Friday, January 29, 2021

Matchweek 21 Preview: Gunners host Manchester United; Blades Take a Second Swing in Manchester; Hammers Hope to Pound Liverpool; Relegation Battle at The Hawthorns

The marquee match this weekend is Manchester United’s visit to the Emirates to face Arsenal.  A win or draw by the Red Devils would extend their away unbeaten streak to a club record 18 matches. Arsenal is gunning for a third consecutive victory which would be a sixth win in seven matches. Arsenal has moved from 15th to 9th in the table during their current six match unbeaten run.  Manchester United was toppled from the top of the table in their loss this past week to Sheffield United.  

The Blades face a league leading Manchester club in consecutive matches when they travel to the Etihad this weekend.  Manchester City has moved to the top of the table with 7 consecutive victories in an 11-match unbeaten run.  

Surprising West Ham is on a four-match winning run as it welcomes Liverpool to London Stadium.  The Hammers will face a revitalized Liverpool squad coming off their impressive win over Spurs.  

Leicester will again be without Jamie Vardy when they host Leeds this weekend.  The Foxes have lost just once in their past ten matches and have held steady at third in the table over the course of their last six matches.  Leeds snapped a two-match losing streak in their win this week over  hapless Newcastle.  

Spurs travel to Brighton without the services of striker Harry Kane who is struggling with injuries to both ankles.  Brighton has scored just once in its last three matches as the Seagulls have struggled to fly clear of the relegation scrap.  

Everton will look to inflict a sixth consecutive loss on Newcastle when they try to avenge a November loss to the Magpies.  

New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel will seek his first Premier League win when the Blues host an in-form Burnley squad.  The Clarets have won two consecutive matches for a first time this season. Chelsea has won but twice in their last nine matches.  

Aston Villa travels to the south coast to face Southampton in a match featuring two clubs trying to regain their earlier season form.  Injuries have damaged the Saints defense while Aston Villa is still trying to remove the rust from a long COVID induced layoff earlier this month.  

Crystal Palace will host Wolves in a matchup of mid-table teams.  The Eagles Wilfried Zaha will match a career season high of ten goals with his next score.  Wolves have won just once in ten matches played since November.  

Fulham goes to The Hawthorns to face West Brom in a key relegation battle.  17 goals have been scored at The Hawthorns since the last time a Baggie has rippled the net at home in a league match.  Fulham continues to chase a first win since November.

Matchweek 20 Results: Manchester City Takes The Lead; Blades Shock Manchester United; Liverpool Finds Its Form

Manchester City took its place at the top of table with a 5-0 destruction of overmatched West Brom.  City’s defense was again stifling with the Citizens having allowed only two goals over this current eleven game unbeaten run.  The final score was also reminiscent of the type of offensive fireworks which were the norm in seasons past for Pep Guardiola’s team. The Citizens received a brace from Ilkay Gundogan and goals from three other scorers in City’s first game after the injury to star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.  The Baggies have been outscored by an aggregate 18-4 margin in their past five games and have leaked 48 goals on the season, 13 more than any other league club. 

Manchester United relinquished its hold on the top spot by shockingly losing 2-1 to bottom dwelling Sheffield United.  The Blades, now three points back of West Brom, have won two of three matches as they try to lift themselves off the Premier League floor.  

Leicester stayed third in the table, earning a point in a 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park.  

Fourth place Liverpool returned to form with a 3-1 victory over Spurs after the Reds had failed to score in their four previous matches.  Defensive mistakes doomed manager Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side who lost striker Harry Kane to injury in the match. Spurs hold the league’s sixth spot courtesy of better goal differential than Everton.  

Moving past Spurs into the fifth position in the table was West Ham, who recorded a fourth consecutive league win in a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace.  The final score was misleading as West Ham dominated and missed chances which would have led to a wider spread. An extra time goal by the Eagles’ Michy Batschuayi, his first of the season, narrowed the final margin.  

New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel got his first touchline view of the task at hand as the Blues played to a scoreless draw with a toothless Wolves outfit whose winless streak has reached seven matches. Chelsea sits eight in the table, equal on points with Arsenal.  

The Gunners 3-1 win over Southampton was a fifth win in a current six match unbeaten run. The Saints, meanwhile, have won but once in their past seven matches. Scoring had been the Saint’s greatest concern prior to conceding five goals in their last two matches. Arsenal has scored three goals in each of its past two matches, both played without striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who is attending to a family illness. 

Burnley recorded a surprising 3-2 win over Aston Villa for a second consecutive league victory.  It was the first league game this season that Burnley has scored as many as three goals. Aston Villa suffered its third loss in its four matches played in 2021.  The Villans’ sole victory in that stretch was a win over hapless Newcastle.  

The Magpies, 2-1 losers to Leeds this week, have lost five matches in a row and seven of their last nine as manager Steve Bruce currently occupies the hottest seat in the league.  

