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English Premier League Offers Plenty Of Reasons To Wake Up Early This Weekend

Jan 31, 2020, 10:42 AM | Updated: 10:45 am
Stuart Armstrong of Southampton gesticulates during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Southampt...
Stuart Armstrong of Southampton gesticulates during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St. Mary's Stadium on January 25, 2020 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Round 25 sees all 20 EPL clubs all finally playing the same amount of games.

Liverpool went down to London Stadium on Wednesday and beat West Ham United, 2-0. Putting them on a staggering 70 points before January was out – extending an already impressive lead to 19 points.

After the FA Cup break, we bounce in to round 25 looking to see if any of the chasing pack want to make a charge for the Champions League qualifying places.

The winter transfer window slams shut on the last day of the month. Some teams will be desperate to get bodies in and the mad frenzy will come to a halt at 4:00 p.m. MST on Friday.

Leicester City v. Chelsea

The early morning Saturday kick-off is a cracker to begin the 25th round – something to clear the sleep out of your eyes at 5:30 a.m.

Leicester will still be smarting after their midweek Carabao Cup semifinal loss to Aston Villa. A Wembley Stadium trip would’ve been a fine reward for a very good season so far. It’s time for them to dust themselves down and focus on the EPL and the FA Cup.

The bonus is a Jamie Vardy sighting off the bench, the league’s leading goal scorer (17) hurt himself against West Ham just over a week ago.

Leicester’s form has been a little erratic of late, but they sit third and hold an eight-point gap over their opponent Chelsea. They’ll be looking to get back to the free-flowing soccer that we saw before the holidays. The best teams are tested to the max as the games cause fatigue for even the deepest squads.

The Foxes have been fortunate on the injury front mostly, which is, in large part why they have had an outstanding campaign. They need to reestablish the stingy backline that carried them through the first part of the season. That said, they’ve only conceded 24 goals (third-best in the EPL) but have been a little more open at the back over recent matches. Of course, we cannot forget the way they flow in possession, but apart from Vardy, they haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal.

Vardy makes them click in attack, and he’ll need James Maddison and Ayoze Perez to chip in. Harvey Barnes on the left is an outside bet for an England call up and as he gets a run of games under his belt, you can see the confidence grow. The fluidity and versatility of Leicester being able to switch from their most-used formation 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1 is excellent to watch.

At home, they’ll look to dominate possession, but with the clear issues that Chelsea have had of breaking teams down that sit deeper, the argument could be made for a counter-attacking approach. Chelsea are a team in transition, but with no transfer ban looming over them anymore I do expect them to add to their numbers. In full flow, they are a handful, but the consistency in this younger side has let them down.

Veteran, Willian will again be the danger man, a goal threat and a creative spark. With the transfer market about to close there have been rumors that Willian is a target for Barcelona. If Chelsea actually sells the Brazilian, I can only see a struggle for the Blues to make the top four. That said, the young talent of Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham will only get better.

This is a tough one to call. Away from home, there will be less onus on Chelsea, but they’ll be desperate for the points. However, if Vardy starts, the former England international has the ability to get in behind the best backlines any team has to offer. I can’t pick a winner as I expect the stuttering form of both teams to continue.

Prediction: 2-2, Tie

Manchester United v. Wolverhampton Wanderers

The KSL 5 premiere matchup is the 10:30 a.m. kick off between fifth in the league versus seventh in the league.

United come off a brave midweek performance against Man City in the second leg of the Carabao Cup, winning 1-0 at the Etihad, but ultimately bowing out of the competition 3-2 on aggregate.

United will be looking to potentially close the gap on Chelsea, and the fixture earlier in the morning could see the gap closed to just three points. The Red Devils fans will be hoping to get a glimpse of new Portuguese midfielder, Bruno Fernandes, after his arrival from Sporting Lisbon. The international had been linked with a host of big clubs around Europe, but United were in massive need of a goal-scoring midfielder.

The attacking #8 is a huge coup for a club that hasn’t been able to do the business they’d normally expect. If he hits the ground running, he is absolutely a difference-maker. Sadly, for United they’re going to be missing their best player in Marcus Rashford for a considerable amount of time. The double stress fracture in his back could sideline the young attacker for two to three months.

