SOCCER

English Premier League Providing Massive Gifts For Fans This Weekend

Dec 23, 2020, 10:25 AM
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: David Moyes manager of West Ham United walks amongst the players aft...
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: David Moyes manager of West Ham United walks amongst the players after the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on December 21, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – My word, what a thumping weekend of matches we got to watch. With Manchester United and Liverpool both stealing the show.

These teams got hammered on the same weekend back in early October; United lost 6-1 at home to Spurs, and then Liverpool lost 7-2 on the road to Aston Villa. What were the chances both teams would get those goals back a few months later on the same weekend? United looked very good in their 6-2 victory at home to Leeds, and Liverpool were ruthless in their 7-0 win away to Crystal Palace.

The Reds ensured they’d be top of the table for Christmas and United, if they win their game in hand, potentially sitting in second, just two points behind the leaders. What an opening third to the season it’s been and only keeps hotting up over the holidays.

Leicester City v. Manchester United

Up first will be the early morning Boxing Day fixture, which kicks off at 5:30 a.m. on NBCSN. No doubt in my mind, this is the match of the weekend, with second place up for grabs, and the ability to put pressure on Liverpool who don’t play until Sunday.

Both of these teams looked very impressive in their victories over the weekend. Leicester were full value in their win over Spurs. Giving up a little more possession, they used their swift attacks to constantly put Spurs under pressure; and although it took a penalty and an own goal to get all three points, don’t be fooled by Jose Mourinho’s comments. He thought it was a good reaction to their previous loss, but the reality is Spurs were out-thought and outworked. It was a performance where they sunk without as much as a whimper.

Harvey Barnes was once again impressive, his speed and sharp turns including his direct running caused defenders problems. James Maddison pulled the strings in midfield as the Foxes carved their way through. His partner, Youri Tielemans was once again impressive working both sides of the ball and Jamie Vardy, it’s not often he has a quiet game. The penalty he scored gave Leicester the lead right before half time. His header was the effort that put Toby Alderweireld in the unenviable position of not being able to get out of the way and turn the ball into his own net. Leicester are well and truly in the mix to finish in the top four. They’re more rounded than today’s opponent, but United are on a roll.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves heaps of credit for what he has done this season. A man that has been under pressure, it seems for a lifetime, has quietly gone about his business; and the Red Devils have reacted in the best way possible. Picking up results and climbing the table and the table doesn’t lie.

It’s a surprise that United are where they are, but it’s all on merit and hard work. United are still a worry at the back, which might undo their title credentials. Let’s focus on what is great about United—the attack. My my, what a fun bunch to watch. Bruno Fernandes once again continues to look like a bargain, not only with his technical abilities but with his demands to be excellent. He puts the same demands for excellence on the players around him. His leadership is immeasurable, especially when the demands are so high at Old Trafford. He has repeatedly navigated away on the field for United to churn out results. There is no surprise to me that Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have all improved with him behind them.

I can’t tell you who is going to win, because either team could dismantle the other. So, with that said…

Prediction: This could well be the belated Christmas present we all deserve; a fascinating duel, with plenty of goals on the agenda.

Arsenal v. Chelsea

Your KSL 5 premiere match, kicks off at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and it will be a London Derby that should entertain us. There are more questions than answers, about both teams. With Arsenal being nothing short of shambolic this season and Chelsea, for all the money spent, have only shown flashes of their potential. Questions marks are above the heads of both managers right now.

The Gunners dreadful run of form is a little bit of a surprise to me, a solid end to the season that culminated in an F.A. Cup Final victory last season against the same opponent they face today, proved to be a false dawn. I wasn’t necessarily thinking that Arsenal would automatically be back in the top four race, but, some of the defensive performances towards the end of last season, the discipline that Mikel Arteta instilled when he first took over, led you to believe that they had a platform to build on.

What we’ve seen is poor defensively. A number 10 in Mesut Ozil, left in the cold, as the attack continues to show limited life. Maybe I expected too much? I can’t see what the game plan is for Arsenal, although recently Arteta admitted he wanted crosses into the penalty box but, in truth, it looks aimless and desperate. After all that, they genuinely have some players, that on their day can cause anyone problems. The likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette thrive on service. Willian has looked like a shell of his Chelsea productive best. So Arsenal are going to have to look to their youngsters for help. Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli spring to mind. And with the right guidance could turn into huge assets. Arsenal once again need to get back to basics, being hard to beat and breakdown.

Chelsea stopped a run of two consecutive losses with a 3-0 win at home to West Ham on Monday. What Chelsea has is an array of players that most teams around Europe would be happy to have in their squad. They just haven’t produced good consistent results as of yet. Some of that is due the shortened preseason and some of that is they still need time to gel.

Lastly, the manager. Frank Lampard is a young manager, and in my opinion, learning the tricks of the trade on the job that also happens to be one of the biggest in England. I don’t think he’s ready to lead a team to title glory quite yet, even if I think his squad is. The options at his disposal are ridiculous. Talented internationals and seasoned pros along with a smattering of young superstars. Defensively they’re okay, and in attack, they’re very good. Even the creative midfielders are fantastic.

Breaking down resolute teams has been an issue, and on more than one occasion they’ve been caught on the counter-attack and punished dearly for it. That said, when it clicks they are one of the most attractive teams in the EPL. If Arsenal can set up a good defensive shape, then a frustrated Chelsea will run out of ideas quickly but finding a consistent Arsenal is the big question on everyone’s lips.

Prediction: Arteta will be looking for his Gunners to put in a grittier performance than their last London Derby with Spurs but I still say Chelsea are the solid favorite and will look to end the round of 15 in the top four places.

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English Premier League Providing Massive Gifts For Fans This Weekend