EPL Gears Up For Round 16 As COVID Ravages Some Teams

Dec 10, 2021, 9:51 AM | Updated: 9:54 am

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Thomas Frank, Manager of Brentford in discusion with Ivan Toney afte...

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Thomas Frank, Manager of Brentford in discusion with Ivan Toney after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on December 02, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – As we move into round 16, we are again confronted by a COVID-19 outbreak. After what seems an age, we may be guilty of dropping our guard as we’re faced with the disruptive nature of this disease as Spurs’ midweek Europa Conference League game against Rennes was postponed because eight Tottenham players and five staff tested positive. And with their Sunday match-up at Brighton likely to be postponed as well (definitely one of my games of the weekend) it makes a congested festive period of fixtures a little more hectic.

KSL 5’s premiere game will be Norwich City at home to Manchester United, as we get to see Ralf Rangnick’s second English Premier League game in charge of the Red Devils, and the 4-2-2-2 formation. Worth tuning into as they try to adapt to one of the pioneers of the Gegenpressing philosophy in Rangnick. You can catch that match at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Brentford vs. Watford

The clash of two of the three promoted teams this season as the 13th placed Bees host the 17th placed Hornets. You can catch the Friday 1:00 p.m. kick on NBCSN.

Brentford suffered the heartache of giving up a 95th-minute equalizer to Leeds on Sunday and will look to get back to winning ways against a tough opponent in Watford, who despite the recent results are starting to play some attractive soccer.

Brentford are a breath of fresh air in the EPL, the tough organized approach has caught a few teams by surprise, and with the home crowd providing a hostile and exciting atmosphere this is one to tune into with the volume up. Sadly for the Bees, point man Ivan Toney will be missing due to COVID-19 and solid winger Sergi Canós will be out after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season, leaving Brentford a little shorthanded.

Not that coach Thomas Frank will use that as an excuse. It does mean the 3-5-2 formation they use will rely on, if they start, some different players with Frenchman Bryan Mbeumo who has two goals and an assist so far this season. He usually plays in and around Toney, and Mbeumo works the wide areas as well. This might mean he and Yoane Wissa will play together, and whilst they’re less traditional type forwards they do put a real workman-like shift in as they constantly harass backlines to make mistakes and look to win attacking set-pieces. The platform that will allow them to build up momentum and add protection to the back three will be Danish international Christian Norgaard. The holding midfielder wins a ton of his defensive duels in the middle of the pitch and quickly recycles the ball to teammates that are more offensively minded. He’s become a vital player for Brentford.

Watford despite their form and position are in a good place. Claudio Ranieri has already got his ideas across, and you can see flashes of cohesion between the players, and the shape for the most part is good. The attack still has talent, although missing a big part in Ismaïla Sarr who is injured. Emmanuel Dennis will once again provide attacking width as he has adjusted with the step up in standard from Belgium. His pace and power and relentless effort have driven him to not only be one of the top attackers at Watford, but in the EPL in general. Also, keep an eye on Joshua King, who after Bournemouth has found a home where he looks to be a part of the team and used accordingly. King is an underrated attacker who can fulfill a couple of roles.

I do think that this could go one of two ways, a slog of a match or a back-and-forth affair. Both teams have had some tremendous performances this season.

Prediction: It really is a tough one to call, but I’m excited and hopeful these teams get to the magical 40-point mark (usually means EPL safety) as quickly as possible. With big parts of both attacks missing it doesn’t mean there won’t be goals, but I think this ends up all square come the end of 90 minutes.

Liverpool v. Aston Villa

Saturday’s 8:00 a.m. kick-off on USA is one where Liverpool fans will probably feel some emotion. Their legendary talisman, Steven Gerrard returns for the first time in the opposition dugout. Villa has been great since his appointment from Rangers on November 11th, and a return of nine points out of a possible 12, almost doubling their points total and seeing them jump to 10th in the table.

After the sale of Jack Grealish to Man City, it felt like Villa had spent the money well, and I still believe with time that they will look back and agree, but it’s the tried and tested players that are keeping this talented Villa team ticking over. Ollie Watkins will likely lead the line again, and whilst he’s not a prolific goalscorer he certainly could be. His hold-up play, and speed to get in behind or pull into the channels make him a very good all-round threat. Scottish international John McGinn has played slightly further forward under Gerrard, and he’s usually in the engine in the center of the park, but his ability to get on the scoresheet has become a massive part of his game with three goals and two assists this season. Sitting slightly deeper is Brazilian Douglas Luiz, who is a deep-lying playmaker and helps dictate play, and his ability to provide chances coincides with his three assists so far.

The one to keep an eye on though is youngster Jacob Ramsey, the latest in a long line of academy products that have come through at Villa. Ransey is far from the finished product which is frightening considering his blatant talent. His fearless attitude and relentless approach in the wide areas will only get better and he helps the counter-attacking side of the game.

Liverpool is in fine form, with Mo Salah leading the scoring (13) and assist (9) charts. Salah has 20 goals in all competitions which makes him the obvious man to watch. One player that has impressed this season is the return to form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ox has struggled mightily to get back to where he was pre-ACL injury which he suffered a couple of years ago. He has shown flashes of what he’s about though. He is a ball carrier, turns and drives forward at pace and can unleash a shot from distance. It’s fun to see him just start to find his feet again and adds something different from the usual midfield three in Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago.

This week Firmino and Naby Keïta returned to training, and it might be too soon for a start, but it could mean some different options for the Reds as the festive games pile up.

Prediction: I think it’ll be a tight game. Villa is good, although a little open at the back which could play into Liverpool’s hands. I think Liverpool get the win on Gerrard’s return, but don’t think Villa will just lay down, they are a solid work man like outfit, and with Ollie Watkins who has four career goals against Liverpool up front, they have a man who loves to go up against the best.

That’ll do it this week and we’ll be back early next week to bring you another midweek round.



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EPL Gears Up For Round 16 As COVID Ravages Some Teams