EPL GW8 Review: Whose League is it Anyway?

City and Liverpool are the pundits’ predicted Top 2, but have shown no certainty of this in the opening 8 games leaving the door open for… well basically everyone.

The Etihad was home to the biggest game of the season so far and it is fair to say it did not live up to its hype. The match was reasonably exciting for the fans, with Liverpool starting really brightly and pressing City’s back four with their own front four (I am yet to see it, but presumably the media have been all over the Liverpool Fab Four / Beatles puns). There was action and chances, but neither team showed the levels needed to be worthy of their hype, and the biggest stars of the league struggled to get going at all. The game had 2 penalties, one missed, in a 1-1 draw. Compared to regular 2020 matches, this was hugely understated. The second half wore out into an avoidance of defeat and the stalemate meant Leicester remained top on a weekend that saw Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs all appear at the summit for at least a few minutes. With Villa’s 3 points from the Emirates, Chelsea purring and score lines seemingly determined by the roll of a dice… the Premier League could be heading anywhere. Except Fulham.

Match of the Weekend: Palace 4 Leeds 1

As discussed previously, the International Break can be a good time for teams out of form to recover, and a bad time for teams in for form who lose momentum. I think this break has come at a perfect time for Roy Hodgson, as I am concerned his aged heart cannot take the excitement of a 4-1 win without a significant recovery period.

This is Palace’s first 4 goal haul since the final day of the 2018/19 season, and that was just last day madness as they entertained with Bournemouth for a 5-3 win. Selhurst Park has been short of this kind of entertainment for too long, with an emphasis on being organised and not giving anything away more prominent than creating chances and scoring goals. That being said, Palace showed they have the talent going forwards that – on their day – will cause havoc in the opposition’s final third – mainly because of the lightning pace in Zaha and Eze.

What Hodgson and Palace did extremely well, was to pick a team with the objective of counter-attacking as quickly as possible, having numbers across the full width of the pitch. It’s Leeds’ biggest frailty at the back. Bielsa plays high octane football, trying to get more bodies than the opposition in every area of the field, but that risk leaves space down both wings, and areas for midfield runners to exploit. Hodgson was brave in selecting Eze as part of a 3 man midfield, which worked perfectly on the break. Leeds were not going to change their approach, and ultimately that cost them. Hodgson showed his 448 years of experience, and may have shown a few other sides how to stop the Leeds United steam train.

But of course! No ‘Match of the Weekend’ could be complete without outrageous VAR controversy. So here it is…

Taking the rules to one side for a moment… there is no football fan in the world who wants to see this goal ruled out for offside. Not one. It’s ludicrous. Bamford is doing his very best to stay onside, time his run, communicate with his team mate… and then my word what a delicate finish. It’s tormenting the football gods that we are disallowing goals that tick so many positive boxes. But…

He’s offside. It’s mind-blowing that we have developed and evolved a sport, a religion if you will, over almost 200 years in the United Kingdom, then we introduce “3 Men and a TV” and the world goes to pot (okay, VAR didn’t cause Covid). I will no doubt get into an in-depth piece on VAR and the what, where, when, how and why but for now I will attempt to simplify this as much as possible.

VAR was brought in with the intention of resolving a percentage of decisions that were unanimously agreed to be incorrect. Unfortunately a lack of foresight meant “we” did not consider the huge number of incidents that actually occur within a game that would become hotspots, nor did “we” consider the difficulties and knock-on effects of having to create “black and white” rules on subjective matters such as handball.

The latter was a problem instantly – it was always going to be – but the use of VAR on handballs for attackers meant a rule change, initially to disallow all goals that hit the arm, now to disallow goals only where it hits “below the t-shirt line”. We changed the handball rule. We haven’t changed the offside rule – not in any way. Bamford would not have been offside last season, nor prior to VAR, but since his armpit / imaginary t-shirt cuff (he’s wearing long sleeves!) is now able to score a goal, he is now offside.