Brighton squandered the chance to pull, at least temporarily, away from the relegation fray as the Seagulls shared points in a scoreless draw with Fulham.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Matchweek 20: Chelsea Begin Post-Lampard Era; Everton Returns To The Fray; How Times Have Changed for Liverpool and Spurs; Cottagers Battle For Safety; Top Meets Bottom

Patience is not a Chelsea virtue. The Blues have parted ways with former player and club legend Frank Lampard after just eighteen months as manager. A promising first season where expectations were exceeded with a top four finish and FA Cup final was quickly forgotten as the club has struggled to find form after a huge transfer window investment for purposes of an expected title chase.  Chelsea were 9th in the table with five losses in their past eight matches at the time of Lampard’s sacking.

The poor results this season mean Lampard leaves having achieved the lowest average points per match of any manager during Roman Abramovich’s ownership of the team. Former PSG and Borussia Dortmund Manager Thomas Tuchel is reported to be replacing Lampard. The immediate task for the new manager will be to generate goals from an underperforming group of young attackers which includes disappointing former Bundesliga players Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.  The German born Tuchel succeeded current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp as manager at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Tuchel managed Chelsea attacker and US international Christian Pulisic while both were at Dortmund.  

Matchweek 20 has a full schedule of ten matches to be played from Tuesday through Thursday this week.  Liverpool’s match at Spurs and Leicester’s visit to Everton are two of the more interesting matches between top teams. When Liverpool and Spurs last played, the Reds defeated then league leader Spurs to move to the top of the table, a position they retained for five weeks. Now a struggling Liverpool side have not scored a goal in their past four Premier League matches and are winless in five matches, falling to fourth in the table. Liverpool was eliminated from  the FA Cup over the weekend by Manchester United. Spurs have won just two of five league matches since their losing visit to Anfield and are currently fifth in the table, one point behind Liverpool. Jose Mourinho’s charges have scored no more than one goal in five of their past seven matches while exploding for three goals in each of their two victories during that stretch. 

Everton, sixth in the table, have won five of their last six matches. They will have been idle for two weeks, though, when they face third place Leicester which has won impressively over Southampton and Chelsea during the time the Toffees have been at leisure. Leicester has won seven of its nine away matches this season but will be without striker Jamie Vardy when the Foxes visit Goodison this week.  

Manchester City looks to extend its six-match winning run when it visits a West Brom side which earned just its second win of the season in its last outing versus Wolves.  

West Ham travels to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace.  A three-match winning run has lifted the Hammers to seventh in the table, only two points outside a top four spot. The Hammers, however, have been unable to nail a victory against the Eagles in their last four attempts.  

Arsenal play a league match at Southampton just days after they were eliminated from the FA Cup by the Saints.  Southampton had risen as high as third in the table following a December draw with Arsenal but has fallen off to tenth, winning just once in five matches since the two clubs’ last league meeting.  

Aston Villa plays its third league match in 8 days following an almost three-week layoff when it travels to Burnley. The Villans and Clarets played a scoreless match in December and goals can again be expected to be in short supply at Turf Moor this week. 

Wolves, Chelsea’s opponent on Wednesday, has not won in six matches since they defeated Chelsea in mid-December.  

Brighton welcomes Fulham to the south coast in a match with relegation ramifications.  A victory by the Seagulls would put them 8 points clear of 18th place Fulham. Alternatively, Fulham could move to within two points of safety with a Cottagers’ win at the Seagulls’ nest.  

Newcastle is winless in eight matches as it prepares to face Leeds this week.  Newcastle has not scored in three matches while Leeds has been held scoreless in its own two match losing run entering this week’s match at St. James Park.  

The top team in the league plays the worst team in the league when Manchester United hosts Sheffield United at Old Trafford.  Sheffield United trails the Red Devils in the table by 35 points.


Friday, January 22, 2021

The Week That Was: Liverpool’s 68 Home Unbeaten Run Shattered by Burnley; Man U Stays Top; Man City Moves to Second; Foxes Stay In Hunt

Liverpool's unbeaten run of 68 consecutive home matches ended with a 1-0 victory loss to Burnley. The impregnability of Anfield had extended almost four years and makes it difficult imagine any Premier League team approaching the record 86 game home unbeaten run of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.  Liverpool failed to score for a fourth consecutive match despite Klopp juggling his starting forwards line-up in a futile attempt to shake loose a goal.  The benched Mohamed Salah and Bobby Firminho entered the Burnley fray as second half substitutes to still no avail.  An animated Jurgen Klopp appeared to be showing his stress in a halftime encounter with Burnley manager Sean Dyche.  Burnley played its bruising style to perfection, employing its patient low block defense and waiting for its moment.  That moment came when Liverpool goalkeeper Allison interfered with Ashley Barnes and the Burnley striker converted the penalty for his 100th league goal and a historic victory for the Clarets.


