2018-19 EPL Match Day 19 Preview — Burnley (3-3-12) vs. Everton (6-6-6)

At some point for Everton, the lessons learned from their losses to the Big Six need to be applied rather than simply talked about.

Coming off another such chastening defeat, Marco Silva brings his Toffees to Turf Moor on Boxing Day to complete the first half of their league fixture list against Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Everton (6-6-6) took one point from their first go-round against the Premier League perennials, with three of the losses coming during their current five-match winless run (0-2-3). But Sunday’s 6-2 thrashing by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday was an eye-opener for the blue supporters on Merseyside, and for all the wrong reasons.

After grabbing a lead on 21 minutes through Theo Walcott, Everton had a second chalked off when Dominic Calvert-Lewin was called for a foul on Davinson Sanchez getting free to head Walcott’s cross. Everton then gifted Spurs an equaliser six minutes later as defender Kurt Zouma and keeper Jordan Pickford had a miscommunication. That opened the floodgates as the Toffees conceded three more times around the interval and were 4-1 down three minutes after the restart.

Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back for Everton, but Tottenham were too classy and too good in this match as Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane completed their respective braces. For all the talk of changing the culture of Everton with his much-heralded arrival in the summer, Silva and the Toffees are actually one point worse than where they were at this point last term while on their third gaffer.

“After (our first goal) we made a big mistake and at this level we cannot concede goals like that. It is my job to realise why (it happened),” Silva told evertontv after gaining the dubious distinction of becoming the first manager in the Premier League era to give up six goals at home while in charge of three different sides. “We spoke at half-time and I said we would score goals in the second half and it was important not to concede again. But in the first few minutes we conceded and it was very difficult for us.

“It is a big lesson for us as a team.”

Everton looked out of sorts in the back of their customary 4-2-3-1 formation as both defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye and centre back Yerry Mina were out nursing injuries. It was the second straight absence for Gueye, who is rumoured to be attracting interest from French side Paris-Saint Germain in the transfer window.

Up front, Silva had Calvert-Lewin leading the line for the second straight match with Richarlison dropped back to the left wing where he started the season. Calvert-Lewin has recorded a goal and an assist in his two starts, which means Bernard may be the odd man out once more after Walcott also took his goal well.

The good news for the Toffees is the holiday fixture list allows little time for wallowing and quick opportunities to regroup.

“We have to get ourselves back on track, the confidence is still there,” right back Seamus Coleman said. “We have some winnable games, but we know they are all tough. I think the manner of the goals we conceded is most disappointing.

“But we have a big game in a few days (against Burnley), so we have to pick ourselves up for it.”

Burnley (3-3-12) have been trying to pick themselves up all season, but to little avail as they continue to flirt with the drop. The Clarets were unable to win back-to-back league matches for the first time this season after a 3-1 loss at the Emirates to Arsenal on Saturday and remained at the top of the drop, two points behind Cardiff City.

Sean Dyche’s team were done in by a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on either side of halftime. Ashley Barnes gave Burnley a fighting chance for a point by pulling one back just after the hour, and after the final whistle, Dyche tore into the officiating for what he felt was yet another missed penalty for his team and other assorted grievances throughout the 90 minutes.

“Shall we start with the 61 games without a penalty? Shall we start there,” he fumed. “And a clear double-handed push in the back on Kevin Long? Ashley Barnes getting booked when their player clearly threw an elbow out at him?

“No one wants to do anything about it, so I will leave it there, no one wants to affect the diving. … You wouldn’t ruffle your child’s hair when they come back from school if they’d cheated at a maths test but in a game of football it’s OK. I’m talking about the morality of the game and I’m absolutely amazed where it’s at.”

Dyche’s spleen-venting aside, the Clarets have simply been not good enough defensively all term. Their 36 goals shipped are better than only the Bluebirds and last-place Fulham, and they have conceded at least twice in seven of their last 10 league matches. For his part, Barnes is confident Burnley can right themselves and escape the drop.

“We knew we had two tough games on the bounce and now we’ve just got to try and pick up as many points as possible. We’ve still got a long way to go and we’ll do that,” Barnes told Burnley’s official website after scoring his first goal since bagging a brace versus Bournemouth on Sept. 22. “These games are important and for everyone to get behind us and us to put in the performances we have done in the last few games.

“I am confident with that group of players in the changing room and the work we do for each other. We’ve still got half of the season left. I have no qualms we will get out of it.”

Burnley did the double over Everton last term, recording a pair of one-goal victories. Barnes and Chris Wood scored second-half goals to rally the Clarets to a 2-1 win at Turf Moore, negating Cenk Tosun’s 20th-minute marker. The teams have split eight all-time Premier League meetings without a draw.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are solid 19/20 favourites to end their winless run and claim a needed three points, while Burnley are 10/3 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/2. Despite being sliced and diced for six last time out, oddsmakers are thinking this will be a low-scoring affair, 4/5 odds it will end with less than 2.5 goals compared to even money for over that threshold.

There are 4/5 odds both teams will find at least one goal compared to 19/20 odds there will be a clean sheet in either direction.

Calvert-Lewin’s form sees him joint-third on the list of options for first goal-scorers at 6/1 with Oumar Niasse, behind teammates Richarlison (9/2) and Tosun (5/1). Walcott is a step back at 13/2 before Barnes emerges as Burnley’s top choice to make it 1-0 at 7/1 along with Chris Wood and Matej Vydra. Sam Vokes is another step back at 15/2.

For any-time goal-scoring honours, Richarlison leads the line at 6/4, with Tosun second at 13/8. Calvert-Lewin and Niasse are both 2/1 picks and Walcott is 11/5 before the aforementioned Burnley trio are 12/5. Vokes is 13/5, and Sigurdsson lurks further back at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Although no one really knows how close he is to 100 percent and being available for selection, one has to think Nick Pope’s time to return between the sticks is coming soon for Burnley. Current No. 1 Joe Hart has been adequate at best, and even the switch to a five-man backline for the last two matches has failed to work as well as Dyche hoped.

Dyche’s remonstrations, somewhat justified that the law of averages should make it impossible to go 61 matches without earning a penalty, was a nice way to absorb some of the growing pressure on the Clarets to find results. The good news for Burnley is that with Huddersfield stunningly awful on offence and Fulham likewise on defence, there is still plenty of opportunities to claw their way out of the drop. But the sooner the better, as their margin of error dwindles with each passing contest.

Everton, on the other hand, continue to be perplexing and maddening, as star-crossed a franchise as ever there has been outside the Big Six. Last weekend was an opportunity to get themselves right and make a case for themselves, only to watch it come undone in spectacular fashion in front of the home supporters.

