SPORTS

English Premier League Heats Up With Round 22 Of Action

Jan 10, 2020, 2:04 PM
Leicester City...
Ricardo Pereira of Leicester City tackles Kortney Hause of Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup Semi Final match between Leicester City and Aston Villa at The King Power Stadium on January 08, 2020 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – We got last weekend off…kind of…it was the FA Cup third round. EPL fans got to catch their breath after a jam-packed holiday season of matches.

Round 22 gives us an opportunity to see where the teams are; where they need to strengthen to ensure survival this season so they can be in the EPL next season, or lock in European soccer for next season; and ultimately who will be crowned champions.

Transfer rumors will go into over drive as most teams will look to strengthen their positions. January is usually the slower of the two transfer windows (summer is much more active as it’s the off season).

But there are several teams with good reasons to take advantage of this transfer window. Chelsea is no longer under a ban. Spurs and Man United need to strengthen their squads. Everton is expected to add to their squad because they are now under a new manager, Carlo Ancelotti.

Liverpool already made their signing Takumi Minamino, the Japanese international from Red Bull Salzburg. You might see other arrivals, but teams at the bottom will likely run the gamble, spending big money and big wages at this time. Get it right and you get out of trouble and you’ll continue to get the crazy money the EPL brings in.

Get relegated, and you’re on the hook with less money coming in, and potentially scrambling to offload players. After all, these owners are just stewards of the club. They’ll come and go, but the fans remain.

Numerous times we’ve seen lower league teams struggling financially and go to the brink of extinction. If you’re interested, look up AFC Bournemouth’s story before they got to the EPL. On to round 22 we go.

Sheffield United vs. West Ham United

First up is Friday night’s (1:00 p.m. MT kick off) encounter up at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Two teams that have had vastly contrasting seasons, and arguably are in opposite positions than I thought they’d be in when the 2019/20 season started. The Blades, after promotion have navigated the EPL fantastically, adding a few pieces to their EFL Championship runners-up squad (mostly from EFL teams as well) to withstand the rigors of one of the top leagues in the world.

This is a testament to Chris Wilder’s coaching. Trusting his ability to get the most out what is at his disposal and working for the most part with limited funds. He bounced around the lower tiers in England for a couple of decades but building a reputation as a very good English coach, and finally getting a chance to prove it on the biggest stage. The home town hero has made the biggest headlines out of the three promoted clubs this season, still adopting his preferred 3-5-2 formation, the Blades for the most part have been a difficult nut to crack sporting the EPL’s third best defensive record (just 21 goals conceded).

Lys Mousset will look to add to his five goals this season. His arrival from Bournemouth in the summer has paid off. He has also made the Sheffield attack a lot more mobile. Thriving on service from the two wing backs, George Baldock and Enda Stevens.

They not only provide defensive cover but attacking width in the final third of the pitch. The blue-collar midfield three provide the engine to wear down opponents and West Ham will have it all to do.

David Moyes got a win on his Hammers return, backing up his claim, “I think there’s only two or three managers with a better Premier League win record. That’s what I do, I win.” He duly delivered with a 4-0 hammering of Bournemouth.

This team has so much potential and last summer it was thought that their recruiting was one of the better in the EPL for that transfer window. If Moyes can help them reach their obvious talent, then I expect the Hammers to shoot up the table.

Felipe Anderson along with Pablo Fornals are the main creative players right now and will need to continue to improve, with the latter still adapting to the EPL. Sebastian Haller scored his sixth goal of the season against Bournemouth, as he also continues to adapt after his arrival from the Bundesliga.

It’s still very early for West Ham under Moyes. It does seem more positive around London Stadium, but I think this fixture will be just too difficult for the Hammers to get all three points against a well-drilled and organized Sheffield United.

Prediction: Sheffield United 2 – West Ham United 1

Leicester City vs. Southampton

How could we choose another fixture this weekend? Is this an opportunity for revenge? Or are the mental scars still rattling around the minds of the Southampton players after that 9-0 loss back in October? Saints have been on a nice littler run as they visit the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Unbeaten in their last four matches and picking up 10 points in the process, shooting them up to 12th in the EPL table. Since that 9-0 drubbing at Saint Mary’s it took Southampton almost a month to bounce back. Since the end of November, they’ve only lost twice.

Picking up 17 of their 25 points in just a five-week period. They looked destined for a relegation scrap, and whilst not out of the woods yet, they are in a very healthy position. No small part played by striker Danny Ings, sitting on 13 goals, joint second in the scoring charts.

