EPL Weekend Picks – Week 35

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With just a few games left in the Premier League campaign, things are starting to take shape and will continue to do so with this weekend’s round of matches. There is no Friday night fixture this week, but instead we have a big card of games on Saturday with three coming on Sunday and one on Monday evening, with games every day next week except for Thursday as matches in hand are played. Man City taking on Tottenham in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff looks to be the biggest game of the weekend, but there are plenty of games in store to keep us guessing. Bournemouth host relegated Fulham hoping to build on their impressive 5-0 win at Brighton last weekend, while Newcastle host Southampton in Saturday’s late game. Let’s go for a 4-3-3 here!

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EPL Weekend Picks – Week 34

wes-morgan

This weekend’s Premier League will see the season continuing to take shape as, with just a few games to go, there is still a wide open title race and only one relegation spot left to fill. Liverpool leapfrogged Man City back into top spot last weekend, but the Citizens have a game in hand – just how much of a say will Chelsea and Crystal Palace have on Sunday against the top two? Palace host City while Chelsea travel to Liverpool and so there could well be more twists and turns in this title race yet. Towards the bottom of the table, already-relegated Huddersfield and Fulham both have tricky fixtures, with the Terriers at Tottenham while Fulham host Everton. Let’s take on a 4-3-3 here and see which players will fancy their chances.

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Is the honeymoon period over for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United?

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In his first three months in charge at Old Trafford Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went undefeated and wooed everyone with an attacking brand of football not seen at Manchester United since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.

All of a sudden there were goals at the club, attacking play, smashing teams and happy players. Solskjaer had built in 90 days what previous managers could not do in 6 years, a fantastic footballing unit. Much of this was down to Solskjaer being an ex United player under Ferguson and admitting that the clubs DNA and philosophy ran through his blood.

His biggest achievements have been United charging into the top 5 and given Tottenham and Arsenal food for thought for Champions League qualification. In December the club had no chance, but now they have every chance. Then there is the Champions League where against all odds and losing 2-0 to PSG in the first leg of the knock out round of 16, United came back in Paris and won 3-1. Now they will play Barcelona in a mouth watering quarter final.

But have the wheels come off of the project? United have lost 3 out of their last 4 games and questions will be asked. It’s unfortunate for the Norwegian who had just signed a 3 year full time contract with the club.

The first loss was being knocked out by Wolves in the FA Cup. Wolves have been brilliant this season and really punched above their weight but this result was still seen as a disappointment for the club who wanted to go further.

Then came the loss against Arsenal, this time 2-0 and a reality check that United still have a long way to go. Although to be fair to the Gunners they have become incredibly tough to beat at the Emirates and have lost only one game their. Still it was at that ground that United had visited a few weeks previously and knocked them out of the FA Cup.

A routine win against Watford followed when United returned home to more familiar territory. But the stench of defeat reared its ugly head again this week when United lost again to Wolves in the league, and by the same score line of 2-1.

The result has left some question marks over United and if they will have enough to finish in the top 4. The suggestion is that they will just miss out. And as harsh as the media can be there will be some growing pressure on Solskjaer- was he really the right man to lead the club full time?

For now we have to believe he is and it will be fascinating to see who he brings into the club in the summer. His philosophy and man management seem spot on and he needs time without pressure to get the right results over the long term, but will he be given it, that’s another question.

Can Manchester City win the quadruple?

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After victory over Cardiff City last night which took Manchester City back to the top of the Premier League, a question must be asked, can they win the quadruple?

City have of course already won the league cup in England, not only are they in 1st place in the league but they are also in the semi finals of the FA Cup. They have also qualified for the Champions League quarter final stage. Everything does look set up for Pep Guardiola’s men although there are some very important matches still to come and very tough weeks ahead.

Of course 20 years ago it was the other half of Manchester that was sweeping up trophies as Manchester United won the treble of the Champions League, The League title and the FA Cup. But their rivals City could go one better this season.

Guardiola has already won the quadruple with Barcelona in 2009, in fact he ended up winning six trophies that year as the team won the super cup and then went on to win the FIFA World Club Cup. But how realistic is it that City could win it?

In the league City are locked in a fierce battle with Liverpool to win it. Though City are a point ahead Liverpool could go back on top on Friday night. Although City hold the slight advantage as they have a game in hand, that extra game is away to Manchester United their biggest rivals, so 3 points are not certain. That fight looks like it will go down to the wire.

