SOCCER

Premier League Fans Bring New Life To EPL Fixtures

Aug 20, 2021, 1:30 PM
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Fans of Newcastle United celebrate their side's first goa...
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Fans of Newcastle United celebrate their side's first goal scored by Callum Wilson of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Ham United at St. James Park on August 15, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
(Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – How good was it having the EPL back? And more so, how good was it hearing the fans? The noise and atmosphere are what I’ve been craving since we were all hit by this horrible pandemic.

Champions Manchester City went down to Spurs, as Harry Kane didn’t participate, and you wonder if Spurs will accept a bid from City before the transfer window closes at the end of August. Manchester United took Leeds apart 5-1, and Chelsea and Liverpool got off to winning starts. All the games were entertaining.

Brentford Vs Arsenal was, in my opinion, a real highlight. Brentford’s first game in the topflight for over 70 years, and it didn’t disappoint. The fans put on a show in the stands and their team obliged by taking it to Arsenal and ran out 2-0 winners, putting immediate pressure on Arsenal’s manager Mikel Arteta.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah broke an EPL record against Norwich last Saturday, as he scored on his fifth consecutive season-opening match. He’s been a revelation for the Reds since his move from Roma and continues to deliver.

KSL 5 has an intriguing match-up on Saturday, 10:30 a.m. kick-off between Brighton and Watford. The Seagulls are looking to push themselves up the table this season, and Graham Potter’s stock continues to rise as an English coach but will be looking to improve and look to get to the next level. Watford was promoted behind Championship Champions Norwich City. But they’ve added nicely to their squad and are looking to (like Norwich) avoid the yo-yo seasons and get some stability back in the EPL.

Arsenal v. Chelsea

Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. kick-off on NBCSN is one that is asking questions of both teams. Arsenal look like they will be adding to their squad before the window closes and in fairness, they had a fair few missing against Brentford in their opening game. But the identity wasn’t there, I just wasn’t sure what they were trying to do. Credit to Brentford, but the Gunners’ lack of identity and cohesion coming out of preseason was alarming. I certainly wasn’t looking for perfection, and I’ll be interested to see them once the missing players are back.

The writings on the wall already for Arsenal, so could the match against Chelsea come at a good time? The Gunners will be underdogs no doubt. Coming in as the underdogs can create less pressure, which might help as they try to right some wrongs from last week.

Once again, I’ll be looking at Emile Smith Rowe and England international Bukayo Saka as the inspiration for the attack. They continue to impress and play with youthful abandon. Issues of communication continue to hamper the backline. It’s another week to get things right, but long term I think they should consider a three-man defense to get the best out of new defender Ben White. White is a good defender who is also an exceptional passer of the ball but lacks height and aerial presence in a two-man midfield.

Chelsea cruised against Crystal Palace, and Thomas Tuchel’s men will be in the mix for the title race. An abundance of talent throughout the squad which allows Tuchel to switch formations and tactical approach. The arrival of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan will take them to another level, not only push Werner but might allow Werner to improve alongside Lukaku with the German having the ability to play slightly wider on the left. The quick ball movement. Such is the power and pace of this Chelsea team you’ll expect then to push Arsenal back and move the ball around the midfield to push and probe, which could mean a long 90 minutes for Arsenal.

Prediction: Chelsea is a strong favorite and rightly so. They aren’t the finished article quite yet and at times have some inconsistencies. But, Arsenal’s only real hope is to be organized defensively, soak up pressure and use pace to get in behind to stretch the field. It’s a long shot right now because they need additions and then there is the fact that players are rumored to be unhappy, is Arteta the man to turn it around? Time feels like it’s running out, but he has to start with the defense, if he can get that done, he might frustrate Chelsea just enough to steal a point and get their season underway properly.

West Ham United v Leicester City

Monday’s 1:00 p.m. kick-off on NBCSN rounds the week’s fixtures off and I think this one might be the battle of the weekend. West Ham had a phenomenal season in 20/21. David Moyes had the Hammers well-drilled and organized which was part of the reason for their great season. They were pushed against Newcastle, falling behind twice before powering away to win 4-2. Michail Antonio will once again lead the line and his unorthodox approach at times has made him a solid winger/forward and his production has been great for the role he plays. The Hammers probably need to bring in another forward-thinking midfielder if they want to reach the heights of last season, particularly with Jesse Lingard returning to Man Utd, who revitalized not only his career but got himself into England contention.

West Ham will be tough come Monday night. Their sheer will to compete, whoever the opponent, will ensure that they will be knocking on the door for European football again. The ability to soak up the pressure through the organization in the spine of the team and then counter-attacks using speed and power from the wings will be a handful for a lot of teams again this season.

Leicester, the “nearly” men over the last couple of seasons with consecutive fifth-place finishes will look to put the Top 4 teams under pressure this season. They’ve once again added well to their squad and will look to play their free-flowing football.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has built something very good at King Power Stadium. An FA Cup trophy last season was a reward for a team that is easy on the eye and willing to mix it with the bigger spending teams. Central defender Wesley Fofana going down in pre-season is a huge loss to their backline. The young and speedy central defender took to the EPL like he’d played here for a decade and never looked back. The ageless wonder in Jamie Vardy will once again lead the line and it’s interesting to see how he adapts his game the older (34) he gets, and his link-up play with those around him improves allowing him to maneuver into the penalty area, letting the likes of Harvey Barnes to do the running in behind more often.

With two contrasting styles on show Monday, it will be fun to watch two teams going for it with their own ideas and philosophy. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it, but the Foxes of Leicester might well be easier on the eye.

Prediction: If I am honest, I’m just looking forward to watching two contrasting styles. One that I think will be hard-fought. One team showing rigid well-drilled organization and the other showing a more possession-based and free-flowing approach. But both teams are going toe to toe. I can’t separate them, so I’ll sit on the fence…. Score draw.

Until next week….

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Premier League Fans Bring New Life To EPL Fixtures