Eight of his 13 have come in that impressive 17-point run by Southampton. It’s not often you can praise an ownership group, but Saints probably wouldn’t have been blamed for letting Ralph Hasenhüttl go after that 9-0 thumping. But their patience has paid off, and whilst the previous meeting was horrendous, the long-term results have seen them bounce back. Austrian, Hasenhüttl was a much sought-after coach, rising at Ingolstadt 04 and Red Bull Leipzig. His teams, as you would expect from a man that honed his coaching skills in Germany, press ferociously.

Helped by young talented attackers, 21-year-old Malian Moussa Djenepo and 19-year-old Irishman Michael Obafemi (watch the first goal against Chelsea back on Boxing Day) improving rapidly. The future feels a little more settled.

Coming up against the Foxes is a huge ask. Leicester are still clinging on to second place in the EPL table and will look to hold off the charge of Man City in the standings.

Brendan Rodgers has done a remarkable job since his arrival, turning around a team that struggled to live up to the hype and pressure of winning the EPL title in 15/16 and a feeling of decline, to swiftly turning them into one of the most attractive soccer teams to watch. Top goal scorer Jamie Vardy continues to impress and leads the league with 17 goals (his best return is 24 goals).

For Leicester to tick fully, they will need to make sure James Maddison sees plenty of the ball, the young attacker is making a name for himself with impressive displays. Chipping in with six goals and three assists and a set-piece delivery that continues to improve.

There are many parts to the Foxes that will impress you, and their defense is one of them. Boasting the second-best record in the EPL. Taking Southampton apart back in October might not mean much in January, but I expect Southampton to be incredibly cautious.

Because of that I think it will play into Brendan Rodgers’ hands. Southampton will look to make themselves difficult to break down, but the relenting pressure in the way Leicester build will, in my opinion, pay off. No, I’m not expecting another 9-0, and rarely do we when it comes to professional soccer.

Prediction: Leicester City 3 – Southampton 1

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool

Last, but not least, the KSL 5 Premiere Match, coming live from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium kicking off at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. This is an interesting matchup. A stuttering Spurs hosting runaway EPL leaders Liverpool. Only one winner, right? Hold your horses, who is the biggest spoil sport in the EPL? Jose Mourinho, he will relish an opportunity to ruin Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season.

More so, he’d love the confidence boost a win would give his own team as they try to get some consistency in their hunt for a top-four place. Harry Kane’s recent hamstring injury dealt Spurs a massive blow and he will be a huge loss, however, the return of Heung-Min Son from suspension is a huge relief.

Along with Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura you’ll see a much more mobile front line. Kane is a pure goal scorer, one of the most natural England has ever had. But speed will always unnerve defenses.

Both Son and Moura have that, and they’ll want to test the reigning European and World Club Champions. This is a statement game for Spurs. I won’t say that Jose is under pressure, probably far from it.

But he still hasn’t given a very good Spurs team the bump they, or he, were probably hoping for. I expect Jose to be cautious in the way he sets up his team, as he will take a point rather than nothing at all. He is pragmatic enough to pick his battles, and there is plenty of soccer still to be played where he can chase down the two spots and six points that currently sit between his side and fourth place.

Liverpool come to London full of beans on the back of playing and beating city rivals, Everton in the FA Cup. Liverpool chose to line up with mostly reserve players and quite a few teenagers. What transpired was an unreal performance by the youngsters in the second half (check out Curtis Jones’s goal).

Liverpool have been relentless so far in the quest for their first league title in 30 years. Sadio Mane fresh off his mid-week presentation, winning the African player of the year award, has, without doubt, been Liverpool’s best player this season.

In the trio of Sadio, Firmino and Salah they continue to share the goals as their nonstop pressing soccer has, for the most part, overpowered teams with the clearest defensive intentions. I believe Liverpool’s midfield has been undervalued.

Jordan Henderson over the last couple of months seems to have gone to another level. Gini Wijnaldum has been one of Klopp’s main men in the heart of the midfield. A true box-to-box player who (along with Henderson) has helped Liverpool fight through the tiredness of a busy festive period.

I think this match will be close, because Mourinho is the master of setting up teams defensively. But with the Red’s triple offensive threat, I think they will be just a little too much for Spurs.

Prediction: Liverpool 1 – Spurs 0

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English Premier League Heats Up With Round 22 Of Action