Premier League Sunday preview: What to look out for

By Alex Keble 22 Sep 2023
Kulusevski, Richarlison, Spurs

Alex Keble on whether Postecoglou's philosophy will stand up to Arsenal and whether Liverpool's defensive issues have been resolved

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Alex Keble analyses where two of Sunday's big matches could be won and lost:
- Postecoglou's first major test
- Has Klopp solved Liverpool's problems?

Postecoglou revolution faces its first major test

Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur face each other as unbeaten sides in the Premier League for only the third time ever - and for the first time since 1990. It is hard to recall a north London derby that was so eagerly anticipated as this one.

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Arsenal, winners of four of their last five Premier League meetings, will be feeling the more confident on home soil, especially considering that Mikel Arteta has won all three of his matches against Spurs at Emirates Stadium.

They might feel less pressure, too. For Spurs, this is arguably the first real test of whether the adventurous philosophy of Ange Postecoglou can work against the bigger clubs.

See: Perisic set to miss rest of season with knee injury

Spurs have benefited from a tame fixture list to date, aside from the 2-0 victory over Manchester United in which Ten Hag’s side had 14 shots in the first half and finished with an Expected Goals (xG) score of 2.1.

That match could have gone either way and was the first sign that, just maybe, Spurs’ gung-ho attacking football will come unstuck against top-tier opposition.

Postecoglou deliberately doesn’t have a plan B. His teams always play the same way, which in the UEFA Champions League last season led to losses for Celtic, who failed to win a single match and conceded 15 goals, at a rate of 2.5 per match.

Perhaps that is an unfair comparison: the step up for Celtic was considerably greater than it will be for Spurs at Arsenal, even with their poor record of one win in 30 away to the Gunners.

Nevertheless, Spurs' bold commitment to attacking football leaves them vulnerable. As Destiny Udogie and Pedro Porro move infield and underlap the winger, the visitors could be exposed to Bukayo Saka and Leandro Trossard breaking back the other way.

Time to find out if Klopp has solved Liverpool’s problems

Under the radar, this might be the most significant Premier League match of the weekend. It is a chance to find out all-but definitively if Jurgen Klopp really has solved Liverpool’s defensive problems – and therefore if his team can challenge for the title.

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A run of 16 Premier League matches unbeaten, coupled with the mostly excellent performances from Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister, have indicated that Liverpool’s Achilles heel is a thing of the past.

And yet their difficulty defending transitions – the lack of conviction hounding the ball in the middle third, and the opponents’ subsequent ability to break behind the high defensive line – hasn’t necessarily gone away.

Comparing this season to last, Liverpool are conceding more shots (13.2 per match compared with 9.6). More importantly, they are allowing considerably more opposition progressive passes (38.8 per match, up from 29.0), opposition passes into the final third (29.4 per match, up from 23.9), and opposition progressive carries (21.0 per match, up from 13.3).

These numbers hint at a continuation of their elongated shape and of teams managing to pierce through them after winning the ball back, even if the eye test suggests Liverpool are more together now.

There is no greater test – no team better at counter-attacks – than West Ham United, who top the Opta charts for direct speed, with 2.3m/s.

Team sequence style

We have already seen West Ham sit deep, absorb pressure and burst forward with success against Chelsea and Brighton, while David Moyes’ side have also won back-to-back Premier League away matches.

Sunday’s match is, therefore, the chance to see the real Liverpool. Have they really improved their counter-pressing and patched up their vulnerability to fast breaks?

Klopp needs to answer in the affirmative with a win if Liverpool are to be taken seriously as potential challengers to Man City.

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