If anything, the loss showed the one glaring weakness of the Toffees — an inability to influence the match in their half of the pitch to transition from defence to offence. Sigurdsson is creative, yes, but this team does not do enough to hold possession. And against Spurs’ diamond midfield, that proved fatal — more so without Mina and Gueye.

This match will likely be scruffy and scrappy as Burnley will try to crowd Everton out of the final third. If the Clarets stay with five on the back, it will be on Calvert-Lewin to unlock the defence through the middle with his pace, which means Sigurdsson will be trying to find a killer ball.

Everton’s defence will be improved simply because Burnley lack the offensive firepower of Spurs, but Mina (should he be available), Zouma, and Michael Keane will have to shut down Barnes and target forward Wood. This may be a match where the weekend hangover carries onto both sides and results in a sharing of the points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 1, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 19 PREVIEWS:

Liverpool (15-3-0) vs. Newcastle United (4-5-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (14-0-4) vs. Bournemouth (8-2-8)
Leicester City (7-4-7) vs. Manchester City (14-2-2)
Southampton (3-6-9) vs. West Ham United (7-3-8)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 18 Preview — Arsenal (10-4-3) vs. Burnley (3-3-11)

Arsenal went from having gone four months without a loss to now picking up the pieces from two defeats four days apart.

Unai Emery faces his first real crisis since taking over as the Gunners look to right themselves Saturday at the Emirates against Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The patience afforded Emery when Arsenal (10-4-3) opened the season with back-to-back losses to defending champions Manchester City and derby rivals Chelsea was largely shunted aside in a positive manner as the Gunners embarked on a 22-match unbeaten run (17-5-0) in all competitions.

Arsenal have played themselves into contention for a top-four spot – with Champions League play in 2019-20 a potential welcome bonus to end Emery’s first season in contrast to a third straight Europa League campaign for his second – but a lack of depth in defence has caused issues that finally became too much to paper over this past week.

First there was the surprising loss at relegation-threatened Southampton last weekend, the kind of loss that left Arsenal supporters frothing at the mouth under predecessor Arsene Wenger in the final years of his tenure. Some of that defeat could be chalked up to not having suspended first-choice centre backs Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi available due to suspension.

Wednesday’s 2-0 home loss to north London rival Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals, however, was a harsh reminder of the gap Emery and Arsenal face in trying to break the top four this term – even though they are just three points behind Chelsea for fourth.

It was another makeshift back four to a degree as central midfielder Granit Xhaka was in central defence with Sokratis as Emery rang in four of his five changes from Sunday’s loss in goal and defence. Dele Alli, though, had too much class for the Gunners as he set up Heung-Min Son’s goal on 20 minutes and took one himself just before the hour.

“Today I am happy with our performance, but not happy with our result,” Emery told the club’s official website. “But also I think we are doing our process. They are ahead of us in this process. We need to continue creating our identity, our strong ideas to be more consistent in the games. But this is our way.”

The question surrounding Emery that is gaining volume and repetition is whether Mesut Ozil is part of that way. The former Germany international did not make the 18-man roster for this match and has started just once in the last eight in all competitions. It was also the second time Emery declined to select him to face Spurs, saying it was “a tactical decision because I thought that the players that were with us today were the best choices for this match.”

Another area of concern is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s form as he went a fourth consecutive match without a goal. He leads the team with 12 in all competitions, with the most recent one coming in the 4-2 victory over Spurs on Dec. 2.

Burnley (3-3-11) have plenty of their own problems to sort out, having been denied back-to-back league wins for the first time this season after a cruel 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. The Clarets did enough work, especially in defence, to deserve a point from their trip to Wembley, but a stoppage-time strike from Christian Eriksen left Sean Dyche’s team still at the top of the drop on 12 points as Southampton climbed over them on goal difference.

“I don’t think anyone is performing badly,” keeper Joe Hart told Burnley’s official website. “This league is just so strong that if you are not quite there you are probably going to lose the game. That’s not an excuse, so we need to be more ruthless at both ends.

“Burnley’s success over the past couple of seasons has been about turning half-chances into a goal and restricting a lot of chances at the other end to get clean sheets,” he added. “Getting back to that would be a great foundation and, as proven last season, it’s about sticking to that mantra and not necessarily being too expansive and trying to win games by four or five, but knowing one goal will be enough.”

Hart may be fighting to keep the No. 1 shirt through the holiday fixtures as original first-choice keeper and England international Nick Pope is back practicing after missing five months with a dislocated shoulder. Dyche had an injury situation solve itself to a degree as winger Aaron Lennon – who appeared in all but one league contest – is expected to miss time following a knee procedure, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson is expected to return after missing the Spurs loss with a knock.

Arsenal did the double last term, sending Wenger off in style with a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley in his final match at the Emirates. Aubameyang’s brace bracketed goals by Alex Iwobi, Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac.

The Clarets have dropped eight on the trot in all competitions to the Gunners, with their lone win in 12 meetings (1-1-10) in the Premier League era a 2-0 victory in the 2008 League Cup quarterfinals. Arsenal are 7-1-0 versus Burnley in league play and outscored them 13-2 in their four home victories.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are heavy 1/4 favourites to right themselves and claim three points from this match, while Burnley are 14/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline. The odds of the clubs splitting the points are also a distant 11/2.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of goals in this contest despite Burnley’s improved defensive form — there are 1/2 odds to finish with more than 2.5 goals compared to 13/8 for under the mark. Oddly, though, the oddsmakers also feel it will be Arsenal who carries that line since the 4/5 odds of one team not scoring edge out the yes for both teams bagging a goal at 19/20.

Despite his current dry run, Aubameyang leads the line for first goal-scorers at 21/10, with Alexander Lacazette second-choice at 3/1. Arsenal’s kiddie corps of Eddie Nketiah (9/2) and Emile Smith-Rowe (6/1) are next, with Ozil surprisingly slotting in with Smith-Rowe at 6/1. Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Matej Vydra all share honours as Burnley’s top option to make it 0-1 at 12/1.

Aubameyang and Lacazette are both expected to score in this match with 4/9 and 4/6 anytime odds, respectively, and even Nketiah is close to even money at 21/20. Smith-Rowe and Ozil are paired together at 6/4, while midfielder Aaron Ramsey is 13/8.

Barnes, Wood and Vydra are all 10/3 picks to prevent Bernd Leno from recording a clean sheet, and Sam Vokes is another step back at 15/4.

PREDICTION

While it is far from a crisis, the cold water thrown on Arsenal this past week is a reminder of just how stagnant things got in the final seasons of Wenger’s run in north London. That said, it does have to be refreshing to a degree that Emery is pragmatically trying to fix things from match to match.

