EPL GW8 Preview: Understrength and Underdogs

Injuries and form mean City vs Liverpool has lost some of its allure, especially with the battle for the Top 4 at its most competitive ever.

For three years, Man City and Liverpool have been the strongest teams in the Premier League, and arguably Europe. They’ve set unprecedented records, created nerve tingling title run ins, scored buckets and buckets of goals in destroying the rest of the league, and done it all with smiles on their faces. In this recent period both sides have been effectively untouchable and it was only in their head to heads that we got to watch either of them seriously challenged. That allure has dissipated somewhat, whether it’s lockdown, whether it’s injuries, or just the loss of form that sees both teams with heavy losses already. Perhaps it’s more to do with the fact that Everton, Aston Villa, Southampton and others are shaking up the status quo of domestic football. Even if it’s only temporary, we know from Leicester’s title win that these underdogs shouldn’t be ignored. With key games in Everton vs Man Utd, Leicester vs Wolves and Arsenal vs Aston Villa, it no longer seems like there is only one game worth watching. Does that mean it’s not worth watching? Of course not. These two sides are still the runaway favourites to win the title, and this Sunday the majority of us can put our feet up and enjoy.

Match of the Week: Man City vs Liverpool

There’s two particularly exciting factors about this season’s Man City vs Liverpool fixture. Firstly is the more obvious factor that both defences have been inconsistent in both performance and selection. Both defences rely heavily on one individual, van Dijk who is now missing for Liverpool, and Laporte who is now returning from injury for Man City. Along with some calamitous mistakes from Kyle Walker and Joe Gomez – the usual risks taken by both defences, I expect both Managers will believe that the best form of defence is attack. With less faith in keeping clean sheets, a fact true across all Premier League football, the onus will be on outscoring the opposition and that is a wonderful thing for us neutral fans.

Secondly, this match no longer holds the intense level of pressure that previous meetings have suffered from. Players with fear of losing, losing the game, losing the ball, losing the tackle… that fear has stifled some of the Super Sundays we had dreamed of previously. This season with the sides further apart, meeting early in the season, with other teams shining at the top of the table… means players will have more freedom to express themselves and really attempt to impact on the game. There’s not been the drama of Pep vs Klopp, City vs Liverpool, for the Premier League title… no. This one’s for the fans. Keep 430pm on Sunday free, get the beers in the fridge, and enjoy.

Oh – stick a cheeky 50p on 0-0 in case I’m wrong. It will pay for the beers.

Man of the Week: Harry Kane

It feels a little like cheating on this week’s Feudball Preview. Man City vs Liverpool writes itself into the Match of the Week, and predicting Harry Kane for Man of the Week is like calling a Biden victory with just four states to go. You have plenty of information on the internet to tell you Biden / Kane will have a good week without my input, but then… I would be doing myself a disservice not to re-iterate the fact that Harry Kane is not only on fire but he is surrounded by attacking talent determined to prove their worth in a Spurs shirt and starting line-up.

Kane’s determination to become the best in the world is driving him to be involved everywhere, with goals, assists, blocks and clearances on a game by game basis. He’s very rarely out of the game for long, and Spurs are making the most of it with another goal and assist in their midweek win.

The only thing going against backing Kane this week is the extent of hype that has surrounded him and his 200th goal for Tottenham (from just 300 games). Football has a tendency to screw us over when everything points so obviously to him scoring another hat-trick… but then Kane has had to fight this his whole career – with the critics insisting he’s been a one season wonder several times. That tag has gone, and he’s now on a level with Europe’s elite in contributing to goals on a weekly basis. Everyone knows Kane can go all the way to breaking the Spurs, England and Premier League goal scoring records, and it’s games against the likes of West Brom that will catapult him there in record time.

Tipped Treble:

Firstly, let’s celebrate last week’s Feudball Tipped Treble coming in, admittedly it was touch and go, but a return at 2.08 is progress towards a profitable season. In light of this, I’m supporting two bets this weekend, starting with the exciting Friday Night Football!

@Brighton Under 1.5 First Half Goals 4/11
@Southampton Under 1.5 First Half Goals 2/5

I prefer not to back the opening games of a weekend, as a loss can spoil the whole weekend accumulator so I am reserving this bet to just the Friday night action. Risky perhaps, but an opportunity to double your money on what quite frankly looks a no brainer. Brighton and Burnley have had plenty of goals conceded but both have struggled putting the ball in the net. Southampton are on form and scoring goals, but meeting a more robust defensive outfit in Newcastle, who are unbeaten in 5 away games, and missing Danny Ings suggests a blip in their momentum is due. For the rest of the weekend, I’m supporting:

@Chelsea Home Win 2/5
@West Brom Away Win 4/9
@Arsenal Home Win 4/6

Chelsea are on imperious form, scoring plenty of goals and finally balancing their defence with 5 consecutive clean sheets. Everyone in their attacking line-up is contributing meaning they’re a threat with every attack and Sheffield United have so far offered little to nothing to threaten at Stamford Bridge.

Spurs are similarly flying going forwards, having spent much time eulogising over Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, they now travel to West Brom who have conceded 2+ goals in each outing bar fixtures with Brighton and Burnley, where they only managed one goal themselves and that was a late equaliser. West Brom have also conceded more goals in the Premier League than any other team this season. This is Spurs’ last “easy” fixture in the Premier League before a run of games of Man City (h), Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (h). A win is a must to carry this momentum into a serious attack on the Top 4, or even a title challenge.