WE NEED HELP! This system has so many flaws, but it also needs cooperation and support, not for everyone to consistently slate it and demand better. You’re entitled to think its shit, I am not disagreeing, but the constant changing or rules to manage the reaction of fans is not the way to solve the problem and evolve the sport. How did the VAR official decide where his t-shirt line was? I feel the simplest solution for now is to take the offside point from where the attacker is grounded i.e. feet. Sure, he might reach out with his head and score a header, but fuck it. Let’s just celebrate a goal for a change! Fans want clarity. VAR is seeking clarity. Even if handball did become every time the ball hits someone’s arm, at least players would know the rules, and it would become consistent (he jokes, knowing referees are incapable of consistency).

Man of the Weekend: Harry Kane

So far this season, the media have RIGHTLY sung Kane’s praises, discussed how his game has evolved, improved, and how his stats are incomparable to any other player in the country. We have known for some time that Harry Kane is lethal within the final third of a football pitch, no one-season wonder, whether you see how he does it or not, his numbers are truly remarkable – only Alan Shearer and Sergio Aguero reached 150 Premier League goals faster, they were both in title winning sides that created chances for fun.

This season, we have also seen Spurs be… Spursy. Or at least that’s what we have believed it to be. The late goal conceded against Newcastle was a fluke incident, but they should have put the game to bed – Spursy. The miracle comeback from West Ham may have been a one in a million, but they should have put the game to bed – Spursy. Losing points from winning positions will hurt Spurs, but what we haven’t seen enough of at White Hart Lane, is winning ugly and winning late. True hallmarks of title challenging sides. Twice Kane has stepped up to earn these late goals, assisting at Burnley and heading the winner this weekend at West Brom with minutes to spare. He is shouldering a lot of responsibility at the club, for his country and with huge pressure to reach the numbers we expect him to, yet he seems to turn up week in week out and delivering. Spurs and England fans have every right to believe they have a World Class centre-forward to deliver trophies.

Result of the Weekend: Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 3

“This topsy turvy Premier League season cannot have been kind on many punters’ pockets – Aston Villa are my biggest nemesis – they’ve accounted for 3 of my 7 failed predictions so I’ve chosen to avoid them like the plague” Feudball, October 2020.

Make that now FOUR of my failed predictions. Since I stopped including Aston Villa in my tips, I completed back to back wins… but I forgot their unpredictability, and outright ability, and they proved both in a big way in putting Arsenal to the sword.

What is the more impressive about Villa’s excellent season, is they look like they deserve it and that there’s more to come. Ollie Watkins, the two goal hero, has expressed this himself that he can reach further levels. Questions will be raised, and challenges will come, but they’re regularly keeping clean sheets in the games they do win, regularly creating chances in games they do not. They are beating good sides in Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester and should be considered a threat to all teams as we move into the winter stage of the season. The biggest threat for them will be keeping their key players fit. Losing Mings will be devastating. Barkley, Grealish and McGinn have gelled perfectly, and Watkins is by far and away the best forward at the club.

In Form: Chelsea

Last week I nominated Hakim Ziyech as the In Form prospect within the Premier League, this week… it’s the whole Chelsea attack. I mentioned how if they can keep their balance right, they’re a threat to all trophies available to them this season – admittedly with huge amounts of luck in Europe – but they’re not conceding goals, and every one of their players is a threat and looks like scoring right now. Ziyech again was instrumental, but Abraham, Werner and Mount also made big impacts on the game.

Sheffield United are currently not the most difficult of opposition, but they did give Chelsea a fright in going 1-0 up, and it speaks volumes for the young Chelsea side that they were not derailed. It should not be underestimated figures such as Thiago Silva, Aziplicueta, Giroud and Lampard himself have on this dressing room. The four of them have won the world’s biggest trophies and understand success.

Chelsea will return from the International Break with four matches against very hard working sides in Newcastle, Spurs, Leeds and Everton, with Champions League games thrown in too. This will really challenge their squad and ability to keep performing when games are thick and fast, but whilst they’re keeping the ball out of their net, they’re going to keep collecting points and produce a title challenging campaign.