Both of these defeats can be chalked up to certain factors — the lack of bodies in central defence at Southampton, and quite frankly — Arsenal’s post-match celebrations from their 4-2 win over Spurs apparently aggravated enough of them to come out and put the Gunners in their place in the Carabao Cup quarters.

There’s no shame in being fifth in the table right now, but there is a very visible line of demarcation with that top four.

Arsenal needs to get Aubameyang going again, because as he goes, so go Arsenal. The Gabon international has seven goals at home in all competitions, but the only two he has scored in his last seven at the Emirates came in the win over Tottenham. The Gunners are 7-1-0 in all competitions when he scores, including a 4-0-0 mark when he bags a brace.

Despite the result against the Lilywhites, Burnley at least appear to have turned a corner with regards to shape and quality. Hart’s comments suggest there is no panic in the dressing room and Dyche still has their ears.

The concern for the Clarets now is finding goals. While it will technically not happen in this game since they were blanked by Spurs, Burnley have not scored in consecutive matches since Sept. 30 and Oct. 6 versus Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City. Dyche has tried every combination up front among Vydra, Wood and Vokes, even throwing Barnes up there at times, but to little or no avail.

There appears to be some sort of disconnect in supply from the midfield to the forwards because Burnley do have talent in those areas from Gudmundsson, Robbie Brady and Steven Defour, but it has not translated into enough goal-scoring chances.

The industry is almost always there for Burnley, but the results have been too few and far in between. Alas, that is the expected outcome for this game as well.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 3, Burnley 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 18 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (7-4-6) vs. Liverpool (14-3-0)
Chelsea (11-4-2) vs. Leicester City (6-4-7)
West Ham United (7-3-7) vs. Watford (7-3-7)
Everton (6-6-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (13-0-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

Their ticket to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year punched in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tottenham Hotspur try to come down off their high and stay in the thick of the Premier League race as their hectic December fixture list continues Saturday at Wembley versus Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It could very well go down as the greatest draw in Spurs history, regardless of the strength of the Barcelona side they faced Tuesday at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s team – and specifically untested right back Kyle Walker-Peters – shook off a seventh-minute goal by Barca’s Ousmane Dembele to scrape out a gritty 1-1 draw courtesy of Lucas Moura’s goal three minutes from time.

The result, coupled with Inter Milan surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, allowed the Lilywhites passage to the Champions League round of 16 as Group B runners-up.

For the moment, no one is worried about potential opponents Juventus, Bayern Munich or even reigning three-times champions Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s draw for their February fate after the staggering amount of energy Spurs expended to claim seven points from their final three group play matches to simply be included.

“It’s a massive achievement for the Club,” Pochettino said post-match. “It’s so important to be in the next stage of the Champions League. It’s a massive boost for everyone. Now we keep going. We were a little unlucky in how we conceded the first goal after seven minutes and that changed our strategy a little and we started to play in two different stadiums – here at the Nou Camp and in Milan.

“In the second half we found a way to link play better in our possession and started to create chances. We deserved to go through. We’ve made the impossible, possible and it’s important to show everyone if you believe, everything in football is possible. That emotion is so important and we need to protect that and use it in the right way, trying to push with everyone involved and the belief that we can improve and do better.”

To say Spurs left it late in their five-week scramble would be a huge understatement since both match-winners versus PSV and Inter and Moura’s equaliser Tuesday came on 80 minutes or later. For Moura, his seventh goal this term in all competitions was also a personal redemption after the nightmare he endured at the Nou Camp in his last visit with PSG in March 2017 when Barcelona stunned the French side with three goals after the 88th minute to advance with a 6-5 aggregate win in the round of 16.

“It was a very important goal and I’m so happy to score here in the Nou Camp in the Champions League and help my team-mates to qualify,” the Brasil international told Spurs’ official website. “It was an amazing moment. The last time here was really sad for me and this is really different.

“In the second half we did very well. We had many chances to score. We could win. It was a deserved result. … It was a very happy night for me, an amazing moment.”

Now, though, it is time for Spurs (12-0-4) to turn their attention back to domestic play. Thanks to derby rivals Chelsea, who knocked off previously unbeaten and reigning champions Manchester City last weekend, Pochettino’s side is just six points back of new leaders Liverpool and part of a three-time race.

“To qualify for the next stage of the Champions League is an amazing thing for the club, it means a lot for the fans and the players,” Pochettino said. “But now we are thinking about Burnley, a tough game on Saturday, and we need to create an amazing atmosphere at Wembley because it’s an important three points.

“We need to be ready because the competition doesn’t wait for you, it doesn’t stop, and it’s so important to be in our best condition to compete. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation. If we want to be consistent, it’s a game where we need to give our best and compete in our best way.”

Pochettino will likely again lean on the 21-year-old Walker-Peters since first-choice right back Kieran Trippier is still sidelined with a groin injury and understudy Serge Aurier just returned to training after suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s win over Leicester City. It would also not be surprising to see Moura and Erik Lamela in the starting XI given the amount of energy Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen expended at the Nou Camp.

Burnley (3-3-10) moved above the drop last weekend with a crucial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion that ended a three-match losing streak and eight-match winless spell (0-2-6) overall.

Jack Tarkowski was able to re-direct Jack Cork’s 40th-minute cross for the lone goal, and the Clarets’ defence that had gone missing for so long this term finally showed its teeth as it followed up the solid effort in their 3-1 loss to Liverpool with their first clean sheet at home since routing Bournemouth 4-0 on Sept. 22.

“We know there is a strength to the unity of the side and recently we haven’t got over the line in games where we could have done,” Clarets boss Sean Dyche said post-match. “Others have rightly gone against us because we haven’t performed. But slowly and surely we are remodelling our game and in three of the last four we’ve looked more like ourselves.”

Dyche has some injury concerns to deal with as attacking midfielder Steven Defour and right wing Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be late decisions due to calf and hamstring injuries, respectively. Aaron Lennon would likely replace Gudmundsson on the flank while Dyche has multiple options for Defour, including dropping Ashley Barnes into the playmaking role and pairing together strikers Chris Wood and Sam Vokes.

Having finally ended their winless run, Dyche feels a weight has been lifted off his side and will be able to play freely at Wembley.

“We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes,” he noted to Sky Sports. “Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result. “It changes when you go to places like Tottenham. That gives us just that little bit of freedom to take the game on and hopefully deliver a very good performance, because we will need it.”

The Clarets nicked a point off Spurs in their trip to Wembley last term, with Wood’s 92nd minute canceling out a goal by Dele Alli just before the hour. Burnley are winless in eight (0-3-5) in all competitions versus Spurs since their long Premier League win in eight tries (1-2-5) – a 4-2 victory at Turf Moor in 2010.

