In Midst Of Winter Break, English Premier League Has Plenty To Offer

Feb 7, 2020, 3:23 PM
Sander Berge of Sheffield United during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sheffie...
Sander Berge of Sheffield United during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sheffield United at Selhurst Park on February 01, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As the winter break allows teams a two-week hiatus, round 26 of English Premier League action comes in two parts.

Last week we saw the transfer window slam shut around Europe with a few eye-catching moves on deadline day. Sander Berge for Sheffield United could be a real coup for the Blades as the young Norwegian has, in my opinion, a big future in the game. Bruno Fernandes made his debut for Manchester United last weekend.

Perhaps I should do a separate post on the January transfer window in’s and out’s? Either way, most teams were strengthened and most of them did great business.

Brighton and Hove Albion v. Watford

This weekend’s KSL 5 Premiere Match is what can only be described as a dog fight. A 10:30 a.m. Saturday kick-off, and a match to savor at American Express Community Stadium. Brighton currently sitting in 15th on 26 points, whilst Watford are in the relegation zone, in 19th position with 23 points. With just 13 games to go, the relegation sight is rather more interesting than the EPL title race. The teams at the bottom fighting for their very lives.

Brighton switched managers at the end of last season, with Graham Potter leaving Swansea in the Championship to take over the Seagulls. It’s been a long journey for the Englishman to reach the top level and his progressive approach has been admired from afar, cutting his teeth in the coaching game for almost a decade in Sweden. His teams try to play a possession-based game, and although they’re not a fashionable team, they are really easy on the eye. They have the ability to transition into multiple formations, with the 4-2-3-1 approach the most favored.

A fantastic come back last weekend in a 3-3 draw. For all the praise I give Potter and Brighton’s playing style, they haven’t won in their last 5 matches. Picking up 3 points out of a possible 15.

Veteran striker Glenn Murray who recently signed an extension for him to play next season got his first goal of this season in the last match. Murray is a forward that usually gets in to double figures. One man who may also get into double digits is Neal Maupay, currently sat on seven goals. The midfield on its day is definitely a strong point.

Australian international, Aaron Mooy has been a solid addition to the engine room. Davy Propper and Dale Stephens providing a platform for the attackers to express themselves. Keep an eye for Irish international, Aaron Connolly, who was a real live-wire the first part of the season.

Watford were up until a couple of weeks ago – absolutely flying and managed to get themselves out of the relegation zone but, two losses on the bounce has given them a minor setback. Last week’s 3-2 loss at home to Everton could have lasting repercussions. Up 2-0 heading into half time injury time, going into the break level at 2-2, and then not being able to take advantage of Everton playing the last 20 minutes with 10 men, only to let in a 90th-minute winner for Everton.

This is a huge test for them, after a wonderful start to Nigel Pearson’s reign.

Troy Deeney has returned, and as I’ve stated before, there is much more about him than his goals. He is the captain and there are many reasons why he was given the armband. He is a hugely engaging character and leads by example, and then his presence improves the other forwards around him. Wingers, Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu thrive in the space he opens up. Once again they’ll look to him to occupy the Brighton Center Backs. What Nigel Pearson has done since his arrival at Vicarage Road is to not overly complicate things, as there is talent in the squad; but he has instilled belief and made them a lot hard to break down, using the wide forward’s pace to hit teams on the counter-attack.

The match, like a lot of these dog fights, will be won in the center of the park. Playing a similar formation as Brighton, it will be the midfield three I mentioned earlier for the Seagulls against Watford’s Chalobah, Capoue and Doucoure. The Hornets midfield trio had a lot more class and ability than Brighton’s.

Because of that I give them the end, but, the mental resolve comes in to play after that heart-breaker.

I’ll play it safe this week and say this will be a thoroughly entertaining draw.

Prediction: 2-2, Tie

Sheffield United v. Bournemouth

The last preview of the weekend (you’ll get three next week when we finish off round 26) is the 7:00 a.m. MST, Sunday-morning kick-off. Two managers that have done wonders for their respective clubs. They are an inspiration to any aspiring coach (as is Graham Potter’s journey to Brighton). Starting at the bottom, sticking to a well thought out philosophy. Showing loyalty and getting their chance to move up to the top leagues via promotions that they instigated.

Of course, the funds made available, and ownership groups deserve some credit. Both teams’ spines were built on players who plied their trade in the lower divisions and then added some good pieces as well. They’ve had contrasting seasons though.

Sheffield Utd back in the EPL after a 12-year absence from the top flight, have raised many eyebrows. Sitting in sixth place, and just four points off from the magical target of 40 (usually enough to stave off relegation).

Bournemouth have struggled mightily this season. This is season number five for them at the top level, and it’s been a grueling first 25 games, sat in 16th on 26 points; they are in midst of a dog fight. The two wins in a row have helped drag them out of the relegation zone to give them hope that continued momentum will help them creep up the table to safety.

United play that 3-5-2 formation that has served them so superbly. A well-drilled unit has made them a tough nut to crack defensively and boast the second-best defensive record in the EPL, with just 23 goals conceded through the first 25 rounds. The two forwards are a mixture of battering rams and some speed. Relying heavily on the central midfield to get beyond them. John Fleck is one of them, and the Scottish International was rumored to be interesting to Arsenal, and as joint top goal scorer for the Blades you know why.

Oliver Norwood is usually the pivot that sits in front of the backline, allowing Fleck and John Lundstrum to join the attacks more frequently. This is a tried and tested group of players, honest, and hard-working. They are built in the image of their manager. Nothing flashy, but a desire to give everything for their manager, teammates and clearly, the fantastic support they get at Bramall Lane.

Bournemouth are finally starting to get players back from injury, which has hampered them all season long. Probably a large reason they find themselves where they are. Last weekend’s massive 2-1 victory over relegation rivals, Aston Villa, where the Cherries had to play the last 39 minutes down a man, was of huge relief to the entire club. Missing speedster, Joshua King for another month has made them a little predictable in the attack, so we saw Eddie Howe adopt a 4-3-3 formation, a much better-suited lineup, with a midfield three that would battle even the best of teams.

Jefferson Lerma’s red card will mean he’ll be suspended but expect some time with England international Lewis Cook slotted into the vacant position. He is arguably the Cherries best midfielder, and by best, I mean a completely different type than Lerma, Philip Billing and Dan Gosling that started against Villa. He is a player comfortable on the ball, dictating the play from a deeper position, looking to hit attackers Harry Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson in space.

At this point, it is all hands to the pump for them, but if they finally get going this season then they should pull themselves away from the bottom three. It might, however, be too much for them this weekend, coming up against a team such as United. I expect this to be a good quality match and will be well worth tuning in to on NBCSN. Wilder gets the better of Howe on this occasion, though.

Prediction: 2-1, Sheff Utd


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In Midst Of Winter Break, English Premier League Has Plenty To Offer