SOCCER

After Short Break, English Premier League Thunders Back

Sep 11, 2020, 1:34 PM
Saido Mane of Liverpool in action as the sun sets during the Premier League match between Liverpool...
Saido Mane of Liverpool in action as the sun sets during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United at Anfield on January 19, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A short break and the teams are back at it, as the 2020/21 season is upon us. The first round taking place Saturday, September 12 through Monday the 14, apart from both Manchester clubs, as they get an extra week off after their deeper runs in the 19/20 Europa League and Champions League.

With Covid-19 making it a strange experience with regard to games, substitutions, travel, preseason and the transfer market, we’re in uncharted water a little bit. Some EPL clubs have gone ahead and spent money bringing in players, Chelsea the front runners, after waiting a while to spend the Eden Hazard money after their transfer ban. Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd and Spurs have all spent, and quite well may I add. Liverpool and Leicester have been a bit quieter. But with the window open until the first week of October, there are still a few weeks left to bring players in.

As the Blues up their attacking options, all eyes will be on Chelsea’s Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. Everton has also added quality to their squad and the pull of manager Carlo Ancelotti becoming more and more evident bringing in Allan from Napoli and James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. I could write a column covering all the transfer ins and outs and then another one of all the potential transfer ins and outs….Maybe I’ll write these articles during the winter transfer window.

Last season we said goodbye to Norwich City, Watford and AFC Bournemouth, this season we welcome Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham back to the Premier League. Leeds has spent 16 years out of the top flight. And I for one am happy they are back, Elland Road is a great old stadium. And when fans are back in that old stadium it will do the EPL proud. What they have, in terms of edge over the other two clubs that were also promoted with them is their coach, Argentine, Marcelo Bielsa, a coach for the coaches, with Pep Guardiola speaking extremely highly of him. His influence is evident with his former players that are now coaches, Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino and Marcelo Gallardo. And for those MLS fans that read this, San Jose Earthquakes coach Matais Almeyda is also heavily influenced by Bielsa. I could go on and on about my admiration of Marcelo Bielsa. All I can say is that the EPL is better off this season because of him.

Catch all the games throughout the season on KSL 5, NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold and Peacock TV. And while you’re at it, check out your team’s new kits, the new players that have arrived, and the players you already know and love (or not).

Liverpool v. Leeds United

After building up the return of Leeds United, and their coach Marcelo Bielsa, what better way to start than previewing their return to be played against the EPL reigning champions, Liverpool. Live on KSL 5, with a 10:30 a.m. kick off on Saturday. Liverpool will be looking to start the season off right as they aim to “attack the title” (Klopp’s words, not mine). But without significant additions, can they reclaim the title? With Leeds, have they strengthened enough to secure EPL soccer next season? What I can tell you is that Liverpool are largely unchanged. A squad that has won a lot together and a style and philosophy that is almost second nature. Stylish when allowed, but gritty when needed. Over the last couple of seasons they’ve been crowned champions of Europe, the world and England. And whilst I don’t see them having such a large lead in the league again, they’ll be a tough opponent for anyone. The front three for Mane, Firmino and Salah is just as frightening, and with Japanese international Takumi Minamino looking much more settled after a lengthy settling in period, to add a different option up front and attacking midfield roles, we could see Liverpool adopt multiple formations.

Leeds is somewhat unknown, unless you tuned into the Championship over the last couple of seasons. They employ a 3-4-2-1 formation for the most part. Adding Robin Koch from SC Freiburg was a good piece of business, especially losing Ben White who decided to stay with parent club Brighton, after a successful loan spell last season on loan at Leeds. They also added forward and Spanish international Rodrigo from Valencia. Mainly employed as a central striker he has the ability to drift wide. But, given time I think this could be one of the better signings this season. Particularly for a squad, for all the wonderful play, the top goalscorer Patrick Bamford only got 16 goals. And they were, at times crying out for another option. Also, keep an eye out for Kalvin Phillips, who made his debut for England last week. He’s much more than a defensive midfielder, more a deep playmaker, he’s going to be vital to Leeds this season. Both teams like the ball and both teams employ the high press. This is by far the best matchup of the weekend. I think Liverpool will get the win, but it will give us a sneak peek into how difficult Leeds will be over a 38 game season.

Prediction: 2-1, Liverpool

Sheffield United v. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Monday’s kick-off between two teams that were highly impressive last season. You can catch it on NBCSN 12:55 p.m. Both teams employ similar formations, built upon three central defenders. United go with a more workmanlike approach, keeping things tight at the back and wearing teams down in the midfield to gain the upper hand. Using attacking set-pieces to their advantage. They might not score loads of goals, but they don’t concede many either. A few changes here and there from last season might leave them needing to adapt. Dean Henderson going back to parent club Manchester United I think will prove a bigger loss than anticipated. Aaron Ramsdale’s arrival from AFC Bournemouth is a positive, but, at this moment in time he isn’t on Henderson’s level. Keep a look out for the double signing from Derby County, Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle. Both full backs, and both will have an opportunity to push and provide cover for Baldock and Stevens, who were the mainstays in those positions, and absolutely vital for how the Blades like to play both sides of the ball.

Wolves are again ones to keep an eye on, the central midfield has plenty of class and then the usual suspects of Raul Jimenez leading the line. And the explosiveness of winger Adama Traore, who has come on leaps and bounds after his move to Wolves. Both are hot property. The Wolves attacking play is very impressive and so much fun to watch, a mixture of technical ability, speed and power, they have the ability to soak up pressure and hit teams on the counter. But, also very good at dictating play and dominating teams. And whilst you’ll see contrasting styles, you can admire both as they come head to head. I expect it to be a tight affair and I can’t pick a winner outright. But don’t let that discourage you, this will be hands down a great advert of what is deeply entrenched in English football, guts and thunderous tackles. A little less finesse as teams adapt to a shortened preseason. Managers Chris Wilder (Blades) and Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves) will earn their crust come late Monday afternoon.

Prediction: 1-1, tie

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