Out of Form: Leeds United

Despite an exciting start to the season that has seen them accrue fans across the country, Leeds are not accruing points to keep themselves out of a relegation battle. It’s fair to say that their start has been challenging with Liverpool (a), City (h) and Leicester (h) but they’re conceding far too many goals in their pursuit of happiness and it’s costing them points against other sides – they’ve conceded 4 goals on 3 occasions this season, and that puts too much pressure on the attack to recover the deficit. Also consider that, Bamford – who has a reputation for not taking his chances – is responsible for 60% of Leeds’ goals – so if he starts failing in front of goal more regularly, they will need to find goals from elsewhere often enough to overturn the 4 goals conceded.

That being said, Leeds are still looking far more healthy than the teams below them, and we’re looking at their poor form with a view that they’re capable of being a Top 10 side. There’s no need for panic at this stage, but conceding that many goals to a side like Palace, and only one win in 5, doesn’t sound like things are going well.

Leeds will return from the International Break by hosting Arsenal on Super Sunday. Expect them to be full of running, passion, and determination as ever when that kicks off, and with Arsenal’s recent run they will also be looking to get on the front foot and exploit those same spaces that Palace did.

EPL GW6 Review: Unfamiliar Top 6 Mockery of Big 6 Breakaway

Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds, Southampton amongst unexpected early runners.

Going into this weekend’s fixtures, Everton had given themselves a serious chance of extending their lead at the summit, taking any points away from St. Mary’s in their early Sunday kick-off with Southampton. However, the Saints’ dominant performance over a ‘hungover’ Everton, Leeds steamrolling the Villa runaway train, and Leicester’s smash and grab at the Emirates means the Premier League race is becoming somewhat of a steeplechase – a question of which teams will manage to survive all of the hurdles unscathed, conserving enough energy for the sprint finish. Watching everyone beating everyone else, this season could see anyone’s name on the Premier League trophy. Anyone, except Fulham.

Stand-out Result: Aston Villa 0 Leeds 3
The two remaining undefeated records disappeared this weekend, and although neither were entirely unexpected, the manner of the results and performances reminded us that lockdown football is mad and unpredictable. Prior to the season’s opening, many fans would have predicted a Leeds victory against Aston Villa but given the formbook, the capitulation of the Villans was extraordinary. No goals, and offering many chances, Leeds showed why they’re being thought of so highly. They’re hard working, intense, press all over the pitch, and give the opposition nothing. They’re going to win fans all season long, and many more points along the way. Aston Villa need to be careful on how they react to this loss, and do everything they can to avoid the change in momentum and confidence.

Stand-out Match: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0
This – game – was – boring. It was awful. Who would ever have suggested it was the one to watch from the weekend?! Oh… I did. Well, so did Sky Sports and so did many other fans tuning in on Saturday evening.

Prior to the weekend, I stated “It doesn’t appear to be in either Manager’s playbook to consolidate and avoid defeat” and I am not budging from that assessment. Whilst neither team committed sufficiently to the win, inspiring a heated debate between Patrice Evra and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink about wanting both sides to play without fear, it would equally be fair to say that neither team looked particularly competent in their tactics. Fear, not a consolidated performance, is what drew this game to a blank. It’s that fear, and lack of ability to impose themselves on the opposition that makes this the stand-out match. Fans of both sides are used to title challenges and winning trophies, and want to be back amongst the silverware sooner rather than later, but this lack of cutting edge and winning mentality – leadership, as Evra repeatedly gestured – means these sides are sorely lacking from the required standard.

The underwhelming nature of this match will fill every Premier League side with confidence going into upcoming fixtures with both sides, damaging their chances in the race for the Top 4 – a race that is increasing its number of competitors with each passing week.

If neither team can be confident in their defence (also to be fair, who is right now?) and they shut up shop through fear, they will be there for the taking against sides high on confidence and with more organisation and depth behind their attacking talent.

