Friday, October 30, 2020

Week 7 Preview: Villans and Saints; Chess Match at Leeds; Devilish Match for Arsenal


Top of the Table

Everton looks to get back on the winning track when they travel to Newcastle. Depth will be tested again as key absences and players carrying injuries has slowed Everton's opening season run. Richarlison will again be missed as the Toffees try to penetrate an expected Newcastle low block. Left back Lucas Digne joins Richarlison as a red card suspension. The fitness of James, visibly fighting through an injury last week, could factor in this week's result.

Liverpool faces an in-form West Ham team as the Reds try to make it 63 games without a home defeat at Fortress Anfield. Defensive worries increased during the week as Fabinho, filling the injured van Dijk's center back slot, was injured in the Champions League win over Midtjylland. Rhys Williams could make his first Premier League start for the Reds.

Aston Villa plays Southampton in a game matching two teams outperforming their pre-season expectations. Despite the three-goal loss at Leeds, Aston Villa's defense remains the stingiest in the Premier League with only five goals allowed in their five matches. It will be interesting to see how they respond to last week's stumble versus Leeds after their fab first four games. 

Fourth place Leicester now faces Leeds in a chess match between Fox Manager Brendan Rodgers and Leeds’s Marco Bielsa.  Expect the Foxes to sit deep and launch counter attacks against the energetic Whites.  A fifth win from their opening seven matches would be a best ever league start for the Foxes who should have a fully fit Jamie Vardy on Monday. 

Spurs, having not lost in the league since their season opening match versus Everton, take on Brighton. The north London club boasts both the Premier League's leading goal scorer (Son Heung-min) and the leading assists man (Harry Kane) in Europe's top five leagues. Jose Mourinho's squad also posted their first clean sheet of the season last week at Burnley.

Leeds travel to Leicester riding a wave of confidence after defeating Villa last week. The newly promoted club has played consistently well with an aggressive style that tends to keep opponents on their heels. Leicester will be challenged in dampening a Leeds attack that has scored at least three in half their games this season.

Mid Table

Southampton are winners of three of their last four matches as they travel to Aston Villa. The high pressing club is looking more dangerous on attack with Che Adams stepping up to complement Danny Ings up front.

A win on Saturday would vault the Saints above the Villans in the table. A Saints win would be heavenly for manager Ralph Hasenhuttl who would tie Ronald Koeman for most away victories (14) by a Southampton manager.

Crystal Palace will sit deep as always and hope to catch out Wolves at Molineux this weekend with a counterattacking moment of magic. Michy Batshuayi provides some additional threat alongside Wilfried Zaha on top but manager Roy Hodgson may have a decision to make with the healthy return of Jordan Ayew. Wolves will try to improve on their one goal per game scoring average against a stubborn Crystal Palace defense. Despite lackluster scoring to date, Wolves have taken 10 points from their first six matches, their highest accumulation in topflight competition to this point in a season in 41 years. 

It would not be at all surprising to see Chelsea score four goals when they visit Burnley. The Blues have scored four goals in each of their last two visits to Turf Moor and scored four goals earlier this week in their Champions League win at Krasnodar. Christian Pulisic went for the hat trick in last year's game in Burnley.

Arsenal will be gunning for their first goal in three weeks when they visit Manchester United. Recent visits have been devilish for the Gunners as they have lost their last 13 at Old Trafford.  A defeat this weekend would be the fourth league loss in five games for Arsenal. 

West Ham manager David Moyes, with his team on a four-game unbeaten streak, looks for his first Premier League victory against Liverpool The Hammers were dealt a blow this week when learning striker Michail Antonio will be unavailable due to a hamstring injury. Antonio had scored in 11 of his last 13 Premier League matches.

Manchester City seeks its first away victory of the young season when it visits Sheffield United. City's attack has lacked pep of late. Their curent streak of three games failing to score more than a goal is the longest such stretch since Guardiola's first season in 2016. An improved defense has helped the Citizens to remain unbeaten during those three matches. Expect the unbeaten streak to continue after the duel with the Blades.

Newcastle hopes to extend a rude welcome to Everton at St. James Park. The Magpies have been erratic from week to week, doing well last week to snatch a late point from Wolves after the prior week's collapse against Manchester United. Steve Bruce's side has launched fewer shots on goal than any other team this season but stays in games with its low block defense.

Bottom of the Table

Manchester United looks for its first home win of the season when they welcome Arsenal to Old Trafford. A win over Arsenal would force many fans to give the Red Devils their due. United has been impressive in Champions League competition and needs to begin leveraging its talented roster in Premier League competition. Edinson Cavani could potentially get his first start for the suspended Anthony Martial.

Brighton could struggle containing a high-octane Spurs attack, particularly in the absence of suspended defender Lewis Dunk. Seagull management also cannot be happy with diminishing goal production in recent weeks.

Weekend opponents West Brom and Fulham have drawn the last four times they have played each other in league competitons. There is not much to choose from here as two struggling clubs look for a spark. Newly acquired West Brom forward Karlan Grant scored the tying goal last week for the Baggies versus Brighton. Perhaps loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek can add something for Fulham.

