SOCCER

Race For Title, Top Four, EPL Safety All Heating Up 

Apr 8, 2022, 4:17 PM
Everton - Manchester United...
Luke Shaw of Manchester United is closed down by Ben Godfrey of Everton during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on October 02, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – As we are now into the business end of the season, we have interesting stories all over the league. The title race between Manchester City and Liverpool could and should go down to the wire (depending on Sunday’s result) and the point lead that City has looks more and more precious as both teams refuse to let up their quest for Glory.  

Spurs seem to be in the driving seat for the 4th and final Champions League qualification place after Arsenal slipped up against Palace on Monday. It’ll be an exciting race either way. And the relegation battle got even more interesting after Burnley toppled Everton midweek. Burnley still sits 18th in the table but is now only one point behind 17th placed Everton. The Toffees haven’t been relegated from topflight since the early 1950s, and their topflight status is under real threat. 

All of the games this weekend have massive repercussions regarding all three fights that are going on, wherever teams are in the table.  

Everton Vs Manchester United 

A big encounter at Goodison Park for the Saturday early morning kick-off. USA is the channel you’ll need to tune into at 5:30 a.m.  

Everton is fighting for survival and United is clinging on to slim hopes of getting Champions League football next season. Everton, in short, is in shambles. The lack of big signings to start the season raised an eyebrow, the bigger eyebrow raised was the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. Even though they started the season quite brightly, a few injuries really rocked them, and results plummeted. Now, if there was a man to get it right, figure out a plan, and not panic, it was Benitez. But… They appointed Frank Lampard, and apart from a little new manager bump, it’s gotten worse. A lot worse. There doesn’t seem to be a plan. I don’t blame Lampard for taking the job, but he wasn’t the right manager for the club. Everton’s decision-making has put them in this situation. They genuinely might be the worst run club in Europe. 

Lampard wants to play a certain style, more attractive. When you’re in the mire, you need fight, grit, and defensive stability. The evidence of digging deep isn’t there and Everton has to make something happen. There is certainly some talent in the Squad. Anthony Gordon looks to have a bright future; he has the ability to play without fear. His direct style and pacey dribbling cause plenty of problems for opponents. You add the Brazilian Richarlison and (hopefully) and in form Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and things don’t look so bad. But the central midfield is soft and porous, and the backline is defensively frail, with what seems to be calamitous consequences. Teams make mistakes every game, but Everton seems to be punished more often than not, as we saw in Burnley’s late winning goal on Wednesday. A sliced clearance that looked easier to smash into the terraces, spun off the foot of an Everton defender, right to a Burnley man and you can guess the rest.  

United is another team that is massively underperforming. The appointment of Rangnick, seemed smart at the time, particularly if you’re looking to steady the ship and then the same man at the end of the season moving upstairs to consult the club and look to help get it back to where they want to be. Getting the right manager, players, and particularly, the right recruitment staff will go a long way. But it’s not gone to plan on the field so far, although the rumored shortlist for managers this coming summer is impressive. But I truly don’t think it will make a bit of difference unless they get it right in the recruitment department.   

That said, United is riddled with talent, inconsistent, but talent, nonetheless. This team, on paper, should be in the top four. Genuinely. You look at Ronaldo, Cavani, Fernandes, Pogba, Rashford, and Sancho. That team has goals, creativity, pace, and movement. Sadly, out of those players only Cavani and Fernandes, in my opinion, are willing to do the ugly work. It’s easy to sit here now and say the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo has been detrimental, but it’s not worked out. Of course, the goals are there, and that’s good. But United wasn’t prepared to adapt and in turn, have the ability to carry him. United, like Everton, is porous in the middle and has issues at the back. But the disconnect between the three areas of the field seems to be highlighted weekly. Of course, not everyone has the ability or desire to play Like Man City or Liverpool, and not every team has to press from the front like them to be successful. But there does need to be a responsibility taken. An organization and a plan defensively, but often they are quite open. So the mixture of bad recruitment in key areas, particularly the spine, and then when they do bring in players, they really rarely compliment the man next to them, which has resulted in poor results in what should have been alchemic gold. It’s weird to see them get it so wrong after years and years of getting it right. 

