2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)

Sunday’s north London derby at the Emirates features two in-form sides of varying degrees in hosts Arsenal and guests Tottenham Hotspur. But the first north London derby without Arsene Wenger since 1996 is expected to offer another clue for just how far the Gunners have come under first-year manager Unai Emery.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (8-3-2) are unbeaten in their last 18 matches (14-4-0) across all competitions since Emery’s tenure began with losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. Faced with a logistical nightmare for Thursday’s Europa League tie at Vorskla Poltava in which the match was moved for Vorskala to Kiev 48 hours before kickoff coupled with a crunch derby match on a short turnaround, Emery opted for a younger squad with fringe players while leaving his regulars behind.

His faith in those players was rewarded with a 3-0 victory that left the Gunners needing only a draw at home versus Qarabag in their group finale to claim Group E honours and seeding for the knockout round. Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock had first-half goals on either side of Aaron Ramsey’s penalty on 27 minutes.

Of the three goal-scorers, only Ramsey stands any chance of playing for Arsenal in this contest. As much as Emery is trying to prepare for the derby as just another match, he knows it is impossible to avoid the scrutiny and increased attention that comes with facing Tottenham (10-0-3).

“Each match for me is very special,” said Emery, who is friends with Spurs counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. “The derby is perhaps more special because my responsibility is bigger because of every supporter. Also we need three points in the league because we want to be closer to the other teams, like Tottenham, and we have this challenge.”

It’s a different match on Sunday against Tottenham, but the derby for every supporter is different. For us it’s the same but also with a cool head and our thinking on three points. In the last matches we drew and also Tottenham have a three point lead over us, and we will do a lot of things to prepare for a difficult game and a tough match, but we need to deliver the best performance to win.”

The main talking point around Emery’s lineup selection has been Mesut Ozil. The former Germany international was a surprise omission from the first XI and did not play in last weekend’s 2-1 victory at Bournemouth, with the manager not liking the matchup against the physical Cherries defence for Ozil.

Considering how Wenger all but wrote Ozil’s name in lineup in pen for every match, the pragmatic approach Emery took caught most by off-guard, and he is not tipping his hand whether the playmaker will make his return in this contest.

“I don’t know because tomorrow is the last training, but every player is very important with their qualities,” Emery demurred when asked. “We need to continue preparing and continue improving in our work and as a team with bigger performances and individual quality. I will prepare for the match with every player.”

Tottenham’s unbeaten run pales in length when compared to Arsenal’s current stretch, but the Lilywhites have been impressive all the same with six wins on the bounce in all competitions while remaining within touching distance of leaders Manchester City.

The chance at a second derby victory in a span of eight days around a Champions League triumph that gave them a fighting chance to reach the knockout round for a second straight year has sent Spurs supporters’ spirits soaring as the quality of a side that provided a good portion of England’s World Cup squad has shined in part due to Pochettino’s deft tactics and man management.

Start with last weekend’s 3-1 romp at Wembley over Chelsea in which Pochettino flummoxed counterpart Maurizio Sarru by playing a diamond midfield with Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane on the wings. The formation forced Chelsea midfielder Jorginho to stay deeper than normal in his midfield role, and when one of his midfielders pushed forward, there would be pockets of space to pour into. Kane and Dele Alli – the forward tip of the diamond – scored in the first 16 minutes before Son blazed by Jorginho and added a third after the restart.

The momentum continued with Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Inter Milan that gave the Lilywhites a chance to reach the round of 16. Granted, having what is essentially a must-win match at the Nou Camp versus already-qualified Barcelona is less than ideal, but after taking one point from their first three matches, Spurs are taking the fight to teams – epitomized by Christian Eriksen’s winner seven minutes from time.

“The mentality so far is good, now it’s about delivering the job,” Pochettino said at his Friday news conference. “We have the belief and that is the most important thing in football and the faith that you can beat any team away from home.

“It’s a special game, it’s tough to play this sort of game, it means more. We know that it means to our fans this game. The players feel that and are aware what it means. We have a lot of players that have arrived to the first team from the academy and they know what it means.”

Pochettino does have some selection decisions to make, most notably along his back four. Centre back Jan Vertonghen made his return in a pressure cooker of a situation after a 10-game absence due to a hamstring injury. With Juan Foyth available after not being on the initial Champions League roster, it is possible Pochettino will turn to the young Argentina international and not tax the veteran Belgian further this week.

Right back Kieran Trippier may be available after missing the last two games due to a groin injury, and left back Danny Rose could be in line for his first appearance in 10 showings after making the bench midweek. Ben Davies, though, has made the most of his playing time since Rose got hurt and could get one more start.

Up front, Erik Lamela will be a match-time decision due to a thigh injury, but Pochettino has plenty of options there as he can start Eriksen – who came off the bench on 70 minutes versus Inter – as well as Son or Lucas Moura.

The Lilywhites have a miserable record at both Highbury and the Emirates in the Premier League era with just two wins in 27 overall matches (2-10-15). The lone victory in the last 26 was a 3-2 triumph in 2010 after fighting back from two down. Arsenal are 5-3-0 in the last eight at the Emirates and posted a 2-0 victory last term as Shkodran Mustafi and the since-departed Alexis Sanchez scored five minutes apart late in the first half.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are narrow favourites to extend their unbeaten run at 13/8, while Tottenham are a 7/4 selection to win the match and keep the heat on Liverpool for second. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting a back-and-forth affair with 4/7 odds of there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/8 odds on a total under that threshold. There are 4/9 odds neither keeper will post a clean sheet compared to a 13/8 return for a shutout on either or potentially both sides.

Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are joint-leaders for the first goal-scorer options at 10/3, with Arsenal’s Alexander Lacazette at 5/1 edging out Spurs’ Fernando Llorente (6/1) for the third spot. A mix of players — Nketiah, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Moura — are all 13/2 while Son lurks just behind the trio at 15/2.

For any-time scorers, Kane and Aubameyang are better than even money to find the back of the net at 4/5 odds, while Lacazette is again third, this time with a 13/10 return. Of the more intriguing options in a match that figures to be a back-and-forth affair, Son is 2/1 while Alli and Eriksen are both 11/4 picks for the Lilywhites. Moura and Mkhitaryan are 7/4 picks while Ozil is a 3/1 option for the Gunners.

PREDICTION

Compared to the feeling like the world will end at Merseyside if there is a loser between Liverpool and Everton, the north London derby rages white hot because of the expectation both teams are going to put on a show. Arsenal laid down an important marker in their draw against Liverpool when Emery went all out and got a deserved equaliser through Lacazette, that they will no longer curl into the fetal position when adversity arrives.