Arsenal have looked more and more solid under Mikel Arteta, and have every right to be bigger favourites in this match given they have only dropped points against City, Liverpool and Leicester. A surprising win away to a poor Man Utd will have driven belief that this team can fight for the Top 4 and despite an indifferent record at home to Aston Villa that includes 3 defeats in their last 10 home fixtures, overall Arsenal have actually won 11 of their last 14 meetings in all competitions.

EPL Review 26-29.09

VAR-dy PAR-ty at Etihad as Leicester Punish Sluggish Man City

Stand-out Result: Man City 2 Leicester 5
In 2015 Leicester City stunned the football world by firstly surviving Premier League relegation by the skin of their canines, then launching into an unstoppable domination of the table to clinch an against the odds league title. During that season, the day we all really took notice and said “Fuck, they can actually do this” was their 3-1 win at the Etihad. Not just a major three points in the title race but a day where they completely outplayed their hosts.

Wind forward almost 5 years, and the Foxes have been at it again – albeit with a very different performance. Stubbornly defending their own final third and punching their way upfield on the counter-attack – Leicester played to their strengths, and more importantly Man City’s weaknesses. The absence of David Silva will be mentioned throughout the season, but at a time when we also wax lyrical about De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Mahrez, Sterling and the heir apparent Foden – serious questions must be asked about their ability to break down defences with 72% possession and 16 efforts on goal.

However the speed and cunning of Leicester on the break, punishing the gaps left by the City defence and capitalising on every mistake offered resulted in Pep returning to the drawing board, square one, and his mammoth book of ‘Things I learned from Cruyff’ as he reaches the same milestones that led to his demise at Bayern and Barcelona – building his own defensive legacy rather than the one he has inherited from predecessors.

The real icing on the cake was the magnificent return of James Maddison, coming on as a substitute before a perfect postage stamp finish from outside the box and winning the 3rd Leicester penalty for their 5th goal of the match. Remember the Foxes’ demise post-lockdown coincided with Maddison’s injury absence. His return could propel and sustain Leicester’s Champions League hunt this season.

Stand-out Performance: Diego Jota

Jurgen Klopp rightly eulogised over Liverpool’s near perfect performance in dispatching the regularly-limp-versus-top-6 Arsenal, but the real promising sign arrived with 20 minutes to go with Diego Jota’s impressive and effervescent performance.

Liverpool are undoubtedly the strongest team in the country, incredibly strong and organised at the back, workhorses across the midfield, unprecedented pressing and quality across the front-line and a winning record to die for. I hate them, but you have to admire them. The one area routinely thrown at them is their lack of depth in key-areas. Step up Jota. He appeared from the bench to replace Sadio Mane, who needed comforting from Klopp in regards to his withdrawl – a great sign that your top players want to be on the pitch every minute. Jota made runs, made chances and made an impression with every move. Even when Salah was too greedy to rightly leave the ball to Jota, he didn’t let it get him down. Whilst it took a few chances, the goal came – and an overwhelming celebration from the whole squad.

Jota is going to improve Liverpool hugely – not necessarily a league shattering number of goals and assists – but by keeping the Liverpool front three on their toes and offering the chance to rest all three of them more often.

Stand-out Errors: FIFA / Referee HQ
Whilst it was the frontline referees in the firing line of the players, coaches, pundits and media the overwhelming issues that have happened this season with handballs comes from the top. I have entered into more detail on this subject here but in short – let’s resolve this madness before we really do / say something stupid.

In Form: Danny Ings
Goal – goal – goal. Three games, three goals for Danny Ings. Whilst he hasn’t necessarily set the league alight this season, his consistency and quality in front of goal (his first goal against Spurs last weekend was world class) leaves him as one of the most reliable strikers currently in the Premier League. This season he has been regularly paired with Che Adams and they appear to be forming a solid partnership.

It should also not be forgotten that only Anthony Martial outscored Ings in Fantasy Football post lockdown last year – making Ings the most prolific points scorer since lockdown overall. What could he possibly want next? How about a home game against the worst defence in the division – West Brom.

Out of Form: Manchester United

Played 2 : Won 1 : Lost 1 : Scored 4 : Conceded 5

Is it really that bad? It looks a lot worse like this:

Man Utd 1 Crystal Palace 3
Brighton 2 Man Utd 3

Winning when not playing well is a sign of a good team, but there were very few other signs for Manchester United to take from their adventure at Brighton and disappearance versus Palace.

United finished the season strongly last year, particularly defensively, but it’s clearly all gone to pot – not helped by Maguire’s distractions during the “summer” – not judging him for his involvement in it, but in it he was. Because of their strong finish, the talk of signing more attacking players instead of defenders was not of great concern but now a glance across their backline and defensive midfielders shows a huge imbalance in quality with their team going forwards. Belief of managers such as Kevin Keegan and Ossie Ardilies to outscore the opposition is brave and exciting but you really have to believe that is Ole Solskjaer’s predominant plan as United Manager. Why else would you sign Van de Beek and chase Jadon Sancho instead of investing in replacing Matic and someone to play alongside Maguire at the back?

The good news is United will always have strength going forwards, but it will be interesting to see how Bruno Fernandes handles the pressure of a bad run in form and continually dropping points. We’ve previously seen it in Pogba, Martial and a few others that body language can change very quickly. You look at the United team, the United midfield, and feel they need a Roy Keane figure to fire up the team regularly to play to their abilities. I can’t see McTominay getting the respect required from Pogba and Fernandes, but we’ll see.