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.

EPL GW4 Review

Bookies Cash In on Premier League Laughing Stock

“FOOTBALL IS AMAZING”. That is the text I sent to my friends during the Man Utd vs Spurs match. I sent that message as Spurs scored their equaliser, making it 1-1 after just 5 minutes. Not 5 minutes of actual football, the ball had been in play for about 90 seconds. No-one, literally NO-ONE, could have predicted how the rest of that match nor the rest of the day was going to unfold. What the actual fuck Premier League?

For those yet to hear about the insanity of Super Sunday… here’s the 3 stand out results:

Leicester 0 West Ham 3
Man Utd 1 Spurs 6
Aston Villa 7 Liverpool 2

It’s at times like these that you do not care that your predictions for the weekend are all over the place (Yes, I did predict Utd / Spurs as the game to watch but also predicted Liverpool to win) because this is the ultimate joy of football – anything can happen. We love football for that feeling, that literally anything can happen – take recent events in the Champions League as the best example. It’s almost impossible to identify a single overriding factor to have caused this, but there are certainly a number of elements to consider.

The lack of pre-season is an important factor, but clubs went longer without football between March and July than in between seasons.

The transfer window continuing is important, but that has been the case for decades previously and football had more sense about it.

Covid itself is participating more in the lives of everyone and the mental health of bubble football is worth considering too.

I think the fact is – the world is different – and whilst it’s taken some time to come to fruition within football – that is understandably different too. It doesn’t have to be resolved – hell no! Let’s enjoy this whilst it lasts. The bookies certainly are!

It is a well known fact that bookmakers will make more money when a game is live on TV – Merry Christmas! Every Premier League game is currently broadcast live. It is a well know fact that bookmakers will make more money when the favourite in the market doesn’t win – Happy New Year! Results are not going the way of the favourites, thus has been a mini-cash cow for the industry.

Stand-out Result: Aston Villa 7 Liverpool 2

“It looked like we lost the plot after it went 1-0” Jurgen Klopp.

1-0 occurred in the 4th minute.

In all seriousness, Liverpool did not look very different to normal, but were repeatedly punished by an exciting Aston Villa side who edged a number of close offside calls and showed exactly what you can do to this Liverpool side when you get at them – run at them – drive through them on the break. Jamie Carragher has said a number of times recently that he is uncomfortable with the high line and offside plans Liverpool’s backline have been operating but it’s vital to theirs and City’s intentions to press from the front and play in the opposition’s half. Aston Villa defended solidly enough to capitalise on this, breaking through the press through Barkley, Grealish, McGinn and Trezeguet and getting as many shots off as they could which – through a huge element of fortune – resulted in 7 goals. Hats off to Aston Villa, perhaps they have found a formula to reside at the Premier League table for longer than anticipated given their 3 wins out of 3 but there’s a long way to go, and teams will wake up to their success.

Stand-out Performance: Ollie Watkins

The second time I am writing about a former Brentford striker making a big impact in the Premier League, this time with last season’s top scorer in the Championship. Take a bow Ollie Watkins.

He would have watched, read and listened about how imposing Liverpool’s defence is, how no-one gets passed Virgil van Dijk, and he showed absolutely no fear in not just scoring his first Premier League goal but completing his first Premier League hat-trick – and a perfect hat-trick at that: sliding in left-footed from Adrian’s 4th minute mistake, running Gomez ragged down the flank before a right-footed drive into the top corner, then completing a clever free-kick routine (against a shocking high line) with a 3 yard header into an open net. He couldn’t possibly dream of a performance against the Champions like that – and he should have had more – rattling the crossbar being the most obvious when again Liverpool’s defence was stranded.

Brentford have implemented a very clear business strategy that includes the development and sale of Premier League quality footballers – next on the conveyer belt is Said Benrahma who has been linked with a move to the top flight already – expect a move in January if Brentford are struggling otherwise you will be watching him in the top flight in Brentford colours next season.

In Form: West Ham
When David Moyes contracted Covid I had joked that it would result in a change in fortunes for the Hammers. I re-iterate, I had joked… no-one actually believed it would result in a 4-0 win over Wolves, and a 3-0 away win over Leicester. What the fuck West Ham?!

West Ham’s opening fixtures filled their fans with dread, that they would be chasing points to get out of the relegation zone before November. Somehow they have bagged 6 points against these Top 6 teams from last year and have given their fans genuine belief that they won’t be in a relegation battle come May. Not enough optimism for anything higher than that, but all positive steps given the state of the club over the past 24 months that have included public displays of attention against the board and the Club Captain declaring their frustration at the sale of an Academy star. Enjoy the run Hammers.