The change in culture and accountability Emery has instilled in less than a year on the job is nothing short of remarkable, and it is now starting to dawn on Manchester United and the other hopefuls for a top-five spot just how hard it is going to be to dislodge Arsenal from that spot or potentially higher in the table depending on how they survive the holiday fixture list and then evolve from that point forward.

Then there are Spurs, who come into this match with a full tailwind and esprit de corps in a bid to cap what would be a truly glorious eight days around the construction cones of White Hart Lane. Tottenham are fully deserving of the plaudits given to them, first last weekend with their pillar-to-post thrashing of Chelsea and then mid-week with their relentlessness to see off Inter late.

While there are some injury concerns for this match — will Lamela play, is Trippier healthy, does Pochettino trust Vertonghen’s hamstring to survive two high-impact matches four days apart — Spurs are all they got right now, and they are making it more than enough. For this derby, though, this is where Kane must be the bogeyman of the Emirates like he is for the Gunners at White Hart Lane.

Note: This has not been due to a lack of effort or results since has has seven goals in eight lifetime matches versus Arsenal. It’s just his two match-winners have come at home, and there would be nothing more fitting than to see Tottenham see out these eight days with their talisman putting the finishing touch on a slumpbuster.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 2, Tottenham 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

 

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to return to the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year has hit a seminal moment as the Spurs host Inter Milan in a crunch encounter Wednesday at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — Miranda likely to start at right back for the injured Vraslko for Inter)

Left for dead with just one point from their first three matches after being held to a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven, the Lilywhites (1-1-2) began their fight back with a 2-1 victory over the Dutch side in their most recent Champions League contest. Harry Kane’s brace in the final 12 minutes erased an early deficit, and Tottenham got some help from Barcelona, who recorded a draw at Inter earlier this month to raise the stakes for this contest.

The motivation to prove the naysayers wrong runs deep for Spurs gaffer Mauricio Pochettino, who told The Guardian at Tuesday’s news conference, “Yes, a massive motivation. When people say that something is going to be difficult, for me, it’s like, ah, I’m so excited to show them it’s completely different.”

The victory over PSV is one of five on the trot currently for the Spurs, with Pochettino showing his tactical chops in his side’s most convincing performance of the season, a 3-1 romp over London derby rival Chelsea in which Tottenham dealt Maurizio Sarri his first loss since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Pochettino’s decision to play a diamond in font of his back four with Dele Alli serving as the top point to feed Kane and Heung-Min Son completely defused Sarri’s 4-3-3 set-up as Spurs turned Jorginho’s lack of elite pace against him and exploited the gaps created when Chelsea’s midfielders pressed forward.

Alli and Kane both scored off passes from Christian Eriksen in the first 16 minutes, and Son completed the scoring by latching onto a pass from Alli on the flank and blazing past and around Jorginho before slotting home shortly after the restart.

But the Argentine manager is rightly concerned about his threadbare defence for this contest, and with good reason. Jan Vertonghen is being pushed back into duty in central defence after missing the past 10 matches with a hamstring injury. Pochettino would have preferred to use Juan Foyth to partner with Toby Alderweireld, but the Argentine was not one of the 17 non-locally players Tottenham submitted to UEFA for their group play roster.

“When you need to take a decision from the beginning, you cannot guess what’s going to happen,” said Pochettino, who placed the blame for his side’s imbalance at the feet of the club’s higher-ups following their dormancy in the summer transfer window. “Central defence was a position where we had players, but we have Davinson injured and Jan was injured. That is why we use Juan. I am happy with Juan and his evolution but I am so disappointed we cannot come with him in the Champions League.”

Left back Danny Rose could make his return in this match after an eight-game absence due to injury, though Ben Davies has deputised well in his absence. Serge Aurier again gets the call at right back since Kieran Trippier remains sidelined due to a groin injury.

Inter (2-1-1) enter this match with a margin of error since they have the easier final Champions League tie of the two — at home versus PSV compared to Tottenham having to try and get a result at Barcelona.

The Nerazzurri will be without right back Sime Vrsaljko, who picked up a thigh injury while on international duty with Croatia and did not make the trip to London. He also missed the first encounter between the teams, and like that match, Miranda is expected to take his place.

Luciano Spalletti’s side ended a two-match winless spell with a 3-0 drubbing of Frosinone on Saturday as Keita Balde had a brace on either side of halftime and assisted on Lautaro Martinez’s goal on 57 minutes. Inter are a comfortable third in the Serie A table but also nine points adrift of front-running Juventus and one back of Napoli through 13 matches.

“The game tomorrow will be a straight knockout to ensure that things remain in our hands,” Spalletti said as Inter look to progress out of the group stages for the first time in six years. “To just approach it as an ordinary group stage game is a risk we can’t take. We want to keep going down this road. We must think that qualification depends on the result tomorrow night.

“From when the draw was made, we knew that we’d have to knock out one of the biggest European teams to make the next round. Tottenham are a strong team with a great manager but we have the quality to take anyone on. Inter had been waiting for years to play in matches like this. The important thing is to show the fans that we’re ready to give anything to win. We need to work till the final drop of sweat to go through.”

Mauro Icardi, who began Inter’s fight back in the reverse fixture with a goal in the 86th minute at the San Siro, has a team-high 10 goals for the Nerazzurri. At three goals, Radja Nainggolan is the only other player with more than two as Inter have 30 goals overall.

Also of note is keeper Samir Handanovic has yet to post a clean sheet in the group stage despite having seven in Serie A.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are strong 8/11 favourites to win and carry their hopes of advancing into the final match day at the Nou Camp versus Barcelona. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, while Inter are 7/2 underdogs to win at Wembley and end Tottenham’s hopes of returning to the knockout round for a second straight season.

The Lilywhites have 6/4 odds to post a victory with a goal total above 2.5, and there are 15/4 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts at Wembley. There are 21/5 odds on a draw that ends either 0-0 or 1-1, while the Nerazzurri are an 11/2 choice to post a second win over Tottenham with more than 2.5 goals. A win with fewer than 2.5 goals for the visitors or a 2-2 draw or higher have 10/1 odds.

Kane, to no one’s surprise, is the top option to open the scoring in the match with 13/5 odds, followed by Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (9/2). Icardi is Inter’s first listing at 11/2 with Tottenham’s Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela rounding out the top five at 13/2. Son sneaks in behind the Lilywhites duo at 7/1. Martinez and Ivan Perisic complete Inter’s top three choices with 9/1 odds, with Eriksen just ahead of them at 17/2.

