EPL Sunday preview: Merseyside, title odds & missing Kagawa

Posted by By Paul Carr, ESPN Stats & Information

Sunday features two big Premier League matchups, as Everton hosts Liverpool in one of the league's fiercest rivalries (9:25 a.m. ET, ESPN2), and first-place Chelsea welcomes second-place Manchester United to Stamford Bridge, where the Red Devils look to end a decade-long drought. Here are five notes to get you ready for Sunday’s showdowns…

• Sunday marks the 187th Merseyside derby in league play, making Everton-Liverpool the most-played game in English League history. The intensity has only been heightened in the Premier League era. There have been 20 red cards in their 40 Premier League meetings, six more than in any other series. All 20 of those cards have come in the past 31 games, and Everton has had eight players sent off in their last 10 meetings at Goodison Park, ending the match with nine men three times.

• Liverpool's eighth-place finish last season was the club’s worst league result in 18 years. Although the Reds currently sit 12th in the table, there are reasons to be optimistic. In manager Brendan Rogers' first season, Liverpool has improved its pass completion percentage from 77.7 percent in 2011-12 to 83.0 percent. The team is also completing 59 more passes per game and creating an additional chance per game compared to last season.

• Chelsea and Manchester United, the top two teams in the Premier League, meet at Stamford Bridge, where United hasn’t won any of their previous 10 league meetings. Last season's game here felt like a victory for Manchester United, as the Red Devils rallied from three goals down to earn a 3-3 draw on Super Bowl Sunday. That was the first time Chelsea had dropped points in a Premier League match after leading by three goals, and the tie kept United unbeaten in its past five matches versus Chelsea in all competitions.

• Chelsea leads the league with 22 points from its first eight games. That matches the second-best Premier League start by any club, trailing only Chelsea's eight wins to start the 2005-06 campaign. But of the five previous teams to open with at least 22 points from eight games, only two of them won the title. ESPN's Soccer Power Index currently rates Chelsea the third favorite to win the league at 20.3 percent, trailing Manchester City (42.0 percent) and Man United (34.4 percent), who both trail Chelsea by four points.

• Manchester United will miss the deft touch of newly acquired Shinji Kagawa for three to four weeks because of a knee injury. Kagawa has completed 83.3 percent of his passes in the attacking third, ranking sixth in the league and second on the team behind Danny Welbeck. He likes the tight spaces there, as his average pass distance of 14.1 yards in the attacking third is the shortest in the league among midfielders.

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