The biggest game of the week is, by no doubt, Liverpool vs Chelsea on Tuesday night. Liverpool drop out of the top 4 if they lose and Manchester City win at the London Stadium on Wednesday, but if they win then Chelsea’s lead at the top could be cut to a more reachable level for the chasing pack.
It’ll be a fascinating match-up: Liverpool the high-pressing, gun-wielding, heavy metal side against Chelsea, whose success is based more upon solid foundations than a shot-a-minute offence. That said, Liverpool have been blunted in recent weeks, taking a shot every 32 passes in the past 5 games, just 15th in the league and almost level for speed of attack with Swansea.
Chelsea are also supreme shot limiters. All season they’ve conceded just 8.5 shots per game (the league average is nearly 13), and in the past 5 games their opponents have only shot once every 47 passes. Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge earlier in the season will give them confidence though – they’ve provided Chelsea’s only loss, their only non-win in fact, at home so far in 2016/17.
Potentially more important than this heavyweight clash, however, is Sunderland vs Tottenham. A win could see Sunderland move out of the relegation zone (albeit on goal difference), and any points that Spurs do or do not pick up could be crucial in the way the top 4 shakes out come the end of the season.
Not that anyone will expect Sunderland to win. In the past 5 games they’ve conceded over 8 shots on target a game. That’s the worst form record by a whole 1.8 shots. Spurs, meanwhile, have taken over 6 shots on target a game during the season, and are one of the most intense pressing sides in the league. They only allow their opponents to complete 71% of their passes, a figure second only to Manchester City. Assuming Spurs turn up for this match, they could truly turn up the heat at the Stadium of Light.
A similar pattern may hold at the Liberty Stadium, where Swansea take on Southampton. Swansea have gotten used to defending deeply in Paul Clement’s opening two games against Arsenal and Liverpool, and in the last 5 games they’ve been distinctly stand-offish. They’ve been allowing the opposition to make nearly 19 passes before making a tackle or interception, the absolute lowest in the league of late (the average is just under 12).
Southampton, on the other hand, have been a pressing machine in their past 5 games. They’ve allowed just 8.35 passes per tackle or interception they make, and limiting their opponents to a pass completion rate of just 71%, both of which are the second most intense recent-form rates in the entire league.
Southampton, though only 11th in the table, might be a big enough side for Clement to continue his cautious approach, although the prospect of moving further away from the bottom 3 might be enough for him to order his side to kick it up a gear. If they lose and other results don’t go their way, they’ll be right back in the drop zone.
But maybe the most underrated big match of the week is Burnley vs Leicester. Burnley could move into the top half with a win, and Leicester won’t want to come any closer to the relegation zone than they are already. Burnley are good at home, and in the past 5 matches they’ve averaged a dangerous 4.6 shots on target per game. For reference, that’s the same as Manchester City. Leicester will need to perform well to avoid a loss.
Arsenal vs Watford
Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace
Middlesbrough vs West Bromwich Albion
West Ham vs Manchester City
Manchester United vs Hull
Stoke vs Everton