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Even With Distraction Of Man City Ban, EPL Offers Great Matchups

Bernardo Silva and John Stones of Manchester City celebrate following his sides victory in the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on February 19, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Manchester City has been banned from European football for the next two seasons for financial irregularities. I’m sure there will be an appeal, but the news took some of the shine and focus off of last weekend’s fixtures.

More VAR controversy of how, or lack of how, it’s being used or not used correctly reared its head again. There will always be issues with it and I suspect a changing of the rules will come at some point in the future. Former Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger had a good compromise with the suggestion of a rule change that “you will not be offside if any part of the body that can score a goal is in line with the last defender, even if other parts of the attacker’s body are in front.”

This rule would eliminate the reviews and decisions about the fraction of a millimeter placement of the attacker and the defensive line.

In my opinion, whilst I still think there might be the issue of reviewing millimeters in calls made, implementing this suggestion would give the attackers the advantage, where we’re not looking at dotted lines to see whether a player’s armpit is on side or not.

Meanwhile Manchester City and West Ham United played the postponed game from two weeks ago. City hardly left second gear and cruised to a 2-0 victory over a poor West Ham team.

There are some really good matchups in round 27 as all teams are back from their winter break.

Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur

First up is the early morning kick-off on Saturday, 5:30 a.m. on NBCSN. Two teams that feel they’re heading in opposite directions right now.

Chelsea had a rough go of it, decision wise, against Man Utd last Monday, refer to my VAR controversy comment. They are a team that is struggling right now. They do have some wonderful young talent, and I’ve said it many times this season, and you get glimpses of what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to play. Their record since late last year isn’t a team that is looking good for Champions League football next season. A lack of depth maybe, the fact they were under a transfer ban or the fact their manager is still finding his feet at the top level all come in to play. The jury is still out on Frank Lampard the coach. He did very well last season (his first as a coach) with Derby County in the Championship. His inexperience at the top level was always up for discussion.

For what it’s worth, like his young players I fully expect him to grow into the role. Injuries haven’t been particularity kind either, but this is where a manager earns their money. Finding ways to get results when things aren’t going smoothly.

What can be said, is his opposite number this weekend, in Jose Mourinho, who is getting results when things aren’t going smoothly. Spurs are on the march for a CL place, and a last gasp 3-2 win over Villa helped close the gap on Chelsea to just one point. However, if the fact that Harry Kane was missing wasn’t tough enough, the news of a broken arm for South Korean attacker, Son Heung-min means a chance for someone else in what is an already stretched attack.

You’ll likely see Lucas Moura continue as the focal point in the attack with Lo Celso, Alli, and Bergwijn underneath him. Also, Argentine Erik Lamela is back, and I’d expect for him to push for a start or play some part in the game.

As always, when the student (Lampard) comes up against the master (Mourinho) there will be some expected fireworks. Mourinho, the manager, elevated Lampard, the player, to another level when they were at Chelsea together, but now Lampard doesn’t get the same guidance as both teams will be fighting for all three points.

For this match I do suspect Spurs, who are in a very good moment, to come out of Stamford Bridge with a point after a thoroughly entertaining London Derby. Leaving Frank Lampard with a headache of epic proportions as he tries his best to get the Blues season back on track.

Prediction: 1-1, Tie 

Leicester City v. Manchester City

The matchup of the weekend for me, and KSL 5 agrees, as this is your 10:30 a.m. EPL premiere match on Saturday. Third against second. Leicester comes into the match in “okay” form. A thrilling 2-2 against Chelsea at the start of the month followed by a bit of a snooze fest against Wolves a week ago. I’m still enjoying the Foxes performance.

The fluidity of the Foxes attacking third can be devastating on counter-attacks. This is a huge task at home though. Coming up against a wounded animal in Man City. The initial fall out of their two-year European ban is one of defiance and one you expect them to appeal. Manager Pep Guardiola has vowed to stay, as has star attacker, Raheem Sterling.

Leicester have shown they can mix it with the best this season and are one of the few teams that are comfortable with or without the ball as they adapt to the flow of the match at any given time. They have shown (in all likeliness in this match) that without the ball they can drop, and use the low block system, which in turn allows the counter-attack to explode with the likes of Tielemans and Maddison bringing the ball forward and pick out the more-pacey players in Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy. It’s one of the very few things to do against a wonderful Man City team, who force a lot of teams to feed off scraps, possession-wise.

