SOCCER

Previewing Upcoming English Premier League Fixtures

Jan 21, 2022, 4:33 PM
Chelsea - Tottenham Hotspur...
Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea celebrates with Romelu Lukaku after scoring their side's first goal 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 Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – After a great weekend of soccer and then an enthralling few midweek battles, we head into this weekend knowing there is another break in EPL play immediately following this round. COVID-19 is still taking up some headlines. It seems that the unavailability of players is starting to ease, and the hope is that the league will be able to fulfill its fixtures once again, and then manage to get through those games previously postponed. 

Everton fired their manager Rafa Benitez after a dismal run of results. All is not right at the Toffees, and whoever takes over will need to be given time to right the ship. The decision-making at the club is terrible, and until things are corrected in the boardroom with a clear structure, it won’t matter what manager they get or who they bring in to compliment an already expensively assembled team. 

Newcastle is finding that just because they have newfound wealth teams and players aren’t interested in selling assets, and players aren’t overly interested in the project. The poor planning prior to the takeover has seen the Magpies look flat since the transfer window opened. Burnley’s Chris Wood has been added, and that’s a solid traditional #9 type, but even that feels a little bit like a knee-jerk arrival. Like Everton, it’s imperative they get the right Sporting Director (Everton has had a couple and the results have been poor) to lead this club and get the right bodies in place to complement the plan the manager has in mind. 

Leicester City Vs Brighton & Hove Albion 

Sunday’s 7:00 a.m. kick on Peacock is one that could really entertain the neutrals. Leicester suffered a dramatic 3-2 loss at home midweek to Spurs. It was a game that they rode their luck in, but as they entered the fifth minute of injury time, leading 2-1 over Spurs you could be forgiven thinking the Foxes would’ve snagged all three points. What ensued was pandemonium as Spurs substitute attacker, Steven Bergwijn equalized. As the celebrations died down and Leicester restarted the game, no doubt kicking themselves, but a poor decision from one of their top players, Youri Tielemans, turned the ball over and it quickly found the feet of Harry Kane. Kane, who is as good a playmaker as anyone in the league, then played the ball in behind a slow and tired backline, perfect for Bergwijn to fly in behind, round the keeper, and then put the ball into the back of the net. 97 minutes on the clock and the air completely escaped the stadium, apart from the noise coming from the Tottenham end, a smattering of random limbs as fans jumped up and down. And the sight of Lucas Moura riding on the back of a steward just topped off the amazing comeback.

But what does that mean for Leicester? A team that has no doubt suffered from the circumstances through COVID-19 and injuries, but this team, for all its talent has looked stale and short of defensive solutions. One slight against Brendan Rodgers coaching is that his teams seem to regress defensively under him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an extremely good coach and when players such as Harvey Barnes and James Maddison are on the attack and move the ball swiftly, they are so much fun to watch. And until the options at central defense and the outside backs increase, they’re going to have to try and dictate the midfield areas. One thing they will have to do is provide better protection for the slower central defensive areas. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has impressed since getting his chance in the Foxes midfield. It is no surprise that his exit from the game in the 88th minute against Spurs saw the midfield dominance switch to Spurs’ favor. He’s certainly one to watch, his ability to drive forward with the ball and a good show of strength means he will go toe to toe with Brighton in the middle of the park.