Kane had a hat trick in the most recent meeting, a 3-0 win for Spurs on Dec. 23.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are whopping 2/11 favourites to avoid a letdown and claim all three points, while Burnley are 18/1 underdogs to post back-to-back wins. The odds of the teams splitting the points are a somewhat 7/1 longshot.

Even with Burnley’s improved defensive play the last two matches, oddsmakers are confident the Lilywhites have the class to carry most, if not all, of the 2.5 goal threshold. The odds are 4/9 of clearing that mark compared to 7/4 for staying under that amount. There are also 4/6 odds of there being at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds both teams put up at least a “1” on the Wembley scoreboard.

Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 2/1, comfortably ahead of understudy Llorente (7/2). Son and Moura are both 4/1 options, followed by Dele Alli (5/1), Lamela (11/2) and Eriksen (6/1). There are another three Lilywhites before finding the first Burnley player as Wood, Barnes and Matej Vydra are all 14/1 picks to make it 0-1.

Kane is a staggering 2/5 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Llorente is also better than even money at 4/5. Son and Moura are also in that group at 10/11, while Alli is just off that standard at 6/5. The playmakers Lamela (13/10) and Eriksen (6/4) are also strong options. For the Clarets, Barnes, Wood, and Vydra are 15/4 options, and Sam Vokes is another tick back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

I get the desire to want this to be a competitive match. Burnley look to have finally turned a corner in terms of getting a disappointing season to kick on, and Spurs expended a staggering amount of energy and fight to get that point at Barcelona and are not 100 percent on the back line and so on and so forth.

Sometimes, though, a good offence is a better defence, and that is the case for the Lilywhites. Burnley will be disciplined and will be difficult to break down their two banks of four, but what they are not going to have is a noticeable amount of possession with the ball.

Dyche can claim his side will be adventurous in this match, but that is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” claim for the Clarets, especially if their most creative player (Defour) and best crosser (Gudmundsson) are struggling to be match fit.

For all the hue and cry of Spurs not signing anyone this past summer (note: this space was among those skeptical), the 25 players Pochettino has on his roster are all players who can contribute. Moura and Son are interchangeable, as are Lamela and Eriksen, and there is little drop-off to the expected starting pair in this match at the Premier League level. And having Alli in support in the middle makes them better.

There may be some concern in rebuilding Walker-Peters’ confidence after that man vs. boy goal by Dembele at the Nou Camp, but that is a concern for another day since he must play given the injuries to Trippier and Aurier. The 21-year-old will play until one or both of them are healthy, and will be an important piece of the holiday fixtures.

It will likely take a half for Tottenham to run through their gears, but as long as they maintain possession of the ball, there will be little for Burnley to do but harass and try to hit on the counter. And that will lead to a lack of opportunities that will allow Spurs to stay in the title hunt.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 15 Preview — Burnley (2-3-9) vs. Liverpool (11-3-0)

It is the kind of victory than can galvanise a team to do special things in a season. But facing a short turnaround, Liverpool know their dramatic Merseyside Derby win will mean little if they do not follow it up with another three points Wednesday at Turf Moor versus struggling Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The 232nd matchup between the Reds and Everton was a tense affair with Liverpool goalkeeper Allison preserving a scoreless deadlock early with a world-class save on a point-blank header from Andre Gomes inside the six-yard box before Joe Gomez cleared the ball off the line midway through the first half. There were few scoreless chances over the final 45 minutes until a moment of sheer luck and folly followed in stoppage time.

Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk scuffed a volley attempt, slicing it like a pop-up with his right foot and turning away in disgust as it sailed towards goal. Everton keeper Jordan Pickford, trying to make a play on it, failed to tip it over the bar for a corner kick but instead knocked it straight up, causing it to bounce on the top of the crossbar.

From there it fell forward and Divock Origi – the last gamble off the bench from Jurgen Klopp and playing his first Premier League match since the start of last season – nodded it home in the 96th minute to send the Kop into delirium and his manager into a frenzied on-pitch celebration with Alisson that will undoubtedly result, in the very least, a five-figure fine.

The 1-0 victory marked a 19th straight year Everton would leave Anfield and retreat across Stanley Park without a victory, but more importantly for Liverpool (11-3-0), the result kept them two points behind defending champions Manchester City.

“It was a really difficult game today – derbies are always difficult but today it was a completely different difficult to the last few years,” Klopp said post-match. “All my respect for Everton, they were really good. Both teams delivered a proper fight, a proper derby from the first second.

“Of course, it was a bit lucky – Virg, in the moment when the ball left his foot I thought it was over and then you see the back-spin, you see the ball flies direct onto the crossbar and then it was an unthankful job for Pickford and Divock was there. It was a very intense game and obviously a much nicer finish for us.”

Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match, putting his best four attacking options out there in Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri. Given the intensity of the derby, it would not be surprising to see Klopp revert to the 4-3-3 he has used for most of the season, with the most obvious change being Jordan Henderson back in the middle of the park after serving his one-match ban for his double booking versus Watford.

James Milner and Naby Keita could complete the midfield trio given the former was an unused substitute and the latter entered for Shaqiri in the 71st minute. In defence, it would not be surprising to see either Gomez or Van Dijk get this match off with Dejan Lovren entering in central defence.

While Liverpool are coming off the highest of highs, Burnley (2-3-9) continue to deal with the lows of a season that began with such promise and Europa League qualifying rounds. The Clarets are ahead of only Fulham in the table after their fifth loss in six matches, a 2-0 defeat at Crystal Park on Saturday.

“We are in that strange position where the eye of the tiger has gone a little. Last year everyone was on it, all of the time, and we showed no fear,” manager Sean Dyche told the club’s official website after the loss. “We looked people in the eye and said, ‘you had better be ready, because we are’ and that gives you a chance with everything, particularly when you have that underdog feel.

“Our status has changed, which should be a good thing. The players and the club have become more recognised, because of the achievements of last season, and that brings a different demand. I actually enjoy that, because we’ve worked hard to be recognised. But while some individuals love that and thrive on it, others find it really tough and we are kind of in that mixed bag and it’s affecting the group tactically.”

What made the performance all the more jarring is that Burnley – a sound side last term who finished seventh by conceding just 39 goals – have already shipped 29 through 14 matches. The offence is not helping matters any with just four goals during their seven-match winless spell (0-2-5) and did not register a shot on target versus the Eagles.

Crystal Palace accumulated a 29-4 edge in overall shots while keeping Joe Hart busy – the Burnley keeper finished with seven saves and has a Premier League-high 61.

It would not be surprising to see Dyche restore Sam Vokes as his centre-forward over Chris Wood considering the New Zealand international has gone three matches without a goal in the first XI.

