SOCCER

Celebrate The New Year With Premier League Matches

Dec 31, 2021, 10:29 AM
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Andrew Robertson of Liverpool is tackled by Bobby Decordova-Reid of ...
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Andrew Robertson of Liverpool is tackled by Bobby Decordova-Reid of Fulham during the Premier League match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage on December 13, 2020 in London, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Liverpool and Chelsea slipped during the midweek round and Man City held their nerve to push ahead by eight points. They weren’t at their best against Brentford in the 1-0 victory, but they made it to 10 wins on the bounce and tightened their grip on the race for another English Premier League title.

It’s starting to look very much like a battle for second place, and the top four. After this round of fixtures, there will be a week off for the Premier League. But for now, apart from the fact that teams will have to do without their top-class African players as they head off to the African Cup of Nations, you should be able to catch all the action on beIN Sports. There will also be Carabao Cup semifinals and the FA Cup third-round matches.

One EPL fixture has been postponed so far this weekend between Leicester City and Norwich City.

Arsenal v. Manchester City

It’s the early kick-off on Saturday in what is the first of two huge matches this weekend. The 5:30 a.m. kickoff is well worth setting the alarm for and you can catch it on the USA Network.

Two teams that are in fine form. With hosts Arsenal in the top four and good value for it. They will provide a stern test for City, but the Gunners will also be looking to see if they’ve closed the gap on the teams above them. Even through the upheaval of veteran striker Aubameyang being dropped and stripped of the captaincy, Mikael Arteta has rallied his troops and got them settled on what they’re trying to achieve. Close the gap on the top teams and look to sneak into the Champions League places. Yes, there is a long way to go and at times they still look well off the pace, but at other times they look like a team that is clicking in the attack and their fast counters and mobile and fluid attack is something to watch and enjoy. Arguably they are just a defensive midfielder and central striker away from being a regular challenger for Champions League soccer. If Arteta can somehow find a way to start Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Martinelli, and in some way keep their balance and shape, we could have one of the most exciting attacks in the EPL. Something that is unlikely to happen though, at least for this round as manager Arteta tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss the New Year’s Day game.

What can we say about City? In the driver’s seat for the title and in a fine run of form, they look almost unstoppable. They’ve certainly done well to keep their covid cases to a minimum. But I don’t want to do them a disservice, they are the best squad in the league, and they are using it to full force. Their approach to suffocating you by keeping the ball and constantly attacking is something to be admired. Of course, they have their blips and dropped points, they have as many losses as Chelsea and Liverpool, but they have also rarely drawn games, and that is where they are showing their dominance. Phil Foden popped up midweek with a lovely instinctive finish and he’s fast becoming Pep’s go-to attacking midfielder. There is so much speed and fastball movement that City tire their opponents out by constantly making you move. One player they may be without this weekend is excellent fullback João Cancelo. He was brutally assaulted in a robbery at his home. Showing facial injuries on his Instagram account and reported that his family was also threatened in the home invasion. He’s been vital to Pep Guardiola’s approach since his arrival in the summer of 2019. A solid defender with good attacking instincts. We hope to see him on Saturday.

Prediction: This is a tough one to call, purely because of all of the good things Arsenal are doing, but they are still inconsistent. They can definitely harm City on the counter-attack, but, I’d be a fool to pick anyone but City. They are where Arsenal want to get and I feel without the manager on the sideline, it might just be too big of an ask this weekend. City win.

Chelsea v. Liverpool

Sunday’s showdown on the USA Network will kick off at 9:30 a.m. as second takes on third. This match couldn’t be any bigger, particularly as both of these teams will be desperate for all three points and hope that the leaders slip up.

Both teams have dropped vital points in recent weeks, with Chelsea suffering injuries and positive covid cases they are suffering a bit more than most right now.

Chelsea has built a style that is defensively tough and organized and then after soaking up the pressure they can counter-attack. Even with the missing players, there are some really good options available. Romelu Lukaku hasn’t had an easy time adjusting to life back in England, but he did score against Brighton midweek. He was also a handful in the reverse fixture at Anfield this season. And if he can get some service in dangerous areas, he can be the main man, and once again he’ll be looking towards the likes of Mason Mount to provide him with service. The England international is one of the more creative players in the league and is a versatile option in the attack. Chelsea needs him to kick start an attack that has stuttered a little bit, but it’s their defense, the very thing that they are built on that has suffered the most, with players missing and opposing teams adjusting to the Blues, they are certainly suffering, and Tuchel is trying to find solutions in what is his real first test, as the German has been quite brilliant since taking the reins over from Frank Lampard nearly a year ago.

Liverpool is also struggling, three new covid cases were announced recently and a well below performance loss to Leicester midweek. Liverpool rarely changes their style, and much like Man City they want to dominate possession, and they want to attack relentlessly. What has hurt them is teams using the counterattack well against them this season, and it’s something I fully expect Chelsea to try and use to their benefit. Liverpool will be hoping to get a spark in the attack again as Mo Salah has been well shackled of late, Diogo Jota has stepped up, but missed a few chances last game. Firmino who recently returned from injury is still feeling his way back, but alarm bells are starting to sound about the form of Sadio Mane, and whilst he still works hard, he’s been guilty of missing some gilt-edged chances, and Liverpool need him to find form to help alleviate some of the pressure on the other two attackers. They are still creating though, which will make Chelsea wary of pushing forward too much or not holding their shape.

Prediction: This has all the makings of a fierce and emotional encounter. Both teams are in desperate need of all three points, but this might just end up all square come the final whistle.

That’ll do it for this week, we’ll be back in two as we should be able to catch some excellent AFCON entertainment in between.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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Celebrate The New Year With Premier League Matches