The Three Lions talisman is a better than even money pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 4/5 odds, with Llorente again second at 6/4. Icardi again tops the toteboard for Inter options, this time at 9/5, while Moura and Lamela are paired together once more — this time at 21/10 while Son is an 11/5 pick. Martinez rates slightly higher at 14/5 for an any-time goal compared to Perisic’s 3/1 potential return.

PREDICTION

It’s hard to tell if Pochettino was feeling good about himself after that Chelsea win or genuinely aggravated about not being able to use Foyth in this match, but there is no doubt the English media are going to have a field day with his comments about what Tottenham failed to do during the summer window.

This will undoubtedly start a whole new round of rumours regarding his desire to stay at Spurs, which in some ways has been par for the course in a season of fits and starts that includes an unexpected second season at Wembley Stadium due to the extended delays of renovating White Hart Lane.

Yet Pochettino is correct in the sense this is not entirely his fault, though no one would have expected Tottenham’s defence to be ravaged so thoroughly by injury. Foyth is arguably the fourth centre back on the depth chart and seventh overall, so it does also speak to the side’s scouts they have coped so well to this point.

Spalletti’s comments about going for it in this match are somewhat surprising given Inter can play for the draw in this match and then wrap things up at the San Siro versus PSV. But with already-qualified Barcelona likely to field a second-choice lineup in that last match versus Tottenham, there is some merit to his belief the Nerazzurri should be playing for three points.

And with neither team recording a clean sheet in group play, it has all the makings of a combustible up-and-down match. Much of Tottenham’s play is going to be carried through the middle without Trippier, though Davies has been a revelation and can offer support on the left. Pochettino used a 4-3-1-2 formation in the first match between the teams, so it is feasible the diamond midfield he used versus Chelsea will get a second look here.

If Inter can withstand Spurs’ pressure in the first half-hour, there will be opportunities for them to break down the Lilywhites defence. Just how willing the Nerazzurri pour forward after that, specifically in terms of testing Vertonghen’s match fitness, will go a long way in determining if Spalletti’s side are truly viewing this as a knockout contest like he claims.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Inter Milan 1.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

Firing on all cylinders and close to full health in attack, Manchester City look to regain their status atop the Premier League on Monday in a mouth-watering clash at Wembley Stadium against top-five side Tottenham Hotspur to close out Match Day 10.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

A victory by City (7-2-0) would put them back atop the table on goal difference over fellow unbeaten Liverpool, who thrashed Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday. After a brief blip in form in their first two Champions League matches, Pep Guardiola’s team is coming off their best week of play this term as they tore through both Burnley domestically and Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe’s top club competition.

The Citizens followed up their 5-0 demolition of the Clarets by smashing another three without reply against the Ukraine side. David Silva and defender Aymeric Laporte scored five minutes apart in the first half before Bernardo Silva added the third on 70 minutes for City, who extended their shutout streak in all competitions to 359 minutes since an opening-minute marker by Hoffenheim’s Ishak Belfodil on Oct. 2.

Kevin De Bruyne made his first start of the season after appearing as a substitute against Burnley last weekend and provided the corner Laporte headed home for his first assist of the season. The Belgium international had 20 assists in all competitions last season, and with De Bruyne back in the fold, City have all of their best attacking players healthy and available to contribute, which has led to the most pleasant of headaches for Guardiola – choosing the best among them for his starting XI.

“All the players want to play good, play well and be part of the team,” Guardiola said at his Friday news conference. “We have a squad with huge quality and when they play they play good because if it doesn’t happen another one can play.”

Despite their fast start and status as defending Premier League champions after cruising to the title by 19 points over closest pursuers and eternal rivals Manchester United, Guardiola is under no such illusions his side will be able to repeat in a canter to lift the trophy, and he counts Spurs among those who will push his team.

“Two points difference in five, six teams. It’s strong. You see the line-up for Tottenham. Tottenham are always there,” Guardiola said. “They can’t invest because they build an incredible stadium but it’s a top side. Last season we did really well in both games, but they are a top team.

“When you know a team does the same thing, it’s easier to control it. They sometimes play Son with Dele Alli, they can change it. You have to be prepared for that. Tactically they are very well prepared. When we see their game at Inter in Champions League, they were not worse than opponent. I say they were better. But the competition is special. The numbers are the numbers.

“It’s one of the teams I like the most to watch, I learn when I see them.”

Guardiola is expected to restore both striker Sergio Aguero and right back Kyle Walker to his starting XI. He was able to rest Aguero against the weakest side in City’s Champions League group, and the ex-Spurs and current England international Walker had a late runout versus Shakhtar after missing the victory over Burnley with a groin injury. Leroy Sane could also return at right wing, though that would mean either Riyad Mahrez or Raheem Sterling would be coming off the bench.

Such is City’s depth that Guardiola was able to slot central defender John Stones into Walker’s spot the last two matches, though Stones is likely to resume his normal partnership with Laporte in City’s spine as they try to record a sixth consecutive clean sheet in league play. The Citizens have not conceded in 510 minutes since Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin beat Ederson in City’s 2-1 victory at the Etihad on Sept. 1.

Though Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) are just provisionally five points out of first place, the gap feels larger considering the apparent chasm in form at a truly elite level between the two sides. Their Champions League campaign appears to be over before it started, as a disheartening 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday left them with one point from their first three contests with three remaining.

The Lilywhites are in third in Group B, five points behind Inter Milan, and still must travel to leaders Barcelona. A red card to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 79th minute for his challenge outside the box on Hirving Lozano trying to protect a 2-1 lead proved costly as the Dutch side equalised through Luuk De Jong on 87 minutes.

Christian Eriksen was a key contributor offensively in his first start in five matches due to a hamstring injury and assisted on Harry Kane’s goal that gave Spurs a 2-1 lead, but the Denmark international also made a poor back pass that forced Lloris to make the challenge that got him sent off.

“If you watch the game we should have won, there is no other conclusion,” Eriksen dejectedly told the club’s official website. “We should have finished the game off. “We didn’t do that and PSV had the chance to come back. I gave a bad pass away, Hugo was sent off but again, if we finish the game off, we don’t have that at the end. We could have done better.”

The red card does not carry over to domestic competition, so Lloris is expected be between the sticks for this contest. Spurs, though, will get a boost in attack with the likely availability of winger Dele Alli, who has missed the last five matches in all competitions with a hamstring injury.

“We have to be careful with Dele because he was re-injured after Watford (Carabao Cup). Of course he’s okay, he’s training, but we’ll see what happens in the next few days,” manager Mauricio Pochettino told SpursTV on Friday. “We are happy that he’s started (training) today with the group and we hope he’s available for Monday but I’m not sure if we are going to put him in the squad or not.