League leading Manchester United came from behind to defeat Fulham 2-1.  Paul Pogba fired the winning strike for a second time in the last three matches for the Red Devils who are unbeaten in their last seventeen away matches. Both Manchester based Premier League teams are in top form. Manchester United are unbeaten in twelve matches while Manchester City has now moved into second place behind their crosstown rival after a 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa, extending their own league unbeaten run to nine matches.  Pep Guardiola’s surprisingly dominant defense has posted seven clean sheets over those nine matches.  The impact of center back Ruben Dias, acquired last September, has been transformative for the club in a manner reminiscent of the impact of Virgil van Dyck on arriving in Liverpool two years ago. City’s defense will be even more critical in coming weeks as their attack will be disadvantaged following the club’s disclosure that midfielder Kevin De Bruyne could miss 4 to 6 weeks with a hamstring injury incurred versus Villa.  

Aston Villa, returning from a three-week COVID induced layoff, will attempt get back on a winning track when they face Newcastle on Saturday. 

Leicester remained level on points with Manchester City with a 2-0 defeat of Chelsea which saw Fox midfielder James Maddison score for a third consecutive league match.  The disciplined Foxes have lost only 5 times in 35 matches when scoring first under Manager Brendan Rogers.  Leicester will unfortunately be without Striker Jamie Vardy for a period of weeks due to a hernia procedure. 

West Ham, like Leicester, has won all three of its 2021 league matches following a 2-1 win over West Brom.  Hammer Striker Mikhail Antonio scored the winning goal for his club for a second consecutive match.   

FA Cup Weekend: Manchester United and Liverpool At It Again

Manchester United and Liverpool meet in an FA Cup match this weekend just seven days after the familiar rivals’ scoreless league match at Anfield.  Reeling Liverpool recorded their only 2021 win across all competitions in a 4-1 win over Aston Villa youth players in the Cup’s last round.  Southampton hosts Arsenal in the only other matchup of Premier League teams in the FA Cup Fourth Round.  Wolves will face the only non-league team remaining in the tournament when they play Chorley.  The FA Cup’s Fifth Round competition among this week’s sixteen survivors will take place over February 9-11.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

This Week's Preview: Chelsea Go Fox Hunting; Welcome Back Villa; Sam Returns to West Ham

The Premier League attempts to catch up on previously rescheduled matches this week heading into another FA Cup Weekend.  Tuesday’s marquee match-up features Chelsea, trying to win for the first time this season against a team above them in the table, facing a Leicester club which can, at least temporarily, move to the top of the table with a victory. Leicester manager Brendan Rogers is looking for his first Premier League win over Chelsea. Leicester hopes to have Jamie Vardy, struggling with a hip injury, available for the match. N’Golo Kante is out for Chelsea.  

West Ham looks to make it three wins in a row went they play host to West Brom. Former West Ham and current West Brom manager Sam Allardyce hopes to build on his first Baggies win earned last weekend.  West Ham manager David Moyes has won his last six matches managing against Allardyce.  

Aston Villa resumes its schedule on Wednesday with a rescheduled match against Manchester City.  Man City are on an unbeaten run of fifteen matches across all competitions, winning their last eight. The Villans, beset by COVID, have not had their first team play a match since New Year’s Day.  Villa will try to make up more of its postponed match schedule when it faces Newcastle in the only Premier League match scheduled for next weekend amidst a slate of FA Cup fixtures.  

Manchester United faces Fulham on Wednesday, likely needing to win to stay top of the table.  The Red Devils travel to Craven Cottage having won their last four matches at the London venue by an aggregate eleven goals. The Devils are a terror on the road this season where they are the only Premier League team not to have lost an away match.  

Liverpool will try to end its three-match scoreless streak against a stubborn Burnley defense. Burnley have earned a point in two of their last three visits to Anfield.

Matchweek 19 Results: Battle at Top Resolves Little; Man City and Leicester Close Gap; Seagulls Soar; Eagles Bore

Manchester United and Liverpool played to a scoreless draw at Anfield, enabling the Red Devils to maintain their table lead and extend their road unbeaten streak to twelve matches. The Red Devils had the better of the game’s chances as Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson was forced to several outstanding second half saves to earn the point. A third consecutive game without a goal was the first such stretch since 2005 for Liverpool as the club’s glittering array of attack options has been inexplicably dimmed during the current drought.  

Benefitting most from the Anfield draw were Manchester City and Leicester who both advanced their title chances with victories.  Manchester City moved past Liverpool into second place behind Manchester United. The Citizens defeated Crystal Palace 4-0  for a fifth consecutive win and seventh victory in a nine-game unbeaten run.  Manchester City has maintained a clean sheet in four of its last five league contests.  Defender John Stones was the unlikely scorer of a brace in the win which saw Crystal Palace failed to register a single shot on target in an abject display.  The Eagles were playing without Wilfried Zaha and the result only reinforced perceptions that the Eagles are a one-man team.