Burnley, hosting Chelsea this weekend, played well in their 1-0 loss to Spurs last weekend.  The Clarets though have won just one of their twelve Premier League matches with the Blues.  They would do well to keep an eye on Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic in this weekend’s matchup.  To be quite blunt, the Blades are dull.  That opinion is unlikely to change when Sheffield United hosts Manchester City.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Week 6 Review: Praise the Saints; Bam Goes Villa; Gunners Firing Blanks


Top of the Table

Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash

Everton – Everton stays on top but only by virtue of a better goal differential than rival Liverpool.  The Toffees received a rude reception on the south coast, suffering their first loss of the season, 2-0, to Southampton.  Depth issues were evident for the Toffees.  Alex Iwobi proved an inadequate replacement for the suspended Richarlison. Young center back Ben Godfrey was forced into an unaccustomed role at right back and struggled.  Everton’s loss marks the first time in more than 50 years that there is no undefeated English topflight team after six games.

Liverpool – Liverpool overcame an early Blade penalty kick to move past Sheffield United 2-1. Newly acquired winger Diogo Jota scored his second goal of his brief Liverpool tenure.  Lest he walk alone, Bobby Firmino added the winner with a rare scoring strike for the center forward.  While victimized by the debatable first half penalty call, Fabinho played well in his new role at center back in place of the injured van Dijk.

Aston Villa – Aston Villa fell a place to third in the table, dropping their first points of the season in a 3-0 loss to Leeds.  Villa seemed to lose composure after the first of three Leeds second half goals, all scored inside a twenty-minute window as the tempo dictated by Leeds appeared to wear on the Villans. Aston Villa still has a game in hand versus the top two clubs.

Leicester – Jamie Vardy, returning from injury, delivered the second half winner in a 1-0 victory for the Foxes.  Vardy has now scored more goals against the Gunners than any player but Wayne Rooney.  Manager Brendan Rodgers employed a deep lying defense to defuse the Gunner attack and register the Foxes’ first away win at Arsenal in forty-seven years.

Tottenham Hotspur – Son Heung-min provided the winner on an assist by Harry Kane as Spurs took all three points in a 1-0 win at Burnley.  Son’s eighth goal of the season added to his league leading total while Kane’s eight assists are twice that of any other league player.  The Spurs dynamic duo have now combined for twenty-nine Premier League goals as teammates, a total that trails only former Chelsea teammates Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

Leeds – Leeds rockets to sixth in the table following their 3-0 defeat of previously undefeated Aston Villa.  Patrick Bamford scored a hat trick to double his season’s goal output.  Having previously played for five different Premier League teams, Bamford is playing his best football under Manager Marco Bielsa.  Newly promoted Leeds has won three of their initial six games.

 

Mid Table

Southampton – Southampton employed a high press to great effect in their 2-0 defeat of league leading Everton.  The Toffee attack managed just one shot on target in each half.  Leading Saints goal scorer Danny Ings played the role of creator on Saturday, assisting on both goals.  Southampton’s third victory in their last four matches occurred on the one-year anniversary of their infamous 9-0 loss to Manchester City.

Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace employed their best recipe for success with a disciplined defense and a large dose of Wilfried Zaha in a 2-1 defeat of still winless Fulham.  Zaha assisted on Jairo Riedewald’s first career goal for the Eagles before scoring the winner himself.  The Crystal Palace captain is thriving in a more central position up front this season.  The Eagles’ third win of the season moves them into the top half of the table.

Wolverhampton Wanderers Wolves seemed headed for a third consecutive 1-0 league victory before Jacob Murphy of Newcastle curled an 89th  minute free kick around a poorly constructed Wolves wall.  The final score marked a fourth consecutive 1-1 draw between the two teams.  Raul Jimenez scored his fourth goal of the season for a Wolves team which has scored only six on the season.

Chelsea – Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy’s second clean sheet in as many starts enabled Chelsea to salvage a point in a scoreless draw in the rain at Old Trafford.  Thiago Silva’s return from injury also helped on the defensive end for Chelsea.  The expensively acquired Blues attack, however, stalled versus the Manchester United defense.  Chelsea has now drawn three of their last four league games, falling to 10th in the table.

Arsenal – The Gunners continue to fire blanks in a second consecutive 1-0 loss.  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now gone five league games without scoring and probably needs to be positioned more centrally.  Manager Mikel Arteta has been playing Arsenal’s best scoring threat on the left or right of Alexandre Lacazette in attempts to incorporate both forwards into the starting line-up.  It has not worked of late.  

West Ham – West Ham is now on a four-match unbeaten run following their 1-1 draw with Manchester City.  The Citizens followed Wolves, Leicester and Spurs as teams who have been unable to nail the Hammers during their streak.  Michail Antonio had the goal for West Ham which earned its first point against City since 2016.

Manchester City – City was limited to a single goal for the third consecutive match in their 1-1 draw with West Ham.  Phil Foden was the goal scorer for a City team which struggled to convert chances off its 70% possession of the ball.  Worse yet, Sergio Aguero suffered another injury. Pep Guardiola’s team is 13th in the table, albeit with a game in hand versus most of the field.  

Newcastle – Newcastle stole a point in their 1-1 draw at Wolves, courtesy of the 89th minute goal from defender Jacob Murphy.  Murphy was one of four line-up changes made by Manager Steve Bruce following the previous week’s heavy defeat to Manchester United.  A determined defensive effort, featuring five at the back, risked going for naught until Murphy’s late free kick.

 

Bottom of the Table

Manchester United – United remained winless at home this season with their 0-0 draw with Chelsea. A six-game home winless streak is now the longest in over thirty years for the Red Devils.  There seems work yet to do for United after encouraging wins at Newcastle and in the Champions League over PSG.  Fifteenth place in the table seems a strange address for the proud franchise.  Edinson Cavani teased with a narrowly missed chance in his United debut.

