EPL Offers Much To Choose From Heading Into Round 28
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – What a round of fixtures last week! We saw a Chelsea team really take it to Spurs in a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge. The relief shown by Frank Lampard at the final whistle said it all.
We saw Man City go on the road and get three points in a much tighter affair than I expected against a good Leicester City team, 1-0.
Then a great match to end the Sunday fixtures, as Arsenal beat Everton 3-2 in an entertaining and open game.
Elsewhere, Bruno Fernandes got off the mark for Manchester United, in a 3-0 victory over Watford.
Liverpool took on West Ham United on Monday to end the round and were given a fright by the Hammers, going down 1-2 early in the second half; the Reds rallied to claw out a 3-2 win to keep their unbeaten record intact.
This round will not see Aston Villa or Manchester City play in the EPL. They will be in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday. With City looking at a fifth Carabao Cup in seven years, live on ESPN.
This week the Round kicks off on Friday. For those lunchtime watchers at work you’ll be blessed with a 1:00 p.m. MST kick off on NBCSN as Norwich take on Leicester. With so many good matches this weekend it was tough to pick my top three, bearing in mind there is a massively entertaining relegation battle shaping up and a tight race for next season’s Champions League positions.
Watford v. Liverpool
Let’s kick the weekend off right with the KSL 5 EPL premiere live from Vicarage Road. A 10:30 a.m. kick off on Saturday. A fight at opposite ends of the table.
Watford, the Hornets are scrapping for every point and their EPL lives, and Liverpool are looking to hold their nerve as they aim to end a 30-year drought of league titles, claiming their 19th in the process.
Watford’s new manager bump has worn off, but they’re still in a much better position than they were before Nigel Pearson took over. There is still genuine hope and expectation that they can pull off a miracle to avoid relegation. They sit 19th in the EPL, but just a point from safety. However, picking up just five points over their last six games has derailed the momentum they had.
In Pearson’s first game in charge, they played Liverpool at Anfield in mid-December. The Hornets were a stern test but eventually lost 2-0. Watford’s defensive cohesion was something the new manager got on top of, which was vital to give them any hope of survival. Playing a 4-2-3-1 formation of sorts, the backline is shepherded by goalkeeper, Ben Foster and protected by two central midfielders of Étienne Capoue and then a mixture of partnerships with Will Hughes or Nathaniel Chalobah. Joined at the top of the midfield triangle by Abdoulaye Doucouré who will drop back to make a central three and help block the passing lanes. The front three is a mixture of skill and workmanlike attributes.
Captain Troy Deeney is the target man, used to defend from the front and someone the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaïla Sarr can play off when he holds the ball up. They can also use former Juventus attacker Roberto Pereyra, who will pinch in a little from the wide areas. On his day Pereyra can be a massive game-changer, making something from nothing; but like a lot of maverick talents, consistency can be an issue for the Argentine.
Liverpool come to Watford in serviceable form, nothing flashy of late. They were brought down to earth with a bump in the Champion League last week after they suffered a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid. The Reds are still unbeaten in the EPL, and only drawing the one game. The loss of captain, Jordan Henderson is a blow. He suffered a hamstring injury which will keep him out of play for around three weeks. He was missed on Monday night in the win over West Ham. His absence does mean Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Naby Keïta will join the midfield three that includes regulars Fabinho and Gini Wjnaldum. The midfield three are often the unsung heroes of Jurgen Klopp’s team.
A group that doesn’t concede many goals and one that also scores quite a few. This midfield is as blue-collar as you’ll see in world football and allows the likes of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to perform.
In truth though, Liverpool have struggled of late, as the season takes its toll on the league leaders. This isn’t as cut and dry as some may think, and certainly a closer match than it would’ve been a few months ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liverpool make a change or two to try and increase the energy levels on the pitch and freshen up its play.
Prediction: 2-1, Liverpool
Everton v. Manchester United
Sundays match at Goodison Park, 7:00 a.m. MST kick-off, is as intriguing as any matchup this weekend as 11th place Everton look to bounce back from the 3-2 loss to Arsenal last Sunday. Manchester United are in fifth place and have won two EPL matches on the spin.