The Clarets have just one win in eight top-flight matches (1-1-6) versus Liverpool, a 2-0 victory in 2016-17. Liverpool scratched out a 2-1 win in last season’s corresponding fixture, with defender Ragnar Klavan scoring the winner on 94 minutes.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are convincing 2/7 favourites to extend Burnley’s misery while remaining their stalking of Manchester City. The odds of the Clarets nicking a point from this contest are 19/4, and they are 13/1 longshots to claim all three points with a shock scoreline.

Oddsmakers are also expecting goals, with 8/13 odds listed for a total over 2.5 goals compared to 13/10 for finishing under that threshold. There also is not much faith in Burnley putting one past Alisson it seems since there are 4/6 odds for at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds for both teams to score.

Salah leads the line for first goal-scorers at 12/5, followed by Daniel Sturridge (11/4). Origi’s late heroics have moved him to third on the list at 15/4, followed by Liverpool’s other primary strikers Firmino (4/1) and Mane (9/2). Shaqiri continues the list of Reds at 6/1, with the rested James Milner (9/1) and somewhat-rested Keita (11/1) also ahead of top Burnley options Ashley Wood, Matej Vydra and Chris Wood (12/1).

Salah, Sturridge, and Origi all are better than even money odds to score in this match, ranging from 4/7 to 20/21. Firmino (21/20) and Mane (6/5) are just off that level, with Shaqiri checking in at 13/8. Milner has 13/5 odds and Keita is 10/3. Burnley’s aforementioned trio are all 15/4 to provide a goal for the home supporters.

PREDICTION

While there is some concern about Liverpool potentially suffering a letdown after such a dramatic victory, there is also the matter of player rotation ahead of their Champions League showdown versus Napoli next Tuesday. The good news for Klopp is he will be able to rotate his side back and forth based on the two formations he has used, and he also has the depth in terms of bodies to make sure everyone is fresh to face the Italian side.

There will likely be at least four new faces in the starting XI, and it would not be surprising to see Klopp swap out both central defenders and go with Lovren and Joel Matip. There will also likely be room out wide for Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne over the next two matches as they will deputise for Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. 

An entirely new midfield is not out of the question with Milner and Henderson fully fresh, and there will be some changes up front. Who, though, is anyone’s guess, but the expectation is Sturridge will lead the line for this match, and Origi possibly getting the start with Firmino coming off the bench.

While Burnley are in a relegation fight, it is wise to take a moment to compare the Clarets with one of their bottom three brethren in Southampton. The former have the iron will of Sean Dyche, who is not deluding himself or his side when it comes to the work that has to be done to climb upwards.

Contrast that with Southampton, now on their fourth manager in less than two seasons following the (overdue) sacking of Mark Hughes on Monday. The Saints appear to be a team that simply cannot get out of their own way, squandering points from a winning position more times than they care to admit.

Simply put, Burnley have to improve. At the same time, Dyche’s steadfastness and focus on the task at hand provides optimism they can. It may not happen in this match, but it does need to happen soon for the Clarets. The back four will be the key (or fault) for that revival, and even facing second-choice strikers in this contest will not do Burnley much good.

This is a match about small steps for the Clarets, and maybe they can steal a point if things break right. But the more important match comes this weekend at Brighton and Hove Albion, and winning that match starts with the small steps in this one.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 0, Liverpool 2.

OTHER EPL Match Day 15 Previews:
Bournemouth (6-2-6) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-4-8)
Watford (6-2-6) vs. Manchester City (12-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-4-6) vs. Chelsea (9-4-1)
Manchester United (6-4-4) vs. Arsenal (9-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)

The pain is still raw and apparent in the Midlands, where the tears still flow over the tragic death of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash as he was leaving King Power Stadium a fortnight ago.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Saturday’s match against Burnley marks the first at King Power Stadium since the Foxes lost their owner, and emotions for players, staff and supporters will again be running high as the club prepares for the difficult task of honouring one of their own.

The tributes of flowers, scarves, cards and shirts have overwhelmed Filbert Way both physically – they wrap around the entire length of the stadium – and emotionally as the players and staff were often seen walking around the area in the days immediately following the crash that claimed four lives in addition to the Leicester City owner. The players also flew to Srivaddhanaprabha’s native Thailand during the week to pay their respects.

The club announced Wednesday they will begin relocating the tributes to a designated area near the southeast corner of King Power Stadium, close to the actual site of the crash which has been cleared to be used by investigators.

There will be other tributes ahead of the match, with a large number of supporters expected to walk from Jubilee Square to King Power Stadium. There will be a two-minute silence observed, with supporters requested to raise the scarves during that observance to honour the lives lost. There will also be what the team has called a “Tribute to Khun Vichai” video that will be played pre-match as the club and their supporters come to grips with all that has transpired in the past fortnight.

“It’s not easy to prepare this game, but the togetherness between us all, it’s a good feeling, a good energy, a fantastic strength,” said manager Claude Puel to the club’s official website. “Our strength, spirit and positive attitude, as well as the support of our fans, will be very important. We know our fans, they are fantastic… there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fantastic reunion with the fans After the game, there was a lot of emotion that we shared with them and we can imagine what it will be like at home with 30,000 people in the stadium.”

“We have lost what feels like a family member and we wouldn’t have been here without him,” added keeper Kasper Schmeichel, who witnessed the crash, to The Times. “When he took over, this club was in a pretty precarious situation and to build what he built is amazing. It is one thing building a club and a team who can perform on the pitch but we are all a lot more proud of being part of the club he has created and the feeling he has instilled in everyone being welcomed.”

Some of the club’s catharsis was found last weekend in Wales, where Leicester City recorded a 1-0 victory over Cardiff City. Demarai Gray side-footed a cross from Ben Chilwell in the 55th minute for the match-winner, helping overcome the loss of standout centre back Harry Maguire.

The England international could be facing a lengthy spell out of action with a leg injury suffered in the first half-hour. Midfielder and top playmaker James Maddison will also miss this match and the England fixtures, though it is believed he will be able to return straightaway following the international break.

Jonny Evans is expected to take Maguire’s spot in central defence alongside Wes Morgan, while Marc Albrighton is the most likely replacement for Maddison in the middle of the park.

All the goings-on surrounding Leicester City could simply be pretext to an additional heaping of misery onto Burnley (2-2-7), who arrive in the Midlands having dropped three on the trot while shipping 13 goals. Though there is no shame in being overrun by reigning champions Manchester City and Chelsea, alarm bells were undoubtedly ringing after last weekend’s 4-2 defeat at West Ham United.

The Clarets pulled level twice at London Stadium, first through Jon Berg Gudmundsson at the end of the first half and through Chris Wood on 77 minutes, but a breakdown seven minutes later resulted in a go-ahead goal by the Hammers, who then put Burnley out of their misery with a fourth in stoppage time.