Brighton & Hove Albion – Brighton Manager Graham Potter is beginning to express frustration at the lack of production from The Seagulls.  While generally playing attractive football, the Seagulls relied on a West Brom own goal in their 1-1 draw with the Baggies.  The Seagulls had drawn with Crystal Palace by the same score the week before.

West Bromwich Albion – A late goal by striker Karlan Grant, playing just his second game with the Baggies, enabled West Brom to salvage a point in their 1-1 draw with Brighton.  A first half own goal prevented a second consecutive clean sheet and what would have been a much needed three points for the Baggies.   

Burnley – Burnley looks better as key players return from injuries but the 1-0 loss to Spurs still leaves them among the relegation clubs.  The Clarets can take some encouragement from having survived relegation two years ago after an identical start of one point won from the opening five matches.    

Sheffield United – Sheffield United scored a third goal of the season in their 2-1 loss to Liverpool.  The score came on a disputed penalty.  A lack of goal scorers still seems a fatal flaw for this hard-working team.

Fulham – The Cottagers were thoroughly dominated in their 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace before an extra time goal by Tom Cairney. The defeat enables the Cottagers to retain their hold on the 20th table position despite pressure from Sheffield United to dislodge them.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Week 6 Preview: Could Be Tough for The Toffees; Red Devils Try Again at Home; Arsenal Hope to Partey

Top of the Table

By David Ingham from Bury, Lancashire, England

Top Dog Everton travels to Southampton protecting a one-point lead at the top. Dominick Calvert-Lewin remains atop the league, with Son Heung-min, in goals scored while James Rodriquez is second in assists. James, however, is questionable due to an injury picked up last week. If he is out, he joins the suspended Richarlison on the sideline and their absence could put the brakes on Everton.    

Aston Villa defends its unblemished record Friday against Leeds.  Villa has the league’s stingiest defense, allowing only two goals the entire season. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez leads the Premier League with three clean sheets for the Villans.  

Liverpool will be missing goalkeeper Becker, center back Van Dyck and potentially newly acquired midfielder Thiago and defender Matip due to injury.  It likely will not matter against struggling Sheffield United.  Fabinho is key for the Reds in filling the gap in center defense.  

Leicester Manager Brendan Rogers indicates Jamie Vardy to be a game time decision for the game versus Arsenal as the striker recovers from his calf injury.  If Vardy’s out, Kelechi Iheanacho will likely need step up for the Foxes.  The former Manchester City man may bring some confidence from his goal and an assist in Thursday Europa League play.  Thomas Partey started in Arsenal’s Europa win during the week and should be a fixture from the opening whistle versus the Foxes.

Home has been sweet for the Gunners against Leicester as the London team is undefeated in 27 matches when hosting the Foxes.  

Wolves look to continue their recent table ascent when they host Newcastle at Molineux Stadium.  The tactically proficient Wolves have needed only four goals to eked out their three wins this year.  

Spurs face little likelihood of another defensive collapse when they take on offensively challenged Burnley this weekend.  The London team could be frustrated though by a Burnley defense which will sit back and try to negate space for Harry Kane and Son-Heung-min to exploit.  

Chelsea goes to Old Trafford to face a Manchester United team which has yet to win at home this year.  Frank Lampard’s men have scored the third highest number of goals in the league this season.  Unfortunately, they have proven vulnerable on defense in two of their last three games which resulted in 3-3 draws.  The Blues will hope for a better defensive performance with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy once again healthy.

Mid Table

West Ham, unbeaten in their last three, host Manchester City.  It will be the first time in over a decade that West Ham has been above Manchester City in the table when the two sides have played.  Striker Sebastian Haller is expected to be available as he returns from injury for West Ham.  Newly acquired winger Said Benrahma may be brought along slowly by David Moyes. Manchester City sustained another key injury with Fernandinho joining the walking wounded. The Citizens back line and goalkeeper Ederson, though, have impressed the last two weeks and are unlikely to play the nail to the Hammers this weekend.  The fitness of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne looks to be a game time decision.  

Leeds, scorers of just two goals in their last three matches will face another stiff challenge against Villa’s stout defense.  Winger Raphinha, who made his Leeds debut in a brief appearance on Monday, can hopefully add a spark for Marco Bielsa’s attack.  Defender Kalvin Philips will be an injury miss for Leeds.  

Southampton rides a three-game unbeaten streak when they host league leaders Everton.  Striker Danny Ings has four goals on the season so far and four goals in his five career appearances for the Saints versus Everton.  Southampton is playing well after early season stumbles and could test the Toffees.  

An up and down Newcastle team will hope goalkeeper Karl Darlow, injured in last week’s loss to Manchester United, is available against Wolves or they are down to their third choice between the sticks.  

Crystal Palace has a short trip to face league bottom dweller Fulham in a London Derby.  The Eagles will hope to put up a third win of the season despite the absences of forward Jordan Ayew and defender Gary Cahill.  

Manchester United will be without the suspended Anthony Martial in looking to register their first home win of the season when they face Chelsea.  Edinson Cavani could see his first action for the Red Devils.  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will hope the tide has turned for his team following last week’s win at Newcastle and a midweek Champions League victory over PSG.