Third place Leicester moved to within two points of the table lead  with a 2-0 defeat of a strong Southampton side, a third victory for Leicester in a five-match unbeaten run.  James Maddison scored for a second consecutive match as the Fox midfielder has now scored six of Leicester’s last twelve goals.  The Saints, playing without striker Danny Ings against the Foxes, continued to falter in attack and have scored just once in their last five matches. 

Sheffield United’s win streak was short lived as the Blades returned to their blunt form in falling 3-1 to Spurs.  Harry Kane had his 12th goal of the season and Tanguy Ndombele had a wondergoal in a dominating win by Spurs.  The victory kept Spurs within four points of the league lead despite winning just twice in their last seven matches. 

Wolves conceded two penalties in a sloppy loss to West Brom in their Black Country Derby.  It was a sixth loss in nine matches and fourth loss in five matches for a Wolves side now trailing much of the pack.  The Baggies recorded their first win under manager Sam Allardyce to move the relegation threatened squad within five points of safety. 

Chelsea played the entire second half with a man advantage and the Blues captured all three points in their London Derby with Fulham on a goal by Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount.  Fulham Manager Scott Parker’s Cottagers played well against the team their manager once played for but were unable to overcome the poor hand which was dealt them by the first half ejection US international Antonee Robinson.  

West Ham’s Mikhail Antonio scored the winner in his first start since November 30th as West Ham defeated Burnley 1-0 for a second consecutive league win by the Hammers. Burnley’s last four match matches have been decided by a 1-0 score line and the Clarets have been the team to score in only one of those four matches. Burnley’s nine goals scored in its seventeen matches are the least of any Premier League team this season.  

Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Newcastle was a fourth win in a five-match unbeaten run for the Gunners. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang scored twice for Arsenal who moved into the top half of the table for the first time in twelve matches. Newcastle has lost four of five matches, scoring just one goal during that stretch. 

Brighton moved five points clear of relegation by defeating Leeds 1-0 on Neal Maupay’s seventh goal of the season. The victory ended a nine-match winless run for the Seagulls. Unpredictable Leeds lost a second consecutive match following a run of two victories. The Whites, who managed just two shots on target versus the Seagulls, have been held scoreless in the two consecutive losses which followed a five-goal explosion in a win against West Brom. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Matchweek 19 Preview: Showdown at Anfield as City Lurks; Blades Put Winning Streak On Line; Black Country Derby

This is AnfieldHeadlining this weekend is a battle between historic rivals, now 1 and 2 in the table, as league leader Manchester United makes the short trip to Liverpool’s Anfield fortress.  The surging Red Devils, who leapfrogged Liverpool in the table this past week, are in first place this late into a Premier League season for the first time since Alex Ferguson was their manager.  Liverpool will be looking to reenergize its attack after being held scoreless in its last two matches.  

Manchester City will look to close the gap on the top two sides when the Citizens play host to Crystal Palace.  Surprisingly, the Eagles are unbeaten in their last two visits to the Etihad and if they extend that streak on Sunday it will mark the first time in Pep Guardiola’s managerial career that he would have failed to defeat an opponent in three consecutive home matches.  

Fourth place Leicester, one of three teams sitting on 32 points, faces seventh place Southampton which defeated Liverpool in its last match.  Leicester front man Jamie Vardy is expected fit for the match while Saints striker Danny Ings is out due to COVID.  

Spurs will look to put an abrupt end to Sheffield United’s one match winning run.  Spurs are currently struggling, winning but once in their last six matches.  

Seemingly unthinkable earlier in the season, the London derby this weekend between Chelsea and Fulham could prove interesting.  Chelsea has lost four of six matches in falling to ninth in the table entering the weekend.  The Cottagers have been quietly improving and are unbeaten in five matches. 

A West Ham attack which has notably cooled in recent matches will face a defensively solid Burnley side.  The Hammers have scored seven goals in the past seven matches during which they have dropped in the table from fifth to tenth.  David Moyes’ squad had scored seventeen goals in their first ten matches.  

Arsenal will host struggling Newcastle at the Emirates on Monday.  Newcastle has failed to score in its last three league matches against the Gunners. 

Wolves will play host to West Brom in a “Black Country” derby which dates back 140 years.  The two clubs, situated eleven miles from each other, will be facing each other for the first time in nine years.  Wolves are winless in five matches.  West Brom are winless in their last seven.  A Wolves attack which has sorely missed injured striker Raul Jimenez, may gain some confidence against a West Brom defense which has allowed ten more goals than any other club in the league this season. 

Brighton will look to end a nine-match winless run when it visits Leeds.  Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side will likely be anxious to erase the memory of their embarrassing FA Cup loss to Crawley Town last weekend.