City will be tested for sure, and that will be a welcome change after coming up against a dreadful West Ham midweek. City had a whopping 78% possession and that says all you need to know about that fixture.

The reverse fixture back in December saw the Citizens run out 3-1 winners, and it was most definitely deserved. Belgian Kevin De Bruyne will be a focal point of the City midfield movement as he orchestrates the attack that was ticking on Wednesday, without really giving 100 percent. When you get two managers that try to play football and try to entertain you must cherish it. It will be fluid, it will be explosive, and because of that I expect some goals.

A win for the Foxes closes the gap to one point behind City, and potentially increases the gap over Chelsea, almost allowing them to taste Champions League football for next season. For City it’s an opportunity to open a slight gap and get some momentum towards season’s end as they hope the looming European football ban is overturned.

Key men for Saturday’s showdown will be James Maddison of Leicester and KDB of Man City. Yes, De Bruyne is more accomplished and far more coveted right now, but Maddison is a future big four-team player. Give either of them a second more than normal and they can thread a ball to their respective frontmen and open a backline with ease. Both have the ability to strike a ball with thunderous accuracy and City’s Ederson and the Foxes Schmeichel will have to be on their toes between the sticks to avoid being caught out by Maddison’s and KDB’s vision and skill.

I can’t hide my excitement for this match, but I have to go with City as winners, as they’re showing signs of putting a comprehensive run together.

Prediction: 3-1, Manchester City 

Arsenal v. Everton

Your last game of the weekend has all the makings of a cracker in this mid-table clash between 10th and 9th. A Sunday 9:30 a.m. kick off on NBCSN that will truly be in the balance. The Arsenal coach was a long time Everton player, and was even rumored to be in the running for the Toffees manager position when Marco Silva was relieved of his duties. He ultimately chose another former team in the Gunners, while Everton went all out and got Carlo Ancelotti.

Arsenal have been okay with Arteta at the helm, still plenty of work to do and a fragile backline that needs a serious overhaul in the summer. Both teams are unbeaten in their last five EPL games, and therefore it caught my eye when I looked at the round of 27 fixtures.

Mikel Arteta played under an amazing Arsène Wenger and assisted an amazing Pep Guardiola. What an education he’s had, and when you listened to interviews with him back in his playing days, you just felt he was destined to be a manager one day. The former Barcelona youth product seems to be adapting to the head coach role.

He’s been ruthless with his attack, no second-guessing or shoehorning players in. He has been very clear on the style and formation he wants Arsenal to play in, and in turn, (even if results haven’t been spectacular) the players look much more comfortable and understand, for the most part, their roles. A 4-2-3-1 formation has allowed Mesut Ozil back into the #10 role, with just a slight tweak for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moving to the left-hand side of the attack, a role he played many times earlier in his career. The main thing in this move was to not reduce his goal-scoring threat, and he seems to have succeeded. He has not skipped a beat as he’s currently tied for third in the EPL goal scoring charts with 15 goals.

Everton have had a sensational turnaround since the appointment of (Don) Carlo and has been boosted by the return of Portuguese midfielder, Andre Gomes after that nasty ankle injury back in early November.

Last week Everton reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation, allowing Brazilian attacker Richarlison to play off center forward, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with both players finding the back of the net to take their season EPL totals to 9 and 11 respectively. The balance seems much more aligned than under Marco Silva, and the belief of the players is evident for all to see. This was a huge test for Ancelotti, as his previous managerial positions were nearly all with well-established and well-funded squads. His ability was to be able to roll with the players he had and build on what was left from previous managers.

Everton really got themselves a top 10 coach; and whilst Champions League places are unlikely this season, they could make a run for the Europa League place (depending on the Man City European ban appeal). I believe this team is going places.

With a few ins and outs at Goodison, and a manager to attract talent, they’ll certainly be in the mix for European football moving forward. Back to the present though. Everton’s defense is more organized than Arsenal’s and I think this is the key to the match. Even though the Gunners attack is slick, Everton can keep them out. And with their ability to employ two lines of four in the formation, the onus will be on the home team to press for an opening, leaving them and their leaky backline open on the counter.

For this reason, I give Everton just a slight edge.

Prediction: 1-0, Everton

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