There is more work to do for Everton, and even though their results have improved under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti, a full pre-season and a few more players are all that Ancelotti will want, there is every chance they will be fighting out for European football. This isn’t a quick fix at all, and there will be inconsistent results for the remainder of the season but the ship has steadied, and they’ll comfortably finish in an upper mid-table placement.
Is that good enough? No, and most definitely not for Ancelotti. What is pleasing is the fact the blooming attacking partnership of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were both on the score-sheet again.With five points just separating the teams, with 11 games to go, it is wide open and all to play for.
Everton will have to be a little more compact at the back as that backline was disjointed against the Gunners. This is a United team that is scoring, even without the injured Marcus Rashford; with Anthony Martial stepping up to score a couple of vital goals in recent weeks. His effort against Watford can only be described as ‘Cheeky’.
There is a much more positive vibe around Old Trafford of late, and whilst they are far from where they want to be, the arrival of Bruno Fernandes has upped the attacks’ fluidity. They do look a threat and will look to exploit any gaps or silly mistakes across the Everton backline. Daniel James, who hasn’t scored of late, is still proving a handful; and the young academy product, Mason Greenwood seems to look more and more comfortable playing at this level. The only issue for Greenwood is how much is too much? The 18-year-old has a massive future that is likely to be at United, but the management team will be under pressure to play him more than they’re comfortable with.
Last weekend saw United revert to a 4-2-3-1, and it looked a lot better than the 3-4-3 they had been using. Brandon Williams has all the makings of a fine left back/wing-back. The man on the other side, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, for all his athletic ability is still limited going forward. It is something he will improve on, no doubt, but in my opinion, he’s better in a back four, then being a wing-back.
This match is absolutely in the balance, and Everton’s overall record against bigger teams doesn’t make for good reading, and for that, I can’t decide on a winner. Kick back as Scousers and Mancunians heckle each other in the stands and play out a thunderous draw.
Prediction: 2-2, Tie
Tottenham Hotspur v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Last preview of the weekend kicks off at the same time as Everton and Man Utd, check the NBCSN listings for who will be shown, and where.
This match is set up perfectly as both teams slog it out in the fight for European soccer next season. Spurs come back home after a disappointing loss to Chelsea last weekend, and their fight isn’t helped with their two best attackers out for a sustained period. They look largely toothless, and the finger will be pointed squarely at the board for not getting a #9 of sorts to join in January, even though the Spurs did conduct great business during the winter window.
While flashes of Jose Mourinho’s DNA are evident in this team’s playing style, it is hugely inconsistent, and a solid summer transfer window will need to happen if they’re to challenge for European places again. Saying that, this team is still within a shout of Champions League soccer again, if they can find a solid defensive footing and be difficult to break down again. They do have the ability to break on the counter-attack effectively, and even though the main goal-scoring threats are out of the picture, there are goals in Alli, Moura, Lamela and Bergwijn. They need someone to step up and take this team forward. Dele Alli would be my guess as he is a creator and a goal-scoring midfielder, who has found his form under Mourinho’s guidance.
Wolves are having an outstanding season and sit just a point behind Spurs. They switch between 3-4-3 and what they used primarily on Sunday, 3-5-2 with such ease that they are fantastic on the eye. Portuguese midfield duo, Rúben Neves and João Moutinho provide a deep playmaking ability that not only feeds the attackers in front, but also provides cover for the marauding wing-backs, Otto and Doherty, with the latter getting a great assist against Norwich last weekend. Diogo Jota finds himself in a rich vein of form, belting in five goals in his last two games, with two of those five coming in the EPL.
Mexican forward, Raúl Jiménez will once again be a huge threat, as he leads the team with 12 goals, and chipped in with six assists. I’m half expecting Adama Traoré to slip back in to the starting XI, however, the five-man midfield might come into play again as they try to block the passing lanes and force Spurs over the top, where Wolves big central defenders would eat up the scraps without the physical presence of Harry Kane to come up against.
This should be a good match up with plenty of eye-catching soccer, but like the other Sunday match up I find it hard to pick a winner. Arguments can be made for both teams to win, and Spurs are desperate to not have their season unravel now. For this weekend, I’ll play it safe with a draw being the end result at the gorgeous Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
Prediction: 1-1, Tie