Bottom of the Table

Brighton and Hove Albion could take a big step in their search for safety if they can dispense with the defensively generous Baggies of West Brom this weekend. The Seagulls have taken a dip since their impressive week two win at Newcastle. West Brom has shown little this season but for a surprising first half in their match against Chelsea in week three.

Burnley and West Brom treated Premier League fans to the first scoreless draw of the season last week. The Clarets will need to add to their season's three goals if they are to remain competitive with an offensively gifted Spurs team on Monday.

Sheffield United, with only two goals on the season, will hope to capitalize on the injury problems in back for Liverpool.

Fulham host Crystal Palace in a game that might have prospects to deliver the league's second goalless draw of the season.




  


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Week 5 Review: No Mercy at Merseyside; Good Chelsea, Bad Chelsea; Putting the Hammer Down

Top of the Table

Everton In a brutal tussle, Everton defended their top spot by drawing with their crosstown rivals.  Calvert-Lewin continued his scoring binge with his seventh goal of the season as the Toffees twice came back from a goal down to share the points with Liverpool.  James Rodriguez notched another assist on Michael Keane’s first half header.  Newly acquired young defender Ben Godfrey made his Toffees’ debut, substituting in for an injured Seamus Coleman. Everton, in a game marked by physicality, was able to defend its turf as the two rivals fought to a fourth consecutive draw between the two teams at Goodison.

Aston Villa Surprising Villa sits just one point behind Everton and holds a game in hand. A third clean sheet in four matches enabled the Villans to take all three points at Leicester when Ross Barkley blasted a winner in extra time.  The versatility to win a defensive match with a good opponent a week after putting seven goals past Liverpool speaks well of this team.  Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was particularly good again and is but one of several recent shrewd acquisitions by the club.

Liverpool Disappointment in dropping points, following a highly questionable Jordan Henderson goal disallowance, was nothing compared to the concern generated from the likely season long loss of top defender Virgil van Dijk.  Van Dijk was injured on a reckless challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.  Thiago was also injured on an aggressive and red carded challenge by Everton’s Richarlison.  Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also remains sidelined.  More positively, Mohamed Salah’s second half goal was his 100th in the Premier League.

Leicester Leicester suffered a second consecutive loss and was held scoreless for a second consecutive week in their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa.  It is never much of a party without Jamie Vardy for the Foxes who were without their star striker due to a Thursday training ground injury.  Injuries have been a big factor in dimming what had been a bright start to the season for the Foxes.  The play of recently acquired 19-year-old defender Wesley Fofona was a bright spot versus the Villans.

Arsenal Arsenal dropped its second game of the season with a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad.  The Gunners have now dropped their last seven matches against the Citizens and 2015 was the last time Arsenal defeated a top six team on the road.  There is yet encouragement for the Gunners going forward as supporters should note that the defense is holding up much better than recent seasons.  The addition of Thomas Partey should also greatly improve their link up play to their formidable attacking players. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Wolves round out the current top six, rising in the table after taking all three points from Leeds.  The win at Elland Road was a second consecutive 1-0 victory.  Center backs Max Kilman and Conor Coady were instrumental in shutting down the Leeds attack.  The Wolves are going to need more bite, however, as they are currently tied with West Brom for the fewest goals this season for a team not in the relegation zone.

Tottenham Hotspur Spurs dashed to a three-goal lead after sixteen minutes against West Ham, only to squander it in its entirety in the final stages of the game.  The turn of events was yet more painful as the West Ham comeback occurred after the second half substitution of Gareth Bale for Spurs.  While he did miss two chances, Bale could not be held responsible for the collapse.  Jose Mourinho will be thinking hard on his second half defensive tactics and how best to organize his defense going forward. The Spurs collapse overshadowed first half fireworks provided by stars Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Chelsea  Fans again saw a tale of two Chelseas. Offensive riches were on full display with Timo Werner scoring his first two Premier League goals and adding an assist on a goal by fellow countryman and newly acquired attacker Kai Havertz. Unfortunately, as good as Chelsea is on attack, they remain highly vulnerable on the back end of the pitch. Kepa was forced back inot duty at goalkeeper due to an Edouard Mendy injury. The beleagured Kepa and his defenders looked exceedingly confused an disorinted on two first half Southampton goals. The result was a second 3-3 draw for Chelsea in the last three matches.

Mid Table

West Ham Down three goal after eighty minutes, David Moyes’ charges put the hammer down and shared points with Spurs on a tying wonder goal from outside the penalty area by Manuel Lanzini in stoppage time.  The Hammers have now scored 10 goals in their three-game unbeaten streak after managing one goal from their opening two defeats.

Leeds The Leeds attack, still vibrant for periods of games, is running into production problems.  The club has now scored only two goals in its last three games.  A good defensive effort versus Wolves was spoiled on a goal deflected into the net by Leeds defender Kalvin Philips.

Manchester City - A 1-0 home win against Arsenal restores some confidence for the Citizens. Goalkeeper Ederson was excellent in goal, particularly on a pair of Arsenal first half chances. Transfer acquisition Ruben Dias looks to be settling in comfortably at center back. Right fullback Kenny Walker also played well in making Raheem Sterling's goal stand up for victory.

Southampton Southampton were the beneficiaries of some Chelsea largesse in earning a point at Stamford Bridge.  They will gladly take it and are now undefeated in their last three games.  Theo Walcott had an assist in his return to the team after a fifteen-year absence.  Che Adams had a goal and an assist as the Saints showed they have more upfront than just Danny Ings who, nevertheless, added his fourth goal of the season.

