Monday, September 20, 2021

EPL preview: Manchester City aim to dislodge Chelsea from the top

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Manchester City’s Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero (R) celebrates with teammates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Manchester City at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on November 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF

Thirty-one goals were scored from the ten games played last weekend, eleven more than the previous weekend and it reminded us of the excitement the English Premier League can generate. One game, in particular, stood out, a thriller between two teams at the wrong end of the table, Swansea and Crystal Palace.

The game produced nine goals from seven different players (although one scored at the wrong end) and was very exciting to watch. Tottenham’s search for a maiden win at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League will continue for another season after they were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea.

The heavyweight clash of this weekend will be today’s early kickoff, which will see Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium. On paper, this should be an explosive game, but as we have learned in the sport, some of these big games do not live up to the hype. However, with what we have seen from these sides this season, we should expect a mouth-watering clash.

Pep Guardiola’s side will be looking to end Antonio Conte and his Chelsea’s side seven-games winning streak. The Citizens have been able to string together a nice little run themselves after going three league games without a win, picking up three wins from their last four league games. A big part of the City revolution has been the inclusion of Yaya Toure, the erstwhile banished midfielder has been brought back into the team and he duly scored a brace in his first match back and was also very influential in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Burnley at Turf Moor. He has brought in a presence in the City midfield that had been missing for a while and would be hard to leave out of the team going forward. Another factor that has seen City improve over the recent games has been the form of their talismanic Argentine striker, Sergio Aguero, who seems to have caught fire at the right time with five goals from his last four league games for the Citizens.

The Argentine striker has sixteen goals in eighteen games this season and the Chelsea defence should be very wary of the twenty-eight-year-old, who scored a hattrick against them the last time the teams met in the league and has scored a total of six goals in nine matches against the blues.

The main gist in the Premier league over the last couple of weeks has been about how Antonio Conte has found the right formula to bring out the best from his Chelsea side and how they have taken over the league since then. After two consecutive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, the Italian switched to a 3-4-3 formation and since then his team have been on a roll, conquering and sometimes demolishing every opponent they have faced and picking up seven wins on the bounce. Last weekend, they came up against an unbeaten Tottenham team and the Lily Whites lost their invincibility to Chelsea at the end of ninety minutes. One thing that has been very impressive about this formation is the ability of their wing backs to attack with lots of gusto when they are in the possession and defend solidly without it, essentially making them a five-man defensive team without the ball and five-man attacking team with it. The central midfield duo of N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic provide the needed balance to allow these wing-backs the freedom to operate. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard have also rediscovered their forms after playing well below their standards last season and have seventeen league goals between them.

These teams have met twenty-eight times in the Premier league with Chelsea leading the rivalry with sixteen wins to City’s eight; four of the games have ended in stalemates. Chelsea have won seven times at the home of Manchester City in the league, but haven’t won there since February 2014 and were beaten by the Citizens home and away last season (3-0, 0-3). Tottenham dominated for long spells against Chelsea last weekend and if the Citizens get to dominate like that today, I think it will be more difficult for Chelsea to get something from this game, despite their workman-like approach to games. Both teams are separated by just a point and City know that a win will put them top of the table. This should be a very interesting encounter and from a Nigerian interest, we expect to see solid performances from Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho(if he gets to play), for John Mikel Obi, we still await his first appearance on a Chelsea match day squad in the league this season.

Six other matches will be played in the league today and one of them will see Victor Anichebe’s Sunderland welcome Ahmed Musa’s Leicester City to the Stadium of Light. The Champions are just two points off the relegation places and they really need to start winning games if they do not intend to be drawn into a relegation scrap just a season after winning the title. Sunderland managed to win two games in a row to finally put to a stop a 10-game winless start to the season. However, the team’s two-game winning run was snapped last weekend when they were beaten 2-nil by Liverpool at Anfield, that result and Swansea’s 5-4 win over Crystal Palace saw them return to the bottom of the table. Meanwhile, Leicester City continues to struggle with their title-defense campaign after 13 rounds of matches this season. The team has won only once in their last six outings and their hitherto powerful home form seems to be deserting them as they barely escaped with a draw at home to Middlesbrough last weekend after losing their previous home game to West Brom.

