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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Tottenham Hotspur vs Leicester City (Sunday, 10.15pm Singapore time)
Jose Mourinho may complain loudly that “the best team lost” following his Tottenham’s 1-2 defeat by Liverpool on their top-of-the-table clash on Wednesday (16 December), but make no mistake, his rants are meant to take the media attention away from Spurs’ shortcomings against the defending champions.
Letting in a late winner from a routine corner would have irked the Portuguese manager to no end, given his obsession with organisation. Yet, it plainly showed that Spurs, for all their superb start to the season, are not the finished product yet; there will be moments of concentration lapses that would lay his patented “reactive football” plans to waste.
To be fair to Spurs, they have improved by leaps and bounds from the previous season, in which they seemed jaded after failing to win any trophies amid the five-year reign of Mauricio Pochettino.
In Mourinho, they are responding well to his reactive tactics, staying well-organised before hitting opponents with devastating effectiveness from the likes of Son Heung-min and Harry Kane. An 11-match unbeaten run in the league is a highly-impressive result of their progress.
And now, Spurs need to pick themselves up quickly for another tough test against fourth-placed Leicester City, who also stumbled in midweek in a 0-2 loss to Everton.
The Foxes have proven to be as wily as their nickname suggests, already claiming the scalps of Manchester City and Arsenal this season, as they maintained their steady progress under Brendan Rodgers. With European qualification a viable prospect, Leicester will be a stern test for Spurs to find a way past them.
It was former Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie who coined the term “bouncebackability”, a key trait in being a league-winning side. Tottenham have to show that their demoralising loss to Liverpool need not derail their title-challenging ambitions, and embark on another significant unbeaten run to keep up the pressure on the Reds.
The return match with the Reds at Tottenham Stadium, after all, is just over a month away on 29 January. If they continue to breathe down Liverpool’s neck, watch out.
SCORE PREDICTION: Tottenham 2 Leicester 1
Crystal Palace vs Liverpool (Saturday, 8.30pm)
Jurgen Klopp may whine about the crammed fixture list, the EPL sticking to the three-subs rule and his side’s ongoing injury woes. Yet his Liverpool are still top of the table, now with a three-point advantage to defend as the season reaches its one-third mark.
Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Tottenham showed that, had it not been for the injuries to their key players like Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara, the Reds could already be running away with the EPL title like they did last season.
The biggest reason why the defending champions have not been able to break free of the chasing pack is probably their patchy away form: just one win from six matches outside their Anfield fortress.
With three of their four festive-season matches away, Liverpool will be keen to improve that record – starting with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Roy Hodgson’s side are always tricky customers to deal with at home, given their strengths in organisation and counter-attacking. Yet, should the Reds manage to replicate their superb first-half against Tottenham, it is difficult to envisage any side in the EPL being able to contain them.
SCORE PREDICTION: Crystal Palace 0 Liverpool 1
Everton vs Arsenal (Sunday, 1.30am)
And so to the most engrossing story of the season so far – the mighty struggles of Arsenal at the wrong end of the table.
Mired in 15th spot, amid their worst start since 1974/75, it has been a stunning dip for a Gunners side which began the season with so much optimism after winning last season’s FA Cup. In Mikel Arteta, they have a highly-touted young manager who was one of their stalwarts during his playing days. With the Spaniard helming the squad, they were suppose to go from strength to strength.
Instead, woeful performances from their veteran players are threatening to derail the rookie manager. A 1-1 draw against Southampton on Wednesday was a small respite after four straight home defeats, yet a third red card in five games showed how brittle the mental states of the players are in.
And now, the Gunners face a tough three-game stretch over seven days, starting away against in-form Everton, before daunting home encounters against Manchester City and Chelsea. On their wretched current form, it is hard to envisage Arsenal pulling out any kind of vintage swashbuckling performances that were commonplace under their great manager Arsene Wenger.
Arteta would settle for battling draws, but even that could be out of reach for this dysfunctional team.
SCORE PREDICTION: Everton 2 Arsenal 0
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