“Dele is Dele, we all know he’s an important player for us but when he’s injured, we cannot complain because we have the squad. For me, the most important thing is the collective and it’s always important to have everyone available.”

Tottenham are still without half of their back line as central defender Jan Vertonghen and left back Danny Rose are out through injury. If Alli does not return to Pochettino’s first XI, the left wing spot will either go to Erik Lamela or Heung-Min Son in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up. Lamela has been in fine form with four goals and an assist in his last six matches across all competitions.

Despite their continental struggles, Spurs have won four on the bounce in league play and recorded clean sheets in the last three. The last goal they conceded came in second-half stoppage time in their 2-1 win at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sept. 22.

City did the double over Spurs last season en route to the title, recording wins of 4-1 and 3-1. In the game at Wembley, the match swung on a penalty call in City’s favour by Jon Moss that would have been overturned had there been VAR. But three minutes after Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring, Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead on 25 minutes, and the Citizens were on their way to victory, secured by Sterling’s late strike after Eriksen made a match of it with a goal.

Manchester City are 10-2-4 in their last 16 matchups with Spurs, who had gone 3-1-0 in the previous four meetings before last term’s two setbacks.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are solid favourites to return to the top of the table with 7/10 odds to claim all three points. There are 29/10 odds on the teams sharing the points, while Spurs have 18/5 odds on dealing Guardiola’s side their first loss and adding some drama to the title race.

A Manchester City win in a match featuring more than 2.5 goals leads the way with 27/20 odds, while an 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline in their favour has 4/1 odds. A low-scoring draw offers 9/2 odds, while a Spurs victory with 2.5 goals checks in at 11/2. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the hosts is a 10/1 longshot.

Aguero is the leader of the pack for first-goal honours at 16/5, followed by strike partner Gabriel Jesus (4/1). Kane is the only Spurs option among the first six players listed at 9/2, with Sterling (5/1), Mahrez (11/2) and Sane (6/1) forming an ordely queue behind the England talisman.

Aguero is even money to find the back of the net over the course of 90 minutes, with Jesus (5/4) and Kane (7/5) again lurking just behind him. Sterling checks in with 6/4 odds, while the in-form Lamela could fetch a decent return at 4/1. The Silvas — first David (14/5) the Bernardo (16/5) bracket De Bruyne (3/1).

PREDICTION

To borrow a phrase from Emperor Palpatine in “Return of the Jedi,” Manchester City’s attack is indeed “quite operational” with the return of De Bruyne. This space will sing his praises until hoarse, not just because he is so good, but it is because he has the vision to dream. He and David Silva are two wildly creative sides of the same coin with their playmaking and ingenuity.

Yet for all that offence and all those goals, City’s defence has shined for pretty much the enitre month. It helps when you limit the opponent to 25 percent possession, but the other truth is that the back three or four — depending on personnel and Guardiola’s preference — have evolved into a unit as lethal as his attacking four, with Fernandinho their protector while the offence pulls opposing defences apart the way a puppetmaster pulls the strings of a marionette.

About the only thing City can arguably get wrong is personnel selection up front. That Guardiola addressed it this week was somewhat surprising given how easy a time he had — dispatching of Burnley and Shakhtar without hitting top gear. After Mahrez’s missed penalty at Anfield that may still be in orbit, he seems the most likely candidate to be dropped because it is a “big match,” but there’s always a “yeah, it kind of makes sense” once you get over the surprise of which big name is left out of Guardiola’s first XI.

Tottenham, on the other hand, are in a dangerous place heading into this match, because if the hangover from the draw at Eindhoven has not worn off, City will run them right out of Wembley, and that five-point gap between the sides that will result may as well be 50. The hedge here is Alli will be on the bench to start this game, with Lamela getting the nod over him and Son on the left wing since he only appeared as a substitute mid-week.

The choice of Lamela over Son is one for Pochettino to deliberate, but in a match against a team like City in which you know you are not going to see much of the ball, the impetus should be on the moment of creativity — something Lamela has in droves — compared to the industry — which Son has in equal droves — which could go frustratingly unrewarded in a match such as this.

Lloris is another figure who bears scrutinising. It has been a year of wildly fluctuating fortunes for the France No. 1, from winning the World Cup to the anguish of his drink-driving charge to still being considered among the elite keepers in the Premier League to his latest walkabout adventures on the pitch in the Netherlands. Some have spent the past week comparing the maddening similarities he shares with France’s other World Cup winning keeper — Fabien Barthez — but more times than not, Lloris has been the one to save Spurs from their blushes.

This Spurs team is almost a photo negative of the one from last term that had so much fun playing Champions League football because there was nothing to lose domestically because City were so imperious. This game and this moment, however, matter greatly for the Lilywhites and could be the bellwether for the rest of Tottenham’s season.

Win this game, or even split the points, and there’s a bonafide Premier League title race. Lose this game, the pressure intensifies ahead of the reverse Champions League fixture versus Eindhoven before the international break, and then have a derby match versus Chelsea after it.

At this moment, it feels City are just too irresistible, even with the knowing step up in class Tottenham are after last week’s two impressive yet lightly challenging wins. There are gears Spurs have hit only in brief flashes this season, and it does not look like they will be able to hold them long enough in this encounter to get what they need.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 0, Manchester City 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)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-1) vs. Liverpool (4-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

They are sides cut from different clothes seeking a similar end game: A Premier League title and with a little bit of luck, Champions League glory.

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur kick off the fifth match day Saturday at Wembley Stadium in a mouth-watering clash of top-five sides set to embark on their respective European adventures.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Reds (4-0-0) are atop the table on the maximum 12 points, ahead of resurgent Chelsea and surprise package Watford on goal difference. Their run to the Champions League final last spring emboldened the franchise to end a silverware drought now in its seventh season since winning the 2012 League Cup as they spent the summer spending the kitty from Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona.

The primary goal was to find a goalkeeper with the mental fortitude to go with the elite physical shot-stopping skills needed to challenge the league and continent’s best clubs. The other was finding players to fit Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing style.

Both have meshed well as Liverpool have conceded once thus far, and that goal was a howler by their £65 million man between the sticks – Alisson. The Brasil international may be too confident with the ball at his feet, as he was caught out trying to dribble around Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who dispossessed him and set up the goal that made that 2-1 victory a fortnight ago more nerve-wracking than needed.

It may be the only blemish for a Liverpool team which boasts a lethal attack in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. The trio have accounted for seven of the team’s nine goals, and Mane is joint-leader in the Premier League on four with Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic.

