Thursday, January 18, 2024

Premier League Preview Week 21 (Partial Slate)

The second tranche of Week 21 matches takes place this second weekend of the Premier League’s version of winter break. Each of the 20 clubs has a week off from league competition just past the season’s midway mark. Table leader Liverpool returns to action Saturday at Bournemouth. The Cherries were punched in the mouth by Tottenham Hotspur their last time out, a decisive defeat which ended Bournemouth’s four match winning run. Liverpool, meanwhile, put up four goals against Newcastle in the Reds’ first outing since Mohamed Salah left to compete in the Africa Cup. Liverpool is a mere two points ahead of Manchester City as the Reds look to secure their second Premier League title. In addition to Salah, Wataru Endo is also away on international duty in the Asia Cup while Trent Alexander-Arnold will be an injury scratch. Liverpool will be facing former player Dominic Solanke who scored his six times for Bournemouth in December to become the Premier League Player of the Month.

Arsenal, in fourth place by virtue of goal differential over Tottenham Hotspur, will engage in a London derby at the Emirates versus Crystal Palace. The Gunners have dropped back-to-back matches to tumble from the top of the table. A scoring drought has seen the Gunners score only four goals in their past five Premier League matches, a run of form which has seen Arsenal win just one of those five matches. Crystal Palace secured a vital three points against Brentford in its last outing. The victory marked the Eagles’ first win since November 4th and muted at least some of the criticism being directed at venerable manager Roy Hodgson. Hodgson admittedly plays a conservative and unexciting style. He is, however, fielding a mediocre lineup except for oft injured young stars Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze.

Brentford is now in the relegation mix after seven losses in its last eight Premier League matches. The Bees are three points clear of the drop zone as they prepare to host Nottingham Forest on Saturday. The Tricky Trees are only a point better than their Saturday opponent, but their league performance has improved in recent weeks. New manager Nuno Espirito Santo has defeated Newcastle and Manchester United in winning two of his first three matches in charge. A shadow was cast on that recent performance with this week’s announcement of potential financial fair play violations by the club. Everton were also named for a second time; the Toffees already having been socked by a 10-point deduction for other violations. The relegation race could well be determined by the ultimate rulings and point deductions assessed against these two lower half of the table clubs.

Wolverhampton has won three consecutive matches as Manager Gary O’Neil’s 11th place side are making a run at the top half of the table. McNeil deserves much credit for the success to date of a side that was expected to be battling relegation when then Manager Julian Lopetegui resigned just before the season’s start. Wolverhampton visits Brighton Monday where the home side has lost just once this season at its home American Express Stadium. The Seagulls, however, have now fluttered down to just three points above Wolverhampton in the table after just one win in their last five league matches.

Sheffield United continues its march of shame when the Premier League’s worst team hosts West Ham on Sunday. The broken Blades have scored just 15 goals while conceding a staggering 49 in their 20 matches this season. West Ham, meanwhile, has lost just one league match since the first week of November as the Hammers have risen to sixth in the Premier League table. 

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