What was HUGELY curious about this match, was the HUGE INCOMPETENCE in not awarding a penalty to Chelsea. It’s interesting the lack of media and punditry attention, the outcry and outrage over VAR, that has not happened when a decision has gone against Manchester United. Last week we had the fallout regarding the Pickford challenge, the week before the fallout regarding Lamela’s play-acting – but a definite penalty not given to the opposition at Old Trafford? We used to laugh these off, because “You don’t get away penalties at Old Trafford”… but the idea that there’s a partiarchy system protecting the big teams needs to change. Why is no-one outraged by how bad a decision this was? Maguire literally headlocks Aziplicueta, there’s plenty of camera angles, and plenty of time to get the decision right. Conspiracy? Or Incompetence? Either way, public statements from Referee HQ would settle how we all feel about it.

Stand-out Performance: Patrick Bamford
For the second week in a row, I need to talk about a forward I have released from my Fantasy Football team putting in the performance of the week. The game between Aston Villa and Leeds was likely to produce something special, and Bamford duly took responsibility with an excellent hat-trick – the 2nd and 3rd of which really demonstrated an exceptional standard of finishing. Leeds’ fans had not been entirely sold on Bamford leading their attack this season, feeling he was too inefficient with his chances in their Championship campaigns, but he’s finding his form nicely with 6 goals in 6 games and is carrying the Leeds assault on the top half of the table.

With the match on Box Office, you can enjoy the highlights and hat-trick below.

In Form: West Ham United
When this season’s fixtures were announced, Hammers around the world were understandably concerned for their ability to start their campaign with sufficient points on the board to move away from the relegation battle. However David Moyes’ men have managed to accumulate a number of points, results and performances to turn some of those frowns upside down. They’re unbeaten in their previous 4 games and visit Liverpool next having beaten or held Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Man City. Should they avoid defeat at Anfield, West Ham will be set nicely to enter the winter months with more optimism than usual where they will begin with Fulham (h), Sheff Utd (a) and Aston Villa (h).

Out of Form: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Despite the on-going contract sage, Aubameyang started the season in great spirits. The ‘Feudball Goal of the Month’ for September on the opening day, and an assist in the following 2-1 win over West Ham – everything was on song, and he and Arteta appeared to be on the same page. Since those two games, Aubameyang is four games without contributing to a goal. Those fixtures have been a tough run for Arsenal with Liverpool (a), Sheff Utd (h), Man City (a) and Leicester (h) – four of the top sides from last year – but he is their number one talisman, captain, and regularly one of the top scorers in the Premier League. Could his absence from the big games be the reason for Arsenal’s recent struggles against the Big 6? That would be a harsh assessment, given their troubles span over 5 years, but his output during this period should be a minor note in your Fantasy Football planning given his £11.7m price tag.

EPL GW6 Preview

Heroes of Elland Road journey to slay the Aston Villains.

Sunday 28th April 2019, Aston Villa travel to Leeds in a hotly contested fixture with both teams challenging to achieve promotion to the greatest league in the world. In Leeds’ last home match of the season, Elland Road, notoriously ferocious and aggressive, is the perfect amphitheatre for the day’s events.

With the game at 0-0 and time running out, Leeds have the ball and are on the attack. An Aston Villa player goes down, and Leeds look like they’re about to kick the ball out of play, which results in the Villa players stopping… except… that doesn’t happen. If you watch the below video, you will see – Leeds score – players and the benches go on to fight each other – then, Marco Bielsa orders his Leeds players to deliberately concede an equaliser. The game ends all square, meaning Sheffield United obtain automatic promotion. The season ends with Play-off promotion for Aston Villa, but Play-off defeat for Leeds. This weekend, we will see the players meet again for the first time – those memories still fresh from just 18 months ago.

Given the form of Aston Villa, the energy of Bielsa’s Leeds, and the fiery history of their last encounter – we have a Friday night fixture worthy of kickstarting the weekend. This is definitely a game to watch, though let’s run through the rest of the weekend’s headline action.

