Friday, January 14, 2022

Premier League Preview Match Week 22 Chelsea Tries To Derail Manchester City; North London Derby; M23 Derby; Villa and Man U Meet Again; Magpies and Hornets in Relegation Battle; Burnley Idled Again

Chelsea tries to derail Manchester City’s express ride to the Premier League title when the two clubs meet at the Etihad. Second place Chelsea trails their Saturday opponent by 10 points with 21 matches played. Manchester City is on an 11-match winning streak in the league which has created separation from the other top clubs. Chelsea, meanwhile, has dropped points in seven of their last 11 matches amid uncharacteristic defensive lapses and all too familiar scoring difficulties. Chelsea won the matchup at the Etihad last season and has defeated Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola more times than any other club.

The weekend schedule begins with the league’s oddest rivalry on Friday when Crystal Palace leaves south London and travels down M23 to visit seaside Brighton and Hove Albion. The two groups of supporters are passionate in their dislike of the other team in an intense rivalry having nothing to do with geography.

A more traditional derby takes place in London Sunday when Arsenal visits north London neighbor Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs are unbeaten at home the last seven times they have hosted the Gunners. The match could potentially be postponed due to illness and injury affecting Arsenal’s roster. If the match goes forward, Spurs manager Antonio Conte will look to extend his Premier League unbeaten run to nine matches since his return to the league. Yet another careless red card by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka in Thursday’s Carabao Cup match has compounded the staffing problems of an Arsenal squad impacted by Covid, injury and Africa Cup of Nations call-ups. Xhaka has received more red cards across all competitions than any other Premier League player during his time at Arsenal. History is also not on Arsenal’s side this weekend as the away club has won but once in the last 22 league meetings between the two rivals.

Having just played at Old Trafford on Monday in the FA Cup, Manchester United and Aston Villa take the field at Villa Cup for a league contest in a short turnaround rematch. Former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, newly signed by Aston Villa, could make his return to the league against the Red Devils though his match fitness is a question.

Villa’s current 22 match winless streak against Manchester United is a topflight record.

West Ham will similarly replay an FA Cup matchup when the Hammers host Leeds at London Stadium, the site of a 2-0 Hammers victory over the Whites in Cup play last Sunday. West Ham are two points ahead of Arsenal for fourth in the league, having played one additional match than the Gunners.

Five points ahead of the Hammers in the table is Liverpool which will be home to Brentford on the weekend. Playing against a lower half side will be welcome for a Liverpool team temporarily missing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations. Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota will need to lead the Liverpool attack against the Bees. Brentford has lost three of its last four matches, though the Bees remain 12 points clear of relegation worries.

Watford visits Newcastle in a key relegation battle this weekend. A win over the Hornets would move Newcastle into a safe position in the table with Watford joining Burnley and Norwich in the cellar.

Burnley is idle this weekend due to Covid issues afflicting the Clarets. The postponed match against Leicester is the fourth postponement of a Burnley match this league season.

Bottom of the table Norwich hosts Everton on the weekend. The woeful Canaries have failed to score in their last six matches, all losses, while conceding sixteen goals to the opposition over that stretch. Everton has its own troubles, having lost five of their last seven matches while tumbling to 15th in the table under much criticized manager Rafa Benitez.

Two clubs experiencing better times than the Canaries and Toffees are Wolverhampton and Southampton who will meet at the Wolves lair on Saturday. Surprising Wolves have resided in the top half of the table since the first of November and have conceded the second fewest goals in the league this season. Southampton has lost just one of its last seven matches to move to within one point of 10th place Leicester.  

Carabao Cup

One side of the Carabao Cup final is set after Chelsea swept Tottenham Hotspur from the competition with a 1-0 victory in the second leg of their semifinal matchup. Spurs failed to score in either of the two legs against their London rival. Defender Antonio Rudiger delivered the winner for Chelsea to put the Blues into the final and make Thomas Tuchel the first Chelsea manager to have led the club to the finals of Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao (English Football League) Cup. Tuchel’s trifecta comes in his first year as Chelsea manager. The match was marked by controversy and frustration for Tottenham Hotspur as two potential penalty kicks awarded to Spurs were rescinded upon VAR review and a Harry Kane goal was disallowed for offside. Chelsea’s opponent in the Cup final remains unknown. Arsenal doggedly held on for a goalless draw versus Liverpool in the clubs’ opening semifinal leg after Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was assessed a red card in the 24th minute, leaving the Gunners to play the remainder of the match with ten men. Arsenal’s ability to post a clean sheet against their high scoring opponents was no doubt aided by the absence of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane who are participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The second semifinal leg between the sides will be played this coming Thursday at the Emirates.

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