Newcastle Newcastle collapsed at the end of its match with Manchester United, conceding three goals from the 86th minute onward.  Unfortunate in that the Magpies were competitive in a tied game before that point.  Ultimately it was the worst home defeat in six years. The Red Devil’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can certainly commiserate with Newcastle Manager Steve Bruce on that type of achievement.

Crystal Palace – Never an offensive juggernaut, Crystal Palace reached a new plateau by launching no shots whatsoever from the run of play for the entire game. A successful Zaha penalty kick, on a creatively earned penalty call courtesy of Michy Batshuayi, was enough for a point. In fact, it was almost enough for all three until Brighton equalized in the 90th minute. The Eagles, now winless in three, must be contemplating from whence they may generate some offense.

Bottom of the Table

Manchester United Manchester United got the bounce back they needed in a 4-1 defeat of Newcastle.  Despite the large score, the Red Devils left it till late before putting away the Magpies.  Four different players scored in a game played without forwards Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.  Defender Harry Maguire scored his first goal of the season.  Fellow defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka scored his first career goal in the Premier League.

Brighton & Hove Albion The Seagulls struggled to score against a Crystal Palace low block defense.  Credit their persistence, however, in pulling back a point on a closing minute equalizer.  The draw leaves Brighton continuing to sit three points below their rival in the table.  A fourth non-winning effort in five matches should be concerning for Seagull supporters.

West Bromwich Albion West Brom’s scoreless draw with Burnley was the league’s worst game of the weekend and the first scoreless match of the season.  The Baggies, one point above the relegation zone, share the worst goal differential in the league with bottom dwelling Fulham.   

Burnley The Clarets’ Chris Wood hit the woodwork twice in the scoreless draw with West Brom. Burnley currently sits in 18th position, a point behind the Baggies after posting their first point of the season in the weekend’s draw.  Sean Dyche’s crew have scored the second fewest goals in the league.    

Sheffield United Sheffield United needed an 85th minute penalty kick against Fulham to gain its first point of the season in a 1-1 draw.  The kick was the second goal the Blades have scored all season.

Fulham The Cottager goal on the weekend was an individual effort by Ademola Lookman who dribbled through two defenders.  Lookman, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and newly acquired midfielder loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek can perhaps provide some joy for Fulham in coming weeks.  For now, they trail the field.  


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Week 5 Preview: Merseyside Derby; Gunners Head to Etihad; Villa Goes Fox Hunting; Pointless Games at The Bottom

Top of the Table

Everton and Liverpool square off at Goodison Park in one of their most anticipated derbies in years.  The top of the table Toffees take an unblemished record into the match with their crosstown rivals.  A proud Liverpool team will be looking to reassert themselves after an embarrassing loss to Aston Villa. Mohamed Salah is one removed from his 100th Premier League goal.  If Salah, or anyone else scores, it will break a string of three consecutive scoreless draws between the teams in Goodison based league matches.  Yerry Mina could be questionable for the match which would create potential concern on Everton’s backline against Liverpool’s attack.  

Aston Villa, off its dominating performance before the break against Liverpool, faces another strong opponent this week in third place Leicester.  A win by the Villans would mark their best start to a topflight season in ninety years.  The Foxes hope to climb out of the 3-0 hole they dug versus West Ham last game.  

Arsenal head to Manchester City hoping to maintain their current top four standing.  The debut of Thomas Partey could go a long way to help that cause.  

Chelsea could see Hakim Ziyech make his premier league debut against Southampton as Frank Lampard continues to piece together his best line-up.  

Spurs fans may finally witness the second coming of Gareth Bale who appears fit and willing to join Jose Mourinho’s already impressive attack options versus an in-form West Ham squad in their London Derby.

Mid Table

Manchester City hopes to answer some questions versus Arsenal following a run of poor outings by the Citizens. Raheem Sterling remains their top goal threat in the continuing absence of both Aguero and Jesus.

Southampton step up in competition this week, following two recent wins against lesser lights, when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Theo Walcott should be available to make his debut for the Saints, fifteen years after he last wore their jersey.

Newcastle hope to take three points at home versus a struggling Manchester United team. The Magpies have taken two of the last three league games at St. James Park versus the Red Devils.

Crystal Palace hosts Brighton and Hove Albion to renew the leagues oddest and least geographic rivalry. A head scratcher to all but their fan bases, the two teams are intense rivals. The Eagles need to get Michy Batschuayi more involved to energize a sluggish attack.


West Ham travels to Tottenham Hotspur hoping to continue its recent excellent run of play. Hammer coach David Moyes though has never won a Premier League match against Jose Mourinho. 

One of the weekend's better games could unfold at Elland Road where Leeds will play host to Wolverhampton. Both teams employ an attacking style. Newly promoted Leeds, winners of two of four matches, has also battled bravely in non-winning efforts against Liverpool and Manchester City. Wolves, while also winners of two matches have been generally unimpressive given the talent on their roster.

Bottom of the Table

Brighton's visit to Selhurst Park features the league's oldest team (based on average player age) in Crystal Palace versus the youngest team in Brighton. Both teams are losers of their last two matches and Brighton has lost only once in five previous Premier League visits to Palace.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's job security could definitely benefit from a win at Newcastle this weekend but Harry Maguire's performance for England during the break does nothing to eliminate growing defensive worries for the Red Devils who will also be without strikers Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani for the match.

