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English Premier League Matches Continue Despite Some Cities Having COVID-19 Surges

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JULY 01: Gylfi Sigurdsson of Everton (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal from a penalty during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Leicester City at Goodison Park on July 01, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Jon Super/Pool via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In England, the focus switched from the Premier League to the FA Cup. The quarter-finals weren’t especially entertaining and the usual suspects have reached the semi-finals.

Man United saw off 10 man Norwich City in extra time to book their Wembley place where they will come up against Chelsea, who took down Leicester City. Arsenal went on the road and triumphed over Sheffield United, with Dani Ceballos popping up deep in injury time to grab the winner. They will now meet Man City who eased past Newcastle United, 2-0.

Semi-finals will be played at Wembley Stadium on July 18 and 19, with the final being played August 1.

Over the weekend the English Premier League results showed Aston Villa couldn’t get any real traction against local rivals Wolves, who ran out 1-0 victors. Villa is still 19th, on 27 points. With Bournemouth and West Ham Utd on the same points total, and only above them on goal difference.

Watford were well beaten by Southampton 3-1, and they sit on 28 points, just above the three teams just mentioned.

Everton v. Leicester City

First, for the midweek round is Wednesday’s Toffees against the visiting Foxes, 11:00 a.m. on NBC Sports Gold. Everton is a team that I’m keeping an eye on. Mostly flattered to deceive until the arrival of Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, the blue half of Liverpool are almost mathematically safe from relegation.

I say this, of course with tongue in cheek.

Since the Italian’s arrival at Goodison Park there has been an entirely different vibe picking up some results to shoot themselves up and away from the danger zone. Brazilian forward, Richarlison and young English forward, Dominic Calvert-Lewin have struck up a great partnership and have scored the goals to improve the poor start of the season.

Left back Lucas Digne has also been a solid performer. The Frenchman is a magnificent outlet from the left side of the defense, a willing runner and his deliveries are dangerous, either from open play or set-pieces. He also leads the team with six assists.

Thankfully this match is at Everton, as the city of Leicester is locked down because of a surge of COVID-19 cases and the mayor said the lockdown would go on longer than the national timeframe of July 4th. The Foxes have three home games remaining. It’ll be interesting to learn what will happen if cases continue to rise in the city.

Leicester has been poor on the pitch, even before the season was paused. They have been limping along, and hold a slender lead to their third position. They’ve picked up just seven points in their last seven games, but with Chelsea in very good form, breathing down their necks, and Wolves and Man Utd also hunting for Champions League places, Leicester needs to have an uptick in form.

Jamie Vardy hasn’t been on the scoresheet since the restart, but I wouldn’t read too much into that, still leading the golden boot race with 19 goals, there is no doubt he’ll be up and running again at some point.

A very intriguing game on our hands, and the reason I picked it, Leicester on paper have a much better and balanced squad, the little dive in form should not take away from the achievements met in the first part of the season.

Everton have a manager now that can take them up the table, not only this season but next season, and make them much more competitive. Leicester play a more attractive brand with fast counter-attacks. Everton is more rigid, but also have the ability to break fast. It will be Everton’s job to press the issue, but they are lacking genuine options in central midfield, where I think Leicester can get a foothold in the game.

Outside of Andre Gomes, Everton lack quality centrally and I’d imagine that will be addressed in the summer window. Do Leicester have what it takes to get all three points and stop the rot a little bit? I think they do.

Goals have been tough to come by since the restart, but I think they break out as the midfield overpowers the hosts to victory.

Prediction: 2-1, Leicester City

Sheffield United v. Tottenham Hotspur

In regard to matchups, this is probably the tie of the midweek for me, Thursday 11:00 a.m. on NBCSN. United are in the hunt for European football, even though the target at the season was probably just survival. They have been a breath of fresh air with a no-nonsense approach, much in the mold of their manager, Chris Wilder. They are a hard-working unit that emphasizes a defensive approach and hard to break down. Springing counter-attacks via their wingbacks.

They’ve caused most teams a problem and rarely been outworked, something Wilder has built his reputation on. Relying a lot on the players that got United out of the championship last season and their cohesion is really the most impressive thing.

