Every week we preview three fascinating things to look out for in the big Premier League games, in association with Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast. For the midweek set of fixtures, our focus is on Burnley v Sheffield United, West Brom v Leeds and Spurs v Fulham.
Clarets corked; Blades blunted
The Premier League’s two lowest-scoring teams go head-to-head on Tuesday and with the need for points strong in both camps, it’s hard to see trends being turned on their head.
Between them, these teams have managed to score just 16 goals in their 29 games this season and while both have struggled to live up to last season’s efforts, that doesn’t come as the greatest surprise.
Burnley have long relied on their strong defence to grind out results in the top flight; in 2017/18 their total of 36 goals was the lowest ever for a side finishing in the top half of the Premier League.
Sean Dyche won’t like it mentioning but his team play more long balls than any other in the division, looking to make the most of Chris Wood’s strengths. It hasn’t worked quite so well this season with his partnership with Ashley Barnes often disrupted. Getting crosses into the box is also a key component of their game but the absence of wide man Dwight McNeil will hardly help on that front.
There has been better news in defence of late. With their established back four of Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee and Taylor reunited, it’s no coincidence they’ve conceded just three times in their last five games.
The Blades were also a top-half team last season when they netted only 39 times. They lacked a consistent goalscorer – no player scored more than six – and nothing has changed on that front with the £23.5million splurged on Rhian Brewster currently looking a very bad gamble.
Their expected goal (xG) tally of 16 is double that of their actual goal output, which shows just how lacking they are in finishers. Like Burnley, they haven’t been that bad defensively, with six of their 13 defeats so far being 1-0 losses.
Much points to a lack of goals in this one.
Play it again, Big Sam
Oh, how things change.
Sam Allardyce’s Anfield tactics were being derided at half time after they gave up 82% of the ball to Liverpool.
But shots were hardly raining down on Sam Johnstone with the Baggies defending stoutly, just as their manager asked.
Yes, they got a bit of luck with the injury to Joel Matip but they preyed mercilessly on Rhys Williams, for once a Liverpool academy product looking out of his depth.
The fact they became only the second team since the start of last season to leave Anfield with a point will give the players huge belief – not just in themselves but in their new manager’s methods.
Allardyce has made a career of making his teams hard to beat. He’ll be fully aware of Leeds’ creativity so don’t expect a drastic change from Sunday’s defensive approach. Conor Gallagher is a man with a burgeoning reputation and his ability to get around the pitch may prove vital.
Another Allardyce focus has always been set-pieces and with Leeds having struggled in such scenarios this season, Big Sam may well look to win this game via that method.
The visitors’ free-flowing approach was tempered by Burnley at the weekend and West Brom can produce something similar here to ensure the goal count stays low.
Fulham can win intriguing midfield battle
Are teams getting to grips with Tottenham’s tactical approach?
Simple goal statistics would suggest so – Spurs have scored only five times in their last six games, only one of which has been won.
Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have scored 20 of their team’s 26 Premier League goals, but both looked jaded against Wolves on Sunday. Had Spurs’ early-season form continued, this may well have been a game for one of them to be rested, but in their current run, does Mourinho trust potential replacements given the number of goals the rest of his squad has produced?
An added problem for the hosts is Fulham’s recent uptick. They’ve lost just one of their last six.
The west Londoners have also struggled for goals but defensively they’ve looked infinitely better than in the early weeks of the season, conceding only twice in their last four matches.
Increased confidence in that area should ensure Fulham are happy to sit off and ask Spurs to break them down. Denying the hosts the chance to counter-attack has become an increasing tactic of Spurs’ opponents.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has played a major role in reviving Fulham’s season and he looks capable of stifling Spurs. The midfielder has dominated recent games (he made no fewer than 10 tackles against Southampton) and he and Ruben Loftus-Cheek look capable of challenging Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele in that area.
If that happens and Fulham can get the ball forward quickly to the livewire Ademola Lookman, Fulham should have a decent chance of extending their recent strong run by avoiding defeat.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org