Burnley gaffer Sean Dyche, who was at King Power Stadium to scout Leicester City and West Ham the day of the helicopter crash, has been walking a delicate line between training his side for this match and being properly respectful of all that will take place around them.

“We will approach it in the best, most respectful way we can. That means letting the players know that the feeling of the day, predominantly, is going to be all about Leicester – and rightly so,” Dyche told the club’s official website. “I know their Director of Football, Jon Rudkin, who is someone I class as a friend, and I sent him a couple of texts saying that we will play any part we can, if needed.

“It is a horrible loss to the football club because I know all about that club. Being from Kettering, I’ve seen the changes, from when I was a kid to what it is now, and since the owners have been there as a family they have built a real connection with people there.”

That fine line has been difficult considering Burnley’s struggles, which have dropped them to 15th in the table and two points clear of the drop. The Clarets have yet to find their footing following a season that ended so positively with a Europa League berth, and Steven Defour knows his side has to kick on at some point to avoid being caught up in the relegation scrap.

“Each year we’ve had a bad spell at some point. The last two years we had a bad spell more in January and February,” the midfielder said. “We’re having it now and I hope we can close it as soon as possible and we can look up and kick on the season. Get back in our rhythm, get back to basics and the quality we had last year and everything will sort itself out.”

Burnley’s defence, which has already taken hits this year with the absences of Ben Gibson and Stephen Ward, could be further thinned without centre back James Tarkowski, who has been dealing with a groin issue nearly the entire season. Right back Phil Bardsley could be in line for a return, along with midfielder Jack Cork, as the latter missed his first league match last week with an ankle injury.

The home team won both matches last term, with Leicester City claiming a 1-0 victory on Gray’s sixth-minute goal. Burnley, though, have won two of the last three meetings after a 10-match winless stretch (0-3-7).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Leicester City are firm favourites to claim all three points with 1/2 odds, while the Clarets are 6/1 underdogs to stop the rot and pull out a victory. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 16/5.

The Foxes have 13/10 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in this contest, and offer a 13/5 return for 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There are 4/1 odds for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Burnley have 11/1 odds for a victory over the 2.5 goals threshold and 12/1 under it.

As expected, Jamie Vardy is the top choice among oddsmakers to score the first goal of the contest, fetching 11/4 odds. Teammates Kelechi Iheanacho and Shinjo Okazaki round out the top three places as both are 9/2, with Leicester’s Fousseni Diabate a surprising fourth option at 6/1, edging out Gray (13/2). Wood is the top pick for the visitors, with his 15/2 odds the same as “No Goal-scorer,” while Sam Vokes is further back at 17/2.

Vardy is better than even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 10/11, with Iheanacho (6/4) and Okazaki (13/8) among the limited options with shorter than 2/1 odds. Gray is fourth at 11/5, while Wood again leads the Burnley picks at 13/5.

PREDICTION

How much more do they have left to give? While not trying to ask a mean-spirited question given the circumstances of the past fortnight, it is a fair question to ask of Puel and his Leicester City players. After their victory over Cardiff City, the players flew to Thailand almost straightaway to attend Srivaddhanaprabha’s funeral as part of the seven days of recitation ceremonies.

The whirlwind that has followed the passing of the Leicester City owner has been minimal in terms of distractions — the players have flown to Thailand and back to resume practice for this contest and Puel has said all the right things and has been an absolute pillar of strength to the Leicester community. The latter will be something keenly remembered since many of the supporters were not entirely sold on the Frenchman when he took over the club.

For this match, it is the two ends that will likely determine Leicester City’s chances for victory here — Schmeichel and Vardy. Of all the players on the club, Schmeichel has had the most to bear in some ways as being a witness to the crash. How he has processed the grief — he has said he has spoken to someone — is his alone to hold, but there will likely be an inspired effort from the Denmark international.

The same holds true for Vardy, who became the face of this franchise in their fairy tale run to the 2016 Premier League title. The relentless running, the tireless industry, the thrill of the chase, these are all things the striker has brought to the Midlands, and for 90 minutes on Saturday, he will likely deplete himself like few, if any times, over the course of his career. A goal from the former England international, regardless of rooting interests, would be something well-received.

In the grand scheme of the narrative of this match, Burnley are but extras, but they are also the right extras. There are few people other than Dyche who can put all this in a proper perspective as it relates to his side, and to his credit, he has done so in a first-class way. His Clarets, though, need a victory, and a defence that has struggled in quality through a lack of depth will get no respite from Vardy and Iheanacho, whose industry will need to compensate in the fall-off of playmaking quality from Maddison to Albrighton in the No. 10 role.

It is a match where the football is secondary, but a result is required. It sound trite to call a Leicester City victory a “happy ending,” but it is the one most fitting on this difficult day.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LEICESTER CITY 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek certainly caught Maurizio Sarri’s attention with his three-goal outburst in Europa League play. Yet the only way to win playing time under the Italian is to pay the same attention to deal defensively as Chelsea look to remain unbeaten on the season Sunday when they face Burnley at Turf Moor.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Fairly or unfairly, high hopes were pinned on Loftus-Cheek following England’s run to the World Cup semifinals this summer, when the 22-year-old showed plenty of promise and industry as a bustling midfielder with physical presence. He displayed flashes of that potential as a full-time starter on loan last season at Crystal Palace, who he helped overcame a dreadful start to a mid-table finish in the Premier League.

In his first season at Stamford Bridge, Sarri wanted to keep Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea (6-3-0), but he became surplus to goods to a degree with the arrival of Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid in the deal that sent keeper Thibaut Courtois to the reigning three-time Champions League winners.

Loftus-Cheek was also set back by injuries in the early part of the season, but he has been frustrated at dropping below both Kovacic and compatriot Ross Barkley in the pecking order at left midfield while playing just 99 minutes in all competitions heading into Thursday’s match versus BATE Borisov.

But for one glorious hour, all those frustrations washed away as Loftus-Cheek became the first Chelsea player in 12 years to strike for a hat trick in European competition, powering the Pensioners to a 3-1 victory that gave them a firm grip atop Group L. He scored twice in the first eight minutes before being gifted a soft third by BATE keeper Denis Scherbitski and also became the first English-born player to score three goals in a European contest since Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin combined for eight goals against Jeunesse Hautcharage in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971.

“He played very, very well,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “In the offensive phase, wonderful. I thought before, from the beginning of the season, he was really a very good player.

“Now I think the same, but I think maybe also he is more suitable to my football. He is improving. He also needs to improve in the defensive phase, but not only Loftus.”