Matchweek 18 Results: Manchester United Takes the Lead; Sharp Goal Raises Blades; Spurs Sputter; Gunners Fire Blanks

Manchester United moved past Liverpool to claim the table’s top spot with a 1-0 victory over Burnley. A rare goal from Paul Pogba, his second of the season, was decisive for the Red Devils who have now won nine times in an eleven-match unbeaten run.  Burnley efforts were focused on stifling the Red Devils as the Clarets did not manage a shot on target until extra time.  

Perhaps as notable as a new league leader was the first victory of the year for Sheffield United, winless in twenty consecutive matches entering the week.  Fittingly, it was club veteran Billy Sharp scoring his 100th goal which delivered the victory for the Blades over a somnolent Newcastle side.  Newcastle has managed but one goal during a current run of three losses in four matches as manager Steve Bruce comes under increasing fire for the Magpies desultory style of play.


Manchester City continued its rise in the table with a 1-0 defeat of Brighton.  The Citizens were third in the table following their win, only four points behind the league leaders with a game in hand.  It was a sixth clean sheet in eight matches for a City team which is no longer characterized by the offensive fireworks of prior years. Brighton failed to win for a ninth consecutive match and continue to drift toward the relegation places.  

Everton is level on points with Manchester City after a 2-1 victory over Wolves.  A Michael Keane header was the difference for a Toffees squad which has won five of its past six matches.  Wolves are now winless in their past five matches, falling from tenth to fourteenth in the table during that stretch.  

Spurs have also dramatically declined in the last five matches, winning but once as they have gone from being league leaders to sixth in the table after this week’s draw with Fulham.  There is growing concern that Spurs are lacking in attack options beyond Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.  Kane’s goal versus Fulham was the 23rd scored by the dynamic duo out of 30 total goals scored by Spurs this year.  The draw in the London derby versus Spurs means Fulham, once thought doomed to relegation earlier in the season, are but two points from safety after winning a point for a fifth consecutive match.  

Arsenal’s three match winning run was halted at the Emirates by Crystal Palace in a goalless London derby.  The absence of Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney and his ability to trigger the Gunners attack with driving runs and adept crosses was impactful for the north London side.  Alternatively, the return of Crystal Palace defender James Tompkins from injury for the south London Eagles helped stiffen their disciplined defense.  Tompkins also had a goal opportunity glance off the bar for Crystal Palace.   

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Week 18 Preview: Manchester United Looks to Go Top of The Table; COVID Benches Aston Villa, Spurring Fulham to Action; Gunners Shoot for Four In a Row

Top of the Table

The off-cycle week’s action begins with Tuesday’s playing of a match postponed from Week One between Manchester United and Burnley.  The opening match after the league’s weekend hiatus could not be more meaningful as United have opportunity to move past Liverpool into sole position of first place with either a win or draw.  The Red Devils will be eager to rebound from a disappointing performance in their Carabou Cup semifinal loss to Manchester City.  

Liverpool does not play until their January 17th Matchweek 19 showdown against United. 

Third place Leicester is also idle until the weekend. 

The originally scheduled match for Wednesday between fourth place Spurs and COVID ravaged Aston Villa has been postponed. With Villa sidelined by the virus, Spurs will instead take opportunity on Wednesday to make up a previously postponed match with Fulham.  

Manchester City will seek a fourth consecutive league win when they play host to Brighton.  City is on a seven match unbeaten run the league and is coming off a win over rival Manchester United in the Carabou Cup semi-finals.  

Everton will look to get back on a winning track when they travel to Wolves.  The Toffees had won four in a row before falling 1-0 to West Ham in their last league match.

Mid Table

Wolves host Everton at Molineux Stadium where they have had success in the past versus the Toffees.  The West Midlands club have lost but once in their last six Premier League encounters when hosting Everton.  Wolves will be looking to end a current four match winless streak in the league.  

Crystal Place will be defending a four match unbeaten run against Arsenal when the Eagles visit the Emirates on Thursday.  The task will be formidable as the Gunners, on a three game winning run, seem to have finally found their range, firing eight goals past the opposition in their last three matches, more goals than they had scored in their previous twelve matches combined.  

Newcastle visit Sheffield United looking for the Magpies’ first win in six matches.  Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has won seven of the ten games he has managed against Sheffield United.

Bottom of the Table

Burnley in a rescheduled match at Turf Moor, will face an inspired Manchester United squad fighting for first place.  The Clarets have been on an impressive run which has seen them lose just once in their past six matches as they have tried to remove themselves from the relegation scrap. 

Brighton will look for a first win in nine matches when it travels to Manchester City. The Seagulls have been gradually drawn into the relegation fray despite five draws in their winless run.  

Fulham will be unexpectedly providing the opposition for Jose Mourinho’s Spurs on Wednesday in a rescheduled match from December that is now made possible by Aston Villa’s COVID woes.  The Cottagers have looked improved in four consecutive draws heading into this week’s match with Spurs.  

Sheffield United will hope to build on its win over Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup this past weekend when the Blades welcome Newcastle to Bramall Lane.  The Cup win was the first in any competition for the Blades this season.

