Chelsea v Norwich City
Two consecutive clean sheets this past fortnight from two consecutive 0-0 draws suggests that the Canaries have finally managed to address defensive concerns that saw them hemorrhage 16 goals from their first six games back in the top-flight. Now if Daniel Farke’s side could only do likewise at the other end they might just stand a chance of staying up this season.
Sadly, that seems beyond them, as evidenced by a string of chances spurned at home to Brighton last Saturday, with their summer signing Josh Sargent the worst offender, looking ill-at-ease in situations where strikers should come alive.
After 720 minutes of Premier League football since gaining promotion last May, Norwich have scored just twice — both converted by Teemu Pukki, one a penalty — and this is a woeful return from a collective who dispatched 75 in the Championship in 2020/21. It is a woeful return in any context.
Norwich City have had 85 shots on goal this season scoring just once from open play. We need to find that clinical edge before it's too late.
— Jack Reeve (@JackReeveTNC) October 17, 2021
And now this goal-shy team who have scored a fifth of their tally from at this stage two years ago, in a season that saw them finish rock-bottom, must travel to Stamford Bridge and somehow endeavour to breach a side that are looking even more mean and miserly than in Thomas Tuchel’s inaugural campaign in West London and that really is stating something.
Chelsea have only conceded once from open play in the league so far and if so much of their impenetrability derives from a solid framework that keeps opportunities to an absolute minimum they can also do last-ditch better than most. Last weekend, Brentford threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Blues’ back-line but a goalkeeping masterclass by Edouard Mendy somehow kept the Bees at bay. It was a shut-out dismissed as fortunate but really wasn’t and this formidable combination of highly drilled organization and thou-shall-not-pass resolve has resulted in a remarkable 25 clean sheets from Tuchel’s 41 matches at the helm.
Powderpuff Norwich going up against this impressive rearguard evokes a seven-stone weakling attempting to floor Tyson Fury and if 4/9 on betting no to both teams to score is slim odds, it’s also bordering on an inevitable outcome.
Brighton v Manchester City
With over a fifth of this season completed Brighton are fourth in the table after averaging 1.8 points-per-game. Since losing to Everton back in August — the Seagulls’ only defeat of the season to date — they have conceded just once from open play, an expanse of time that totals 450 minutes, and this despite selling Ben White in the summer and being deprived of arguably their next best centre-back Adam Webster for the most part. Graham Potter’s men have yet to draw or lose from a winning position.
All things considered then this is a terrific start for Brighton even if eight goals in eight matches coupled with a bang average XG return suggests they are hardly a consistent threat up front. Injury concerns persist, with Danny Welbeck and Steven Alzate the latest first-teamers to succumb to costly knocks.
Lovely Saturday afternoon! pic.twitter.com/F5B9fch9xH
— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) October 16, 2021
Still, the positives are far more substantial this term for a side that was a frustrating proposition in 2020/21, too often putting in decent performances but too often let down by wasteful finishing, and if Neal Maupay continues to find the target — and the French striker is doing exactly that, with four in eight — then Brighton can go into consecutive and daunting challenges against Manchester City and Liverpool, full of confidence.
Further confidence will be sourced from a rousing victory over the Blues last May that put an end to a poor record of eight straight losses in this fixture stretching back to 2017 with a damning aggregate score-line of 22-2, but circumstances played a part in that 3-2 win. City were a man down after just ten minutes and had already wrapped up the league title with a looming Champions League final a distraction.
This will be a very different opposition: relatively fresh, on an upward trajectory and desperate to not lose any ground in their latest title scrap and just like last season, Pep Guardiola’s side are accruing points at an impressive rate by sharing around the goal-scoring responsibilities in lieu of possessing a recognized centre-forward. From their 12 competitive games so far, 14 different names have got on the score-sheet with Kevin De Bruyne the latest to step up when needed. The Belgian conductor has scored two in two either side of the international break.
It’s hard to look past the visitors for this one though it will be anything but straightforward. A hard-fought 2-0 away win at 13/2 feels about right.
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur
Harry Kane’s assist for Son Heung-min up at Newcastle last Sunday means they are now just one goal shy of becoming the most prolific duo in Premier League history as regards to two players creating goals for the other. On 35 occasions the terrifying twosome have combined to great effect for Spurs and their latest displayed once again their intuitive understanding when Kane beat a poorly-conceived offside trap and drilled the ball hard and low across the six-yard box for his strike partner to tap home. He knew he was there.
Yet the Korean’s fourth of the season paled in significance to Kane’s own effort 20 minutes earlier. In lobbing Karl Darlow in nets to give the visitors the lead, England’s captain finally ended his worst scoring drought for over five years and perhaps now the narrative can revert to recognizing his phenomenal prolificacy in a Tottenham shirt instead of idly gossiping about his future. Let’s begin that process by highlighting Kane’s 88 away goals in 128 Premier League games, the second highest tally — after Wayne Rooney — that any player has achieved.
— Fantasy Premier League (@OfficialFPL) October 17, 2021
Kane is the most obvious danger to the Hammers who themselves excel on the road — boasting an unbeaten run of nine across all comps — but who have lost five of their last eight at the London Stadium. David Moyes’ side however will be buoyed by a respectable record against their capital rivals in recent years, with some notable victories that include a 2-1 triumph last term. Their astonishing comeback in 2020 meanwhile, that saw them cancel out a three-goal deficit in the last ten minutes remains crystal clear in the memory.
This is a fixture with drama and plenty of goals embedded in its DNA. The 9/2 available for over 4.5 therefore is worthy of consideration.
Manchester United v Liverpool
Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with their fierce rivals from down the M62 in late-October 2019 was an oddity in that it didn’t finish goal-less and there wasn’t a goal scored inside the opening half an hour. All the other encounters between these sides going back to the start of 2016 — 13 games all told — have fulfilled these criterium and if you believe another 0-0 awaits at Old Trafford on Sunday then 14/1 is a terrific price. After all, four of the last ten league clashes have drawn a blank.
Only then, it’s acknowledged that in dismantling an out-of-sorts Watford last week, Liverpool became the first ever English top-flight side to score over three goals in seven consecutive away games across all competitions. Then it’s acknowledged that Jurgen Klopp’s free-scoring Reds last failed to find the back of the net in a Champions League quarter-final loss to Real Madrid last season. Since then, they have averaged 3.2 goals per game. Then it’s recalled that Liverpool won this corresponding fixture 4-2 last term and that Mo Salah is on a phenomenal streak, scoring every 87 minutes since 2021/22 began.
Mo Salah is a gift to football fans ♨️
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 16, 2021
Lastly, and just as crucial as the visitors’ prolificacy, it is also factored in that Manchester United have kept precisely one clean sheet in their last 18 games.
So instead, this fixture’s habit of producing early strikes should be focused on, and here, unsurprisingly, it is Liverpool who are the likeliest to extend it. Comprehensively revived after a dispiriting defence of their crown, Liverpool are wasting no time in punishing one and all, getting off the mark inside 20 minutes on six occasions this season. By contrast, United have scored 63% of their tally to date in the second period.
15/2 is tempting odds to back the away side being in front ten minutes into this weekend’s marquee clash while for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men a typically late strike might well be a consolation and might well come from the boot of Marcus Rashford. The United forward returned from injury to notch against Leicester last Saturday and has a decent record in this game, bagging five in 11. For what it’s worth, he has also picked up twice as many yellows when facing Liverpool as against any other side.