SALT LAKE CITY – After a great weekend of football and then some exciting midweek battles, we head into this weekend knowing that there is another break in EPL play immediately after this round. COVID-19 is still in the headlines. It looks like player unavailability is starting to ease, and the hope is that the league will be able to fill its fixtures again and then manage to get through those previously postponed fixtures.
Everton have sacked manager Rafa Benitez after a run of dismal results. All is not well at the Toffees, and whoever takes over will need time to right the ship. Decision-making at the club is terrible, and until things are straightened out in the boardroom with a clear structure, it doesn’t matter which manager they get or who they bring in to complete an already expensively assembled squad.
Newcastle find that it’s not because they have new wealth squads and players aren’t interested in selling assets, and players aren’t too keen on the draft. Poor planning ahead of the takeover has seen the Magpies look flat since the transfer window opened. Burnley’s Chris Wood has been added, and he’s a solid traditional No.9 guy, but even that looks a bit like an instinctive arrival. Like Everton, it is imperative that they get the right sporting director (Everton have had a few and results have been poor) to run this club and put the right bodies in place to complete the plan the manager has in mind. .
Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion
Sunday’s 7:00 kick on Peacock is one that could really entertain neutrals. Leicester suffered a dramatic 3-2 home loss in midweek to Spurs. It was a game in which they played their luck, but as they entered the fifth minute of added time, leading 2-1 over Spurs, one could be forgiven for thinking the Foxes would have picked up all three points. What followed was pandemonium as Spurs substitute striker Steven Bergwijn equalized. As the celebrations died down and Leicester resumed the game, no doubt kicking each other, but a poor decision by one of their best players, Youri Tielemans, turned the ball over and he quickly found his feet by Harry Kane. Kane, who is as good a playmaker as anyone in the league, then played the ball in behind a slow and tired back line, perfect for Bergwijn to fly behind, round the keeper and then put the ball into the back of the net. 97 minutes on the clock and the air was completely out of the stadium, apart from the noise coming from the Tottenham end, a handful of random members as fans jumped up and down. And the sight of Lucas Moura on the back of a steward crowns the incredible comeback.
But what does this mean for Leicester? A team that has undoubtedly suffered from circumstance through COVID-19 and injury, but this team, for all their talent, has looked stale and running out of defensive solutions. A slight against coach Brendan Rodgers is that his teams seem to be regressing defensively under him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a really good coach and when players like Harvey Barnes and James Maddison attack and move the ball quickly, they’re so much fun to watch. And until the options for central defense and outside backs increase, they’re going to have to try to dictate midfield areas. One thing they will need to do is protect the slower central defensive areas better. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has impressed since getting his chance in midfield for the Foxes. It’s no surprise that his 88th-minute exit from the game against Spurs saw midfield dominance swing in Spurs’ favour. He is certainly one to watch, his ability to drive forward with the ball and a good show of force means he will face Brighton in the middle of the park.
Brighton have been fantastic this season, and their ninth place finish probably doesn’t say it all. Manager Graham Potter is tied to every job that comes along. And how he plays the Seagulls is a shorter passing team that moves and trades well. But they’re built on a three-way backline. They’re a big central defense unit and there’s not a lot of speed there, but positionally they’re exceptional and all three are extremely good and comfortable on the ball. They had a strong midweek result against Chelsea which finished 1-1. Andrew Webster, who got the equaliser, might just be the best two-footed centre-back in the EPL. His passing range with both feet is very good, then coming out from the back with the ball is also good. He could well be an England international and probably deserves a call-up compared to others who seem to be making their way into the squad. He could also be an option for other clubs next summer. But I don’t want to do Brighton a disservice. Webster is a local boy and Potter sets the team up to use Webster’s ball game ability. Once the ball is forward, I immediately look for the movement of attacking midfielder and Belgian international Leandro Trossard. His ability to drift in space, find a pass or get past a defender allows Brighton to be dangerous. Then there are the two wingers with Marc Cucurella (the best summer signing of the season for me) and Tariq Lamptey providing good pace and overlapping runs in attack. All Brighton are missing, and I’ve said this before, is an upgrade for their No.9. European squares.
It’s going to be an entertaining game. Both have very good passing and movement teams, but Brighton have the defensive form and organisation. I give the visitors the advantage and I could just grab the three points.
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
The final game of the weekend is an all-London affair. Peacock carries Sunday’s huge showdown at 9:30 a.m.
Chelsea, it must be said, have been out of title contention in recent weeks, although they haven’t lost many games and are still third in the table. But there is a big problem that Thomas Tuchel needs to find a solution to, and it is becoming more and more obvious. Their lack of regular goalscorers is what hurts them. Havertz, Pulisic and Lukaku haven’t quite gotten into it yet, although the talent is clearly there. Timo Werner continues to struggle. But without Jorginho’s penalties and Mason Mount’s brilliance, Chelsea would really struggle.
One thing we saw midweek was a change to their 3-4-3 formation, it was probably something to do with the lack of options. But they went something like 4-2-3-1, and while it wasn’t perfect, I’m interested to see if it can turn into something more that could bring in one more of their attacking players. in alignment. Chelsea have been defensively strong under Tuchel and that has been the platform for them. They had a phenomenal run in the Champions League last year and proved worthy winners, but we saw in the EPL, over a run of games, that they struggled a bit. Tuchel is a very good and innovative coach, but it might strain his hand a bit. And having four forwards instead of three just might get the most out of Lukaku as he thrives on serve, even if it’s been a little inconsistent. It might take a little longer, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw the great Belgian striker come to life, and if that happens, watch out. It will be a handful.
Spurs have been inconsistent, and that’s partly down to the players no doubt adapting to Antonio Conte’s demands. But after the latest midweek win over Leicester, confidence must be high. Spurs are, as I’ve mentioned in the past, short of a few players, particularly in central midfield, but Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp were a great midweek partnership. Winks is a disciplined deeper builder and Skipp is a solid mid-park unit who uses good positioning and a tireless work-rate to rush and harass midfield opponents. If they start, it will be interesting to see them against Chelsea’s engine room. Add in Spurs’ Danish international Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and that’s where we could see the match won.
Eric Dier will be back for Spurs as they slowly but surely return to good health, however, the game is probably too soon for standout South Korean talent Son Heung-min. The Korean’s absence has opened the door for Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn, but it’s not on the same level as the brilliant Son. We sorely miss Son’s movement, rhythm, vision and finishing ability. The bond between him and Harry Kane is deadly, and they are both improving. The good news for Spurs fans is that Harry Kane is, it seems, back to his best. And if Spurs want to finish in the top four, they will need their England target available for the rest of the season.
First of all. Antonio Rudiger versus Harry Kane. This could be a phenomenal match of two powerful and physical players. Second, I can’t separate the teams. Two incredible managers, a Chelsea side that are arguably more talented, but are just trying to find their own solutions. Coming up against a team that is also still working on its identity. It can be scrappy at times, but look for the sparkle of Mason Mount to add some class to this game. For me, the result will be a draw.
That will be enough for this tour, we will be back in a few weeks.