Sheffield United and Fulham face each other in a match between two pointless clubs. A so far dull Blade attack could finally find some joy against a poor Cottager defense. At least one of these teams is guaranteed not to lose for the first time this seasonl.

Burnley will also try to get off the schneid this week when they visit The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion. Burnley forward Jay Rodriguez could return from injury to face his former employer. Numerous other Burnley injuries, however, provide West Brom ample opportunity to at least double its single point earned to date.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

So, What Have We Learned After Four Weeks? A Refresher on Returning from International Break

 Top of the Table

Everton -Things are great at Goodison as the Toffees sit atop the league with four victories in four matches.  The league and its fans are becoming believers, helped in no small part by the presence of legendary manger Carlo Ancelotti.  James Rodriguez has so far acclimated to the Premier League better than anyone could have hoped.  Fellow acquisitions Allan and Doucoure have helped solidify a midfield in need of repair. Holdover striker Calvert-Lewin has justified his manager’s faith and flashed star potential, jointly leading the league in goals with the mutually hyphenated Son Heung-min.

Aston Villa - Our second feel good story to date is the Villans, victors in all three of their matches to date and conquerors of defending champion Liverpool.  They re-signed home grown star Jack Grealish and have now provided him a midfield running mate in Russ Barkley.  New striker Ollie Watkins exploded for a hat trick in the big win over Liverpool.  Mings and Konsa have been solid at center back. The acquisition of Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez was a statement of serious intent by a team which survived by only a point last season. 

Leicester - Winners of their first three matches before a stumble to West Ham, Leicester will go as far as thirty-three-year-old Jamie Vardy will take them. The striker has already contributed five goals in their four games.  Harvey Barnes, recently called to his first England National team cap, may help production. Midfielders Tielemans and Maddison must maintain consistency for the Foxes to go far. Acquired right back Timothy Castagne has had immediate impact.

Arsenal - Arsenal pushed their chips to the center of the table with the deadline day signing of midfielder Tomas Partey from Atletico Madrid.  A European place could still be derailed by back line concerns where the young William Saliba has not become the expected center back mate to Gabriel.  The Gunners should be firing up front and hopefully Partey and Granit Xhaka can help shield the back line.

Liverpool - A historic 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa has resulted in a lot of head scratching.  For now, they get the benefit of the doubt.  Expect the Reds to strongly defend their title with what remains perhaps the world’s best front line in Salah, Mane and Firmino.  Jota and Thiago are helpful additions.  One must think the star filled defense will return to form.  The next few weeks may remain tricky till the return of goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

Tottenham Hotspur - Spurs currently sit sixth and look top contenders for the European places (perhaps more?) after their demolition of Manchester United.  Add drama surrounding the return of Gareth Bale and the uncertain standing of Dele Alli and Jose Mourinho’s team will be prominent in the headlines.  And, oh yes, they have the league’s top joint goal scorer in Son Heung-min and England’s top striker Harry Kane.

Chelsea - Chelsea need quickly incorporate several newly acquired players, and others returning from injury, into a cohesive line-up.  Unfortunately, defender Ben Chilwell who was impressive in his league debut may have picked up another injury on international duty.  Goalkeeper concerns can hopefully be laid to rest with the acquisition of Edouard Mendy.  The success of a vast array of young attacking talent (Pulisic, Werner, Havertz, Mount, Abraham etc.) will likely determine both the club’s top four hopes and the fate of Chelsea Manger Frank Lampard.


Mid Table

Leeds - These exciting newcomers, losers only to defending champion Liverpool to date, should continue to be pleasing to the eye and ultimately rest comfortably mid table.  The aggressive style of Manager Marcelo Bielsa maximizes the on-field talent.  Much traveled, and often criticized, striker Patrick Bamford has found a home leading Bielsa’s line.

Newcastle - Their chances to stay in the upper half of the table could be largely contingent on striker Callum Wilson’s good health.  The club though has made more player moves than normally expected of Owner Mike Ashley.  Manager Steve Bruce has opportunity to perhaps solidify his status with the club.

West Ham - Credit to the Hammers, winners of two straight, for a remarkable turnabout following two bad losses and internal discord. There’s talent here in players such as young and improving midfielder Declan Rice.  Recent results would point to a more comfortable mid table finish versus last year’s late relegation escape.  Another striker would help.

Southampton - The club remains heavily reliant on Danny Ings for goals.  The acquisition of Theo Walcott is a feel-good story but unlikely to solve any problems at this stage (or perhaps any stage) of his career.  To stay clear of any relegation concerns Southampton needs to beat teams it should beat and did so in its recent victories over West Brom and Burnley.

Crystal Palace - A surprise three points earned at Old Trafford may prove helpful to a team which could struggle this year.  Goals remain elusive and they need make good use of newly acquired striker Michy Bartschuai.  The jury remains out on young winger Eberiche Eze.  Eyes will be on the play Wilfried Zaha following another transfer window that has passed him by.

Wolverhampton Wanderers - It has been an underwhelming start for Wolves with their two victories coming against cellar dwellers Sheffield and Fulham.  Two losses were by a 7-1 aggregate margin.  It remains to be seen whether new defender Nelsen Semedo proves adequate replacement, or perhaps even upgrade, for the departed Matt Doherty. Wolves look a continuing mid table force but perhaps not much more.

