Weekend Previews

Premier League Week In Review

Title Edition…

Welcome back to the Premier League Week in Review, where we discuss everything that has happened in England’s top flight league. We name our player of the week, our winners and losers, and discuss what we learned. So what has happened? Well, quite a bit…

Player of the Week

Anthony Martial, Manchester United (hat trick in 3-0 win over Sheffield United)

In a game where the main talking point was the full debut of the Pogba-Fernandes midfield, Martial grabbed the spotlight with an incredible strikers performance. His movement up top and ability to combine with the midfield and wingers was breath-taking at times, and it really shows that he could be the solution to United’s striker issues now that there is plenty of creativity around him. The Frenchman’s hat trick is not only the first of his professional career, but it also breaks a strange curse for Man United, being their first hat trick since Robin van Persie’s title-winning hat trick against Aston Villa in 2013. Martial has often been a lightning rod for criticism since his arrival in Manchester, but he is quietly having a good season, amassing 19 goals in all competitions. Is he the answer for United as a number nine? Only time will tell…

Honorable Mentions: Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Fabinho (Liverpool)

Winners of the Week

1.) Liverpool

Champions of England for the first time in 30 years, earliest title clinch in league history, a litany of accolades and fine performances, capped off by maybe their best performance of the season against Crystal Palace. Yeah, not much else to say, next.

Wait, they are getting the guard of honor away to Man City? Wow, Liverpool fans really must be in dreamland.

2.) Chelsea

Frank Lampard secured a massive win in his young managerial career, beating the previous champions in a match City had to win to keep their slim title hopes alive. The defense held firm for most of the match, with Rüdiger and Christensen playing very well as a center back pairing. They played well on the counter, with Christian Pulisic especially shining as a dynamic winger causing the City back line all sorts of issues. Lampard had a game plan on how to absorb City pressure and push out from it, and it worked like a charm. He also knew how to shut down the Agüero-less City attack, with Raheem Sterling being largely a passenger in the match. Lampard is clearly building something special in West London, and with Leicester’s recent struggles, they look the more likely to finish third this season.

3.) Manchester United

United showed flashes of what they could be against Spurs, but mistakes and flaws in the team, especially the defense and goalkeeper, held them back. Against Sheffield United, they looked much, and I mean much, better. Starting the Bruno-Pogba midfield from minute one, United looked fluid, fast-paced, and terrifying in attack. Anthony Martial put out one of his best displays in a United shirt to get a historic hat trick, and Marcus Rashford also shone despite not getting on the scoresheet. Sheffield United are no slouches, they are in the European hunt for a reason, but United absolutely dismantled them. This is the best United have looked under Ole, and while there is still definitely room to grow, it is hard to not be excited if you are a United fan.

Losers of the Week

1.) Leicester City

Leicester’s grasp on third has slipped away completely, and their hold on the top four is also beginning to fall away. Two draws since the restart has taken them to only one point ahead of Chelsea and only six points ahead of Manchester United, who occupy fourth and fifth, respectively. Those draws were to Watford and Brighton, two struggling teams near the bottom of the table, and Leicester did not look good going forward in either match. The only goal to speak of for the Foxes was Ben Chilwell’s ridiculous strike against Watford, but the likes of Vardy, Maddison, and Ayoze have been largely silent since the season restarted. Their match against Chelsea this weekend will tell us quite a bit about this Leicester team and their ability to finish in the top four. It would be disappointing if this talented and enjoyable team was not in the Champions League next season, but they have to reverse their current fortunes to make it happen.

2.) West Ham

A very talented team on paper, the Irons sure are not living up to that potential. Yes, their two most recent matches were very difficult, but they basically looked lifeless in all areas of the pitch. They have been abysmal going forward, with Pablo Fornals and Felipe Anderson especially failing to impress. They had three combined shots on target in their two games, probably missing the presence of Sébastien Haller up top. Their defense, which has been a massive issue for most of the season, was also not great. They did well to frustrate their opponents for a while, especially Spurs, but the inevitable result still happened. West Ham now find themselves in 17th, level on points with 18th-placed Bournemouth and 19th-placed Aston Villa. They still have to play Watford and Villa before the end of the season, so things are definitely not decided, but relegation to the Championship is very much a possibility, where old rival Millwall might be waiting for them…

3.) Sheffield United

Like Leicester, Sheffield United have restarted the season very poorly, and the Blades’ standing in the table is at great risk because of it. A draw against Villa (that should have been a win), paired with two bad losses to Newcastle and Manchester United, leaves Chris Wilder’s team in eighth, sandwiched between North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal. They are only a point ahead of Arsenal and two ahead of Crystal Palace in a place that is only a European place should Manchester City’s European ban be upheld. Like Leicester, they need to reverse this current trend and quickly in order to keep their European aspirations alive. Unlike Leicester, they must hunt for a European place, as there is no guarantee that their current position will get them into the Europa League qualifiers. Wilder has done an amazing job to get his team to this point, but he has a long way to go if he wants the Blades to be in Europe next season.

What we Learned

1.) Congratulations to Liverpool, 2019-20 Premier League Champions

It has been a long time coming. Arguably England’s most successful club, suffering from a title drought a generation long, have been crowned champions of England for the 19th time, and they did so in style. Jürgen Klopp built a completely dominant side, with talent all over the pitch, that was able to coast to the title, winning by over 20+ points and in the quickest amount of time of any team in league history. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané have been two of the best forwards in the league this season, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have been dominant in midfield all season, and Virgil van Dijk has been the brick wall he always has been. Now, I will be honest here. We are a blog made up of an Everton fan and two Man United fans, so none of us really have many nice things to say about Liverpool. But you have to hand it to them, they were incredible for the whole season, and really for the last three years as well. There is a longer piece that can be devoted to talking about the Liverpool turnaround from failing at the final hurdle under Rodgers in 2014 to finally winning it under Klopp, but that is for another time. For now, I will just say that this is an incredible side fully deserving of the plaudits they are receiving. I will not engage in the “best Premier League team ever” debate here, but they are definitely in that conversation.

