SOCCER

Plenty Of Great Soccer To Watch As VAR Steals Premier League Conversation

Dec 4, 2020, 2:35 PM
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: The big screen shows the VAR checking goal for possible offside duri...
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: The big screen shows the VAR checking goal for possible offside during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Aston Villa at London Stadium on November 30, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)

Across The Pond – After a great round of fixtures, the talk wasn’t about the results and play, but more the fact that VAR still isn’t being used effectively in England. The misuse of VAR is starting to suck the life out of the game a little bit.

The English Premier League was well known as a fast-paced footballing challenge, but the stop-start nature of VAR, and the long delays as they draw lines to figure out if your shirt sleeve was offside, before awarding a goal or not is beginning to impact the pace of the game. The joy in scoring is often one of anguish now as players wait for everything to be reviewed. Then there is the “Clear and Obvious” rule, which seems to nitpick at everything now.

I won’t lie, I was a fan of VAR and the concept but it’s been executed poorly, and I’m now of the opinion that apart from goal-line technology, a serious review of how VAR is being used, and who it’s being used by needs to take place.

VAR was discussed more than the battle at Stamford Bridge. It was discussed more than Man City strolling to success over Burnley, and Manchester United’s stunning second-half comeback against Southampton. Edinson Cavani truly announced himself to the EPL with an assist and two goals. He then posted something on Instagram that I believe is a term of endearment in his homeland, but deemed racially offensive in England, so the FA is now investigating. The apology was swift and we await the outcome.

COVID-19 has struck again, and whilst the cases in the EPL have been minor with a few players here and there missing games, it’s largely been well managed, but we have our first postponement. Friday’s match between Aston Villa and Newcastle United will not take place due to multiple positive tests at Newcastle. A new date for that match is yet to be released.

We also saw calls for concussion subs to be introduced. After a nasty clash of heads between Raul Jimenez of Wolves and Arsenal’s David Luiz. Jimenez was stretchered off and underwent surgery for a fractured skull, whereas Luiz played on but was subbed at half time. Jimenez is doing well and thanking folks for their well wishes, but the heart of the matter is (and since the fall out of CTE in the NFL) are sports, in general, doing enough to protect players? I do not think so, specifically when it comes to concussions, and hopefully, this incident will move the conversation on to real action.

West Ham United v. Manchester United

Your KSL 5 premiere matchup this Saturday at 10:30 a.m. comes from the lovely looking London Stadium. Both teams come into this match with three wins on the bounce in the EPL. As the fifth-placed Hammers take on ninth-placed Red Devils in what should be, in my opinion, one of the best matchups of the weekend.

West Ham has been a surprise. After last season’s struggles, we saw improvement towards the season’s end to get them out of the relegation dogfight but if you’d have told me that after ten rounds that the Hammers would only be a point out of the Champions League spots, I’d have laughed.

I remember listening to David Moyes’ interview when he was reappointed last season and rolling my eyes at the, “I think there’s only two or three managers with a better Premier League win record. That’s what I do, I win. I’m here to get West Ham wins and get them away from the bottom three.”

Alas, he’s backed it up and I’ll sit here eating crow. They have played some lovely football but mostly they’re defensively organized, employing a 3-4-2-1 formation. It allows them to be organized and tighter, with the two wing-backs dropping to make a defensive five and then midfielders Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček to sit in front and shield.

They are difficult to break down in defense, but also have a bit of quality going forward, with Souček being that two-way midfielder and an aerial threat in the attack; Fornals and Bowen as the attacking outlet, providing pace in the attack and delivery and then the point man, which has been Antonio and Haller this season.

As for United, it’s the same as usual, putting in a solid 45-minute performance to get them through games. Last week it was the second 45 minutes that were devastating, with Southampton looking comfortable in the first 45 minutes with a two-goal lead.

Enter Cavani at halftime, and what a performance it was from the Uruguayan. Two goals and an assist, showing United fans what they’d been missing. A real goal scorer. A lot of United’s forwards are comfortable in wider areas, but Cavani is at home doing both. Even though he’s not a long-term signing, I think he’s the difference in United getting a top-four finish or not.

United still has a way to go to ensure they’re consistent but away from home, and the ability to explode at any given moment means you can never take your eye off them. Whilst their Jekyll & Hyde performances will probably continue, I think they might just have a little too much power for the Hammers.

Prediction: A largely scrappy game, with the Hammers manager trying to get one over his former employer. Whereas Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be looking for this Red Devils team to lay a marker down for the rest of the season. Should be a fun watch, with United running out as eventual winners.

Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

This is a North London derby to look forward to on Sunday, 9:30 a.m. kick off on Peacock. Without a doubt, the game all eyes are on.

For the most part, form can go out of the window in these games, especially if full stadiums come in to play. Although it won’t be full, we will finally see fans in the stadium. Most clubs are in the Tier 2 level, so will be allowed 2000 fans in games. Sadly no Tier 1, which would have allowed 4,000 fans in but there are a few that fall into Tier 3, which still won’t allow any fans in.

Spurs have been very good so far this season. They are, for the most part, a Jose Mourinho team now, as in, reflective of the manager’s character. Calculated in the attack and tactically superior when setting up defensively. We didn’t get to see that version during his time at Manchester United in my opinion, and I think this proves that there were other issues at United impacting the outcome that don’t exist at Spurs.

One player’s injury progress to keep an eye on is talismanic forward, Harry Kane, as he missed training during the week. It would be a massive blow for Spurs, because under Mourinho he’s become a dual-threat like we’ve never seen before. Nine assists and seven goals this season from the England captain. This may raise a few eyebrows, as he only had eight assists in the previous three seasons….combined. Under Mourinho, Kane in my opinion has gone to another level. No longer the only exceptional player, he has a better team around him and with Mourinho, a manager who has done it before. Plenty of matches to come and against Arsenal, anything can happen but believe me, Spurs are well equipped to be title contenders.

Arsenal is in a tailspin, as they come into Spurs in the fourteenth position, with just one win in their last six matches. Manager Mikel Arteta is in a real bind, as the initial arrival and demand for discipline is now wearing off. Mesut Özil was given the cold shoulder, and young French midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi was sent on loan after a falling out with management.

What is most alarming is the fact that the Gunners look short of ideas, particularly in attack. It’s not that Arteta doesn’t have talent in the attack, it’s more to do with them misfiring, with just ten goals in the first ten EPL matches lending fodder to this disturbing story.

Defensively, they haven’t been awful, with only five teams conceding less but with the serial assist man, Özil, out in the cold the team is struggling to open teams up. As of now, it seems like his treatment of Özil is coming back to bite Arteta. Does that make the North London Derby all doom and gloom for the Gooners? No. There is an edge to this game that, as I mentioned, throws the form book out of the window. Yes, they’ll be underdogs, probably the biggest we’ve seen in the NLD, maybe in my lifetime.

We have seen Arteta set his teams up to be difficult to break down when coming up against superior teams, and I expect the same for this match; just don’t sleep on Arsenal in the attack. If they can put something together, the likes of Lacazette, Aubameyang, Pepe and Willian have to put something together. The talent is there, but against this Spurs team they’ll have it all to do. I just can’t bet against Jose Mourinho right now.

Prediction: Spurs getting all three points is needed, not only for their title charge but for bragging rights as well. Jose feeds off of these types of games and I expect them to be the aggressors on their way to all three points.

Until next week…

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Plenty Of Great Soccer To Watch As VAR Steals Premier League Conversation