Manchester City - One win from their first three matches has generated all form of concerned conversation from fans. The attack has sputtered in the absence of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Phil Foden has not made the splash anticipated. The club hopes Ruben Dias solves their center back problem. There is too much talent here, thought, for this team not to begin once again climbing the table.


Bottom of the Table

Brighton & Hove Albion - Graham Potter has his charges playing an attractive style of football, but the schedule has not been their friend in the early going.  Two of three losses were to top four teams from last season and the third loss was to current table leader Everton.  Brighton should have enough to steer clear of the drop.

Manchester United - Center back has been front and center as the biggest problem area which was evident in the 6-1 debacle suffered to Spurs.  At least left back issues are hopefully solved by new transfer addition Alex Telles.  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to figure out how to employ creative midfielder Donny van de Beek.  If striker Edinson Cavani has anything left in the tank, does Mason Greenwood lose valuable developmental minutes?

West Bromwich Albion - West Brom gave us some entertainment in their draw against Chelsea but they are probably just marking time this season until they return to the championship level.  Witness a 10-2 goal differential in their three losses.

Burnley - The struggling Clarets, pointless after three games, look headed for a relegation battle. Survival prospects rest on the return of some healthy players and the track record of Manager Sean Dyche to do more with less.  This transfer period was strikingly uninspiring for the always frugal club. 

Sheffield United - Former Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster scored eleven goals in twenty-two appearances on loan for championship squad Swansea last season.  Hopefully, he can score premier league goals for this offensively challenged team.  If they stay up, though, it will be by the width of a blade.

Fulham - The loan addition of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea cannot hurt but will not be the answer for survival at Craven Cottage. Loftus-Cheek was impressive in a loan stint at Crystal Palace two years ago but full recovery from his Achilles injury is still uncertain. The Cottagers have otherwise seemed out of their depth, accumulating the league's worst goal differential in their four losses.

  



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Week 4 Results: A Weekend of Thrills and Spills - Everton Takes Over; Leicester Fox Up; Thrilla at the Villa; This Should Spur United

Top of the Table

Everton, with their defeat of Brighton, now top the table with four wins in four tries. They look terrific despite the occasional nervousness in goal. All of Carlo Ancelotti’s moves are working and the Premier League has two new stars this year in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez. Calvert-Lewin is joint top of the league, with Son Heung-min, in goals scored. Rodriquez, after four games, has been involved in more goals than any Everton midfielder in the entirety of last season.

Former top dog Leicester, meanwhile, suffered a surprising defeat to West Ham to kick off a weekend of surprises in the Premier League. Leicester managed just four shots in a game where they controlled seventy percent of possession.

Aston Villa joins Everton as the only remaining undefeated team following a shocking and historic 7-2 win over Liverpool. Aston Villa looks a transformed team with a far more dangerous attack than seen last season. Ollie Watkins, signed from championship side Brentford, had a hat trick by the first half whistle. Jack Grealish added a brace and three assists. Newly acquired Ross Barkley looks a great fit in the Aston Villa midfield, combining well with Grealish and adding a goal of his own. The seven goals were the most scored against a defending topflight champion since 1953. One would think this was an outlier for a Liverpool team which was without injured goalkeeper Allisson. Liverpool’s vulnerability to quick passing counterattacks, however, could be of concern as Leeds and Arsenal have also experienced some success in attacking Klopp’s high line. Aston Villa had only thirty percent possession of the ball in scoring its seven goals. 

While fireworks were occurring elsewhere in the league, Arsenal was workmanlike in a 2-1 defeat of Sheffield United. Second half goals scored within a three-minute span by Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka lifted the Gunners. Arsenal now adds Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey to their infield mix in what was one of the bigger deals of Monday’s transfer business. A good start to the season apparently loosened some purse strings for the North London club. Regrettably, Partey’s cost was partially offset by Monday’s release of twenty-seven-year mascot Gunnersaurus. A rumored transfer day signing of Gunnersaurus by Spurs ultimately did not materialize.

 

Tottenham Hotspur humiliated Manchester United Sunday in a historic 6-1 demolition of one of current Spurs Manager Jose Mourinho’s former clubs. The second Spurs offensive explosion in the last three weeks now sees them tied with Everton and Leicester for most goals scored this season. Stars Harry Kane and Son Heung-min each had two goals and an assist for Spurs. 

Ben Chilwell made his much-anticipated Premier League debut for Chelsea and delivered a goal and an assist in an easy 4-0 victory for Chelsea over Crystal Palace. Interestingly given the high-priced Chelsea attack, two of their goals were courtesy of defenders while two late penalties further inflated the score line.


Mid Table

Leeds United continues to entertain with an exciting style of play which provided end to end action in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City. Valencia transfer Rodrigo notched his first Premier League goal for Leeds which has not lost since a one goal defeat to Liverpool on opening day. 

Newcastle has also lost but one of their four matches. A serviceable attack led by transfer Callum Wilson provides a different look for a Magpies team which can still lock teams down with a low-lying defense when called upon. 

West Ham has now moved to tenth in the table with a second consecutive dominating win over quality opposition. The Hammers have scored seven goals while posting clean sheets against Wolves and Leicester in the last two weeks. Rising young Hammer star Declan Rice continues to improve in a box to box midfield role. 

Southampton had little trouble with a punch less West Brom team to post a second consecutive win for the Saints. Theo Walcott, who started his professional career at Southampton, was added by the Saints Monday to help an attack reliant on star man Danny Ings. 