FA Cup Update

Spurs emerged victorious in their David and Goliath match with smaller club Marine by a score of 5-0.  Sixteen-year-old Alfie Devine becoming the youngest ever goal scorer for Spurs.  Leeds was not as successful against Crawley Town, falling 3-0 to their fourth division opponent.  To further stoke the embarrassment for the Premier League side, Crawley deployed a UK reality television star in its line-up for a portion of the game against Marcelo Bielsa’s men.  Liverpool expectedly cruised past a cobbled together Aston Villa squad while the Villa regulars remained in COVID protocol.  The reward for Liverpool was a Fourth-Round draw with Manchester United in a contest between the current top two Premier League teams who face each other in league competition this coming weekend.  Other Fourth-Round draws include an all-Premier League match-up between lower table combatants Burnley and Fulham. The FA Cup competition resumes in February.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Domestic Cups: Premiere League Pauses for English FA Cup; Carabou Cup Final Set

FA Cup

The Premier League schedule of league matches pauses this weekend as teams participate in The Football Association Challenge Cup, better known simply as the FA Cup.  The expansive FA Cup competition includes the Premier League, the three levels of the English Football League (Championship, League 1, and League 2) and “non-league” teams down to Level 10 of English football.  A series of byes sees the two largest leagues enter at the “Third Round Proper” of the competition as the twenty Premier League teams and twenty-four Championship teams join the twenty winners from the Cup’s second round in thirty-two matches scheduled across this coming weekend.  

Action begins Friday with two matches pairing Premier League competitors.  Aston Villa will face Liverpool for the first time since Villa’s 7-2 October shellacking of the Reds.  While Liverpool will have some squad rotation, Villa’s line-up for the match will be unrecognizable.  Due to a COVID outbreak within the first team, Aston Villa will be utilizing U-23 and academy players managed by U-23 boss Mark Delaney for its match. Crystal Palace faces Wolves in a second Friday encounter.  Saturday matches include a matchup of Premier League teams Arsenal and Newcastle.  

Other Premier League sides are matched this weekend against competition from the lower levels in English football.  The open nature of the competition, which includes clubs not fully professional, creates “David and Goliath” matches which are part of the fabric of the oldest national football competition in the world.  Perhaps the most talked about “David and Goliath” fixture this weekend features Tottenham Hotspur against Marine on Sunday.  While fans are banned due to COVID, the match will be played at the Merseyside home of Spurs’ lower division opponent which normally seats only 389 spectators with a full capacity of 3,185 fans.  A charitable foundation of football pundit and former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher is sponsoring the Marine squad’s warmup gear for Saturday’s match.  The FA Cup concludes in May with the eventual winner earning qualification to next season’s Europa League.  Arsenal defeated Chelsea in last year’s FA Cup final.


Carabou Cup

The matchup for the Carabou Cup Final is set following semifinal matches played this week. Spurs defeated Championship side Brentford 2-0 on goals by Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko.  Spurs will face Manchester City in the Final following the Citizens’ 2-0 defeat of crosstown rival Manchester United which featured goals from defensive midfielder Fernandinho and center back John Stones.  City will be seeking a fourth consecutive Carabou Cup title in the Final against Spurs where they will be facing the last manager other than Pep Guardiola to lift the Cup.  Current Spurs Manager Jose Mourinho won the competition with Manchester United in 2017.  Spurs won the Cup in 2008, the last trophy garnered by the north London club.  The Final, originally scheduled to take place in February, has been delayed until April in the hope that the COVID situation will be improved enough for fans, in some number, to attend the match.  This year’s winner will qualify for the inaugural Europa Conference League, a new third tier European competition added to the existing Champions League and Europa League competitions.  The Carabou Cup, also known as the EFL Cup or League Cup, is a sponsored competition amongst teams from the Premier League and the three divisions of the English Football League (Championship, League 1, and League 2).

Premier League and COVID

As the UK goes into another period of lockdown amid rising case numbers, all of English football is seeing increased COVID impact.  Aston Villa’s entire first team is sidelined for its FA Cup match.  Southampton will not be playing this weekend as its FA Cup match was canceled due to a COVID breakout suffered by its opponent, Shrewsbury. Four Premier League matches have been postponed so far this season due to COVID.  A season high forty positive cases was reported this week from the league’s latest round of testing.  The Premier League remains committed to carrying on, but further cancellations will be problematic to reschedule amid an already congested fixture list. Burnley manager Sean Dyche has gone so far as to lobby for fast tracked vaccination of Premier League players.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Match Week 17: Saints Be Praised; Devils Go Level; Spurs Bury Leeds; More Blues for Chelsea; Gunners Firing on All Cylinders

Top of the Table

Liverpool -Liverpool went scoreless for a second time in three matches, falling 1-0 to the Saints of Southampton.  The Reds have now dropped seven points in their last three matches, allowing Manchester United to come level on points with the Red Devils having a game in hand.  Liverpool failed to put a shot on target until the 75th minute in the loss, their latest in a league match in over five years.  Premier League goals leader Mohamed Salah had no shots on target.

