SOCCER

Happy Holidays! You Get Premier League Midweek Rounds This Wednesday

Dec 15, 2020, 2:29 PM
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Andrew Robertson of Liverpool is tackled by Bobby Decordova-Reid of ...
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Andrew Robertson of Liverpool is tackled by Bobby Decordova-Reid of Fulham during the Premier League match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage on December 13, 2020 in London, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A lackluster Round 12 for the top teams, was a genuine surprise. The Manchester Derby that I billed as the game of the weekend, barely got out of second gear.

Sorry guys, the game ended in a boring 0-0 draw. Spurs didn’t get going against Crystal Palace and Liverpool looked lost for the most part against an excellent Fulham team. The joint leaders only took a point in their respective matches.

However, Southampton and Leicester City looked good and a special mention from the weekend going to Everton, who stopped a rampant Chelsea team with measured performance.

Round 13 will take place midweek and there are a couple of interesting matchups that we’re looking forward to. First up, first against second.

Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur

Wednesday’s kick-off at 1:00 p.m. on NBCSN is the one we’re excited to watch this midweek. The leagues tied top-two teams battle it out for the opportunity to lead the league outright. Last weekend, both teams didn’t live up to the standards they’ve set so far this season.

The Reds were caught off guard by Fulham’s speed out of the blocks. They huffed and puffed for the first 30-35 minutes. They finally showed some semblance of life after a mouthful from boss, Jurgen Klopp, on the sideline. Still, the 1-1 draw was the most they deserved, and Fulham felt a little hard done by when the final whistle blew. Liverpool will need a huge improvement as they come up against Spurs.

The front three of Liverpool aren’t quite clicking as we’ve seen in seasons’ past. Alas, after all the injuries and a drop off somewhat in dominance, they still find themselves in a healthy position, only below Spurs on goal difference.

Once again, the Reds will need their unit to perform to its highest capacity to not only protect the backline but help spring the attack into life. Right now Captain Jordan Henderson, Gini Wjinaldum and academy product Curtis Jones are the preferred three. In reality, they’re the only midfielders that are fit and have experience of first-team football. They have at times looked fantastic, and this has helped paper over some issues.

As for Spurs, what can we say? Is it a shock that they’re top? Maybe a tiny bit, but we are talking about a Jose Mourinho team. I’ve seen in the press that some aren’t impressed with the style of Spurs’ play. Sit back and soak up pressure and then explode on the counter-attack. It might not be for everyone, but I think this style of play, and the team itself, has been highly entertaining.

The partnership between Son Heung-min and Harry Kane is making the headlines, and rightly so. But the unit as a whole is in the Mourinho mold. Big and physical players that are defensively sound, and getting the ball to the playmakers. The game management is phenomenal. All things Mourinho perfected since his FC Porto days. Mourinho sets his teams up to win, but as we’ve seen this season it’s the impressive results against the title rivals or those who will be challenging for the top four and Champions League places. Swept Arsenal, their North London Rivals, aside with ease. Frustrated Chelsea with a 0-0 draw. Did the business against Man City and earlier in the season, walloped Man Utd, 6-1.

It will be a chess match, with both teams wanting to win, but neither willing to risk it all and lose. As we head into the busy period, the EPL teams will want to make sure they’re within touching distance when they’ve got through the grueling part of the schedule.

Prediction: I can’t see anything other than a draw (I’ve been known to be wrong). I just think the importance for both teams to keep it close will overwhelm the occasion.

Leicester City v. Everton

The 11:00 a.m. kick-off is Wednesday on Peacock TV, and is right before Liverpool and Spurs. It’s the last of the midweek games and we think it is well worth tuning into. Both teams are coming off very good results over the weekend.

Leicester look to be fighting for Champions League football again. After narrowly missing out last season, I thought they might fall further away this season. But no, they are right bang at it again and leading the charge is ageless striker, Jamie Vardy. Sat on 10 goals so far this season, he is one of the most fearsome forwards in EPL history, sitting joint 19 on the all-time top goal scorers list with 113 goals.

Leicester in full flow are one of the most attractive footballing sides in the EPL, boasting an attacking group that would impress most teams. The unit works fantastically well. Happy to have the ball and possession, or coming up against more dominant sides, they’ll happily give it up, keep their defensive shape and hit teams effectively on the counter-attack.

Moving the ball through midfield, with the likes of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans occupying the central areas and Harvey Barnes providing width and pace, makes them easy to watch; and explosive, with striker, Vardy always anticipating the long ball over the top that he is always willing to try and get on the end of. But in Everton, they have an opponent that seems to have gotten over its wobble in form and will provide a physical battle.

Everton started four center backs against Chelsea. Mostly because of injury, but it worked. Aerially, Chelsea didn’t have much luck. The compact nature of the four Everton center backs and their two midfielders protecting them made the toffees difficult not only to break down but to get in behind.

With Everton on the road, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue to use a similar approach. Ending the match against the Blues with just 28 percent possession, Everton relied on Brazilian wide forward, Richarlison to help relieve pressure, and use him on the break. They’ll obviously be looking to remain compact and organized while playing with more possession and expression; stamping their authority on the game.

Everton is a little more combative in central midfield, whereas the Foxes are a little more refined. This is where the game, as soccer often is, will be won. If Everton can cut down the passing lanes, they’ll once again have a chance but with the skill on offer in the attacking midfield areas for Leicester, I can see Leicester coming out on top and cementing their already strong position in third.

Prediction: I expect to see some entertaining moments in the match, with a couple of hot central strikers on show, but for me, the home team just has more creativity in form, and with that creativity, they will snatch all three points.

I’ll be back before the weekend to break down Round 14 in the Premier League.

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Happy Holidays! You Get Premier League Midweek Rounds This Wednesday