LONDON (AFP) – Liverpool and Manchester City are again threatening to streak clear in the Premier League title race with their main challengers looking ill-equipped to keep up.
Both teams were irresistible last season, with runners-up Liverpool finishing 25 points ahead of third-placed Chelsea, and they look a class apart again in this campaign.
The two front-runners will each expect to pick up another three points this weekend despite being on their travels as Liverpool go to Sheffield United and City visit Everton.
Leicester, Arsenal and West Ham are their closest challengers and early leaders in the fight for the final two Champions League places despite just three wins apiece after six rounds of matches.
Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United, all of whom have struggled badly, are under pressure to get back on track on home soil this weekend.
SWEET 16 FOR LIVERPOOL?
City showed no mercy against Watford last weekend, hammering the Hornets 8-0 in a staggering display of dominance that even visiting goalkeeper Ben Foster admitted could have resulted in an even more damaging scoreline.
Yet Pep Guardiola’s men could find themselves eight points behind in the title race come kick-off at Goodison Park tonight should Liverpool maintain their relentless run.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have the chance to win their 16th consecutive Premier League game in the early kick-off tonight in Sheffield.
Liverpool have not lost in the league to a side outside the traditional ‘Big Six’ since January 2018.
But Blades boss Chris Wilder demands his players to not be star-struck by the European champions.
“I don’t want the players speaking to their players before, ‘can I swap shirts and any chance of signing this?’ And they won’t,” said Wilder.
“I don’t want Liverpool to come here into our backyard and go, ‘Well, thanks very much, that’s the easiest three points we’ve picked up all season’. If they do win, I want it to be over our dead bodies.”
MUST-WINS FOR STRUGGLING SPURS, CHELSEA
Tottenham fluffed another chance to land a first trophy under Mauricio Pochettino in midweek, with an embarrassing third-round League Cup defeat by fourth-tier Colchester on penalties.
Spurs have won just two of their opening eight games in all competitions and four of their past 17 dating back to last season.
With Bayern Munich to visit next Tuesday in the Champions League, that record threatens to get even worse unless Pochettino can get a response from his stale-looking side against Southampton on Saturday.
But a relaxed Pochettino said there was a fine line between success and failure, pointing to the disallowed goal at Leicester last week, which stopped them going 2-0 up in a game they ended up losing 2-1.
“I am more relaxed in these tough moments because in the end it’s only one result,” he said.
“Rather than losing the game against Leicester, which we deserved to win, three points more and we’re third and everyone is talking about fantastic season, performance.”
Chelsea fared far better in the League Cup as a 7-1 rout of Grimsby handed Frank Lampard his first victory in charge at Stamford Bridge.
In contrast to Spurs, though, Chelsea are at the start of a new era and there were encouraging signs for Lampard in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool.
Defensive issues remain, with the Blues yet to keep a clean sheet in nine games under Lampard, but N’Golo Kante’s return from injury does offer some protection for the backline.
Brighton’s visit to the Bridge tonight also starts an enticing run of fixtures for Chelsea to haul themselves back into the top four, with Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley, Watford and Crystal Palace to come.
Goal-shy United turn to Greenwood United also narrowly avoided a League Cup shock by beating League One Rochdale on penalties, but the Red Devils’ lack of goalscoring threat was again exposed.
Teenager Mason Greenwood scored the only goal of the night for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, who have not found the net more than once in a game since the opening weekend of the season.
A groin injury to Marcus Rashford exacerbates that problem and Anthony Martial is a doubt to face an Arsenal side that have conceded nine goals in their past four league games.
Solskjaer may therefore be forced to hand 17-year-old Greenwood just his second Premier League start.
“He must be a nightmare for defenders having him one-on-one in the box,” said Solskjaer. “He can go both ways, which is for me fantastic and you can just see he has got quality and he will get his share of games.”