EPL preview: Klopp gets his Mane back as he prepares to battle Chelsea
The month of January is at an end and Liverpool Football club are yet to win an EPL game in 2017, Jurgen Klopp must be itching his scalp (which he usually does) and wondering what has afflicted his team with this winless streak, as they closed out 2016 with four consecutive wins in the league.
The only game Liverpool have won this year was the FA Cup replay against Plymouth Argyle, they have drawn three and lost four of the eight games they have played so far this year in all competitions. The scariest part for the Reds is the fact that they have lost their last three matches against supposedly inferior teams, all at their hallowed home ground of Anfield. Tonight, they will host a rampaging Chelsea side that has won fifteen of its last sixteen league games.
Liverpool’s dip in form coincided with the loss of Saido Mane to the AFCON and with the unexpected timely return of the speedy Senegalese; they might just find back their form of late last year. Klopp will need the likes of Adam Llalana, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firminho and Saido Mane to be at their delightful best to tame the Chelsea beast. This current run of three consecutive home losses for the Reds is their worst since 2012 and they would surely not want to extend it to four. Klopp prefers to line up with a midfield three and it will be interesting to observe if his midfield numerical superiority will count against the flat midfield pair of Matic and Kante.
If he uses advanced midfielders to break the midfield line of Chelsea, It would force the their defence to step up or move wide to cover the attacking moves from the midfield, opening up spaces elsewhere, which can be exploited by Liverpool. Nathaniel Clyne is a doubt for this game and that will be a huge problem for Liverpool as young Trent Alexander-Arnold will deputise for him if he doesn’t make it and the youngster will have his hands full tonight as he will be facing Eden Hazard. Antonio Conte is a creature of habit and will stick to his usual starting XI; the Italian has the luxury of a fully fit team. Victor Moses will start against a team he played for in the past and would want a victory tonight, while Liverpool know that another loss today and they can as well bid their title hopes farewell as they would be thirteen points behind Chelsea if that happens.
Alex Iwobi and his Arsenal teammates will welcome Watford to the Emirates tonight with the intention of battering the Hornets. The Gunners have won their last four matches in all competitions and hammered Southampton 5-0 in the FA Cup on Saturday. They are currently in second position and will want to retain that position, while hoping that Liverpool does everyone else in the chasing pack a favour by beating Chelsea at Anfield on the same night. Watford have been on a poor run of form since December, going winless in their last 8 games and are in sixteenth position on the log. Odion Ighalo should be finalising his transfer to China or West Brom according to reports and will not be part of tonight’s game, while Isaac Success is a fitness doubt for this fixture. Watford have lost their last five EPL games against Arsenal and I expect the trend to continue.
Leicester City will be guests of Burnley and the Champions will be looking to rectify their disastrous away record so far with a win in tonight’s game. They should be boosted by the early return of Islam Slimani and Riyadh Mahrez from AFCON duty with Algeria, while the Nigerian duo of Ahmed Musa and Wilfred Ndidi would love to help the foxes record their first away win of the campaign. The Foxes have won just once in their last seven league matches and if they continue towards that path, a huge relegation scrap awaits them. Burnley have won their last six home matches in all competitions and will look to maintain their impressive home form with a win over the Champions tonight. Only Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal have a better home record in the league this season than Burnley and with the struggles of Leicester City away from home this season, this one looks like a Burnley win. However, if there’s any away game that Leicester should win this season going by statistics, it would be against Burnley as the Foxes have won on their last four visits to the Clarets.
Victor Anichebe should play some part when his Sunderland team host Tottenham at the Stadium of Light tonight. Sunderland are winless in their last seven games in all competitions and are currently on a three game losing streak, failing to score in three of their last four games. It will take a huge miracle for the Black Cats to escape relegation this season. Tottenham will go into tonight’s game with the sole aim of knocking the lights out of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. They are currently on a ten match unbeaten run in all competitions and will be aiming to extend that run to eleven games. The other matches that will be played tonight will see a rejuvenated Swansea take on Southampton at the Liberty Stadium in Wales, Middlesbrough will host West Brom at the Riverside and Bournemouth will welcome Crystal palace to the Vitality Stadium.
The third meeting between West Ham and Manchester City this season will take place tomorrow night at the London Stadium. It will be one of three games that will be played tomorrow. Manchester City have won the two previous fixtures, beating the Hammers 3-1 at the Etihad in the reverse fixture and 5-0 at the London Stadium in the FA Cup. The Hammers defeated Middlesbrough 3-1 in their last league game to make it four wins from their last six league games and move up to tenth on the log. They have won three of their last four home games with clean sheets, losing only to Manchester United 2-0 in that period. The Citizens have won just once in their last four league games and are quickly losing ground to their rivals in the title race. However, the result they got the last time they visited the London Stadium will boost them going into tomorrow’s game and we should be expecting a cracker. Fernandinho completed his four-match ban over the weekend and should be back for this game, while Cheikhou Kouyate has returned from AFCON duty with Senegal but is unlikely to feature in this game.
Manchester United will surpass their neighbour’s task of playing the same opponent thrice this season, with a fourth meeting against Hull the same night at Old Trafford. Hull City ended Manchester United’s seventeen match unbeaten run in all competitions with a 2-1 defeat the last time these teams met, just a week ago, in the second leg of the EFL Cup Semi-final. The Tigers have improved markedly since the arrival of Marco Silva as coach, winning three out of their last six matches.
However, they are still three points adrift of the relegation zone and possess a terrible away record in the league with nine consecutive away defeats. Despite losing their unbeaten run to Hull City last Thursday, the Red Devils still have their thirteen match unbeaten record to protect in the EPL and wouldn’t want to lose that one to the Tigers. They thrashed Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the FA Cup on Sunday and will be in high spirits going into this game. Hull will be very plucky, but I expect United’s quality to shine through at the end of the day and grab all three points. One more game will be played tomorrow night to wrap up match-week twenty three and that will be between Stoke City and Everton. Neither side featured in the FA Cup at the weekend and will be well rested ahead of tomorrow’s clash.
Stoke are unbeaten in their last five home league matches, while Everton are unbeaten in their last five Premier League matches and I expect both teams to cancel out each other. It took Wayne Rooney’s 250th goal for Manchester United, which came with almost the last kick of that game to stop the Potters from beating the Red Devils their last league game, while Everton on the other hand picked up their third consecutive shutout win with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the previous round. There are two positions and eight points separating these sides and Stoke will be looking to take the advantage of playing at home to cut into Everton’s lead.
There will be more EPL action this weekend when match-week twenty four begins and as usual I will bring you the preview of those games on Saturday, but before the weekend comes, let’s enjoy theses midweek games and have our fill of EPL action.
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