SOCCER

With The International Break Behind Us, Premier League Set To Take Off

Sep 10, 2021, 1:52 PM
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United in ...
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington Training Ground on September 08, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The international break is over and we’re back ready for English Premier League action. As various players left at the end of last month for the World Cup Qualifiers, the transfer window slammed shut until January.

It wasn’t as busy as I expected, with the effects of the pandemic certainly curtailing the spending for some of the teams. But the pandemic didn’t stop Manchester United from bringing back a world-class veteran and former player in Cristiano Ronaldo. At the age of 36, he has very little to prove, but he certainly is facing another challenge before his glittering career winds down. The task at hand? To get the Red Devils to challenge their city neighbors for a league title. These rivals include Liverpool, and what looks to be the most complete squad in Chelsea. United have some very good attacking pieces and Ronaldo adds a ruthless mindset along with their other additions.

Chelsea also pulled the trigger on the last day as they snagged midfielder Saúl Ñíguez from Atletico Madrid, adding to their already hefty squad numbers. You can catch the Blues against Aston Villa on Saturday for the KSL 5 premiere match at 10:30 a.m.

Manchester United also kicks off on Saturday against Newcastle United at 8:00 a.m. on the USA Channel.

One thing to keep an eye out for are the English Premier League Brazilian players who did not travel for the WCQ games. Brazil is on the restricted travel list to and from the U.K., so the individual clubs did not release their Brazilian players for the WCQ games. In response, FIFA has now suspended those players from playing for their clubs this weekend. The EPL clubs have requested that this ruling be overturned. While I cannot speculate on how FIFA will rule, this is an issue that could have been resolved weeks ago.

Leicester City vs. Manchester City

Saturday on Peacock TV at 8:00 a.m. we get to see one of the best matchups on offer this weekend. As the seventh-placed champions come into the King Power Stadium against the ninth-placed Foxes.

Brendan Rodgers is looking to step his boys up a little more this season. After two consecutive fifth-place finishes, with the Foxes basically fading down the home stretch both seasons. But they’re a little more experienced now, and a little deeper throughout the squad. They still play a really lovely brand of soccer, as they look to dominate the ball and move through the midfield and into the wide areas.

Youri Tielemans is a two-way player who connects with outstanding defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, to help provide balance and protection for the back four and then pushing forward where he links up well with James Maddison. Maddison and Tielemans are both intelligent in the attack, with good vision to open the defense, with the Belgian having a solid ability to come up with big goals in the biggest of games. The midfield central three are vital for Saturday’s match against the Champions, though. It will be a tough slog at times.

Man City is also a team that likes to dominate possession and they often do. However, this Leicester team is a lot smarter than they were in seasons past. We saw them win in the FA Cup at the end of last season (against Chelsea), and then again in the Community Shield game at the start of this season against this week’s opponent, Man City. They demonstrated extreme discipline and the midfield gave them the platform to perform brilliantly.

The Champions looked a little toothless in the opening weekend with their shocking loss to the Spurs. But then bounced back with two 5-0 wins in a row. I was certain Man City would add another attacker to their ranks, but as the window ended and it became more and more obvious that Harry Kane wasn’t going to leave Tottenham, I continued faithfully waiting for the next target, but it never came. So, you’ll see a mixture of Jesus, Sterling, Torres, Mahrez, Foden and new boy Jack Grealish in the attacking areas (that’s not considering Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in the midfield areas) for the foreseeable future.

There is unbelievable talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. I fully expect the Citizens to come out of the traps quickly. Immediately test the central areas and see how they can maneuver to create spaces for the likes of Silva and Gundogan to expose. Add that it’s rumored De Bruyne will be available, this will be a thriller to tune into.

At times you’ll see some very quick and slick soccer, and you’ll also see some disciplined defensive situations as Leicester will look to get one over the champions.

Prediction: This is the game of the weekend for me. But with Wesley Fofana missing for the Foxes after a preseason injury means they’re not as quick in defense. With the ability likely on show for Man City, and the potential to create gaps, they’ll get the opportunities to win. If they’re wasteful in front of the goal, then Leicester’s capability on the counterattack could cause problems. But I think Man City will have enough to get all three points come the final whistle.

Leeds United vs. Liverpool

We round out the weekend with the only match on Sunday. A 9:30 a.m. kick-off on NBCSN. Elland Road is one of the best stadiums in England and harbors one of the best atmospheres in the country as well. A fierce and often volatile cauldron awaits opponents that come into Yorkshire.

There are a lot of eyes on Leeds, after a solid finishing position on their return to the EPL, and at times very exciting soccer on show last season. They’ve come into this season a little flat, especially after getting walloped on the opening weekend against Man Utd 5-1. They have had two draws on the bounce and sit in the fifteenth position on two points. Even though they haven’t picked up the points quite yet, you know what you’re getting from the Whites. Controlled chaos as they close down opponents relentlessly and once they have turned the ball over high-up the field they’ll swarm forward.

Center Forward, Patrick Bamford made his England debut during the World Cup Qualifiers. Already off the mark with a goal against Burnley, he also got an assist against Everton the week before the Burnley game. He will be the main target for Leeds, he’s a solid finisher, decent in the air and links up well with the midfield. He also has good vision to play the attackers that are often deployed on the flanks. With all the pace and movement around him, he often adds deft touches in the build-up to attack and provides a different dimension.

Liverpool come to Leeds off the back of a frustrating performance against 10-man Chelsea. That finished 1-1, and with the lack of transfer activity over the summer, Liverpool was almost certain to add an attacker of the Diogo Jota ilk. An attacker that could effectively play in any of the front three positions. But it didn’t happen, and as the alarm bells rang against a well-organized Chelsea, the lack of options until at least January could harm their title challenge.

Mo Salah will once again spearhead Liverpool’s attacking efforts, he will be vital during the season. With Roberto Firmino having a hamstring issue you’ll likely see Jota fill in the #9 role and Sadio Mane taking up his usual spot on the left. Liverpool an okay start to the season, but like a lot of top teams, they had players represent at the Euro’s and Copa America so as a full squad, they are trying to manage their delayed preseason and then their minutes as they build up to full fitness.

They will look to stifle Leeds, and then use their fullbacks to maraud forward, with England international Trent Alexander-Arnold the key man on the right flank. He dictates play, which is awesome to watch when in full flow. His crosses from open play and his set pieces have become vital for the Reds when the front three can’t quite get moving.

Prediction: This one is a tough match to call, will any of the Brazilians play? Both teams could be affected. Two teams that will press high and both look to break forward at pace. It will be entertaining whatever the result, I just think with the upheaval in plans, particularly the visitors, that we might just see an entertaining draw.

That’ll do it for this week, enjoy the games over the weekend, including Monday.

Also, the Champions League kicks off Tuesday which you can catch on Paramount+.

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