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 v Arsenal (Monday, 12.30am)
When it comes to predicting form, these two former top dogs are perhaps the most infuriating of all the EPL teams. One moment they are flying high with brilliant performances all over the pitch; the next moment they are in a dreadful slump with underperforming players all around.
Fittingly, Manchester United and Arsenal arrive at their highly-anticipated clash with no one being able to accurately predict the outcome.
Will the Red Devils keep up their highly-encouraging form after the October international break? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have beaten Newcastle and draw against Chelsea in the EPL, and did even better in Europe with two sparkling victories over Paris Saint Germain and RB Leipzig.
Solskjaer has also proven to be a far more astute tactician of late, switching formations and personnel successfully during this fine run of form, and perhaps justifying his explanation that their poor early-season form was down to lack of pre-season preparation.
And yet, that stinker of a 1-6 defeat by Tottenham earlier this month still lingers. It is symptomatic of Solskjaer’s reign as manager that United can reach giddy heights and plunge to worrying lows with regularity. He will hope to find some kind of middle ground in order for the Red Devils to climb up the league table.
By contrast, Arsenal under Mikel Arteta do not have such dramatic form swings as Man United. However, their recent results have been inconsistent because of sudden losses of form of their key strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Aubameyang, who won the Premier League Golden Boot two seasons ago, has not scored since the opening match of the season, while Lacazette has not netted in the league this month. And without their goals, the Gunners have struggled with league results of late, with only one win in their last four EPL games.
Arteta has been credited with stabilising Arsenal’s shaky defence and midfield since he took on the job last December, and now his latest challenge has to be getting his main strikers out of their slumps. Can he do so by the time they visit Old Trafford?
SCORE PREDICTION: Man United 1 Arsenal 1
Aston Villa v Southampton (Sunday, 8pm)
The last 100 per cent winning record in the Premier League came to an end last week, when Aston Villa crashed to a 0-3 defeat by Leeds United.
However, the loss should not take away from the huge strides taken by Villa in being one of the early success stories of the season. They are no longer regarded as candidates for relegation; instead, many fancy their chances at securing a spot at next season’s Europa League.
How well Villa perform this season will very much hinge on how well they bounce back from defeats. Therefore, Sunday’s match against Southampton will be a major test of their credentials – can they pick up the pieces from the Leeds loss and stop a losing run before it begins?
Southampton will not be pushovers; they are seventh in the table with 10 points – more than the likes of Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Manchester City. And they had just ended table-toppers Everton’s unbeaten run last week with a sparkling 2-0 win.
It should make for a cracker of a match between two in-form sides. Villa will hope the burgeoning midfield partnership between Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley can create opportunities to break down Southampton’s solid defensive line. The Saints will hope Danny Ings can add to his four-goal tally this season.
SCORE PREDICTION: Aston Villa 1 Southampton 1.
Sheffield United v Manchester City (Saturday, 8.30pm)
Will Man City be able to finally kick-start their season? Or will Sheffield United somehow conjure a first win of the season to move away from the drop zone? It is a testament to this strange and unpredictable EPL season that these are two most likely outcomes from this match.
To say that Man City have had an underwhelming start to the season would be an understatement. Pep Guardiola’s side have looked far from the swashbuckling and dominant side that won two of the last three EPL titles. Instead, they were tentative in defence and wasteful in attack as they languish in 13th place in the table.
On paper, City should still have too much firepower against Sheffield United, who are in a much bigger struggle. The Blades have amassed just one point and scored only three goals from six matches, and lie second from bottom, just ahead of Fulham.
And yet, one has a nagging feeling that Sheffield United could just trouble Man City enough to be able to sneak in an upset. Against champions Liverpool in their previous match, the Blades made them sweat by taking the lead and then taking to game to them, before the Reds equalised just before half time and wrested back the initiative.
If the defence can hold out longer, then Sheffield United have every chance to vex Man City, who have been strangely muted in attack, even given the injury absences of strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
Guardiola has to find an early goal for his team to settle down, otherwise Sheffield United may just be able to spring an upset.
SCORE PREDICTION: Sheffield United 0 Man City 2.
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