Every week we preview three fascinating things to look out for in the big Premier League games, with further analysis from Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast. This week starts with Everton v Liverpool and keeps up that kind of pace.
Everton v Liverpool: Ancelotti’s plan to twist the knife
Liverpool have had two weeks to stew on their 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa, a result that only gets worse the more time goes by.
It’s taking a long time to process the sheer insanity of that score-line, and as the dust settles, the wound just grows and grows. Jurgen Klopp and his players have just suffered perhaps the most shocking and disturbing result in Premier League history. Has it even sunk in yet? How on earth do you respond to something like that?
The bubble has burst – that’s the main problem for Liverpool. Like Norwich’s 3-2 win over Man City at the start of last season, the fear factor that underpinned Klopp’s success has disappeared overnight. Liverpool can be vulnerable, can be rattled, which means never again will this team enjoy total territorial dominance and relentlessly ground-out wins at Anfield.
This is the worst possible time to be facing the league leaders and your local rivals, then. Everton are desperate: desperate to end a ten-year wait for a win over Liverpool; desperate to prove they are Champions League contenders; desperate to twist the knife against their great rivals.
And Carlo Ancelotti has the players to mimic Villa’s template, which was essentially using long diagonals to switch the ball out to Liverpool’s right and hit the gaps around Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. James Rodriguez has been enjoying switching the play in this manner since joining Everton, while Richarlison and Dominic-Calvert Lewin instinctively make runs into that left channel and Lucas Digne loves getting forward.
There is every reason to believe that Everton will get their first Merseyside derby win this Saturday – ten years to the day since they last beat Liverpool.
Back Everton to win at 11/4
From Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast: “It’s 10 years since Everton’s last win over Liverpool. They do, however, have a habit of frustrating Liverpool at Goodison. I think Everton can be competitive in this. Everton +0.75 goals.”
Man City’s attempt to avoid a disastrous start
Pep Guardiola has endured a more complicated start to 2020/21 than expected. Manchester City were supposed to come back refreshed and reinvigorated for a serious title challenge, but instead it is more of the same: a dodgy defence, a half-hearted press and an alarming sense that City just don’t have that fire anymore.
If they drop points against Arsenal on Saturday they’ll have won just one of their opening four games. That hasn’t happened since 2010/11, when Roberto Mancini was still building the team after Mark Hughes’ departure a few months earlier. It’s fair to say Man City are close to crisis point.
By contrast, Arsenal haven’t looked this good in years. Mikel Arteta’s side are playing with a confidence and tactical coherence that is testament to the manager’s brilliant coaching, and after their 2-0 win over Man City in the FA Cup semi-final in July, it looks as though Arteta knows how to beat his old employer.
Passivity in central midfield remains City’s biggest issue, which suggests Saturday’s game will swing in Arsenal’s favour; they exude a relaxed control of proceedings of late, something badly eluding Guardiola’s players.
Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool was unfairly characterised as a poor performance from the visitors, who in fact understandably chose to sit deeper than usual and lure their opponents forward before attempting to break in behind. A similar approach at the Etihad can catch out this hesitant and fragile Man City side.
Back double chance Arsenal/draw at 15/8
From Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast: “It’s difficult to know who will play for both sides. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kevin de Bruyne are both doubts. I expect City to attack while Arsenal sit back. I like the look of Phil Foden to score at 21/10. I wouldn’t put you off 12/1 on him scoring a brace.”
Aston Villa building on their ridiculous Liverpool win
During the international break Dean Smith celebrated his two-year anniversary as Aston Villa manager, which served as a timely reminder of just how far he has taken the club. Smith arrived with Villa 15th in the Championship, still a bit spooked having come within two or three days of administration the previous summer. Beating Liverpool, or enjoying a 100% start in the Premier League, felt like decades away in those dark months at Villa Park.
Sunday’s visit to Leicester City feels like an important moment in Smith’s project. If they are to avoid a relegation battle and push on towards a mid-table finish, Villa must capitalise on this feeling – on this absurd sense of invincibility and decadence – with a strong performance against Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins formed a sensational triumvirate against Liverpool, while John McGinn was back to his old self in midfield and revelling in a slightly changed role alongside the ever-brilliant Douglas Luiz. Out of absolutely nowhere, it looks as though Villa have the spine of a top-ten team.
Clearly playing on the break is the way forward, especially for Sunday’s game after Leicester were beaten 3-0 by West Ham a fortnight ago in a similar manner. In keeping with the sheer madness of the 2020/21 season, Leicester were inexplicably open on the counter-attack in that game, leaving huge gaps for West Ham to slice them open – just as Grealish, Barkley, and Watkins inflicted damage on Liverpool.
Should Leicester and Villa be even close to their levels last time out, Villa will counter-attack to victory. And to build on the Liverpool result with a fourth win from four would, in this most chaotic of seasons, tentatively begin talk of a challenge for European spots.
Back Villa to win at 16/5
From Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast: “Villa +.0.75 at around 1.8 is good – I get my stake back if they only lose by one goal. There may have been an overreaction to Villa’s win over Liverpool but they’ve been on an upward curve since lockdown. Ollie Watkins is one to consider in the outright top goalscorer market.”
THE TREBLE: Back Everton to beat Liverpool, double chance Arsenal/draw v Man City, and Villa to beat Leicester at 45.28/1.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit www.begambleaware.org
Alex Keble hosts a Premier League pre-match tactics show at twitch.tv/EPLtactics
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