SOCCER

Warne: Premier League, Champions League Races Are Hot

Apr 9, 2021, 11:01 AM
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Harry Kane scores the first Tottenham goal as Jacob Murphy...
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Harry Kane scores the first Tottenham goal as Jacob Murphy of Newcastle can only watch during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at St. James Park on April 04, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, 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 Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After Manchester City took another step closer to the English Premier League title with a convincing victory over Leicester, it continues to heat up for the three places behind them, and those trying to secure Champions League soccer for next season.

Manchester United look almost certain to take one of those spots, with the likes of Leicester, West Ham, Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton all in the hunt for the final two places.

We do have a KSL 5 matchup this week and you can catch that kick-off at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday as Crystal Palace host Chelsea, with the Blues looking to get their top-four aspirations back on track after a shock 5-2 home defeat against relegation-threatened West Brom.

Elsewhere you’ll want to keep an eye on Man City versus Leeds, as Pep comes up against one of the coaches he most admires in Marcelo Bielsa. And has used part of the Argentine’s philosophy in his own approach at City, and his clubs beforehand.

Liverpool will look to bounce back from their midweek Champions League humbling at Real Madrid, and also try to erase the horror show against their opponent, Aston Villa, reverse fixture earlier in the season that ended in a 7-2 victory for the Villans.

Both the matches that are worth tuning in to this weekend kick off on Sunday.

West Ham United v. Leicester City

A 7:05 a.m. kick on Sunday via Peacock TV, matches the two teams hanging on to the final two champions league places. Fourth versus third. And probably the match of the weekend.

The Hammers have been very good this season, and in current form probably deserve European soccer next season. The loan of Jesse Lingard has paid off more than anyone envisaged. Sat around at Manchester United, Lingard wasn’t getting a look in, at West Ham he immediately forced his way into the starting XI and he hasn’t looked back. In his eight games for the Hammers so far, he’s scored six and assisted in another three. With that, you’ve seen West Ham push on, keeping their noses in the hunt for Champions League qualification.

What David Moyes has done in his time in London is beyond impressive, and surely has to be in the running for manager of the season. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not always the most attractive team to watch, and rarely out possess you. But they will soak up pressure, and with good defensive organization they do that better than most, and with the likes of Lingard, Fornals, Bowen and Antonio, they can counter quickly. But their attitude and good old grit, along with the belief their manager has instilled in them that they can push any team in the league to their limits, and these attitudes have caught many opposing teams off guard, but the Hammers are there on merit. I don’t know if they’ll hold on to the CL place, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be playing some form of European soccer next season, and it’ll be richly deserved.

Leicester come into London in decent form but will be looking to bounce back after a sound beating from EPL leaders, Man City. The Foxes, much like West Ham have perhaps overperformed this season, but only by a little, this team has threatened excellent top-four finishes for the last couple of seasons, only for them to fade badly in the home stretch. Partly because of loss of form and the rigors of the long EPL season and the lack of squad depth. But this Leciester team has improved once again under, not only squad-wise, but their ability to manage the injuries they’ve suffered.

They’re a little more pragmatic in their approach and a little less romantic in their attacking play. It’s no longer all guns blazing and attacking at all costs, there is now a balance. And because this has been a work in progress since Brendan Rodgers took over, it’s fun to see a near-final result. The way they move the ball through the midfield with such silkiness and then having the ability to change things up and going more direct, using the ability of Jamie Vardy to get in behind the opposing defenses and really stretch them, makes the Foxes less predictable.

This is going to be a tough encounter with so much on the line. The tough and battle-hardened Hammers against the eye-catching Foxes.

Prediction: If Leciester want to get all three points they’ll need to limit the amount of attacking set-pieces West Ham get, with the knowledge they’ll be sure to maximize them if given away cheaply. If West Ham want all three points they’ll have to match Leciester’s intensity and watch for their midfield runners that come from deep. This should be worth the early wake up call. And I make West Ham slight favorites.

Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United

Another Sunday Peacock TV match that’ll kick off at 9:30 a.m. and is hugely anticipated. What can we expect? A Mourinho masterclass? And by that I mean an approach where they sit back and put in an organized defensive performance, get a goal on the break and then see the game out. Or will he try to expose Man United’s suspect backline? Let me clarify, United aren’t poor defensively, but they do, on occasion let in cheap goals.

Spurs, for the most part have been largely underwhelming this season. They sit where they deserve to be, but, if they have an upturn in form along with results, they’ll be in the thick of the action come the end of the season for the Champions League places. With Spurs you never know quite what you’re going to get.

Harry Kane, is a phenomenal talent and a ruthless goalscorer and will once again carry this team on his shoulders along with attacking partner Son Heung-min. Kane though leads the golden boot chase with 19 goals so far, but astonishingly he leads the assist chart as well, with 13. His goal return will once again have rivals looking to pay for his services this summer, and it feels like his patience and loyalty could be severely tested with Spurs not really looking like challenging for silverware soon.

Spurs play a brand that isn’t easy on the eye, they’re a tough and robust team that look to explode on the counter, it can be highly effective. If it’s not, then more often than not they’re looking for Kane to produce something out of nothing.

United come is looking to take another step in securing second place. They can play some of the best soccer in flashes, using their power and speed to brush opponents aside, but on the flip side, their style is inconsistent and can be turgid at times. If they can get more consistency then they could challenge for the title next season, but consistency is the key. Much of what is good comes through the talisman, Bruno Fernandes. His impact is tangible. Goals. Assists. He’s a fine footballer. But his influence outside of the stat charts is where he comes into his own. He epitomizes the true meaning of a leader and demands the best of himself, those around him and in particular his manager. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he doesn’t always seem overly enamored with his coach, and I believe there is much more to come from Rashford, Greenwood, along with the likes of Paul Pogba.

On Sunday they have to be the aggressors, they need to prove to themselves that they can go to the next level and be true title challengers next season. They have the power to expose Spurs’ and I think it could be a tight affair between the two, where the midfield slogs it out.

Prediction: I can never rule out a classic Jose Mourinho performance, but they are becoming fewer and far between. And United have the edge for me. Form is on the Mancunians side, and I think they will nab all three points come the final whistle.

Until next week…

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Warne: Premier League, Champions League Races Are Hot