Out of Form: Sheffield United
The surprise stars of last season, are again the surprise for this season. 4 games, 4 defeats – in trouble.

No side should overly concern themselves with poor form at this stage but they may have found themselves in an unprecedented position. Sheffield United having earned 3 promotions in 4 seasons have never received such a threat to their momentum, a dent to their confidence, and a position at the bottom of the table. Chris Wilder has set the Premier League alight with his brand of football that includes overlapping centre-backs whipping in crosses for overlapping wingbacks – but he’s in new territory now to instil confidence and find a new way to win points. They came close at the death against Arsenal, and one positive result may kickstart their season. The international break has come at the best possible time for them.

Playing Second Fiddle Gnarls Barkley

Former Everton star continues downward spiral into mid-table obscurity.

It’s nine years since Ross Barkley made his Everton Premier League debut under David Moyes, and the nation reacted to believing we finally had an English midfield maestro who could pick up the ball anywhere on the field and run with it, beating players, shooting with either foot – his future held no boundaries. Unfortunately for the young Liverpudlian, whilst Barkley appeared to be the future – he was actually just the introduction to a new and up and coming generation of England talent – and Barkley has been left behind to the likes of James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and more notably Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It’s the latter 3 amongst other more prominent Chelsea talent that has led to Barkley’s departure from Stamford Bridge (albeit on loan) whilst he attempts to rejuvenate his career once more.

And it is not unfair to say ‘once more’. Barkley had promised a lot but never delivered. Much in the same vein as Oxlade-Chamberlain, there is no doubt in either players’ ability to dribble with the ball, to strike the ball with either foot, their levels of strength and endurance – but evidently they’re something short of really pushing on to become regular England Squad members, let alone regular England starters. The most obvious hurdle in both their careers has been injuries, but Barkley has a lot more to answer for looking at his statistics.

During Barkley’s final 4 seasons at Everton he averaged 34 Premier League games – no injury excuses there – but in total only contributed 21 goals and 12 assists. Over his whole Everton career that amounted to contributing to one goal every 5 matches. Barkley never scored 10 goals in a season, and only once did his goals and assists combine to double figures – a remarkable 12 during his ever-present 2015/16 season. I say remarkable, because it stands out in Barkley’s profile.

Whilst on the preferral at Everton, Antonio Conte swooped to sign him. The football world considered a worthwhile punt having signed him on the cheap with his contract running down at Goodison Park. A punt, that sometimes looked like it was delivering, but again the stats suggest otherwise. This was due to be Barkley’s 3rd full season at Stamford Bridge – he really has not earned it. In 52 Chelsea appearances, he has contributed 4 goals and 9 assists.

Barkley has most definitely not pushed on from the express bully of a midfielder we first saw, looking like an evolution of Wayne Rooney when he first appeared as a 16 year old on Merseyside. Not everyone does take their abilities to the next stage (Jesse Lingaard is one of many from the Manchester United Academy to fall foul of this), but not so many people get to under-deliver quite so regularly before they’re found out and shipped off. Now at this stage in his career, he has to decide what he has left in the tank and how best to manage his future.

Having joined Jack Grealish at Aston Villa, Barkley has an opportunity to help develop the next generation of footballer rather than clinging on to his own personal ambitions of an England career. For years pundits have talked about wanting to see Grealish play alongside more talented players – they thought he would leave – turns out Villa have recruited – and we’ll get to see what difference that can make to both Grealish and Villa. Grealish also needs someone to take some of the pressure off his shoulders allowing him to be more expressive on the field. It remains to be seen if this is Barkley’s intention – to take more of a Gareth Barry rather than Gareth Bale role at Villa Park. Either way the next experiment for Barkley is taking place, and the main benefactors are likely to be Jack Grealish and Dean Smith.

What isn’t in doubt, is that Ross Barkley isn’t going to be the next big thing. He has had several chances (202 Premier League Appearances, 25 Goals – playing for Top 6/7 sides) but it’s not going to click. Now if he can turn provider, free up Grealish, and bring some experience to the Villa ranks he could at least feel like he deserves his place at the Premier League Table. At Chelsea alongside Pulisic, Havertz, Werner, Kovacic etc it is clear that he no longer belonged.