Will workhorses Liverpool be too industrious for Manchester United? Can Mark Hughes and Stoke forget their horrible history?
Keep On Running
Is running around a lot now the secret to success in the Premier League? It’s starting to look that way when checking out the table showing distance covered by the 20 teams so far this season. The top three are Liverpool (814.8km), Man City (803.9km) and Tottenham (803.4km). That trio sit 4th, 1st and 2nd respectively in the Premier League so the Duracell Bunny approach employed by three of the division’s young managers, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, is clearly working.
Intriguingly, the ‘laziest’ team in the top flight are Manchester United (735.6km). Has the game moved on since Jose Mourinho last won the title with Chelsea, even if it was just two seasons ago? Or is there still more than one way to skin a cat and cool, calm and composed can still beat headless chicken? Will City, Spurs and Liverpool run out of legs, allowing the tortoise to catch the hare? That’s enough animal references I think…
Manchester United started the season as second favourites for the title, while Liverpool were fifth in the betting. After seven games, their positions have switched with the latest Premier League odds showing Man City as 5/6 favourites ahead of 4/1 Liverpool, 7/1 Arsenal, 15/2 Spurs, 14/1 Man Utd and 16/1 Chelsea.
We get another chance to see if those changes are justified when Liverpool host United at Anfield on Monday. The men from Manchester have done the double over the Merseysiders in each of the last two seasons but Liverpool scored a 3-1 aggregate victory against United in last season’s Europa League. Jurgen Klopp has also won three of his five matches against teams managed by Jose Mourinho so will Liverpool’s fast-paced and fluid attacking approach (see above running stats) blow United away and show them to be Man City’s biggest threat? Or will the Portuguese boss reserve something special for a team he loves to beat?
It’s second bottom v bottom when Stoke host Sunderland on Saturday. Recent stats for the pair obviously make grim reading and the biggest indictment is that they’ve bagged just five points between them from a combined 14 matches this season. Stoke’s struggles come as the bigger surprise and this should really be a golden opportunity to kick on.
But wait. The Potters have managed just one win in their last 10 Premier League games against Sunderland and Mark Hughes has won just three of his 16 Premier League meetings as a manager with David Moyes. Will Stoke make light of this horrible history or does more trouble loom for Hughes given that Moyes and his team can be regarded as bogeymen?
One of the surprising stats doing the rounds right now is that Mesut Ozil has managed just one assist in his last 16 games. That’s poor given that setting up team-mates is Ozil’s raison-d’etre but by his own very high standards it represents a huge downturn in form.
Ozil managed 19 assists from 35 starts in the top flight last term so it’s normal for him to provide an assist better than every two games. He’ll have the chance to get back to doing what he does best when Arsenal host Swansea although if his creative drought continues is it time for Wenger to bench him? It’s not the first time in his Emirates career that his contribution has been questioned but, despite scoring a couple himself, the numbers say his impact this season has been way below what we expect.
Howe About That
Bournemouth avoided a relegation fight last season when finishing five points clear of the drop zone and they’re doing nicely again thank you this time with eight points from seven games putting them 13th. So after watching England’s drab away draw in Slovenia in midweek, would Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe do a better job than Gareth Southgate?
The Cherries have started with seven or more English players in each of their last 13 Premier League games so Howe is almost doing a live audition by having his success with home-grown players rather than relying on overseas stars. Is it too soon to start thinking of him as the next England manager? The bookies think not and he’s 10/1 fourth favourite with Paddy Power to get the nod. Four of Bournemouth’s next five games are against Hull (Saturday), Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Stoke (that quartet are all in the bottom six) so he could advertise his claims further with a healthy haul from those matches.