday. With Jamie Vardy and Youri Tielemans in fine fettle, Brendan Rodgers’ side are primed to repeat their strong start to last season, when they briefly challenged Liverpool for top spot.
However, Leicester faded badly last season after injuries to key players like James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira, as poor results after the COVID-19 restart led to an eventual fifth-place finish.
They are also hit with injuries to key personnel this season with long-term absentees Wilfred Ndidi and Caglar Soyuncu, but seemed better-equipped to deal with them. If Rodgers can keep his side’s performances from dropping off too much, they could be dark horses for a top-four finish.
Like Leicester, Wolves have been hovering just outside the top six placings for the past two seasons. Perched in sixth spot, they still have a superb first XI with the likes of Raul Jimenez, Adama Traore and Joao Moutinho, although they do look a little thin outside of their regular starters.
Which is probably why manager Nuno Espirito Santo is blooding youngsters such as Rayan Ait Nouri and Fabio Silva to bolster the squad strength, and after an inconsistent start to the season, Wolves have gone unbeaten in the league in October.
Foxes vs Wolves: who will continue to lay down the gauntlet for a top-six challenge?
SCORE PREDICTION: Leicester 1 Wolves 1
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