Heading into a Champions League group that has a staggering amount of firepower in France’s Paris-Saint Germain, paced by Alisson’s compatriot Neymar and France starlet Kylian Mbappe, and Italy’s Napoli boasting scorers and playmakers in Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insgine and Marek Hamsik, both attack and defence – along with depth – are going to be needed for the Reds to have the kind of season they envisioned with their aggressive summer spending spree.

“I’m looking forward to the game against Tottenham, especially now because in the next few weeks we have a lot of games, a lot of good games, difficult games,” forward Xherdan Shaqiri told Sky Sports, fully expecting to see more playing time than the 27 minutes he has logged thus far as Liverpool begin chasing titles on three fronts when including the Carabao Cup. “But we will try to keep our good performances and I hope we can win a lot of games.

“We train hard every day. You can see that there is a lot of quality in our team and we are hard-working every day. And competition in football is also good for the players.”

Klopp made only one change to his XI over the last four games, and that was introducing Jordan Henderson into the midfield after 2017 signing and newcomer Naby Keita started the first three matches while the England international rested following World Cup duties. The biggest outfield signing Liverpool made this summer – midfielder Fabinho at a £39 million price tag – has yet to play a single minute, but that is expected to change in either this game or Wednesday’s Champions League opener versus PSG.

“My start has been good and the adaptation good. The pre-season was very good, we had nine friendlies and I played nine,” Fabinho told Globo Esporte.

“It was good to play against English teams to see what the rhythm, the intensity and the physique is like. I am adapting to the team’s style of play. The more experienced players have helped me, the technical team as well.”

Dejan Lovren remains the lone injury absence as Liverpool are not rushing the Croatia international to return from an abdominal injury. Joe Gomez is expected to continue his partnership with Virgil van Dijk in central defence, with Joel Matip also available.

Tottenham (3-0-1) have taken a pair of large injury hits which again calls their decision not to reinforce the squad during the summer window into question. While Liverpool spent, Spurs scrimped – they were the first side in Premier League history not to spend money in the summer window since it came to be.

As they impatiently wait to move into their new version of White Hart Lane – this was supposed to be the first match in their new digs — Tottenham believe their core is enough to bring them to new heights in Europe in a demanding group with perennials Barcelona, Italian side Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands and challenge at home for their first league title since 1961.

Striker and World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane netted two goals and an assist in the first four matches, and Lucas Moura has made a full adjustment to life with the Spurs after his January arrival and paces the side with three goals. Kane and England compatriot Kieran Trippier were also shortlisted for the FIFA FIFpro World XI.

Spurs had their 100 percent start end in surprising fashion at Watford before the international break. The upstart Hornets, who are third in the table with the maximum 12 points, rallied and struck twice in a seven-minute span against backup keeper Michael Vorm as he deputised for injured No. 1 Hugo Lloris.

Vorm is going to be between the sticks for the foreseeable future, as Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino announced Thursday that Lloris would miss “several weeks” with a thigh injury suffered in their win over Manchester United on Aug. 27 that also caused the World Cup winner to miss France’s first two Nations League matches.

Spurs will also be without attacking midfielder Dele Alli due to a hamstring injury suffered while with England on international duty. It is also likely to sideline him for Tottenham’s Champions League opener at Inter Milan on Tuesday. Pochettino will likely choose between Erik Lamela and Harry Winks to fill that spot.

They do get back forward Heung-Min Son, who missed the previous three matches helping South Korea win the gold medal in the Asian Games. The title also earned Son, who assisted on both goals in the 2-1 win over Japan in extra time, an exemption from the 21-month compulsory military service all South Korean males must do before the age of 28.

The Lilywhites ended a 10-match winless spell (0-3-7) to Liverpool in all competitions with an emphatic 4-1 thrashing in last season’s corresponding fixture. Kane and Son scored in the first 12 minutes, and after Salah pulled one back before the half-hour, Alli restored the two-goal lead in first-half stoppage time before Kane completed a brace on 56 minutes.

Kane, who also had a match-tying penalty in the 2-2 draw at Anfield in February, has five goals and two assists in seven league matches versus Liverpool. Salah accounted for all three goals for the Reds against the north London side last term.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight 5/4 favourites, while Tottenham check in at 19/10. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 5/2. In terms of the 2.5 goals over/under benchmark, Liverpool are 9/4 favourites with the over, and Spurs are 13/4. The intrigue also comes for those who believe this will be a goal-fest, as a Liverpool win and over 3.5 goals gets a 9/2 return, while a Spurs win over 3.5 goals is listed at 13/2 odds. The odds of a 2-2 draw is 8/1 for both 2.5 and 3.5 goals.

For first goal-scorers, Kane and Salah are joint leaders, as expected, with 7/2 odds. Despite his recent form, Moura is 15/2, behind the Liverpool tandem of Firmino and Mane, who are both 13/2. One of the more intriguing “GetAPrice” picks is Salah at 6/1 odds to get a goal and an assist in this match.

PREDICTION

Though Liverpool have not shown the rampant form of their lid-lifting 4-0 thrashing of West Ham in their other three victories, they have gotten the job done as evidenced by their 100 percent record. Everything has gone status quo for Klopp, and with both Lloris and Alli absent for Spurs, there is a better-than-average chance it will continue at Wembley.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Alli, with the most likely option Winks with a lesser likelihood of Son, who played eight games in 26 days for South Korea. Son feels like a more likely option for the final half-hour than the first hour. This will be a big game for Moussa Dembele, who gets the unenviable task of trying to stop Liverpool’s build-up through the midfield and the linkup from Milner and company to the Salah-Firmino-Mane strike force.

The “Kane is tired” trope has been trotted out ahead of this match, which seems counterintuititve since the Spurs striker did end his August goal-scoring blues in league play already and also was held out of England’s friendly versus Switzerland. But it is another chance for Gomez to shine in Liverpool’s defence. In the end, this will be another match Liverpool grind more than glide through, and a late second when Spurs hunt for an equaliser would not be surprising.

Predicted Final Score: Tottenham Hotspur 0, LIVERPOOL 2

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview: Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

Perhaps there was a method to Tottenham Hotspur’s madness of inactivity in the summer window.

Owning the maximum nine points, the Lilywhites look to open a season with four league victories for the first time in nine years Sunday when they face upstart Watford in an unexpected clash of top-four sides.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Much continues to be made of the Lilywhites’ decision to stand pat in the summer transfer window, an unprecedented stance by a Premier League team in the 15 years of its existence. Yet even coming off a World Cup summer, club chairman Daniel Levy and manager Mauricio Pochettino have been validated by their decision early, the latest evidence provided in an emphatic 3-0 rout at Manchester United on Monday.

