Life at the top is certainly tough! The old adage that it is harder to defend a title than to win it has certainly seemed apt in recent Premier League seasons, with champions often finding themselves struggling to put up a serious defence the year after lifting the trophy. That has not been the case this year, however, with Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions Manchester City sitting on top of the league table with just a handful of games remaining. Liverpool seem to be the only genuine contenders to City’s crown, with the Reds sitting just one point behind the Citizens at the time of writing.It is imperative, therefore, that City’s players continue their excellent run of form as the season begins to wind down.
The top-six of the Premier League are blessed with a large number of central midfielders, with the likes of David Silva, Fernandinho, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba seen as the main and obvious ones around. These individuals have shown their quality for their respective teams over the last couple of years, whether it’s with their attacking contributions or their ability defend in front of the backline.
The midfield department has become a very demanding position, where many of the top clubs in Europe aim to have enough quality and depth in order to compete in all competitions effectively. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are good examples, three clubs that have the players available on and off the bench to take control of the game and to importantly dominate it.
Now, it is time to look at the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six, those who play a crucial role for their sides and are expected to become a wanted man from the end of the season till the final days of the 2019 summer transfer window. For sure, it is still early days to consider these key players, but some individuals have been really impressive in recent months.
With no further ado, here are the central midfielders that deserve more appreciation and credit…
Javi Garcia’s Watford are enjoying a top notch of a season in the Premier League, because of how consistent they are in front of goal and how they are expected to break a personal record of the most points they have picked up in a single campaign before the current term comes to an end. And one of the main players that have allowed this to happen is Abdoulaye Doucoure, thanks to his technical ability and intelligence on and off the ball as well as his displays in the middle of the pitch.
Since his arrival to England from French side Rennes, he has shown his composure and quality in the centre of midfield alongside Etienne Capoue, where he completes the required interceptions and tackles in his own half to helping the side attack quickly through his dribbling ability and his burst of pace. Thanks to his positive mindset and attacking mentality, it allows the team to strive forward and to press high up the pitch whilst making sure that the goals don’t come only from the attackers.
Majority of the Premier League supporters would see Andre Gomes as a player that had failed to succeed the expectations that he once had at Barcelona, and he is now trying to revive his professional career in another country and league. However, Everton took a massive punt on him in the summer, and have reaped the rewards but are waiting to receive it consistently, due to the fact that he has had some minor injury issues and some difficulties in settling into the dressing room.
Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has regained fine form and reportedly expected to move to Goodison Park in the summer on a permanent basis, which instantly sums up the influence he has on Marco Silva’s midfield and how they are more proactive and efficient when he is in starting line-up. Without his range of passing and approach of how to control and dictate play, the Toffees would struggle to break the opposition’s defence down and would face a lot of defensive problems on the counter.
Despite Southampton’s below par season over the last two to three campaigns, James Ward-Prowse and his rise has been one of the most popular stories at St Mary’s Stadium. Having evidently proven himself on both sides of the pitch, he is also one of the few leaders that the Saints respectively have within the squad. On top of that, he has the incredible ability to pull off some insane free-kicks, which he did so against both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur over the last two weeks.
If he was playing for one of the top sides in the Premier League, he would be easily getting into the England squad and would have been a serious candidate in the midfield role of Gareth Southgate’s team. For the time being, he still has a lot of time to improve as a player and will have the perfect timeframe to review any potential offers that may come his way, given that he is in need of two more consistent seasons before deciding to move to Arsenal, Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur.
The main focus of this term has been Wolverhampton Wanderers and how they have turned up against the best teams in the league, where they have picked up victories against Chelsea at home, Tottenham away and crucial stalemates versus Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United. Players such as Diogo Jota, Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez have played the key role in Nuno Espirito Santo’s team, but it’s Ruben Neves who has stolen the media headlines and English press coverage.
With how the Portuguese international has been performing so far this Premier League term, it almost feels like he has been playing in the top flight of English football for quite a long time. Being a physical player off the ball and in the air, he has the ideal ability to distribute the ball that the full-backs and wingers look for from a midfielder. Also, he is another great player that is a dead ball specialist, whilst having the much needed understanding to play in any of the tactical role in midfield.
This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.
Crystal Palace v Brighton
Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha
Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh
Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)
This weekend’s Premier League action has one or two tasty fixtures coming at a great time, with arguably the match of the round closing out the weekend’s proceedings when Arsenal take on Manchester United at the Emirates in Sunday’s 4.30pm kickoff. Conversely, getting things underway with the Saturday lunchtime kickoff will be Crystal Palace hosting rivals Brighton at Selhurst Park. With the exception of Man City taking on Watford on Saturday and Chelsea hosting Wolves on Sunday, just about every other game sees a top-half side taking on a bottom-half side, and so there could be one or two surprises in store for fans attending a game in England’s top-flight this weekend.
