Manchester City consolidated their position at the top of the Premier League table last weekend, beating neighbors Manchester United. The chasing pack take center stage this time around.
LIVERPOOL AT CHELSEA
Two of English football’s most successful clubs meet at Stamford Bridge in the Friday fixture where Chelsea, second in the table, take on sixth place Liverpool. Both sides missed out on this week’s European club competitions after a poor 2015-16 season. It’s a record they are both keen to put right.
Antonio Conte has been a breath of fresh air at Chelsea, with the Italian forging a more dynamic playing style. It has paid dividends so far with only Swansea taking points off the Blues this season.
He was left scratching his head at last weekend’s draw in south Wales. Chelsea were rampant with Diego Costa close to unplayable but they were wasteful in front of goal and disheveled in defense. Swansea took full advantage and for a while seemed set to pull off a shock win before Costa salvaged a point.
The cost to Chelsea was more than just two dropped points. John Terry, still proving a talismanic leader on the pitch, is out until next weekend. Conte had been working on playing the former England captain alongside new signing David Luiz but those plans have been shelved for the moment.
A pairing of Cahill and Luiz isn’t inspiring. The England man has been unimpressive this season and Luiz, despite his $45m price tag, is a mistake waiting to happen. Liverpool will look to exploit this weakness at every opportunity and in Sadio Mane, they have a striker in irrepressible form.
Two goals in three matches doesn’t tell half the story. Mane has added a different dimension to a Liverpool attack which was utterly predictable last term.
But Liverpool have their own problems in defense as well. Shipping two goals per game on average is a problem Jurgen Klopp has to solve quickly. The German moved James Milner to full back and Alberto Moreno as far from left back as possible. A good idea with Eden Hazard and Oscar in mesmeric form for Chelsea.
Loris Karius, a summer signing from Mainz, is set to make his Liverpool debut in goal instead of the inconsistent Simon Mignolet.
It won’t be enough; Chelsea to win this one by two with betonline.ag.
ARSENAL AT HULL CITY
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Arsenal haven’t lost in Hull for more than a century and must keep that record going on Saturday if they are to challenge for the title. The Tigers are in no mood to surrender lightly though and have been this season’s surprise package.
A shambles off the pitch – the proposed sale of the club to a Chinese consortium fell through last week – Mike Phelan has somehow forged a tremendous team spirit on it. Only Manchester United have beaten them and that through a last-minute Marcus Rashford goal.
Phelan was awarded August’s Manager of the Month, usually the precursor to a run of bad results but in Robert Snodgrass, he has found a natural leader with the Scot capping an impressive start to the season with a late equaliser at Burnley last weekend.
Arsenal meanwhile are inconsistent. Results are improving but performances are hit and miss. Excellent at Watford, they were woeful against Southampton and Paris St Germain yet still picked up two wins and a draw in those matches.
Arsène Wenger is under increasing pressure to deliver the title in the last year of his current contract. His team selections in the last two games have been baffling, resting key players when there seemed no good reason to.
Wenger’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t know his strongest line-up. The Frenchman has stolen Claudio Ranieri’s title of ‘The Tinkerman’ and causes himself problems with constant reshuffles on his line-up. Shkodran Mustafi is steadying the defense but in midfield, he has too many choices.
Bizarrely, Granit Xhaka – the best defensive midfielder at the club – found himself benched for the past two games. Expect that to change and his range of passing will free the Arsenal offensive line. For it to be effective, Alexis Sanchez needs to move to the flanks, with Lucas Perez likely to start in the center.
Arsenal have scored three on their last two visits to Humberside but this time will win by one.