Gearing Up For Round 15 Of English Premier League Soccer
SALT LAKE CITY – During the great midweek round of fixtures, we saw Liverpool dominate the Merseyside Derby; Manchester City looked good against Aston Villa, with Bernardo Silva scoring a lovely goal; and Chelsea just got their noses over the line against Watford to keep them at the summit of the English Premier League table.
Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 in a back-and-forth affair that turned out to be Michael Carrick’s (interim head coach) last action for United. He stepped down immediately after the match, and Ralf Rangnick, who now has a work permit, will take over managerial duties until the end of the season.
West Ham United v. Chelsea
It is the early kick-off on Saturday as fourth takes on first, in this all-London affair on NBCSN at 5:30 a.m. that has the makings of the “standout matchup” of the weekend. Two teams that are well-drilled defensively also have immense talent to counterattack. It certainly could turn into a midfield slog as both teams could nullify each other. But I really believe this will be a spectacle worthy of getting up early for.
The Hammers got a draw midweek against Brighton, giving up a late equalizer. In the game they allowed Brighton to possess the ball, yet West Ham had more chances. The tough outcome was compounded by the fact the Seagulls finished with ten men due to injuries.
Once again, I am looking at former Chelsea youth player, Declan Rice, to lead the Hammers and provide the midfield stability it needs to thrive. His game is becoming more and more dominant as the games go by. Rice and Tomáš Souček have worked extremely well this season in the engine room, providing excellent protection for the defenders, and then moving the ball quickly and smartly. As of late it has been the favored four (Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Saïd Benrahma, and Michail Antonio) who have been given the platform to attack with pace and power. They are extremely well-disciplined and fun to watch.
It will be interesting to see the power of Antonio go up against the Chelsea back three, who are also well-drilled and powerful. German international, Antonio Rüdiger is the man that organizes the defense, and he is one of the top center backs not just in the league, but the world. And under fellow countryman Thomas Tuchel’s guidance, Rüdiger has gone up another level, particularly with goalkeeper Édouard Mendy behind him. Mendy has been an outstanding performer is catching the eye weekly. The concentration levels he possesses are particularly impressive and he snuffs out danger quickly with his positioning. Defender Reece James is an attacking outlet. His wing-back presence with pace and power, quality delivery from wide areas makes him a dream for the attackers in the penalty area. I think it could be a real battle with some excellent attacking play from the wide areas.
Prediction: It will be close. I really enjoy watching both teams play and even though it is difficult to call, I don’t think there will be any surprise when the Blues run out close winners.
Watford v. Manchester City
Saturday’s match on KSL 5 kicks off at 10:30 a.m. and could be a one-sided contest, as City come into Vicarage Road. But Watford have played some great soccer of late as they adapt to Claudio Ranieri’s coaching methods. Sadly, we will not see Ismaïla Sarr until the new year as he recovers from a knee injury, but we hopefully do get to watch Emmanuel Dennis, as the Nigerian has taken to the EPL like a duck to water since his summer move from Club Brugge and leads the Hornets in the scoring department with six goals so far, one ahead of both Josh King and Sarr. Dennis is explosive and really fun to watch, and because the end product is there, including five assists, makes him a steal. He has also scored three EPL games on the bounce and will certainly be a threat, even when it is Man City they are coming up against.
City is starting to exercise the dominance we saw from them in their epic title battles with Liverpool a few seasons ago. And it is no surprise that Bernardo Silva is starting to find his high standards again. If you have not seen the move for his goal midweek against Aston Villa, you should definitely check it out. The Portuguese attacker is dependable in more than one position, and this season seems to be back as the man that Pep Guardiola is turning to during big games. He is part of the group and moves so effortlessly without the ball. Ghosting into areas where teammates can find him, and defenders lose track of him. Watching City is mesmerizing, and it is intriguing to watch the movement of personnel in the final third of the pitch. Watford will have to work hard, and at times they may feel like they are chasing shadows. They will need to be disciplined and keep their heads on a swivel to make sure they pick up runners. Easier said than done when Guardiola has been developing this style of soccer for over 13 years now. And there does not seem to be much other coaches can do to retaliate. Even the likes of Klopp and Tuchel will need a slice of luck this season. However, Ranieri has been there and done it. The Tinker man, if anyone, might find a way.
Prediction: Watford is so fun to watch, and they are in a good place in a tight relegation battle, I do expect them to pull away. But on Saturday, City will give them a reminder of just how devastating the EPL can be. There is only one winner here, and it is the team from Manchester that will be the happier of the two come the final whistle.
I will be back next week with games that heat up as we approach the festive period.