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 United vs Tottenham (Sunday, 11.30pm Singapore time)
Whenever Jose Mourinho brings his current team to one of his former clubs, it is always an intriguing occasion because, for better or for worse, he has always left his imprint on every club he has coached.
While few Manchester United fans will feel nostalgic about the Portuguese’s underwhelming three years in charge of the club from 2016 to 2018, most will have a sense of trepidation when his Tottenham side come visiting on Sunday (4 October).
Mourinho’s Old Trafford tenure was marked by uninspiring football, even though he still managed to guide the Red Devils to Carabao Cup and Europa League wins, as well as a second-place finish in 2017/18 EPL season. Crucially, he was unable to bring out the best in United stars such as Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial.
And now he is back with Spurs, who are showing signs of becoming a tough-to-beat side, even though they may not be as entertaining as they were under previous manager Mauricio Pochettino.
And it will certainly be a tough test for the current Man United side, who have started the season tentatively, with a poor 1-3 defeat by Crystal Palace followed by a fortunate 3-2 win over Brighton.
Are United still trying to repair the numerous missteps made by Mourinho during his unhappy tenure? While big-flop Sanchez is finally off their payroll, Pogba and Martial have yet to become consistent contributors, while numerous other bit-part players are proving hard to be moved on.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has pleaded for patience in rebuilding the Red Devils, and he could buy more time if he can get a good result against Tottenham and finally get the season going for his team. Much would depend on whether United’s shaky defence can hold off the twin threats of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
On the other hand, Spurs may be tired after playing two midweek matches for the Carabao Cup and Europa League competitions, and United’s quick frontline of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood can exploit any sense of fatigue by Mourinho’s men.
This should be a crucial match for both sides to kickstart their EPL campaign, and arguably Mourinho holds the key to devising a way past United’s defence, if his players could lift themselves after an exceptionally-gruelling phase of their season.
SCORE PREDICTION: Man United 1 Tottenham 1.
Leeds United vs Manchester City (Sunday, 12.30am)
Is it too early to say Manchester City are in crisis mode? Of course it is, but it has not prevented a sense of panic creeping in among their fans that their expensively-assembled squad could concede five goals against Leicester City last weekend and already faltering in their quest to regain the EPL title.
For all of Pep Guardiola’s expertise in creating an exceptional attacking style, he has not been able to refine City’s defence into a cohesive unit ever since former captain Vincent Kompany departed after the 2018/19 season.
That proved to be their Achilles heel last season, when they lost nine times in the league despite scoring the most number of goals to finish second behind Liverpool. No matter what defensive pairing Guardiola came up with, they were liable to crack if opponents pressed them hard and forced them into making stray passes and panicky clearances.
And that is exactly what Leeds United will plan to do when they meet on Sunday. There is nothing secretive about Marcelo Bielsa’s strategy; the Leeds boss demands his players to press high all match, force mistakes and then pick off whatever chances they may find.
Guardiola will have his hands full in trying to stop the Leeds press, and fend off in-form Patrick Bamford who has scored in each of his three EPL matches this season. Conversely, Bielsa’s men could find City’s relentless attack too much to handle, even with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus sidelined with injuries.
Yet, this is a must-win match for Guardiola, not least because Liverpool have began their title defence like a hurtling train, and could be out of sight in the middle of the season if City continue their sluggish form. Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne will be key in unlocking the Leeds’ porous defence.
SCORE PREDICTION: Leeds United 1 Man City 2.
Everton vs Brighton (Saturday, 10pm)
Should Everton be taken seriously as title challengers under the astute tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti? Certainly the Italian manager has engineered a dramatic uptick in the fortunes of this perennially underachieving club, with a potent midfielder trio unlocking Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal-poaching form in a spectacularly successful manner so far.
Wins against Tottenham (1-0), West Bromwich Albion (5-2) and Crystal Palace (2-1) have brought a large dose of positivity among the club, with key signing James Rodriguez thrilling the Everton faithful with a star turn in central midfield.
After struggling for much of his Real Madrid and Bayern Munich career, the Colombian has instantly found affection among the Toffee fans with his deft touches and eye for threading penetrative passes. Together with his midfield partners Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, as well as the irrepressible Calvert-Lewin, he should prove too classy for Brighton to subdue completely.
The real test for Everton will come after the international break, when they host fierce city rivals Liverpool. A good result against the defending champions, and the Toffees faithful’s mood will be even more joyous than now.
SCORE PREDICTION: Everton 2 Brighton 1
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