SOCCER

EPL Returns To Action Following International Break

Apr 1, 2022, 4:40 PM
Leeds United...
Leeds United's Stuart Dallas during the Premier League match at Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton. Picture date: Friday March 18, 2022. (Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The World Cup qualifying has mostly completed and we are back to focusing on the Premier League and it should be like this for the rest of the season.

England, amongst other countries, will not play again until June.

Once again, teams will be hoping their players return from international duty unscathed and that the players who have been unavailable due to injuries have had enough downtime to get fit and ready for the season run in.

Leeds United vs. Southampton

This is one of the more intriguing matchups for the weekend. Saturday’s encounter at Elland Road should have all the makings of an attacking encounter. You can find this game at 8:00 a.m. MT on Peacock.

Leeds has had a torrid season and decided to part ways with their manager Marcelo Bielsa. They appointed American Jesse Marsch formerly of RB Leipzig. In many ways he is quite similar to Bielsa because he likes his teams to swarm all over opponents.

But, in my opinion, a tweak in philosophy with regards to implementing a more zonal marking approach, has helped players manage their stamina levels, ultimately increasing their ability to play at top levels for 90 minutes.

He has been great and just what Leeds wanted when they made the change. Has the soccer been better? Maybe a little bit, but I am not expecting that to improve until the spine of the team is fit and healthy.

What has changed is the belief. They have immediately taken to the manager. No egos or snobbery towards the American. To immediately galvanize and bring everyone together takes some doing. Of course, Leeds is far from safe, and they will need some more results to keep the momentum up and claw their way to safety, but the belief, desire, and general positivity are back for the Whites.

Main center forward, Patrick Bamford rushed himself back and was promptly reinjured. So for now, while they cannot rely on him, they will turn their attention to Daniel James, Jack Harrison, Rodrigo, and their main talent, Raphinha.

The Brazilian has suitors all over Europe making noises about him, with Barcelona joining the conversation for his services. Leeds will certainly need him to add to his 9 goals and 3 assists (6 goals and 9 assists last season). They also need their local lad back. Kalvin Phillips has missed a large chunk of the season, but recently made the bench for the last game against Wolves.

The central midfielder expertly provides protection to the back four and then has legitimate play making ability. You will not see it in the stat columns, but moving the ball and launching attacks, he can dictate the tempo and break lines when need be.

Southampton are impressive under Ralph Hasenhüttl, the Austrian has made the Saints a safe mid-table team that plays a good organized pressing game. Hasenhüttl is called the Alpine Klopp, he has a remarkable ability to coach and improve players, especially young players.

The recruitment at Southampton has been particularly good, and the likes of loan signing Armando Broja from Chelsea has paid off tremendously. His pace and power, along with his movement has seen him become one of the brightest young attacking talents in the league. And his partnership with Ché Adams up front has carried Southampton to a solid position.

Another player that has impressed massively is their center back Mohammed Salisu, with the giant Ghanaian improving at a rapid rate, which will make it difficult for Southampton to keep a hold of him after this summer.

Saints are a physically impressive team. Covering ground at a solid rate and using that work rate to give them the platform to perform. They rely quite a lot on set piece routines and being defensively organized. You will usually find Captain James Ward-Prowse and Vice-Captain Oriol Romeu occupying the central midfield areas, in a double pivot of protection to the back line, with JWP the main man over freekicks and corners, and his 6 goals and 4 assists, he is vital on both sides of the ball.

Also keep an eye on their fullbacks who provide extra width and overlapping runs, particularly Kyle Walker-Peters who has been so impressive the last season or so that he forced his way onto the England squad during this last national call up.

Prediction:

It is an interesting matchup; Leeds is obviously fighting for survival and Hasenhüttl was something of a mentor to Marsch and you can see some similarities between the two (insert Spiderman meme). Southampton have not been great the last month and Leeds are right at the start of their journey. But they are two teams that look to attack quickly, rather than soaking up pressure.

I expect plenty of chances, and at Elland Road, I make Leeds slight favorites because of the spirit and positivity around the club. But Hasenhüttl will not be a pushover. It should be a fascinating duel between the apprentice and the master.

There are plenty of games for fans of the teams of those that are duking it out for the final top four place. Wolves vs. Aston Villa on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. MT on CNBC. The 10:30 a.m. MT game on Saturday between Manchester United and Leicester City will be intriguing, because both teams are a shadow of what they were last season. You will find that match on USA.

Monday’s end of round matchup between Crystal Palace and Arsenal, a 1:00 p.m. MT kick on USA should also entertain thoroughly.

Around the rest of Europe you can watch Borussia Dortmund vs. RB Leipzig on ESPN+ a 10:00 a.m. MT kick on Saturday. Rangers and Celtic play Sunday, it is a 5:00 a.m. MT kick (absolutely worth it) and can be found on CBS Sports Network.

Enjoy your weekend!

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EPL Returns To Action Following International Break