Overall, Sarri made eight changes to the XI that drew Manchester United 2-2 last weekend, and he understands the affection the club and supporters have for Loftus-Cheek, who has come through the team’s academy. But the first-year manager was in constant communication with the midfielder during the match making sure he was positioned correctly on defence, and grasping those concepts may be the only way Loftus-Cheek cracks the league lineup or the match day 18.

“I know the fans love him, of course, because he was in the Academy. That’s normal,” Sarri noted. “It is very difficult to solve the tactical problem without an improvement in the defensive phase of these three midfielders. We can try, but we need to work and I need the cooperation of the players.”

Chelsea enter this match third in the table, ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal on goal difference while trailing reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool on goal difference. Staying unbeaten, though, could be challenging if star winger Eden Hazard – who has a team-high eight goals in all competitions – is unable to play. Sarri held him out of Thursday’s match with a back injury, and the Belgium likely will be a match-time decision for this contest.

If Hazard is unable to play, Willian will likely replace him on the left wing as he did Thursday on the attacking line with Spaniards Alvaro Morata and Pedro. Centre-forward Olivier Giroud failed to distinguish himself Thursday, which means Morata is all but certain to lead the line as Sarri has been playing the hot hand at that position.

Burnley (2-2-5) can no longer use the Europa League preliminary rounds hangover as an excuse for their wildly inconsistent play as they try to re-discover the form that fueled their seventh-place finish last term. The Clarets’ bid to extend their unbeaten streak to four matches in league play was roundly swatted by Manchester City, who put them to the sword by a 5-0 count at the Etihad last weekend.

Sean Dyche’s team was competitive in the first half and trailed 1-0 at the interval, but goals two minutes apart by Bernado Silva and Fernandinho early in the second turned the final half-hour into a training ground exercise for the champions, who ruined Burnley keeper Joe Hart’s return to the City grounds as an opponent for the first time after a decade of service with the team.

“The feeling of frustration is a not nice one,” said Hart, who made 348 appearances for City before joining Burnley in the summer, to the club’s official website. “I appreciated the reception, but I came here as a Burnley player and the only thing I cared about was trying to get a result for us, so it wasn’t the perfect day.”

The good news for Burnley is they are closer to resembling the full-strength side that performed so well last term to earn European play. Steven Defour saw his first action last weekend after missing nine months due to injury, while midfielder and Ireland international Robbie Brady could be among the 18 for this contest after being sidelined nearly 10 months.

“It’s great to see Steve back,” forward Sam Vokes said. “He’s been a huge player for us over the last few years and I think we’ve missed him. He had some hard luck with that injury and to see him back playing in the Premier League is definitely good news.

“Robbie has done well for us in the past, as well, and had that terrible injury last Christmas time … those two lads will just add to the competition in the squad at the minute.”

Burnley have a win and a draw in their four matches at Turf Moor, but four of their six goals came in their waxing of Bournemouth last month.

The road team won both matches last season, with the Clarets pulling off a shock 3-2 scoreline over the 10-man Pensioners on the first match day to ruin the start of their title defence. Vokes had a first-half brace around a goal by Stephen Ward before Burnley saw off a furious late rally.

Chelsea returned the favour with a 2-1 victory at Turf Moor in April, with Victor Moses’ goal on 69 minutes proving to be decisive. They are 5-2-1 in Premier League matches versus the Clares.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are prohibitive favourites to take all three points with 1/3 odds, and there are 15/4 odds on the teams leaving the Turf Moor pitch with a point apiece. The odds of Burnley claiming all three points and taking a huge step towards the middle of the table are 17/2.

Chelsea have 21/20 odds to win the match with more than 2.5 goals scored, which seems reasonable considering Man City put five past Hart at the Etihad. The Pensioners are also a 12/5 pick to win by either a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. Burnley have 16/1 odds to win on either side of the 2.5 goals threshold, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is listed at 19/4.

Despite his uncertain status, Hazard still leads the line for options among first goal-scorers at 16/5, nudging out Morata and Giroud at 7/2. Chelsea’s other wingers — Pedro and Willian — are joint-fourth at 11/2, with Barkley 15/2. Burnley forwards Vokes and Chris Wood are the top options to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with both listed at 10/1.

Hazard is just above even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 21/20, closely trailed again by his centre-forwards at 6/5. Pedro and Willian are again paired together, this time at 9/5, while Barkley has 12/5 odds at putting one past Hart. Vokes edges out Wood for Burnley’s top any-time option at 3/1, just ahead of Wood’s 16/5 listing.

PREDICTION

If there was one match where Sarri could afford to at least not start Hazard as a precautionary measure, it would be this one. Whether it be Moses, Willian or even Callum Hudson-Odoi replacing the Belgium international, the Italian has made Chelsea a well-oiled machine currently good enough to at least compensate for Hazard’s absence as a one-off ahead of a busy stretch of schedule that includes a Carabao Cup tie and a trip to BATE.

Of course, Hazard is probably campaigning to be included in the XI given how much he has come to enjoy playing Sarri-ball, but the manager has the depth at Hazard’s position to be judicious and also the luxury of bringing a well-rested back four that into this match after they were given Thursday night off. The combination of Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz should be enough to see off the challenge of Vokes or potentially Chris Wood.

It also would not be surprising to see Barkley selected over Kovacic given the latter played against BATE.

Burnley continue to confound. There is almost this expectation every week that “this is the match they get it right,” then everyone is flummoxed by the result like the one that happened versus City. Granted, most teams outside the “Big Six” have the potential to be caught in the avalanche that is Manchester City’s offence on any given match day, but it was still surprising to see the Clarets deflate after that second goal, controversial or not.

Burnley had played better prior to that beatdown, but they will get no favours here from Chelsea. The Pensioners are an improved offensive team compared to last year’s two matches under predecessor Antonio Conte, and the sides who play systems — save their rout of Bournemouth — have given the Clarets trouble all season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 0, Chelsea 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 — Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)

An integral part of Manchester City’s rise to prominence in the Premier League over the past decade, goalkeeper Joe Hart faces his former team for the first time as Burnley have a tall challenge trying to kick-start their season Saturday against the reigning champions at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Hart made his Manchester City debut in 2006 as a 19-year-old shortly after his signing from League Two side Shrewsbury Town. After a series of loans around England, Hart claimed the No. 1 shirt for City in 2010 after making the England World Cup squad. He quickly commanded the space between the sticks, setting a club record with 29 shutouts in all competitions while winning the Premier League Golden Glove award.

Hart won the award for a second straight season in 2012, capped by Manchester City’s first Premier League title in club history. A second league title followed in 2014 and by the end of the 2014-15 season, he had garnered his fourth Golden Glove. All told, Hart has captured two Premier League titles, two League Cup titles and an FA Cup title in his 10 years manning City’s goal.