Crystal Palace was particularly unimpressive in a 4-0 loss to Chelsea. The second lowest scoring team in the Premier League last year, ahead of only relegated Norwich, is again looking impotent in attack. Lack of offensive ambition or result combined with defensive lapses against Chelsea made for a distressing afternoon for Eagle fans.

Wolves earned a second win of the season in posting a narrow 1-0 victory over bottom of the table Fulham. 

Manchester City, sitting in an unaccustomed 14th place in the table, at least provided a good watch for neutrals in a wide-open draw with Leeds. The Citizens have a game in hand versus much of the field due to a delayed season start and should be expected to rise in the table despite continuing injury woes. 


Bottom of the Table

Brighton fell to streaking Everton for the Seagulls third defeat in four games played. 

Manchester United suffered its joint worst home defeat in the Premier League when pummeled by Spurs on Sunday. Even being reduced to ten men upon Anthony Martial being tossed in the first half does not account for the flood of goals allowed by the porous Red Devil offense. Center back and captain Harry Maguire received much of the criticism. Center back Eric Baily, starting for the struggling Victor Lindelรถf, gifted one of Spurs’ many goals. Another poor performance from Luke Shaw puts his starting spot at risk with the Red Devils’ Monday acquisition of Alex Telles from Porto. Following Sunday’s five-goal losing margin, the Red Devils now have a worse goal differential than all but struggling newcomers West Brom and Fulham. 

West Brom managed just two shots on goal in losing to Southampton. 

Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham continue to suffer a pointless existence and occupy the relegation positions in the table. Sean Dyche continues to air discontent with the thin roster he has been provided by the Burnley Board. Sheffield United scored its first goal of the season against Arsenal on Sunday. The Blades have now secured young Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster in hopes of bolstering their attack. 

Fulham Manager Scott Parker experimented with putting five men on the backline and his squad at least limited the damage in a 1-0 loss to Wolves. Then again, they managed only two shots on goal and remain odds on favorites to be one and done in their return to the topflight.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Week 4 Preview: Liverpool visit undefeated Villa; Jose returns to Old Trafford; Back of the Pack Fulham Face Wolves

Top of the Table

League leader Leicester, off their big win at the Etihad last weekend, return home to face West Ham.  After putting five past Man City, the Foxes now have twelve goals after just three games.

Liverpool, meanwhile, travel to Birmingham to face an Aston Villa side unbeaten in their last six league matches dating to last year.  Liverpool continues to look in championship form and has won their last six visits to Villa Park.  Aston Villa further upgraded this week by adding midfielder Russ Barkley on loan from Chelsea. 

Unbeaten Everton, dominant in a 4-0 Carabao Cup win over West Ham during the week, play host to Brighton. 

The nets could be rippling Saturday when Marco Bielsa’s free flowing Leeds team play host to a Manchester City team which conceded five goals to Leicester last week.  A defensive struggle should not be anticipated. 

Crystal Palace, though, will bring its defensive mindset to Stamford Bridge and hope to slow down a young Chelsea attack squadron. 

Arsenal hopes to get back on the winning track after a loss at Anfield last weekend.  The Gunners host Sheffield United which has yet to score this season.

Mid Table

The match of the week may be Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford where his Spurs will take on Manchester United.  Both teams aspire beyond mid-table but have stubbed their toes at early points this season.  Manchester United benefited on one of the infamous handball penalties of last weekend while Spurs were victimized.  Despite a large squad, Spurs could be fatigued after playing both a Carabou Cup and Europa League match during the week.  While currently sitting on a bloated number of players in total, Spurs are moving to add a backup striker behind captain Harry Kane.  Rumored acquisitions by the Red Devils continue to multiply as Monday’s transfer window deadline approaches.

  

Chelsea should have opportunity to look better defensively when they host a goal challenged Crystal Palace squad.  Ben Chilwell will hopefully be fit to help Chelsea’s vulnerable defense.  Incumbent left back Marcos Alonso is heavily rumored for a change in address.


Wolves have a golden opportunity to make a move up the table as they host league worst Fulham.


West Ham has no time to celebrate its impressive win over the Wolves last week as they face a steep challenge at league leader Leicester. West Ham has been a dismal road team, winless in ten of their last eleven Premier League road matches.


Brighton should not be counted out as they visit high flying Everton. The Seagulls have played well in their last two games despite the late loss last week to Manchester United.


Manchester City heads to Leeds still smarting from a 5-2 dismantling suffered to top club Leicester. Pep Guardiola's club hope to have addressed their center back problems with the signing of Ruben Dias from Benfica this week.


Newcastle should have opportunity to add to its points total when struggling Burnley visit St. James Park.


Southampton striker Denny Ings is likely looking forward to facing a West Brom team which has conceded more goals than any other team this year.


Bottom of the Table

Last place Fulham are thrown to the Wolves this weekend.  

Sheffield United go to Arsenal still looking to score their first goal.  While they may break into the scoring column, points will be difficult for the Blades as they face an improved Arsenal squad at the Emirates. 


Struggling Burnley visits Newcastle this week.  Good news for the Clarets on the pitch, if not financially, was the breakdown of talks with West Ham for the transfer of Burnley star defender James Tarkowski.


Having squandered a three-goal advantage at Chelsea last week, West Brom heads to Southampton hoping for improvement from their league worst defense against the Saints who will hope to further capitalize on the Baggies' leaks.