Brighton has been fantastic this season, and their ninth place in the table probably doesn’t tell the whole story. Manager Graham Potter is being linked with every job that comes up. And how he’s got the Seagulls playing, they’re a shorter passing team that moves and interchanges well. But they’re built on a three-man backline. They are a big central defense unit and there isn’t a ton of speed back there, but positionally they are exceptional and all three are extremely good and comfortable on the ball. They had a solid midweek result against Chelsea that finished 1-1. Andrew Webster, who got the equalizer, might just be the best two-footed Center Back in the EPL. His passing range off both feet is very good and then stepping out from the back with the ball is also good. He could well be an England international, and probably warrants a call-up compared to others that seem to find their way into the squad. He could also be an option for other clubs come summertime. But I don’t want to do Brighton a disservice. Webster is a local boy and Potter sets the team up to utilize Webster’s ball-playing ability. Once the ball is forward then I immediately look for the movement of attacking midfielder and Belgian international, Leandro Trossard. His ability to drift into space, find a pass or go past a defender allows Brighton to be dangerous. There are then the two wing-backs with Marc Cucurella (the best summer signing of the season for me) and Tariq Lamptey who provide great pace and attacking overlapping runs. All Brighton is missing, and I’ve said this before, is an upgrade for their #9. Someone who can get to that 20-goal mark, with that they could well challenge for the European places. 

Prediction

This is going to be an entertaining match-up. Both have very good passing and moving teams, but Brighton has the defensive shape and organization. I give the visitors the edge and might just grab all three points.  

Chelsea Vs Tottenham Hotspur  

The last game of the weekend is an all-London affair. Peacock carries Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. huge showdown.   

Chelsea, it has to be said, has fallen out of the title race over recent weeks, even though they haven’t lost many games and are still third in the table. But there is a big problem that Thomas Tuchel needs to find a solution for, and it’s becoming more and more obvious. Their lack of consistent goal scorers is what is hurting them. Havertz, Pulisic, and Lukaku haven’t quite got going yet, although the talent is blatantly there. Timo Werner continues to struggle. But without Jorginho’s penalties and the brilliance of Mason Mount, Chelsea would really struggle. 

One thing we saw midweek was a tweak to their 3-4-3 formation, it was probably something to do with lack of options. But they went something like 4-2-3-1, and whilst it wasn’t perfect, I’m interested to see if this can develop into something more that might get one more of their attacking players into the lineup. Chelsea has under Tuchel been defensively sound and that has been the platform for them. They had a phenomenal run in the Champions League last year and ran out as worthy winners, but we saw in the EPL, over a stretch of games, that they struggled a little. Tuchel is a very good and innovative coach, but this might force his hand a little. And having four attackers instead of three might just get the best out of Lukaku as he thrives on service, although it’s been a bit inconsistent. It might take a little more time, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we see the big Belgian forward spark into life, and if that does happen, watch out. He’ll be a handful.  

Spurs have been inconsistent, and it’s partly to do with the players no doubt adjusting to the demands of Antonio Conte. But after the midweek last gasp win against Leicester, confidence must be sky-high. Spurs are, as I’ve mentioned in the past, short of a couple of players particularly in central midfield, but Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp were an excellent partnership midweek. Winks is a disciplined deeper creator and Skipp is a solid unit in the middle of the park that uses good positioning and tireless work rate to hurry and hassle midfield opponents. If they start, then it will be intriguing to watch them against Chelsea’s engine room. Add in Spurs’ Danish international Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and this is where we could see the game won.  

Eric Dier will be back for Spurs as they slowly but surely get back to good health, however, the game is likely to be too early for outstanding South Korean talent, Son Heung-min. The Korean’s absence has opened the door for the likes of Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn, but it’s not the same level as the brilliant Son. Son’s movement, pace, vision, and finishing ability are sorely missed. The understanding between him and Harry Kane is deadly, and they both make each other better. The good news for Spurs fans is that Harry Kane is, it seems, back to his best. And if Spurs are going to get a top-four finish, they’ll need their English target man available for the rest of the season.  

Prediction 

First and foremost. Antonio Rüdiger Vs Harry Kane. This could be a phenomenal matchup of two powerful and physical players. Secondly, I can’t separate the teams. Two amazing coaches, a Chelsea team that is undoubtedly more talented, but just trying to find their own solutions. Coming up against a team that is also still working on their identity. It could be scrappy at times but look for the brilliance of Mason Mount to add some class to this match. For me, the result will be a draw.  

That’ll do it for this round, we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

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Previewing Upcoming English Premier League Fixtures