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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Liverpool vs Manchester City (Monday, 12.30am Singapore time)
They may be undoubtedly the two best teams in the Premier League, but only one side is in top form when Liverpool and Manchester City meet in the highly-anticipated match of the weekend – and it is not the side defending the league title.
In fact, Liverpool have been in poor form for more than a month already. Wednesday’s shock 0-1 home defeat by Brighton means that the Reds have won just twice in eight games following that 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on 19 December. They have since tumbled from top spot to fourth, seven points behind Man City and having played one more game.
By now, few Reds fans are daring to dream of a second successive league title. The multiple injury setbacks to their entire squad earlier in the season have finally caught up, and the players had looked jaded and uninspired for most of the past month.
While Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool board have used the final day of the January transfer window to shore up the badly-depleted defence by signing two central defenders – Ben Davies from Preston North End and Ozan Kabak from Schalke 04 – it now looks as if the reinforcements are too little too late to salvage their title hopes.
In contrast, Man City are looking like their invincible best during their title-winning runs of 2017/18 and 2018/19. Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Burnley was their ninth straight league win, and they have not been beaten since a 0-2 loss to Tottenham on 22 November.
More ominously for all their rivals, amid this unbeaten streak, City have conceded just twice – a staggering defensive brilliance that allowed them to keep winning despite the injury absences of Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne.
In recent seasons, the team that pulls away from the chasing pack after the New Year usually won the EPL title. City are doing just that, and unless they are distracted by their desperation win the Uefa Champions League, they look like running away with the league title this season.
So the stakes are clear: Liverpool have to beat City to ignite any lingering title hopes, while City have the luxury of playing not to lose. With their stellar defence, they could comfortably hold the sputtering Reds attack at bay for a valuable away point.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liverpool 0 Manchester City 0.
Manchester United vs Everton (Sunday, 4am)
Since the start of the season, fans have been wondering how devastating Manchester United can be, given the wealth of talents among its deep squad.
On Tuesday, the Red Devils gave the clearest indication of the kind of swashbuckling, merciless attacking brilliance that they displayed in their title-winning years, with a stunning 9-0 humiliation of Southampton.
Even though the Saints had two players sent off and were victims of contentious VAR decisions, there was no denying how lethal a Man United side in full flow could be.
Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial ran rings around the Southampton defence, helping themselves to four of the nine goals, while even Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James – providers rather than goal-getters – got onto the scoresheet.
The big victory ended a two-match winless run in the league, and put them in good stead ahead of a winnable stretch of matches this month, when they face the likes of Everton, West Ham, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle. If they keep winning, they could put pressure on league leaders Man City ahead of their showdown on 6 March.
Everton have also got back on track with a 2-1 win over Leeds United on Wednesday, after a dismal 0-2 loss to struggling Newcastle on Saturday. They remain in the hunt for a top-four finish – they are four points behind fourth-placed Liverpool with two games in hand.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti has had to deal with the inevitable mid-season slump for mid-table sides with thin squads, and has admirably kept his side afloat despite injuries to stalwarts such as Lucas Digne and Allan.
With the squad nearly back to full strength, Everton could very well cause problems to Man United with their much-improved attack.
SCORE PREDICTION: Man United 2 Everton 1.
Tottenham Hotspur vs West Bromwich Albion (Sunday, 8pm)
Once league leaders, Tottenham Hotspur are now struggling under the injury absence of key striker Harry Kane.
Thursday night’s 0-1 defeat by Chelsea was their third in a row, and manager Jose Mourinho faces a stern examination of his motivational powers as he attempts to lift his demoralised team from their current eighth position.
Yet, many critics have pointed their fingers at the Portuguese as a big reason why Spurs are in a bad slump.
They took issue at his rigid and negative tactics, which were a stark contrast to his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino’s high-intensity attacking game. They argue that, not only do Mourinho’s tactics stifle the front line, but they are also putting too much pressure on Spurs’ defenders, forcing them into errors like Eric Dier’s clumsy foul on Timo Werner which led to Chelsea’s spot-kick winner.
With the Spurs faithful starting to lose patience, Mourinho in under pressure to return his side to winning ways, as he sweats on Kane’s recovery. Against relegation strugglers West Bromwich Albion – who have the leakiest defence in the league – it would be a good opportunity for the Portuguese to unleash his attackers to plunder goals to get a first league win since mid-January.
SCORE PREDICTION: Tottenham 1 West Brom 0.
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