Tipped Treble:
@Arsenal – 1st Half Under 1.5 Goals 1/2
@Wolves – Home Win 4/5
@Burnley – Over 32.5 Booking Points

Those following these weekly previews, and backing my tips, are considerably out of pocket. This topsy turvy Premier League season cannot have been kind on many punters’ pockets – Aston Villa are my biggest nemesis – they’ve accounted for 3 of my 7 failed predictions so I’ve chosen to avoid them like the plague and just enjoy the entertainment on Friday night.

With only 14 goals in their 5 Premier League matches, Arsenal are – shockingly – one of the more boring sides to have on television this season. Arsenal are notoriously slow starters at home too, and are even more likely to keep it tight at the back facing Leicester this weekend that completely dismantled Man City away from home – the side that Arteta helped build. Leicester have been hit and miss, but they’ll want to be prudent in this fixture to halt a run of poor form, and keep themselves in the game – much like their near stalemate against pace setters Aston Villa.

Wolves are building momentum following their up and down start to the league, and now have back-to-back wins and 9 points from 5 games. Coming off a Europa League fixture is no longer a concern for their Sunday fixtures, and they are much better than 4/5 at home to Newcastle who are falling back into an expected lower league table position. Wolves have needed to adjust to a few changes in personnel, but Nuno Santos will soon have them looking like the improvements that they are, rather than losses of Doherty and Jota.

Burnley vs Spurs has all the hallmarks of a game that you should avoid to bet on. Spurs attack is on fire, but they keep dropping points. Burnley are out of form, but have suddenly pulled a clean sheet out of the bag which is no mean feat this season – sure, that was West Brom, but Chelsea conceded 3 and Everton 2, so it’s still impressive. Burnley’s efforts to stop Spurs in their counter-attacks will be, for want of a better word, dirty. Spurs themselves to continue showing their boss they can be cunts, will want to rough it with the Turf Moor men. Perhaps you could be even more confident in the number of Yellow Cards expected!

Stand-out Match: Man Utd vs Chelsea

In the Premier League, these teams have entertained us with 21 and 22 goals respectively. I say entertained, 21 of those goals have been conceded. On the flip side, no other sides can boast the quantity of quality on show, so with dynamic talent going forwards and more gaping holes at the back than the Playboy Mansion, every attack should provide entertainment.

It doesn’t appear to be in either Manager’s playbook to consolidate and avoid defeat in a widely competitive chase for the Top 4 that should now include Everton and surprisingly Aston Villa – as well as an improved Tottenham and Arsenal. Fingers crossed for this one, another Premier League goal fest please.

Stand-out Performance: Man City Attack
West Ham will take confidence from their miracle escape with a point from White Hart Lane, but beyond the miracle it should be noted they were poor for 80 minutes, and Spurs looked like they could – actually should – have scored many more.

A team capable of scoring more is definitely Man City, particularly with a returning Sergio Aguero. City are still yet to really click, with some changes in their backline and approach to pressing off the ball, but on the ball they continue to be a joy to watch and with the incredible striking of their Argentinian #10 returning, this could be the game they get their swagger back. Admittedly, City should be wary of West Ham on the counter as this season they’re proven goal scorers, and City defend like – well, City.

Acca Basher: Burnley vs Spurs
It must be tempting to wager on Spurs, looking like one of the better and in-form teams of the season – to beat Burnley, looking to be worn out and unable to deliver on Sean Dyche’s needs. However… Spurs have dropped points to Everton, Newcastle and West Ham. They have scored many, but failed to keep a clean sheet. They’re also coming off a Europa League fixture and come down from the West Ham come back. And it’s Spurs. Full of promise, not often delivering. In the 6 Premier League matches since Burnley returned to the top flight, Spurs have won 3, drawn 2 and lost once. It was the last one they lost, at Turf Moor in February. All I’m saying is… I’m not putting my money on Spurs to win.