EPL TALK: Liverpool, Man City serve up exhilarating confirmation of title credentials

·6 min read
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool scores their second goal against Manchester City at Anfield.
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool scores their second goal against Manchester City at Anfield. (PHOTO: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

Thrilling Anfield duel filled with great goals

WHAT HAPPENED: It is only seven matches into the EPL season, but Liverpool and Manchester City have undoubtedly announced to the rest of the league that they are the pace-setters of the title race. 

A barn-storming duel at Anfield on Sunday (3 October) - featuring a thrilling second half filled with top-class strikes - ended 2-2 and saw both sides playing at high levels of tactical awareness with their high pressing and intricate movements. Man City dominated the first half as they put the Reds on the back foot at their own home ground, but Liverpool improved dramatically in the second half to take the lead twice.

That City managed to dig deep and eke out a precious point is testament to their fighting spirit as champions. Even though they lack a proven goal poacher in their squad, their supreme midfield showed that they are more than capable of finding the goals themselves as Phil Foden, Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva shone.

Liverpool, on the other hand, do have many lethal scorers, none more so than Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger was the outstanding player of the match, setting up the opening goal for Sadio Mane and then scoring an exhilarating second as he twisted and turned past at least four City defenders before deftly netting from an acute angle.

While there are obvious vulnerabilities within both sides, the abundance of talents, as well as the clear footballing identities which their two top managers have instilled within their squads, are more than enough to sustain their title pushes through the season. 

It is testament to Jurgen Klopp's astute team building and Pep Guardiola's tactical ingenuity that these two sides have become perennial challengers, winning the last four EPL titles among them. That know-how in winning in this highly-competitive league could be the X-factor against their two other key rivals, Chelsea and Manchester United.

And while Chelsea are the current league leaders, it is worth noting that they have faced both Liverpool and Man City, and failed to beat either of them. While the Blues have assembled a formidable squad, it could take another season or two before they can truly match up with the guile and expertise of these two sides.

WHAT'S NEXT: Following the international break, both Liverpool and Man City face tricky but limited opponents. The Reds will travel to Vicarage Road to face a Watford side who had just parted ways with manager Xisco Munoz, while City will host a Burnley side still seeking their first win of the season.

Demarai Gray of Everton (centre) and Fred of Manchester United tussle for the ball during their Premier League match at Old Trafford.
Demarai Gray of Everton (centre) and Fred of Manchester United tussle for the ball during their Premier League match at Old Trafford. (PHOTO: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Lightweight central midfield poses worrying problem for Man United

WHAT HAPPENED: While optimism is still high among the Manchester United fans following the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, concerns are also mounting that the phenomenal Portuguese goal machine might not be the solution to all their weaknesses. 

While Ronaldo has shown that he could practically poach goals in his sleep, scoring goals is arguably the least of United's worries as they have plenty of goal-getters in Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, who netted in Saturday's tie with Everton.

What is alarming for fans is their team's lack of a world-class central midfielder, one capable of disrupting opponents' attacks as well as creating opportunities for the Red Devils' frontline consistently. 

Paul Pogba could create and score, but he is less capable in breaking up play. Meanwhile, Fred and Scott McTominay are good options as shields for their defence, but are unlikely to be called upon to prise apart opponents' backlines. 

Ominously for United, opponents have noticed this deficiency and are starting to exploit this by hitting United on fast counter-attacks and try to outpace or out-muscle Fred or McTominay. Via this route, teams like Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton have found success with goals, if not wins, and it must worry United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that his team have not had a clean sheet in any of their nine home league matches.

Without any new signings until at least January, Solskjaer may have to make do with his lightweight midfield in the short term, a prospect which does not instil optimism among fans. They may be hoping that Ronaldo's knack of scoring winning goals can bail them out of enough matches to keep pace with the other title challengers.

WHAT'S NEXT: Man United will travel to King Power Stadium after the international break for what would be a stern test of their title credentials against Leicester City. Can their midfield hold up against the Foxes' evergreen speedster Jamie Vardy?

Chelsea's Ben Chilwell scores their third goal against Southampton at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's Ben Chilwell scores their third goal against Southampton at Stamford Bridge. (PHOTO: Reuters/David Klein)

Blues lack veteran leader to guide them to title

WHAT HAPPENED: How does one make of the current EPL table-toppers? Are Chelsea the real deal, or are they still a work in progress?

The answer could be somewhere in the middle: the Blues will be heavily involved in the title picture, but they are disadvantaged by their relative lack of veteran experience, especially against the formidable squads of Manchester City and Liverpool.

Chelsea have shown this season that they are well-equipped to beat mid- to bottom-table sides, scoring victories over Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Southampton.

However, they could only draw 1-1 against Liverpool in August, and were decidedly second-best against Man City in their 0-1 loss two weekends ago. Their 0-1 mid-week Champions League defeat by Juventus also showed that they lack a gung-ho leader on the pitch who could regularly push them towards victory when the going gets tough.

Nonetheless, Saturday's 3-1 win over Southampton at least revived their fortunes after two straight defeats, and also gave a shot in the arm for two of their struggling players, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell, both scoring the decisive goals that turned a 1-1 stalemate into the win.

Still, the lack of a consistent match-winner should worry manager Thomas Tuchel, with new striker Romelu Lukaku cooling off after a strong start. The recent injury absence of Mason Mount also coincided with the two 0-1 defeats by Man City and Juventus, and Tuchel should also come up with an effective back-up plan should the England international miss further matches.

These may seem like minor quibbles among a deep, talented squad, but in a exceptionally competitive league, it could make all the difference between a successful title run, or being narrowly edged out. 

WHAT'S NEXT: Following the international break, Chelsea will make the short trip to fellow London side Brentford. This may seem like an easy assignment, but the Bees are riding high on a three-match unbeaten run, with wins over Wolves and West Ham and a rip-roaring draw against Liverpool. They are not to be underestimated.

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