Manchester United – A fifth successful penalty kick of the season by Bruno Fernandes secured a 2-1 win over Aston Villa for United’s eighth victory in a ten-match unbeaten stretch.  United’s successful run has drawn them level on points with suddenly vulnerable Liverpool.  Fernandes is third in the league for both goals and assists with eleven goals and seven assists, respectively.  Anthony Martial scored the opener in a third consecutive home win for the Red Devils. 

Leicester – Leicester won a fifth consecutive league match at St. James Park in defeating Newcastle 2-1.  Leicester’s seventh away win this season equals their prior season total.  Midfielders James Maddison and Youri Tielemans each scored their fourth league goal in the Foxes’ victory.  The win saw the Foxes maintain their hold on third in the table.

Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs registered their first win since early December in a 3-0 defeat of Leeds.  A goal by Son Heung-min was Son’s 100th goal in all competitions for the club.  The assist by Harry Kane on Son’s goal was his ninth this season to the Korean forward, tying a Premier League season record for assists to a single player.  Kane also scored to become the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to reach double digits in both goals and assists this season.

Manchester City – Manchester City won for a fifth time in a seven-match unbeaten run by decisively beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge 3-1. Only Manchester United has captured more points during that stretch. Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne each had a goal and an assist in a dominant first half for City.  De Bruyne played in a "false nine" role to successfully bolster the City attack as the Belgian scored his fourth career goal against his former team.

Southampton – Southampton scored for a first time in four games and made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over visiting Liverpool.  Danny Ings scored his fiftieth career Premier League goal.  The Saints deserve praise for beating Liverpool for a first time in almost five years while missing several of their core players to injury and COVID.  Southampton rises to sixth in the table, twelve places improved on their 2019/20 standing after seventeen matches.

Everton – Everton conceded only the second goal in its past five league matches as its four-match winning run ended in a 1-0 loss to West Ham. Striker Dominic Calvert Lewin went without a goal for a fifth consecutive match after scoring eleven in his first eleven matches of the season.  It was a third loss in the last five league matches at Goodison Park for the Toffees.

Aston Villa – Aston Villa’s 2-1 loss at Manchester United ended a five-match winning run and was only a second defeat this season away from Villa Park.  Jack Grealish’s assist on the goal by Bertrand Traore was the Villa captain’s seventh of the season, joint third highest in the league.  Despite a well-played game, Villa’s winless streak versus Manchester United was extended to sixteen matches with the Villans last win coming in 2009.   

Chelsea – Chelsea lost for a fourth time in six matches with a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City. During that stretch Chelsea has toppled from third in the table to its current ninth position.  The Blues attack is struggling with just three goals in the past three matches as the temperature of Manager Frank Lampard’s seat becomes ever warmer.  A Callum Hudson-Odoi extra time goal avoided the clean sheet at Stamford Bridge.

West Ham – Tomas Soucek hammered home an 86th minute winner to give West Ham a 1-0 victory at Everton.  Manager David Moyes’ first win at Goodison Park since leaving Everton in 2013 also continued his unbeaten league record against current Everton Manager Carlo Ancelotti.  The victory ended a four-match winless streak for the tenth place Hammers who are one of three teams sitting on twenty-six points, just seven points behind the league leaders.

Mid Table

Arsenal – The Gunners fired four goals past West Brom in a 4-0 victory marking a third consecutive win and second consecutive clean sheet for Arsenal.  The streaking Gunners are now just three points off the top half of the table after the relegation talk of just a few weeks ago.  Alexandre Lacazette had a brace for Arsenal and has scored four goals during the Gunners’ three match winning run.

Leeds – Despite numerous opportunities against Spurs, Leeds failed to score in an away match for the first time this season in a 3-0 defeat in north London.  The Whites were also guilty of mistakes in defense and conceded a penalty leading to a Harry Kane goal.  The penalty was a league leading sixth committed by Leeds this season.

Wolves – Wolves squandered a two-goal half-time lead in escaping with a point in a 3-3 draw at Brighton.  The three goals represented Wolves highest tally of the season as they were assisted by a Brighton own goal and penalty in the first half.  Defender Romain Sais opened the Wolves scoring while Ruben Neves converted the penalty kick for his first goal this season.

Crystal Palace – Eberechi Eze sealed the 2-0 win over Sheffield United with a box to box run moments before the first half whistle.  Eze, in his first Premier League season, adds excitement to an Eagles line-up which rumors have once again claimed is in jeopardy of losing Wilfried Zaha to a bigger club.  Jeffrey Schlupp scored the opener in Palace’s first win in six matches.

Newcastle   Andy Carroll’s first Newcastle goal in over a decade was not enough to prevent the Magpies from losing 2-1 to Leicester.  The loss was a third in a current five match winless run for Newcastle who remain eight points clear of relegation concerns.