Harry Kane scored his first league goal at the “Theatre of Dreams” five minutes after the restart with a perfectly placed header off a corner from Kieran Trippier, and Lucas Moura added a brace as Spurs (3-0-0) made a statement of intent they intend to challenge reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool for league honours.

Both Kane and Moura have scored in each of Tottenham’s last two matches, with Moura scoring three goals after producing just one in 12 following his move from PSG in January. Kane, meanwhile, has 61 in his last 70 league matches and furthered the proficiency that warranted his new £90 million contract signed in June.

“It’s massive, just what we needed,” Kane told Spurs’ official website. “We need to kill teams off, especially away from home. “As a club, we want to stay top of the league and the only way to do that is by coming to places like this and getting results, so (Monday) is a huge statement.”

Kane has 142 goals with Tottenham, one shy of tying Jermain Defoe for fifth on the club’s all-time list.

The win also quieted the talk around keeper Hugo Lloris, who turned in his first clean sheet of the season less than 72 hours after being arrested for drink driving. The backstop of France’s World Cup-winning squad retained the captain’s armband and came up with a pivotal save on Romelu Lukaku shortly after Kane’s goal that preserved the slim margin before Moura struck on 52 minutes.

“Hugo knows he made a big mistake,” Pochettino told the BBC after the match. “We will support him, knowing it cannot be justified. He has apologised to fans, us, the whole country. He is punishing himself. He feels so bad.”

Spurs have not opened a season with four league wins on the trot since 2009-10 under Harry Redknapp but faded to a fourth-place finish. Pochettino is understandably pleased with the start but is not getting ahead of himself as Spurs will start gearing up for Champions League opponents Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan after the international break.

“The most important thing is to keep calm,” he said. “If at the end of the season with 10 games to go and we are in a good position then we have already shown we can fight.”

Twenty-four kilometres to the west just outside London’s city limits, Watford (3-0-0) are the unexpected team out of the four on nine points alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs. Javi Gracia’s team has confounded pundits who thought the selling of Richarlison to Everton would result in a fast track to relegation.

The Hornets found a more than adequate replacement on the left wing in Roberto Pereyra as the Argentina international has bagged three goals. An underrated summer acquisition in bringing keeper Ben Foster back to Vicarage Road also has paid dividends — the Hornets are seeking their second four-match winning streak in Premier League play in club history and first 4-0-0 start at any level since 1988-89 in Division Two.

The Hornets continued their bright play Wednesday, advancing to the third round of the Carabao Cup with a 2-0 victory at Championship side Reading. Isaac Success and 18-year-old Domingos Quina scored on either side of halftime for Watford, who sport enough depth they overturned their entire starting XI from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace for the cup tie.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is incredible, we’re all prepared for the next challenge,” Success told Watford’s official YouTube channel after scoring his first goal since October 2016. “I’m happy for the team, it was a good win for us. It will make us concentrate more, and we will be ready for Sunday’s game.”

Nathaniel Chalobah and Stefano Okaka made their season debuts after recovering from injury, with Chalobah the more likely of the two to be on the bench for this match. Team selection has become a pleasant headache for Gracia as players are competing for spots throughout the side.

“It is a difficult situation for me,” he said. “I try to choose the best options for the next game and I know my decisions are not fair with some players, but I can only take 18. I would take more players if I could, but it is not possible.”

Watford have yet to beat Tottenham in the Premier League era, claiming three draws in 12 overall matches. All three draws, however, have come at Vicarage Road, including last term’s 1-1 stalemate. The Hornets were aided by Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez being sent off in the 52nd minute.

The teams will also face off in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Sept. 24, but Spurs have asked it be moved to Stadium MK – 80 kilometres from White Hart Lane. Their new stadium is still under construction and Wembley is hosting the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight boxing fight two days prior and is unavailable.

The EFL board which oversees the cup will review the request next Friday.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid 6/10 favourites to continue their perfect start, and Watford are 9/2 underdogs to pull off a surprise and continue theirs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.

Oddsmakers are liking a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals as those odds lead the pack at 27/20. A 1-0 or 2-0 Lilywhites win returns on 16/5 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-0 draw are slightly longer at 21/5. For those thinking Watford can get their first Premier League era win over Spurs, it’s 15/2 odds on over 2.5 goals and 11/1 on under.

For first goal-scorers, Kane leads the line at 12/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (4/1), Christian Eriksen (13/2) and Dele Alli (7/1). Moura is joint-fifth with Erik Lamela at 15/2, just ahead of top Watford option Troy Deeney (17/2).

Kane has 7/10 odds to run his goal-scoring streak to three matches, while Moura is further back at 23/10. Llorente is 13/10 to find the back of the net, and at 21/10, Eriksen edges out Alli (11/5). Deeney is the top option for the Hornets at 13/5, with Pereyra checking in with 7/2 odds. Gerard Deloufeu is also sporting 7/2 odds to score, which is intriguing since he has yet to play a single minute.

PREDICTION

This is a step up in class for Watford after three wins to start the season turned everyone’s head. Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up has given his wingers room to roam on the flank, with Pereyra taking full advantage of the opportunity offered to him with Richarlison’s departure.

The Hornets have shown they have the potential to be a mid-table team with the victories over Burnley and Palace, now they can show whether they will be a team with potential to make a run at something bigger.

Tottenham have looked the part of a well-oiled machine, though the listless stretches of play that came in their wins over Newcastle and Fulham again were evident against Manchester United before breaking them down early in the second half and taking advantage of a back line bereft of confidence.

This will be an intriguing challenge since Watford’s back four have conceded just twice in the three league wins while playing all 270 minutes together. Spurs are always going to be the more likely of the two teams to leave it late for all three points, but the hedge here is Watford plays over their heads and grab a point.

Predicted final score: Watford 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are dealing with sizable distractions ahead of Monday’s showdown at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s third-season meltdowns at previous stops in England and Europe are well-documented, and the prospect of another one seems to be growing with each passing day. He is still reportedly upset club vice chairman Ed Woodward failed to land any of his summer transfer targets, most notably in central defence, and that contributed to United’s horrid 3-2 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion on Aug. 19.

The pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – centre backs whom Mourinho wanted and United (1-0-1) got for a combined £60 million – both endured a torrid time in the opening 45 minutes when they conceded all three goals. Lindelof was directly responsible for the first and Bailly committed the foul that resulted in a penalty for the third.

