SOCCER

EPL Action Returns With Great Matchups To Watch

Jan 14, 2022, 1:46 PM
Harry Kane - Chelsea...
Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Carabao Cup Semi Final Second Leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on January 12, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – After a couple of weeks away from league action, we come back to a fantastic set of fixtures that will leave you choosing which games you want to tune into.

Whilst the EPL mini break happened, other games continued to fall foul of COVID-19 outbreaks, particularly the Arsenal vs. Liverpool semifinal first leg.

The FA Cup (third round) returned, and we saw some big teams knocked out via lower division opponents, and then the glut of dressing room footage of those minnows celebrating their wins brought back memories of decades ago where giant killings seemed to happen more often.

Also, during this break we’ve been able to watch the African Cup of Nations which has been hugely entertaining, if not somewhat controversial with some mind-boggling refereeing performances, including one referee blowing the whistle at 85 minutes. Everyone left the pitch and were doing post-game interviews when the same referee called them back to play the final five minutes. Thankfully there is plenty of talent on the pitch that you’re also able to focus on.

Manchester City vs. Chelsea

Peacock gets this mammoth early morning 5:30 a.m. MT kick off on Saturday. One that really does have title implications. City is currently in the driving seat with a 10-point lead over second placed Chelsea.

City has seemed to have a lot less cases of COVID than most, or just more spread out. That is in no way a knock on them, they’ve been blessed. Add their depth and the amazing coach that leads the group, they are fighting for another title and are well and truly in pole position. This season more than ever we’ve felt their dominance and maybe a sign of more things to come.

As City lead the table, and probably no surprise they also lead with the number of goals scored (53). What might make you raise an eyebrow is their top goal scorer is sat on seven (Sterling and Bernardo Silva tied), then look further down and it is Mahrez on six and De Bruyne and Foden on five. This is why they’re so entertaining because not only is the soccer so fluid to watch, but the threats are all over. The assists are pretty similar as well. Growing up in England there was a saying when Liverpool was the dominant force “pass and move the Liverpool groove”. City has taken this to another level. They’re almost at the level of Pep Guardiola’s peak Barcelona. So thoroughly entertaining. The swarm of movement is controlled and pushes defensive units to their limits. Attack is the best form of defense, right?

Chelsea is coming into the match after just starting to get over their covid outbreak that has plagued so many others, and with an impressive comeback in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool right before the mini league break. One of Chelsea’s strengths is the defensive organization they have. A tried and tested 3-4-3 formation, using wing backs to overlap to provide the extra width in the attack, and then they fluidly switch to 5-3-2 in more defensive situations. I expect Romelu Lukaku (after his apology to Chelsea, including club and fans, with regards to an interview given recently) to lead the line. In reference to the club response to the ill-fated interview, Thomas Tuchel’s management of the situation was superb. Firm but also played things down when the media frenzy attempted to make it bigger, and then extended the olive branch to Lukaku to help integrate him back into the team quickly.

Chelsea will look to bully City; they will soak up pressure and then look to break forward. Either with pace from the wing backs or, and as of late, Mateo Kovačić driving forward with the ball. His ability to avoid being pressed into mistakes and then finding the array of attacking midfielders in front of him. The power of Lukaku. The movement of Havertz and then the pace and trickery of Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic and then the creativity and vision of Mount, this team has so much depth and weapons to be a real force in the coming years.

Prediction: Hoping that this is a classic, it has the makings of one with two teams and contrasting styles. Chelsea won’t panic without the ball, and City won’t panic if the game is still a stalemate late on, they will keep pushing and probing. I think City will shade this one, a settled team and home field advantage and the big prize of potentially being 13 points above second place. It’s going to be a cracker.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal

The North London Derby wraps up a great weekend of soccer. The Sunday kick off at 9:30 a.m. MT on Peacock has the makings for a fiery encounter (as they usually are) as sixth host fifth.

Tottenham had a bright-ish start under Antonio Conte, but like everyone else, they had a spell when squad depth was tested to the limit. It still remains to be seen who Conte wants long term in his squad, some lack quality and some lack the mental side of his very intense requirements. During the mini league break they had the Carabao Cup semifinal legs against Chelsea, and that showed how far they are off from the top three.

But Conte is a massive addition. His tried and tested set up uses three central defenders, and then a mixture of 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formations. Don’t be surprised to see some transfer movement at Tottenham as they look to get players that will mold to the blueprint. Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane will most likely lead the line that offers pace and movement from Son and then strength and sharp finishing from Kane. They’ll need the overlapping runs from the wing backs to provide width. It’s the central midfield that can get bogged down and it wouldn’t surprise me if that is one of the first moves. There are plenty of options, but a true two-way player is a somewhat glaring issue.

Arsenal are starting to find their feet, and by finding their feet, I mean that Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka are starting to influence the attack. Saka is the jewel in the Gunners crown. He seems to improve monthly. His skill and dribbling ability have never been in question, but his strength is something that has surprised me of late. He bullies defenders. He takes the attention away from other players which creates space, such is his influence on the game. And if Arsenal don’t kick on, you expect there to be plenty of interest in the young England international. Thankfully that isn’t a worry right now, as Arsenal are in a semifinal and pushing for top four. Throw in no European competitions midweek for them, they could be fresh enough to make a mark in the league.

The attack is still their strength, but they’ll likely be without a couple of players. I’m not sure how close Emile Smith-Rowe is, he missed the last few of games with a groin issue, and then Martin Ødegaard tested positive for covid shortly before the midweek game. Granit Xhaka will be missing after his red card. When you move further back you see when the team is a little inconsistent. There are good pieces, and you feel Arsenal are almost there. Ben White and Gabriel need to continue to develop that partnership. I think this is somewhat the most settled they’ve looked since Mikel Arteta took over the reins. Credit where it’s due to the manager.

Prediction: This will be close for me, and even with Arsenal maybe missing a couple more players than Spurs, I still fancy the visitors to get all three points. They’re playing the better soccer of the two rivals, and with Saka being the main man on the right side of the attack, I think he might just have a say on the way this turns out.

Enjoy the weekend as there are plenty of other games in the EPL that’ll keep you entertained. Keep an eye on the Seville Derby on Saturday as Real Betis host Sevilla (In the Copa Del Rey) at the wonderful Estadio Benito Villamarin, you’ll be able to catch that on ESPN +.

We’ll be back mid-week to keep you up to speed on what to expect.

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