Bottom of the Table

Burnley – Burnley’s match with Fulham was postponed due to COVID.

Brighton & Hove Albion – Brighton overcame a 3-1 deficit to draw 3-3 with Wolves, a fourth draw in the last five games for the Seagulls.  It was a tough day at the office for Brighton Defender Dan Burns who was involved in conceding all three first half goals for Wolves.  The Seagulls’ second half comeback included goals from Neal Maupay and Lewis Dunk.  

Fulham – Fulham’s match with Burnley was postponed due to COVID.

West Bromwich Albion  A 4-0 loss to Arsenal made the Baggies the first Premier League team in over a decade to lose two consecutive home matches by at least four goals.  The leaky Baggies defense has conceded thirty-nine goals, six more than any other league team. 

Sheffield United - A threadbare roster was further depleted by COVID related absences in a 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace. Substitute Antoine Hackford became the twentieth sixteen-year-old to play in the Premier League as the Blades fell for a fifthteenth time in their seventeen matches.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Week 17 Preview: Devils and Villans; Showdown at the Bridge; Return of the Moyesiah; Bielsa’s Irresistible Force Faces Mourinho’s Immovable Object

Top of the Table 

Liverpool tries to improve on its less than stellar road performance when it travels to Southampton on Monday.  The Reds have won but two of eight away matches but the Saints have failed to win in their last four matches at home. Both Liverpool and Southampton have drawn their past two league matches.  

Manchester United will be tested at home versus Aston Villa in a match of two of the league’s hottest teams.  Villa has lost but one of seven away matches this season.  Streaking Manchester United have won three and drawn one of their past four home matches.  The Red Devils enjoy a current nine game home and away league unbeaten run, winning seven of those matches.  Aston Villa is looking to extend its own unbeaten run to six matches.  

Leicester travels to Newcastle hoping to recapture its winning form after dropping points in its past two matches.  Leicester have won their last four away matches at Newcastle.  

Everton will be looking for a fifth consecutive league victory when they host West Ham.  Everton has conceded only one goal in a four-match winning run.  The stingy Toffees lead the league with eight clean sheets.  

Manchester City will be without five players due to COVID when they face Chelsea in a key league battle at Stamford Bridge.  Chelsea will be hoping to have midfielder Hakim Ziyech back  for a first match since early December.  A Ziyech return could help kick start an attack which has sputtered during a current stretch where Chelsea has won but one of five league matches.  Manchester City has been relying on its defense this season.  The Citizens’ thirteen clean sheets in all competitions is more than any club in Europe’s top five leagues.  

Jose Mourinho’s tactical acumen will be challenged when his defensive minded and currently struggling Spurs side play host to Leeds.  While currently winless in their last four league matches, Spurs have been a strong home side in winning three of their last four at their north London home.  

Mid Table

West Ham attempts to end a four-game winless streak when they visit Everton.  While the Hammers have lost in six of their last eight league matches at Everton’s Goodison Park, a fourth away win of this campaign would match their total away wins for all last season.  West Ham manager David Moyes has defeated current Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti in their five previous Premier League confrontations.  Moyes will be facing the club he once managed for over five hundred matches.


Leeds takes its swarming attack to north London in a matchup between Marcelo Bielsa and Jose Mourinho, two renowned managers with polar opposite styles.  

Wolves will try to return to the top half of the table with a win at Brighton.  Wolves have struggled for goals in the absence of striker Raul Jimenez but have flashed some interesting young talent throughout the line-up in recent matches.  

Arsenal seeks to make it three wins in a row when it visits West Brom.  The Gunners are looking to build on their two recent victories which put an end to a seven-game winless streak which had included five losses.  

Newcastle were impressive at home in holding Liverpool goalless in their last match.  The Magpies get no chance sit on their laurels as next up is Leicester, a team which has defeated Newcastle in seven of their last nine matches.  

Crystal Place hopes to end a five-game winless streak when it hosts bottom dwelling Sheffield United.  The Palace attack is likely to face a stuck in Blades defense.  Wilfried Zaha has eight goals for the Eagles this season, twice last season’s total.


Bottom of the Table

Burnley and Fulham square off in a key relegation battle match.  Burnley are five points clear of Fulham as they seek a fourth win in six matches.  The Cottagers have also shown some improvement in earning a point in each of the last four matches.  

Brighton and Hove Albion will try to steer clear of the relegation zone when it looks for a first win in seven matches against Wolves.  A loss by Brighton combined with a Fulham victory at Burnley would put the Seagulls in the relegation zone.  

West Brom hopes for a first home win under Sam Allardyce when they play host to Arsenal.  The Baggies have lost their first two at home under Allardyce including an embarrassing 5-0 spanking by Leeds last week.  

Sheffield United will again try for their first win of the season when they visit Crystal Palace.