As opposed to late last term when Mourinho excoriated his players, the Portuguese manager held his tongue publicly after the match, saying “please don’t ask me to go in this direction because it’s not good for me.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba, who would have been one of those players Mourinho likely would have criticised given he lost possession 28 times versus Brighton, created his own swirl of post-match controversy by saying “My attitude wasn’t right” to MUTV.

The midfielder, who has converted penalties in United’s first two matches, is also getting stick for failing to keep his agent Mino Raiola out of the media’s eye. Raiola got into a social media dust-up with ex-United midfielder and BT Sport pundit Paul Scholes, who criticised Pogba’s lack of leadership in the defeat.

Raiola shot back Scholes “wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill,” and sarcastically suggested he should become United’s sports director. Pogba failed to help matters Thursday by making a shushing motion on an Instagram post while unveiling his new line of adidas footwear to mark France’s World Cup title.

Mourinho was then at his tetchy best in Friday’s pre-match news conference, which lasted all of four minutes and 19 seconds. He confirmed his relationship his Woodward as fine by responding “of course” to the question, told reporters to take up Pogba’s comments with the midfielder, offered little about how the squad trained during the week, and only conceded Spurs will be a “difficult match, against a team that last season finished top four, so difficult match.”

The most newsworthy portion was learning Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia all are training with the first team. Sanchez was a surprise omission last week due to a muscle injury, while first-team regulars Matic and Valencia have yet to make their season debuts.

Valencia would be a welcome sight at right back, where both Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young struggled to cover ground in the opening two matches. Matic could provide a needed counterweight to Pogba, taking his customary spot in front of the back four and forming a diamond with him, Fred and striker Romelu Lukaku as Sanchez and either Marcus Rashford or Juan Mata roam the flanks.

Things were humming along nicely for Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0), who put aside the chatter of standing pat this summer with victories over Newcastle United and new boys Fulham. Harry Kane freed himself of the August albatross by finally scoring his first league goal in the first month of the season to cap a 3-1 win over the Cottagers on Aug. 18.

Yet all those good feelings were wiped away with the news keeper Hugo Lloris was charged with drink-driving in the early hours Friday in west London. The talisman of France’s World Cup winning side quickly released a statement through the team in which he wanted “to apologise wholeheartedly to my family, the club, my teammates, the manager and all of the supporters” and added “I take full responsibility for my actions and it is not the example I wish to set.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has yet to say whether the charge will lead to him benching his No. 1 keeper for this match. There have been reports Lloris will be stripped of the captaincy, which would be given to Kane – who wore the armband for England at the World Cup.

Last weekend’s win over Fulham saw Spurs at full strength save Heung-Min Son’s absence as he plays for South Korea in the Asian Games. Lucas Moura filled that spot and scored the opening goal of the match, and Kieran Trippier – a key cog in England’s run to the semifinals in Russia – scored the match-winner with a well-taken free kick.

This match could also make Mourinho wistful for Spurs centre back Toby Alderweireld, who was one of the players on his summer wish list. He became the most realistic option before the transfer deadline after United were priced out of signing Leicester City and England international Harry Maguire.

The Belgium international had wanted out of north London due to a lack of playing time – due to both a hamstring injury and the fallout of a contract standoff – but Alderweireld got his first start against Fulham as part of a 3-4-1-2 set-up and is expected to be in the first XI again versus United. Based on Pochettino’s comments after the victory over Fulham, the relationship between the pair appears to be merely professional at best.

“I won’t talk about him, I’ll talk in general always,” Pochettino told The Times. “I want players committed with the team. Players that are not happy, from my point of view, can leave. Then it’s different if they can negotiate with Daniel (Levy) or not.

“But if they are going to be here, I want full commitment. If not, tomorrow we can find a solution. I am so tired of talking about this.”

United have won four on the trot at home – the last three by 1-0 counts — over the Lilywhites and carry a 384-minute shutout streak there since Christian Eriksen scored the winner in Tottenham’s 2-1 victory to ring in 2014.

Spurs have a track record of abject misery at Old Trafford, winning only two of their last 30 matches (2-4-24) in all competitions. And for all the talk of distractions and dissention around Manchester United, Mourinho’s men did win their last four matches versus top-six sides last term.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are slight 6/4 favourites, while Tottenham Hotspur have 15/8 odds to win. The draw is the long shot of the trio carrying 11/4 odds. Since punters expect both teams to score (Yes is a slight favourite at 3/4 over No at 21/20), United are 4/1 favourites to win such an outcome while Spurs are close behind at 9/2.

Punters also seem to be leaning toward a 1-1 draw as that is getting 3/1 odds, followed by a United victory and over 2.5 goals (16/5) and a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals (17/4). Those who feel United can record a fourth consecutive 1-0 scoreline at Old Trafford can get 21/5 odds on that outcome with under 2.5 goals and 7/1 odds on that exact outcome.

Kane leads the line for first-time goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Lukaku (9/2). Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente is a surprising third option at 11/2, edging out both Sanchez and Rashford at 6/1.

Kane and Lukaku also lead the anytime goal-scorers list at 5/4 and 7/4 respectively. Llorente is again third at 2/1, closely followed by Sanchez (21/10) and Rashford (11/5).For those who believe Pogba will score for a third straight contest via penalty or otherwise, the France international checks in at 3/1.

PREDICTION

It may be too early to label this a must-win game for Manchester United, but there is a very real urgency not to lose this contest. Falling six points behind Manchester City after three matches will only fan the flames of panic and sharpen the knives around Old Trafford, and if you thought Mourinho was at his cantankerous best Friday, you can imagine what he would be like with two losses in three out of the blocks.

Getting Sanchez back would be nice, yes, but Matic could wind up being the swing vote in this match should he be ready to go. If Lindelof and Bailly can’t handle the pressure from Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray, how are they going to cope with Kane and Dele Alli while Christian Eriksen supports both through the middle? Matic is an enormous security blanket for the two young centre backs, a role neither Pogba nor Fred fully figured out working in tandem with Andreas Pereira.

The fact two players needed to do it while Matic has been recovering speaks volumes to his importance.

Lloris’ status cannot be fully addressed until Pochettino announces his decision, so there is little to debate for the time being. The between the lines message from Pochettino when discussing/not discussing Alderweireld’s status is the Spurs’ boss seemed ok with chairman Daniel Levy’s decision to stand pat over the summer.

While this goes completely against the arms race the Premier League has become since the most recent television deal, it’s still an interesting long-term gamble that could determine if Spurs are in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal-like holding pattern fighting for a top-four spot or whether Unai Emery’s Arsenal and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea can overtake them, even as early as this season.

