EPL Shows Support For Ukrainians As They Head Into Round 28
SALT LAKE CITY – Last weekend was lowkey but had a great round of fixtures. Chelsea and Liverpool competed in the Carabao Cup, and Liverpool ran out 11-10 winners on penalties after an enthralling 120 goalless minutes. That also meant that Arsenal and Leicester got the weekend off.
Spurs bounced back from their frustrating midweek loss to Burnley (on the back of beating Manchester City) to hammer Leeds United 4-0 at Elland Road. The fallout was that Spurs kept their hopes alive of a top-four finish, and for Leeds? They fired their manager, Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine had done a great job during his time, getting them back to the EPL, and then in their first season back his Leeds thoroughly entertained before finishing in very respectable 9th place. However, this season, a run of long-term injuries to key players (Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford) and Bielsa’s small squad (by choice) proved to be his undoing. He will be forever remembered in Leeds, and likely fondly remembered by EPL fans. It wasn’t for everyone, but I think we can all agree that he chose to do things his way and stuck to his principles. His teams would press with high energy, man-marking all over the pitch. At times far too open at the back defensively. And then swarm in the attack. It was entertaining while it lasted, and I for one am eager for him to manage again.
Almost immediately, Leeds announced his replacement, with American coach Jesse Marsch taking over. The former New York Red Bulls, RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig head coach has the tough task of organizing this team to try and stop the downward spiral.
With the horrific events in Ukraine unfolding we have seen an overwhelming outpouring of love and concern for those affected. Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich put the club up for sale, looking to shift the club as quickly as possible.
Liverpool v. West Ham United
Saturday’s KSL 5 premiere match kicks off at 10:30 a.m. and it has all the makings of a powder keg. Liverpool was beaten in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, 3-2, in what was an entertaining match. Liverpool will be looking to right some wrongs of that game and West Ham will be looking to strengthen their own top 4 ambitions.
Liverpool will once again look to Mo Salah, their go-to right-winger to provide an attacking threat and the speedy Egyptian is having a great season in front of goal again. Luis Diaz has certainly proved a spark for the team, and he looks to complement the Liverpool attacking options of Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane. Liverpool genuinely have depth in the forward areas now, and long gone are the days of Mane, Firmino and Salah needed for every game.
A lot has been made of Liverpool’s high defensive line. Yes, of course, they occasionally get caught out, but their disciplined approach means they lead the Premier League in the number of times they’ve caught the opposition offside nearing 100 times. And it’s not even close when it comes to 2nd team in catching opponents offside, although unsurprisingly it’s Man City, who also employ the high defensive line.
West Ham have built on David Moyes’ good work since coming back to the club in 2019. Recruitment has been very good, picking up relative unknowns from lower-ranked countries in Europe with Vladimír Coufal and Tomáš Souček adapting extremely well and becoming important players. West Ham has also recruited very well from the lower divisions in England, with Said Benrahma coming from Brentford and their main man Jarrod Bowen arriving from Hull City.
The Hammers are a deep defending team, with extraordinary levels of discipline and bravery. Often putting their bodies on the line to maintain a clean sheet. But that isn’t all they do, Souček and Declan Rice do a very good job of protecting the back four, but Rice in particular is great on the ball and driving forward with it. Then there is the attacking four ahead that are a mixture of speed, power and trickery that has caught plenty of teams on their heels.
Prediction: Two teams that have very good attacks, but with contrasting styles. Liverpool is full-on and easy on the eye, and West Ham is rugged defensively and explosive on the counter. This should be a cracker, but Liverpool will win a close encounter.
Manchester City v. Manchester United
Sunday’s showdown is by far the match of the weekend. A 9:30 a.m. kick on Telemundo and USA. Not just the pride of Manchester at stake, but a City team looking to extend its lead at the top of the table. Or in the red half of Manchester, a United team looking to strengthen their own top 4 and Champions League qualification ambitions.
Man City has had a solid season so far, but recent weeks have seen them not live up to their lofty expectations. A shock draw against Southampton a month or so ago was then compounded with a loss to Spurs recently. They were awful against Everton, and perhaps a little lucky to get all three points after a late penalty was turned down for Everton. A decision that confused many at the time, and confusion continued until an apology was made for the error, as Mike Riley the General Manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) reached out to Bill Kenwright and Frank Lampard. That said, VAR, and specifically, the people using it, need to improve. City, like all champions do, fought and slogged their way to 3 valuable points. Phil Foden popped up with a vital winner.
City will look to get back to their slick brand of possession-based football. You know the danger men, with De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the ball players/carriers. Sterling creating space with Foden, and that is only half the options Pep Guardiola possesses as game changers, as the goals and assists have been shared around the entire squad.
United under Ralf Rangnick have been unspectacular, but he’s quietly gone about his business. As you’d expect, the rumors of discontent have made front-page news just as much as back page news. But he’s used all his experience to handle the big personalities and ego’s in the squad. And even though he won’t be manager next season, he is going to be consulting the club upstairs, and will make plans for this squad, who should come in and more importantly who should leave.
The soccer isn’t much better if I’m honest, but they’re more organized defensively. A combination of formations that resemble 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1, they’ve made themselves hard to beat. Happy in possession, but also organized enough to not have the ball. Is it a long-term brand United will want to keep? No. But could it allow them to crack the top 4 and allow whoever comes in at the helm to start off with a good base, and with the right additions the possibilities are there.
Prediction: This fixture has been incredible even over recent seasons, with United having a slight edge for results in the league. Do we expect this to go with recent trends of City with the ball and pushing and probing, and United being difficult? Competitive, and then in those moments where Bruno Fernandes can dictate play. They’ll look to use the speed of Marcus Rashford to get in behind, and it also feels like Jadon Sancho could make an impact, if given a little time and space. I think the quality will come from City, but the grit and determination to keep it close from United might see them escape from the Etihad Stadium with a point.
That’ll do it for this week. We’ll be back next week as the EPL rumbles along.