With the arrival and revolution of Pep Guardiola in 2016, Hart found himself a man without a goal to defend as the Spaniard wanted goalkeepers capable of playing the ball with their feet in addition to being a shot-stopper. When City reunited Guardiola with Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo that summer, the writing was on the wall as Hart began to look around Europe for a potential loan suitor.

Guardiola and Hart maintained a professional relationship throughout the process. His start in a second-leg Champions League qualifying tie versus Steaua Bucharest in which he served as City captain amounted to a testimonial, and Hart became the first English goalkeeper to sign with a Serie A team since the league’s inception in 1929 when he agreed to go on loan to Torino.

After a middling season in Italy, Hart moved to West Ham last season on long, but he lost the No. 1 job to Adrian during the latter part of last term. Hart and Burnley had a marriage of convenience in August – the Clarets lost No. 1 Nick Pope to a shoulder injury he is still recovering from – and signed Hart on a two-year deal.

The expectation is the City faithful will give Hart a warm reception, a sentiment echoed by Citizens defender Aymeric Laporte.

“He’s a very good goalkeeper and a very good person, too. He was well liked by all the players and I think the supporters of Manchester City love him because of his achievements over the years,” said Laporte, who trained with Hart last summer, to City’s official website. “He trained really well and was very professional during the summer, so it will be nice to see him again and I am sure he will get a fantastic reception when he walks out on Saturday.”

Hart and Guardiola maintained a very professional relationship in the process that led to his departure from Torino, and that professionalism appealed to current Burnley boss Sean Dyche as he scrambled to find a replacement for Pope, who had beaten out Hart for England’s No. 3 spot this summer in Russia.

“He has no point to prove,” Dyche told the BBC. “He just wants to get on with it. For keepers, sometimes what is in front of you helps. He wants a defensive unit he has faith with. I think there is a nice connection here. Possibly other clubs he didn’t find that connection.

“But a lot of credit goes to him for finding his way again.”

That defence has taken a few nicks as veteran left back Stephen Ward will be sidelined after undergoing knee surgery during the international break. James Tarkowski was unable to play for England due to an ankle injury suffered in Burnley’s 1-1 draw versus Huddersfield Town. The centre back – expected to play versus City — is looking forward to the potential return of midfielder Robbie Brady, who could feature in this match after missing the last 10 months with a knee injury, along with fellow playmaker Steven Defour.

“When we were flying at the start of the season those two were on fire,” Tarkowski told the Burnley Express. “It will be nice to get them back involved in the next couple of weeks. It’ll strengthen the squad a bit more and add competition for places throughout the team.”

Manchester City (6-2-0) come out of the break leading Liverpool and Chelsea on goal difference, and they could be taking a huge step closer to full strength for this match. Attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will have a late fitness test to determine his availability and could see his first playing time since suffering a knee injury at practice after City’s season-opening win over Arsenal.

The original target date for the Belgium international’s return was November 11, which is when the Manchester derby will take place against United, but De Bruyne made a late – albeit unsuccessful — push to be among the 18 for City’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool prior to the break.

With this match kicking off a busy stretch of schedule – City have seven games in the next 23 days – De Bruyne’s potential return could not come at a better time as it would allow Guardiola the chance to rest veteran playmaker David Silva, who has played 335 of the last 360 minutes in their last four contests.

Even without De Bruyne’s array of offensive skills – he had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season – Manchester City still have scored a league-best 21 goals while conceding a joint-Premier League low three. Sixty-five of their 174 shots have been on target, not including seven others that struck the woodwork.

Burnley halted a four-match skid to City in all competitions with a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in the most recent meeting last term. The Clarets are 0-2-2 all-time at the Etihad in league play and were also overrun 4-1 there in the third round of the FA Cup in January.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are staggering favourites to stay unbeaten withS a win, getting 1/14 odds to claim all three points. Burnley have 12/1 odds to escape the Etihad with just one point and are 33/1 longshots to become the first Premier League team to win there since Manchester United delayed the inevitable of last season’s title.

The combination of De Bruyne’s potential return and Burnley’s somewhat tattered back line has led oddsmakers to believe there will be goals in this match. City have 3/10 odds to win this match with more than 2.5 goals, and they offer a 15/4 return with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory should Hart make things difficult for his former club.

The odds of a second straight low-scoring draw between the sides checks in with 14/1 odds, while it is almost worth putting a fiver down on a Burnley win just because — the Clarets have 70/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 90/1 for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory.

Sergio Aguero leads a parade of Manchester City options for the first goal of the game at 9/4 odds, edging Gabriel Jesus (3/1) and the trio of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez (4/1). The Silvas — first David (7/1) then Bernardo (15/2) — follow those three, and De Bruyne make an appearance at 15/2. Chris Wood is the 12th-best overall option and top Burnley choice for an 0-1 scoreline at 18/1.

Aguero (4/11), Jesus (6/10), Sterling and Mahrez (10/11) are all better than even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Sane an actual even money pick. De Bruyne moves up to a somewhat surprising 9/5 option, while Wood and Vokes headline the options for the Clarets at 9/2 joint-favourites.

PREDICTION

On the bright side, it will nice to see City supporters give Hart his due for helping raise the profile of the club with a pair of Premier League titles and five overall trophies during his decade between the sticks for the club. He was there Thursday for a quiet ceremony to mark his contributions as the club named a training pitch after him.

And then, the match will begin.

While Hart will be at the center of attention, the player who may command the most attention among his peers is Sterling. After finally ending his scoring drought at the international level with England during the break, that may be the last wall for him to hurdle to continue his progression to being an elite Premier League scorer. He has shown more and more flashes of it in the last season-plus and this could be his time to kick it into that next gear.

Then, of course, there is De Bruyne, who appears to have accelerated the powers of healing and his medical timetable to return to at least be available three weeks before the Manchester derby. The goals and assists numbers, though, only offer a glimpse of what the Belgium international offers City — De Bruyne is the players’ mind Guardiola wants on the pitch — to dare is to dream. He is the one who sees a passing angle almost everyone misses, and more importantly, he is the one with the audacity to try that pass.

Those are the type of plays that make the difference between occasional sluggish draw and grinding out a victory, moments City may need both in the Premier League and in Champions League this year as it appears more likely the Citizens will not canter to a second successive title.

Dyche will have Burnley set in their usual two banks of four, likely to leave Wood or Vokes by their lonesome with a lone attacking midfielder in support, though that will not happen often. While Burnley have claimed seven of their eight points in their last three league matches, four of those points came against two of the most offensively challenged clubs in the top flight in Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town.

Burnley have no such luxury for this contest, and in the end, City’s quality should shine through with a respectful pasting of Hart and the Clarets.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Burnley 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)