Anthony Martial and Daniel James will be relied on heavily during this period. The continued development of Mason Greenwood will also be paramount to United’s long-term plan, but also for the immediate term. Cue Bruno Fernandes’s importance. Playing in multiple positions, in between the midfield and the attack, he had eight goals and seven assists in the 17 league games he played in Portugal this season. You look back to last season and he was incredible with 20 goals and 13 assists. Maybe it’s too early for a start this weekend, but he’s a game-changer for a team in transition.

Wolves come to Old Trafford full of confidence, and, in my opinion, if the United manager is to be replaced during the summer, the much-maligned board should be flirting with Nuno Espirito Santo. His reputation continues to grow and will back himself and his team against anyone. Doing the double over Man City; and, let’s be honest, the only team to really truly test Liverpool this season home and away.

Their 3-4-3 formation is difficult to play against as their balance tests teams’ tactical approach. Adama Traore (seven assists) has been gaining the plaudits of late, as the power forward continues to impress. Mexican #9 Raul Jimenez (11 goals) is the main man, though.

Wolves are capable at dominating possession or adopting a counter-attacking style as they flip between the two for 90 minutes. The defensive cohesion is also impressive, with wing-backs Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto overloading the wide spaces to provide defensive cover for the three center backs, but also provide overlapping runs for the front three.

Even as I am full of praise for Wolves this season with a manager I admire, it is Manchester United at Old Trafford. At some point, I expect something to click and stop the skid of two EPL losses in a row. Despite the injuries and inconsistent form, I think United will scrape by, convincingly or not.

Prediction: 2-1, Manchester United

Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester City

Rounding out the weekend is the 9:30 a.m. MST match up on Sunday – sixth against second – Mourinho versus Guardiola.

Spurs find themselves in a peculiar place. They replaced much sought-after manager Mauricio Pochettino (I still fully expect him to take over at Man Utd in the summer) with Jose Mourinho after an indifferent start, and in all seriousness, it’s still been indifferent since Jose took over. However, I find it hard to put it squarely at the coaches’ feet. Spurs are a club with money, but a couple of tiers below the top teams in the EPL.

Pochettino worked wonders to get so much out of a talented squad without regular transfers. In the summer they bought well, but really that process needed to start happening the summer before last. He got every drop out of the squad. Mourinho is now in the position of bedding in some newer players whilst still eyeing reinforcements to challenge the top four again. It must be said that they’ve been very active in this window and on paper it looks fantastic. Gedson Fernandes on loan, Giovanni Lo Celso joining permanently after an initial loan, and then the arrival of Steven Bergwijn from PSV Einhoven, who has the ability to play across the front line (most prominently a left-winger).

Harry Kane potentially missing the remainder of the season is a massive blow, as they don’t have a like for like replacement. They will be looking for Bergwijn (five goals and 10 assists in Eredivisie this season), Son, Lamela and Moura to help them through a sustained period without captain and top goal scorer, Kane. There is an opportunity for Spurs to adapt to a much more fluid style in attack. Whilst Kane is a focal point as the #9 and has the ability to drop deep, a fluid front three, all interchangeable, is hugely intriguing, especially on the counter-attack.

City suffered a loss to rivals, United, on Wednesday, but were still able to make it through to the Carabao Cup final, 3-2 on aggregate. The return of Aymeric Laporte to Pep’s backline is a huge boost, and I suspect as he builds up his match fitness and rhythm that Man City’s performances will improve defensively.

As you expect, when talking about City, or any Pep Guardiola team in general, it’s the attack that we focus on. Sergio Aguero, on 16 goals, is one of the purest goal scorers in the game, let alone the EPL. His movement with the ball to pull off his marker’s shoulder is something EPL defenders have been trying to stop for almost nine seasons now. He’s had issues with injuries during his time in England and has had to evolve his game. Flanked by a combination of Jesus, Sterling, Mahrez or Bernardo Silva, the transition is seamless.

The tempo is controlled by midfield maestro, Kevin De Bruyne with a whopping 15 assists and seven goals. He might be the most fun player to watch in the league and with the combination of any three in front of him, they make it look easy at times.

For that, I’ll go with a City win. However, this is the most intriguing tactical battle you’ll see this weekend as Spurs and Mourinho will look to keep a tight defensive and midfield unit. Definitely my game of the weekend.

Prediction: 2-1, City

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English Premier League Offers Plenty Of Reasons To Wake Up Early This Weekend