Tottenham Hotspur will host Swansea City at White Hart Lane this afternoon and will need a win to keep in touch with the leaders. They were beaten for the first time this season last weekend by Chelsea and would quickly want to remove that loss from their system with a win over their nineteenth placed opponents, who only just got off the bottom of the table with a win last weekend. Spurs have the same total of points (24) they had at this stage last season, suggesting there is no need for the north Londoners to panic this meeting with Swansea.

Stoke, who have won four of their last six matches will host Burnley, while Crystal Palace, who were involved in a nine-goal thriller last week will take on Southampton and Odion Ighalo’s Watford will be guests of West Brom at the Hawthorns.
A London derby between West Ham and Arsenal will round up today’s fixtures and both teams will be up for it as they both suffered defeats in the EFL Cup in midweek. West Ham lost 4-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford just days after holding the Manchester giants to a 1-1 draw at the same venue in the league, while Arsenal made ten changes to the team that beat Bournemouth 3-1 last weekend, when they faced Southampton in the EFL Cup and were beaten 2-0 by the Saints at the Emirates. The two matches against Manchester United took its toll on the hammers as they lost Diafra Sakho, Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio to different injuries, meaning that Arsenal, with its ten changes in midweek, will be the fresher team for this fixture.

There will be two games played tomorrow with the first being the game between Bournemouth and Liverpool. The Cherries were beaten 3-1 by Arsenal in their last league fixture, however, if they had taken their chances when they came, it would have been a different result. Eddie Howe’s men play entertaining football and it’s no wonder why he has been tipped to as a potential replacement for Arsene Wenger when the Frenchman finally decides to leave Arsenal. They will be coming up against a Liverpool side that has been very efficient for the most part of this season so far. The Reds had to be very patient last weekend before finding the goals to defeat Sunderland and that was after they were held to a draw by Southampton the previous week. Liverpool hasn’t lost a league game since the second week of the season when they were beaten 2-0 by Burnley and Bournemouth will have to play the game of their lives to hand them only their second loss of the season.

The second game tomorrow will be between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park. Both teams are separated by a point and are desperately in need of a win after just one win in their last six league matches each. Last season’s 3-0 win for Manchester united in this fixture was their first at Goodison Park since 2011, they had lost three consecutive league games to Everton at the ground prior to last season. Both teams are on a dire run of form, but Everton are on a worse run than United as they have picked up just five points from their last six matches, two less than Manchester United. The Red Devils have drawn four consecutive games at home, but were able to claim all three points in their last league game away from home and would be looking to do the same tomorrow. However, to do that, they must be ready to do what no another visiting team has been able to do this season, which is winning a game at Goodison Park. The toffees have won three and drawn three of their six games at home this season, although, the only top team they have faced at home this season were Tottenham and they battled to a 1-1 draw. Manchester United must win this game if they have any plans of challenging for the title this season.

The final game of this round will be played on Monday night at the Riverside Stadium when Middlesbrough hosts Hull City. This probably won’t be the highlight match of the Premier League weekend. Hull have been pretty shocking out on the road losing their last four on the bounce away from the KCom, while Boro are looking for just their second home league win of the season and they should be optimistic for this one. Boro have lost just one of their last five Premier league games and have picked up draws against Arsenal and Man City in that sequence and were only beaten 1-0 by Chelsea too. There is just the one point separating the two in the league standings and Boro can’t afford to let this home game slip through their fingers without a win, while for Hull, the two wins from their last three league meetings with Middlesbrough should give them some confidence going into this fixture.
As usual, we will just sit back, relax and enjoy what promises to be a very very exciting weekend of football from the English Premier League.

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