This past weekend saw no less than three local derbies in the Premier League, with two of them winding up as draws. Of the six clubs involved in these three games only Chelsea triumphed, toppling Scott Parker’s Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage. It was a spirited performance from the hosts, who sacked manager Claudio Ranieri last week after only 19 games in charge. Spurs hosted Arsenal while Liverpool made the short trip to Everton, with both of these games ending in stalemate. Arguably the finest action to be seen was at Old Trafford, where resurgent Man Utd battled to a 3-2 home win against Southampton, who on this performance alone really should not find themselves in the trouble they are in. Adopting a 4-3-3 this time, let’s see which players stood out!
There is another full list of Premier League fixtures this coming weekend with all games being played over Saturday and Sunday.
Spurs v Arsenal
Spurs XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Sissoko, Winks, Rose, Eriksen, Kane, Son
Arsenal XI: Leno, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Questionable: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs); Lars Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)
Out: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (Spur); Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
The date was October 18, 1986 and Watford – managed by legendary boss Graham Taylor – beat visiting Aston Villa 4-2 at Vicarage Road. Little did anyone know at the time, but that match would go on to live long in the history of Watford Football Club. For in that game, Hornets striker Mark Falco netted a hattrick. He also scored against Villa the following year, before an unbelievably barren run saw Watford fail to even score against Villa again until late 2015 when they would win 3-2 at Villa Park – some 28 years later. The match in question however, until very recently indeed, held another record – it was the last time a Watford player had scored a hattrick in the top flight.
When Walter Mazzarri was appointed as Torino boss last January, I Granata were languishing on the outskirts of the mid-table and were a side without a clear identity. Fast forward a year later and Torino have become one of the toughest teams to break down in the peninsula and are now pushing for a spot in next year’s Europa League. While Atalanta have received all the plaudits for their offensive football, Mazzarri’s
side are their antithesis, and sit on 38 points alongside Gli Orobici.
After a failed stint in England that saw his contract terminated at the end of his first season, Mazzarri’s reputation took a hit. Long gone were the memories of his Napoli side that, along with Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, pushed the envelope beating the likes of Juventus, Inter, and Chelsea in the process. Instead, unsuccessful tenures with Inter and Watford came to define the Italian tactician. That’s why his move to Torino was so important. Back with the familiarity of the Italian mid-table, Mazzarri could finally be himself again after years of trying to be someone he wasn’t.
Since assuming the reigns at the club, Mazzarri has steadied the ship and has made the most of the roster at his disposal. Using his trademark 3-5-2, the former Napoli tactician has transformed Andrea Belotti into a more complete striker, beyond what the stat-sheet might show. At the back, Armando Izzo, who arrived in the summer from Genoa, has been Mazzarri’s undisputed leader and has led by example. Alongside Nkoulou and Moretti, the trio have formed one of the league’s most solid partnerships at the back and have only conceded 22 goals – a feat only bested by the current top four.
In fact, in their last five games I Granata have managed five clean sheets beating the likes of Inter and Atalanta, and held Napoli to a stalemate. Torino also have their keeper Salvatore Sirigu to thank in large part, as the Italian international has played his best football since his Palermo days. After an inconsistent couple of years in Paris and a few loan moves, Sirigu has once again emerged as one of the nation’s top shot-stoppers and has been in top form this season.
Factor in Chelsea loanee Ola Aina’s industry and creativity from the left wing along with De Silvestri’s experience and veteran leadership, and Torino are one tough side to score on, let alone beat.
Mazzarri’s Torino is very similar to any of his past sides that he’s had success with. A compact trio in the midfield, a dangerous duo up top complimenting each other, all-while relying on a resolute defence. We’ve seen this before. With Tomas Rincon acting as the midfield hard-man, as his ten yellow cards would suggest, Daniele Baselli and Soualiho Meité are able to get forward to supply Iago Falque and Belotti. As a whole, Mazzarri’s Torino come together as a real force, and are proof that the sum could be greater than its parts.
Whether or not they qualify for the Europa League remains to be seen as the competition is fierce, however, if Torino have showed us anything this season, it’s that Walter Mazzarri is truly back at his best and it’s wonderful to see.
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This weekend’s Premier League fixture list promises another round of tension, goals, celebration and despair. Proceedings get underway Saturday lunchtime with the north London derby, Spurs welcoming Arsenal as their guests at Wembley. We also have a relegation clash as Brighton host bottom side Huddersfield, while on Sunday we have a west London derby – Fulham vs Chelsea – and the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Manchester City look to continue their bid to retain the Premier League crown when they travel to Bournemouth 24 hours before Liverpool’s trip across Stanley Park, and with both of those fixtures proving potentially slippery for the top two this weekend could well start to shape the landscape as the domestic season rolls on.
With the title race continuing to hot up, this weekend’s Premier League action saw contenders Liverpool going toe-to-toe with rivals Manchester United, while champions Manchester City took the weekend off from league action to battle Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final. At the lower end of the table, Newcastle hosted Huddersfield in what could be described as a relegation six-pointer. With that said, let us take a look at which players performed the best for their clubs over the past few days.