Prediction 

I think this game will offer plenty of passion and moments of individual brilliance. Everton has to be organized and difficult to beat. They have to pack the central areas and learn to frustrate opponents. They’ll need to stay switched on. And then look to occasionally counter. Using Calvert-Lewin and his aerial ability to not only hold up the ball and bring his wide attackers and midfield into play. If Gordon can provide some good crosses that allow Calvert-Lewin to contest, it might be the Toffees’ best bet. United needs patience and a balance to the team, a unit. Often, they are looking for a moment of brilliance, or late on they’ll throw extra attackers on. This is not a tactic. It’s not a style of play, it’s a Hail Mary. It can be dramatic, and late entertainment is fun. But it’s not going to help United long-term. It’s going to be a fight, and I think United will win, but it’s Everton’s response that will be more telling. They might get beat, and I’m not really into moral victories; but there has to be a glimmer of hope for the Everton faithful, something they can use as a standard for the rest of the season. If they go down, they go down swinging rather than a whimper. 

Manchester City Vs Liverpool  

Oh boy, Sunday is the big one. Only a couple of months ago we thought City were going to run away with it, but Liverpool has clawed their way back into the title race. The action kicks off on USA at 9:30 a.m. and I fully expect the Etihad to be rocking with so much on the line. The long and short of it is that a Man City win gives Man City a 4-point lead. A Liverpool win gives Liverpool a 2-point lead and arguably a tougher run-in. So many stories and so many more twists and turns before the season is over. But these two teams have once again shown why they are the top two sides in the EPL. Their overpowering consistency has made this the most intriguing EPL rivalry since Manchester United and Arsenal in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Ultimately both teams hold their destiny in their own hands and that is all you can ask for at this stage of the season. City holds the advantage though, having a point and the game being played at their ground could be crucial. Of course, Rúben Dias being out doesn’t help, as he’s been very good since his arrival, and I believe has helped City go up another notch defensively. His overall positioning and organization have made them a little more robust. But Liverpool will have to deal with Stones and Laporte, not a bad two, eh? 

Both teams play a high defensive line. Time and again you see teams go long over the top and get into a foot race. And time and again we see opponents fall into the offside trap both teams set, particularly Liverpool who have become experts at it. 

These games are often separated by fine margins. Right now, Kevin De Bruyne is in good form. He is often the man the Citizens turn to in big moments and he has delivered repeatedly.  Mo Salah is another big game player, but he is going through a struggle right now. He has not scored from open play for a while. He looks off the pace a little and it feels like the losses he’s suffered with Egypt recently at the hands of Senegal (losing the AFCON Final and missing out on World Cup qualification) and Sadio Mane, has knocked the stuffing out of him a bit. I’m sure the “will he or won’t he” surrounding signing a new contract situation is adding a little to the tough moment. 

I fully expect this to be a game that is 100 miles per hour, with chances at both ends. City will likely have more possession of the ball. And the Reds will look to be explosive on the counter. Both goalkeepers will be huge in this game, as Ederson and Alisson have proven to consistently be a cut above the rest. Also, in the middle of the park, Rodri for City and Fabinho for Liverpool will likely be the lone pivot in the midfield, mopping up in front of the back four for their respective teams. 

Honestly, this is the biggest game of the season. It will be a close encounter and yet very open as well.  

Prediction 

With so much riding on the line you could be forgiven in thinking this could be a nervy affair, but the two best managers and two best teams rarely disappoint. These two are constantly pushing each other to greater levels. Such is the magnitude of the game, and even though I’ve said it will be an open game and a masterclass of a tactical battle between these two great coaches, I’ll stick my neck out and say that after 90 minutes of exhilarating soccer, we’ll be none the wiser of who will take control of the title race. Just like at Anfield earlier this season, the scores will be level. 

That’ll be it for this week. Enjoy all the soccer on offer this weekend, and we’ll be back next week to review the fallout of this weekend’s results. 

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Race For Title, Top Four, EPL Safety All Heating Up