Side note, this is a very similar approach that Bournemouth used when they were first promoted. The cherries moved away from that approach a little too quickly in my opinion and are now in a relegation fight. A lesson for Sheffield United to remember.

Tottenham has not set the league alight but they have picked up four points from the available six since the restart. The good news was that Harry Kane got himself on the score sheet after a lengthy injury layoff. He is vital to Spurs and their desires to compete for multiple titles and cups.

Even if history isn’t on their side, the last few years were real progress until this season. A most definite hangover from last season’s Champions League final loss. The heartbreak might just be shifting as Mourinho gets to grips with the squad. Even if it isn’t all rosy with manager and player relationships with the rumored escalation and downward spiral of Mourinho’s relationship with Tanguy Ndombele. The Frenchman was called out by his manager a couple of times publicly, and their relationship has never recovered. Although the midfielder hasn’t really settled in the EPL, I would expect him to have plenty of suitors when the transfer window opens.

Spurs as I’ve said have been a little hit and miss, but I expect them to find a little bit of consistency as we near the end of the season. They’ll push Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the race for European football next season. With the onus being on Spurs for this match in Sheffield. United will be more than happy to soak up pressure and work the ball forward at the right times and use set-pieces to put Spurs on the back foot.

Whoever starts in the engine room for Spurs will have their work cut out with the Blades central midfield three. Spurs are starting to see the best of Giovani Lo Celso, and for me, he’s the first name in the engine room for Spurs. He and whoever partners with him, should he start, will give the attackers the platform to hurt their opposition.

The talent available is eye-watering. Harry Kane as your point man, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura to name a few.

With United having some injuries to their backline I do expect Spurs to win the battle and take all three points back to London.

Prediction: 2-0, Spurs

Manchester City v. Liverpool

Rounding out the midweek fixtures is the mouth-watering tie between the two best teams in the league, Thursday at 1:15 p.m. kick off on NBCSN, right after Sheffield Utd and Leicester.

Welcoming champions Liverpool to the Etihad might not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone connected to the citizens, but they will welcome the Reds with a guard of honor on to the pitch. Liverpool will not take this game lightly, just because the title is wrapped up, and you can forget about Pep Guardiola taking his foot off the gas for his City boys as well.

They’re looking to bounce back from the Chelsea loss last week that ultimately handed the title over. They’re looking to wrap up Champions League soccer for next season asap. Before they turn their attention towards the FA Cup and the Champions League tournament in Portugal in August.

With Sergio Aguero having a successful surgery, they’ll hope he has an outside chance of rejoining the team before the month is out. News that Leroy Sane has agreed to join Bayern Munich next season will have people wondering who Pep will look to bring in. Challenging Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and throw in Bernardo Silva who on occasion starts in the front three as well, they still have options. Those lads will give the Reds backline a much sterner test than Crystal Palace did last Wednesday.

City, for me, when in full flow are still the most attractive team in world soccer. I expect them to have a solid chunk of possession, as they’ll look to let the ball do the work and have the Reds chasing.
Liverpool is out of every other competition, so apart from breaking records (wins, and points total) they really have nothing to play for. Again, that doesn’t mean they’ll take the foot off the gas either. Liverpool’s midfield three will be key to this game. If they can somehow nullify Kevin De Bruyne then I expect Liverpool to have a chance. If the midfield is anything other than Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum then I will be extremely surprised.

Liverpool’s high press might cause some issues for City’s somewhat underwhelming defense. Apart from goalkeeper Ederson and center-back Aymeric Laporte, there is a lot of room for improvement. That is on Pep, he has spent poorly repeatedly in the full-back areas, and wasted hundreds of millions on either players that were below par from the get go, or just haven’t settled.

This match should be a good one for all EPL fans, with quick-paced, one-touch passing and blister counter attacks. Who has the edge? It remains to be seen.

A much better defense for the Reds might give them the edge, but the slick movement of City’s attack cannot be written off. Kick back and enjoy as the juggernauts go for it. It’s just too close to call.

Prediction: 2-2

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