Saturday October 1st
12.30 Swansea v Liverpool
Anyone who read last week’s previews will have noticed that this column got a couple of results terribly wrong so this week we’re going to attempt to knuckle down and go for dead certs, should such things exist. However, we are more inclined to shoot ourselves in the foot than be sensible and so it’s likely that we’ll do the same here, despite our best of intentions.
Those darned dervishes…
According to the statisticians, Liverpool have scored more goals at this stage of the season than they nearly ever have before. Only league leaders Manchester City have scored more than Jurgen Klopp’s boys this season.
This column has heard the Liverpool attack referred to as a hurricane of knives and finds the description to poetically be apt. Often playing without a recognised striker, their forwards are milling around defenses like wasps around sugar, often cutting them open at will and helping themselves to goals aplenty.
…and their funny defensive machines
The flip side is that Liverpool have yet to keep a clean sheet in the league. They haven’t yet had the luxury of a settled central defense due to injuries sustained by Dejan Lovren. First choice ‘keeper, Simon Mignolet, has been dropped in favour of new boy, Loris Karius.
The young German was ostensibly bought to provide cover and competition for the ‘keeping role but, such is the ‘loose’ style of play from Mignolet, it seems clear that he was brought in with the clear remit to claim the spot as his own. One would assume, then, that he is considered to be the more accomplished player in that position but he’s young and inexperienced in this league. Are Swansea the team to rattle his cage?
Swansong for Guidolin?
The Swans have had a very poor start to their season, so much so that there are serious whisperings that Italian coach, Francesco Guidolin, might soon be shown the door. New owners from America are now in situ and might be of the mind to get their own man in. That might be a bit hasty, though. Prior to the Celtic v City CL game in midweek, no other team had come as close to rattling the juggernaut that has been Man City as Swansea did last week.
The Welsh team trusted themselves with possession & passing and were not cowed by the force they faced. It took a relatively soft penalty in 65th minute for City to pull clear but Swansea were easily the most formidable opponent that Guardiola has yet faced in the league. Against Liverpool, they will be facing another attacking team who leave a good amount of space at the back, space into which Swansea will pour to put pressure on a less-than-resolute defense.
Given Liverpool’s form, it seems daft to look past them winning but Swansea are a clever team and if they can keep themselves together as a defensive unit and make the best use of their attacks, then they should be worth a draw in this game. Naturally the bookies don’t concur and nor, possibly, should you but if the price of 4/1 for a draw is of interest to you, then check out PaddyPower.
Sunday 2nd October
14.15 Leicester v Southampton
Yet again, this column finds itself at odds with market – one of us has surely got to know what we’re talking about. The powers that be decree that Leicester are the favourites for this particular tie.
On the face of it, there’s nothing unusual there. The Fox’s are, after all, the reigning league champions and are playing at home. Southampton have had a summer of good-bye’s to some of their better players and their manager. To all appearances, it looks an easy one to call and that’s certainly how the bookies view it.
Cups can be deceptive
But a cursory glance at the league table will show that Southampton are three places ahead of Leicester (albeit by a point) and have a positive goal difference whereas Leicester are three to the negative. In their last five games in all competitions, the Saints have four wins and a draw, scoring nine and conceding none. Their 3-0 away win at West Ham last weekend could easily have been more as their front three of Tadic, Austin and Redmond ran riot.
Calm in the storm
It’s difficult to imagine any other league in the world quite as awash in nonsense and bombast as the BPL is. Seemingly standing firm against this sea of lunacy is Southampton. Since their promotion to the league some years back, they have regularly seen successful managers and players leave for bigger gigs and yet have not only consolidated their BPL status but have enhanced it. No-one ever talks about Southampton going down in the new season previews.
This speaks to a football club that is organized, well-run and functional with a clear long term plan. Such maturity is to be lauded, if not for its achievements then at least for its ambition.
Leicester’s form in the league has been erratic. They suffered a pasting at the hands of Man Utd last week and were caught out defensively in manner that was rarely seen last season. It’s a surprise to no-one that they are finding this season a struggle but their lack of spark has been noteworthy. Perhaps it’s because they have transferred said spark to the CL pursuits. If that’s the case, who could blame them?
What they achieved last season was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the club and so how could they ever hope to emulate it? Move on, next dream. If that is their thinking then they’ll be happy enough with a respectable showing in the league.
That attitude will be enough to steer them past the many poor teams they’ll face in the league but not the better ones and, at the moment, Southampton are one of those. With both Huth and Morgan looking a little bit shaky in the Leicester defense, bang-in-form striker, Charlie Austin, may well prosper and add to his impressive recent tally. We may not be bookies but we reckon this has Southampton win written all over it. Best price for that comes from MarathonBet at a price of 27/10.
14.15 Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
The second last match of the weekend is probably the one that everyone is looking forward to. It’s a clash of 1st v 2nd and a mouth-watering prospect to boot. For sure it will be an absorbing encounter from two high-octane teams, albeit with both sides missing key attacking players in the guises of Kevin de Bruyne for City and Harry Kane for Spurs. Happily, their respective squads can boast of some fairly adequate replacements.
He always shines on tv
For the home team, it is Son who has shone (sorry, sorry). In the absence of Kane, the man who nearly left in the summer has become their go-to guy for goals, helping himself to four in the league, just one behind Sergio Ageuro for City. His style is instantly endearing, played with a slightly maverick edge that has never been coached out of him. He has an unorthodox way that about him that unsettles defenders, even confuses them. He’ll be praying that City retain their faith in Alexander Kolarov at centre back.
Fish waves goodbye to the water
The Serbian, an attacking fullback by trade, has been used in the centre of defense a number of times this season. Whilst his passing has generally been crisp, it’s fair to say that his defensive awareness in that position hadn’t been unduly tested until their midweek CL tie with Celtic whereupon he looked very poor and was directly responsible for Celtic’s third goal.
In the blue corner
One suspects that he might be shunted left to his more natural environment on the flank but the more general point is that this City defense and midfield have largely had things their own way and on the pair of times that they haven’t (Swansea and Celtic), they’ve looked less than solid. Due to the manner in which Guardiola sets up his team, he demands a different skill set from his defenders than would usually be expected and this borderline cavalier attitude opens up space for the opposition.
The rub here is that the other team generally have to be exceptionally good to get the ball back never mind shift it up the pitch quickly.
In the white corner
These are skills that this Spurs team have in abundance. The Londoners have become accustomed to the continuous high press expected of them and they are unlikely to afford City the space and time to weave their pleasing patterns. Can they keep their concentration and shape under the duress of City’s probing and thrusting? We won’t know until the game gets going but we do know that Son, Alli, Lamella and Erickson are all capable of wrenching open defenses with shimmies, feints and flicks.
We also know that City can tear most teams apart at will but we don’t know how their defensive structure will hold up against intelligent and concerted pressing.
Conclusion or lack thereof
The heading above indicates a certainty that this column doesn’t currently possess. Put simply, we can imagine this match going any which way. City are favourites but are still longer than evens at about 6/4 from BetVictor. Spurs, with a host of player’s rested midweek, are 21/10 from PaddyPower. Some crowd called BetStars have the draw at 13/5. There the best odds we can find for the results but can settle on none of them. In fact, screw it. We’ll just enjoy the match and bets be damned.