Now, for those who love their football pub trivia, remember that there are now seven teams to have won the Premier League, no longer six. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City, and now Liverpool are the teams to win the title since the Premier League era began. Make note for future reference.

2.) Chelsea look like they want to be title contenders next season

Covered up by all of the discussion around Liverpool’s title triumph is the fact that the team that secured the title for them, Chelsea, looked pretty darn good in their win against Manchester City. Frank Lampard has really worked some wonders in his first season as Chelsea manager, turning a very young team into a capable, well-rounded side that is able to cause problems for many opponents, including the previous champions. While the talent is not completely there on paper, Lampard has seemingly gotten the best qualities out of all of his players, inspiring a strong defensive performance against the normally potent City attack. On the counterattack, Chelsea’s individual attacking quality shone, with Christian Pulisic being the best performer of the lot. If this trend continues, Chelsea will be the dark horse favorite for the title next season, and even though the gap between Liverpool and the rest is still quite large, that dark horse tag would very much suit Chelsea. With more time and backing from the board, Lampard will turn this team into a regular title contender. The foundation has clearly been laid.

Oh yeah, and this team is adding Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner next season. Yeah, it is going to be fun to see what happens.

3.) I’m full of crap, the Bruno-Pogba midfield will work

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about Paul Pogba and how United should proceed given the transfer speculation surrounding him and with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. I encourage you to give it a read here.

Read it?

Yeah, forget everything I said. This midfield will work. Everything that I said in that article is probably rubbish, because not only would those two work together, I think they work very well together. They are both incredibly talented technical players with fairly similar skillsets, but they are able to play off of each other so well. Their movement and ability to combine with the forwards makes them incredible attacking midfielders, and having them in the same midfield offers a massive defensive issue for basically every team. Yes, a game and a half is not a very large sample size, but in that small period of time they made a massive difference. Pogba coming on in the second half against Spurs changed the game completely, and those two dominated Sheffield United’s midfield from the beginning, being the catalyst for United’s convincing win. Sheffield United definitely are not a bad team, and the shift from the 3-3 draw in this fixture in November to this dominant win in the second half of the season shows the growth of this United team, and this midfield pairing is a large reason for it.

4.) I genuinely have no clue who is going down

Aston Villa, Bournemouth, and West Ham are all level on 27 points, and Watford is barely ahead of them on 28 points. The relegation race will be deciding by a hair-splitting gap, and it is very hard to predict, especially with those four teams still with matches to play against each other. I said in the Premier League returns piece that good teams will be relegated to the Championship this season. While I stand by that sentiment and, yes, on paper, two good teams (relative to usual relegated sides) will go down, but man they are not playing like it. All four teams have not been good since the restart of the season, ranging from the struggling but still trying Aston Villa to the absolutely dire Bournemouth and West Ham. This race has suddenly really steered into the “which two teams will be more awful than the other two” realm, which makes it quite hard to predict, especially with seven games still to play. I have said repeatedly that fast starts are important for teams at both ends of the table in this restarted season, but it seems that every team in the relegation race decided to ignore that suggestion and continue on struggling. Villa have shown the most fight, squeezing out draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle while losing to Chelsea, but with the injury and goalscoring issues they have, I would not necessarily say they are favorites for staying up. I would also not, however, say that any team is a favorite to stay up at this point. A real footballing quandary at the bottom of the table.

5.) The FA Cup is back? The FA Cup is back!

Norwich-Man United on Saturday. Sheffield United-Arsenal, Leicester-Chelsea, and Newcastle-Man City on Sunday. The world’s oldest football cup competition restarts this weekend at the quarterfinal stage, and with some interesting match ups and storylines to go along with it. Silverware would be an important statement for Ole’s Man United and for Lampard’s Chelsea, as a way to track the progress of their rebuild and show the tangible results. Arsenal, desperate for any pathway into Europe, now really see winning the FA Cup as their easiest way into the Europa League next season. Norwich, Sheffield United, and Newcastle all come into this stage as heavy underdogs, but the quite-cliched-but-still-true “Magic of the Cup” could carry them to a historic result at Wembley.

I mean, I distinctly remember watching relegated Wigan beat Man City in the FA Cup Final in 2013, so really anything can happen.

The added wrinkle of the European place being passed down if a top four team wins the FA Cup is even more interesting this season given City’s potential European ban. Normally, if a team in the top five wins the FA Cup, the Europa League qualification that comes with winning the FA Cup is passed along to the next highest placed team in the table. The same applies with the EFL Cup, which was won by Manchester City earlier this season. So normally, a top five team winning both the FA Cup and EFL Cup would mean that sixth place becomes an automatic Europa League place, while seventh guarantees passage to the Europa League second qualifying round. Should the Court for the Arbitration of Sport uphold City’s European ban, then this is all pushed down one. So if a team in the top six were to win the FA Cup, seventh would become a Europa League place and eighth would become a Europa qualifiers place. This would open up a path to Europe potentially to a mid-table side, with the likes of Everton, Crystal Palace, and Burnley being in reach of that eighth position. Another added wrinkle that makes this all much more interesting than before…

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