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The two teams most likely to topple Liverpool face off

Tottenham and Chelsea will be aiming to outline their title credentials on Sunday.

Chelsea and Tottenham have already met in the League Cup this season.
Chelsea and Tottenham have already met in the League Cup this season.
Image: PA

THE BOOKMAKERS HAVE Liverpool as firm favourites to win the Premier League title, and watching last weekend’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Leicester City, most people would find it hard to argue with that assessment.

Yet we are just under 25% of the way through the season and by their incredibly high standards, the Reds have actually started the campaign somewhat slowly.

In nine matches, they have already dropped points on three occasions — draws with Man City and Everton, as well as a freakish 7-2 loss to Aston Villa.

By comparison, last year, Jurgen Klopp’s men won all of their first eight matches, before drawing with Man United, and subsequently going on to win 18 games on the bounce.

Repeating a similar feat on this occasion won’t be easy. Coronavirus chaos has led to a hectic fixture list that is unprecedented in its intensity.

So unsurprisingly, Liverpool have suffered a number of injury problems, with important players like Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez both absent for the long term. 

The Reds have coped pretty well regardless, and certainly deserve their status as title favourites based on recent evidence.

Of the teams who could potentially challenge them, the two sides who are arguably best placed to do so meet this weekend.

Tottenham top the table currently, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference only, while Chelsea trail the pair by two points.

Spurs’ impressive 2-0 win over Man City last weekend — a performance of counter-attacking efficiency that was typical of a Jose Mourinho-managed side — suggested they could be in the title race for the long haul.

After a somewhat shaky start, which included a 2-0 loss to Liverpool, Chelsea have looked better of late, amid three consecutive convincing top-flight wins.

They have been inconsistent, but then again, so has everyone else, and that’s to be expected, given the unusual circumstances this season.

Interestingly, Spurs (21 for and 9 against) and the Blues (22 for and 10 against) have a near-identical goal difference.

Yet they are two very different teams.

Spurs are probably more solid at the back, whereas Chelsea are arguably stronger going forward.

Jose Mourinho’s men seemingly are the weakest of the trio in terms of squad depth. An injury to Harry Kane or Son Heung-min could prove catastrophic, whereas the absence of Liverpool’s Mo Salah against the Foxes last week was barely noticeable, and one of Frank Lampard’s biggest conundrums this season has been which of his array of talented attackers to leave out.

When you look at Tottenham’s results so far, they have actually excelled against the league’s seemingly stronger teams. In addition to the City win, they thumped Man United 6-1 and overcame Southampton — who are currently just three points behind them in fifth — 5-2.

All the sides in question were willing to go forward and attack Spurs, suffering on the counter as a result.

Yet when teams sit back, Jose Mourinho’s side often find it difficult. Matches against West Brom, Brighton and Burnley, who are all struggling in or around the relegation zone, were ugly, hard-fought victories by no more than one goal.

They could only draw 1-1 with another struggling side in Newcastle, and while Everton, the only English team to beat Spurs this season, are sixth, they did so with a cagey 1-0 win where they stuck plenty of players behind the ball and stopped their opponents from playing.

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The 3-3 draw with West Ham, meanwhile, much like Liverpool’s loss to Villa, where Spurs went 3-0 up inside 16 minutes, only to concede three in the last eight minutes, feels like another freakish anomaly that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

Chelsea, in contrast with Spurs, have not performed especially well against the big sides. Indeed, they have already lost once to Tottenham, albeit on penalties, in the League Cup.

In the Premier League, the Blues have dropped points against Man United, Liverpool, Southampton and West Brom.

The Baggies game aside, they have generally found it easier than Spurs against the so-called weaker clubs. Brighton (3-1), Crystal Palace (4-0), Burnley (3-0), Sheffield United 4-1) and Newcastle (2-0) have all been dispatched with relative ease.

This ability to blow teams away is something Liverpool have proved adept at as well in recent seasons.

Whether this more free-flowing approach will work better in the long run in this crazy season, compared with Mourinho’s more pragmatic tactics, remains to be seen.

Though they currently sit eight points behind Liverpool and Spurs, it is also too early to definitively rule out Man City.

Notwithstanding an ageing group that have been hampered by injuries and the departures of a couple of key players, Pep Guardiola still has a squad as talented as any team in English football currently.

If they can get out of their current slump and start to manage this transitional phase more effectively, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could launch a belated challenge for the title.

Despite both being a point ahead of City in the table, it is hard to say the same for Man United and Arsenal, who simply have too many issues that need to be ironed out both on and off the field, and will likely be happy with Champions League qualification in third or fourth given the disappointing starts they’ve made to the campaign.

This Sunday, though, should go a long way towards clarifying whether Tottenham or Chelsea deserve to be regarded as genuine contenders to Liverpool’s throne.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures

Friday

Crystal Palace v Newcastle (8pm)

Saturday

Brighton v Liverpool (12.30pm)
Man City v Burnley (3pm)
Everton v Leeds United (5.30pm)
West Brom v Sheffield United (8pm)

Sunday

Southampton v Man United (2pm)
Chelsea v Tottenham (4.30pm)
Arsenal v Wolves (7.15pm)

Monday

Leicester City v Fulham (5.30pm)
West Ham v Aston Villa (8pm)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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