Given how Mourinho does his best work when the outward appearance is he’s cornered, expect United to bare their teeth in a cagey match. Even with Matic, one gets the sense Mourinho’s squad are still not capable of a full-on 90-minute performance in the back without at least one glaring mistake, and Spurs’ defence has also switched off at times.

Predicted Final Score: Manchester United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 3 Previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

With three straight top-three finishes, a new stadium, and their star player signed to a new long-term contract, the future is bright at Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet a lack of reinforcements from the transfer window could loom large early as Spurs open their season for the second straight year at St James’ Park on Saturday against a Newcastle United squad again embroiled in self-inflicted turmoil.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham (23-8-7 in 2017-18) had 12 players take part in the World Cup this summer, third-most in the top flight behind Manchester City (16) and Chelsea (14). Three Lilywhites – Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane – were full-time starters for England while Eric Dier and Danny Rose made multiple starts as they reached the semifinals.

Additionally, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris backstopped France to their second World Cup title while centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen along with midfielder Mousa Dembele claimed third place with Belgium, who beat England twice. Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Davinson Sanchez (Colombia) both progressed to the round of 16, with Sanchez losing to his English teammates.

Heung-min Son was the only Spurs player not to reach the knockout round, but his South Korea side sprung one of the biggest upsets in Russia by defeating 2014 champion Germany.

All these players are just returning to camp and coupled with dual-track responsibilities domestically and in Champions League, chairman Daniel Levy was curiously inactive as Spurs made zero personnel moves coming or going in the summer window. Levy made a late charge at Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish but was rebuffed by the Championship side as his £25 million offer was deemed insufficient by new ownership.

Levy, however, blew apart his carefully built wage scale for Kane, the Golden Boot winner in Russia with six goals as he signed a new six-year deal in June worth a reported £90 million only 11 months after putting pen to paper on his previous contract.

This new deal, worth £200,000 per week, recognizes the value of the 25-year-old striker who scored 79 goals in the last two seasons in all competitions, narrowly missed winning a third straight Premier League Golden Boot last spring, and is the face of English football as talisman of the Three Lions.

The other big contract was signing manager Mauricio Pochettino to a five-year extension worth over £40 million through 2023 in May, tying together the fates of star player and gaffer.

“Daniel and I have spoken at length about our aspirations for this football club,” Pochettino said at the time of his signing. “We both share the same philosophies to achieve long-term, sustainable success. This is a special club – we always strive to be creative in the way we work both on and off the pitch and will continue to stick to our principles in order to achieve the success this club deserves.”

Kane’s new deal raised eyebrows among his teammates, many of whom experienced difficult negotiations with Levy. Alderweireld was hoping Manchester United would pry him from White Hart Lane, and Rose expressed his desire last season to find his market value with his next deal at Spurs or elsewhere.

On the pitch, the 4-2-3-1 Pochettino prefers should see little change from last season, though Sanchez now occupies the centre back spot Alderweireld once held. Dier may have supplanted Victor Wanyama as a midfield partner with Dembele, and the attacking quartet of Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son remains intact.

A higher-up not spending money is nothing new for Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez, who has seemingly been at odds with club owner Mike Ashley since taking over the club in 2016. The Spaniard did yeoman’s work last season with what was essentially the same side that won promotion from the Championship in 2017 as the Magpies (12-8-18) finished 10th mainly on player graft and coaching guile – their 39 goals were second-fewest among top-10 clubs.

This summer, the soap opera renewed as Ashley again promised Benitez he would open the purse strings and never fully delivered. This created fresh enmity between owner and supporters, the latter of whom share a two-way street of adoration with Benitez and fearful he will quit St James’ Park after one empty promise too many.

The Toons made targeted moves this summer – centre back Fabian Schar, defensive midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and forward Yoshinori Muto all signed for a combined total of less than £13 million – and Ashley kept a hawk’s eye on the balance sheet as Newcastle off-loaded striker Aleksander Mitrovic to Fulham for £22 million.

Newcastle secured winger Kenedy on loan from Chelsea for a full season, and Benitez will work on Salomon Rondon as a reclamation project after being loaned from West Bromwich Albion in exchange for Dwight Gayle. The Magpies also signed keeper Martin Dubravka on a permanent deal after he arrived in January from Sparta Prague. Right before Thursday’s deadline, they added defender Federico Fernandez from Swansea City.

While friction between Benitez and Ashley is nothing new, the same holds true for players and owner. They boycotted “walk-up” media duties for broadcasters for one day due to a row over bonus payments Ashley promised from both the FA Cup and last season’s finish. It was resolved Wednesday, and captain Jamaal Lascelles is looking forward to leaving all the distractions behind.

“We’ve managed to sort the off-field stuff; now that’s out of the way, we don’t have any reason why we can’t go out and put on a good performance,” he told Newcastle’s official website. “Everybody looks sharp, we’re training hard and we’ve all got our heads in the right place.”

Benitez is counting on a standout season from midfielder Johnjo Shelvey, one of the league’s most creative yet mercurial playmakers. The 26-year-old nearly made England’s World Cup squad after heeding his manager’s call to be more under control – Shelvey was not disciplined the final 15 matches after being ejected twice in the first 13.

One of those red cards came in last season’s opener when he needlessly stamped on Alli’s ankle in the 48th minute and swung the match in Spurs’ favour. Alli would get the last laugh with the first goal just after the hour and Ben Davies added a second nine minutes later for a 2-0 win.

Tottenham did the double over Newcastle last season and have won three of their last four at St James’ Park.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are an even money favorite while a draw has 12/5 odds and a Newcastle victory has 14/5 odds. Tottenham and under 2.5 goals has a 17/5 return while the same over/under with a Newcastle victory returns 13/2 odds.

PREDICTION

There are some managers who know how to steal points in various places, and despite all the chaos surrounding Newcastle — even if the bonus payment is settled and even if Ashley is done spending his money on a new investment — this feels like an opportunity where Benitez’s shrewdness can pay off with three early points for Newcastle.

Shelvey is not going to make the same mistake he did last year and get sent off, which will be a huge plus for the Toons. Additionally, the ICC tour did not give Tottenham any benefits aside from giving most of the fringe side substantial playing time in contrast to Newcastle, which has spent the preseason drilling towards this match.

While the Magpies have not recorded a clean sheet at home versus Spurs since 2003, 13 matches ago, there is a sense they can pull that off here with a disciplined effort. I can’t give a reason or a goal-scorer for Newcastle, but just simply offer a hunch they will open the season with a victory by catching Spurs off-balance.

PREDICTION: NEWCASTLE UNITED 1, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0