In the FA Cup City will face Brighton in the semi finals and they will be big favourites to get through to the final where they will either play Wolves or Watford. On paper you would say City will win, but let’s not forget how well Wolves and Watford have done in the league this season and they have become the best of the rest with some impressive results and remain a threat.

Finally in the Champions League City have got to the last eight where they will face Tottenham. This all English match should be a fantastic spectacle and even though City will be favourites to advance to the semi finals we must remember that Tottenham have been strong in this competition this season and have their brand new stadium to boot.

If City can get past Tottenham they would face either Ajax or Juventus in the semi finals, with the possibility of playing Liverpool or Barcelona in a final if form went the way it could. How ironic for Guardiola if he was to have the chance to win a quadruple to face his former side Barcelona in a final.

City may fall short but they have given themselves a fantastic chance to make some history this season.

Wolves 2-1 Manchester United: Back to back defeats for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men

Wolves

Manchester United had a really good chance to stamp a marker of being the favourites to win their first silverware in the FA Cup under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Though, the quarter-final fixture was not straightforward with it being a difficult one against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves away from home, a side that have picked up a number of results against the Premier League’s top-six so far this season.

Overall, United started on a positive note and dominated possession for majority of the match, but failed to breakdown the opposition’s defence and did not test goalkeeper John Ruddy until the final moments of the game. Meanwhile, Wolves were defended in numbers and created the bigger chances and were ruthless on the counter, with the goals coming from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.

Here are the three things we learnt from United’s latest match…

Squad has been burned out from top to bottom

With Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku unavailable due to current injury problems, whilst the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic have been rushed back into the starting line-up, it is not a surprise that the team have struggled to get going following the monumental Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. The side have been lacking the quality from the bench to help them effect and turn the game around, leading to back-to-back defeats.

On top of that, Solskjaer himself has not got the ideal options available for him to use in the squad as a whole and the blame should definitely be referred back to the board and Ed Woodward. When looking at the current team and the fact that only Diogo Dalot, Fred and Lee Grant came into the club in the previous summer transfer window, it can easily be stated that the new arrivals was simply not enough to allow Jose Mourinho or Solskjaer to guide the side to a successful season.

The problems in the final third have started once again

At this moment of time, the problems in the final third have returned to what it once was in the final months of Mourinho’s time at the club, where the front three fail to provide enough creativity and movement on and off the ball. There was one stage in the match last night at Molineux Stadium, where it had seemed like Martial and Rashford were nowhere to be seen in the opposition’s half.

For sure, if Lukaku was fit and in good condition to play, the side would have played more down the flanks and would have sent constant crosses into the box for the Belgian international to pounce on. However, with his much needed presence missing, the back-three/five of Wolves were able to isolate United’s attackers and left the midfielders with no choices but to play backwards or sideways.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got outdone by Nuno Espirito Santo  

Since his arrival as Manchester United’s interim coach from the middle of December, this has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game where he has tactically been dominated and outdone by the opposition. In his favour, Wolves have actually eased down in the league over the last couple of weeks and have quietly been preparing for this match through less training and more resting.

On the other hand, the signs of a goal coming were there in the early moments of the second half, with the hosts becoming more comfortable in possession and attacking with intent along whilst both Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves enjoying a lot of space and time on the ball. Had Solskjaer and Mike Phelan spotted this and looked to match up with Wolves’ setup, the game could have potentially been more balanced and the side would have had more control to the match.

Ownership: Wolves believe they are the best of the rest in the Premier League

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As the Premier League reaches week 31 all eyes are on the battle between Manchester City and Liverpool as just one point separates the two teams for the league title. Then there is the chase for the top 4, with just three points the difference between three teams. There is a lot to play for. And then we have 7th place and Wolverhampton Wanderers. and this is the club we will focus on this week.

Wolves have really punched above their weight this season with some excellent results and once we take out the top 6 ‘elite’ teams we seem to have another league within a league. And if we believe that then we can see that Wolves are leading it- and not many pundits or fans could have predicted that at the beginning of the season.

What has made Wolves progress this season even more remarkable is that they are newly promoted from the Championship and this is their first season in the top flight since 2012.

A lot of the praise has gone to the owners who recruited the Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo. The 45 year old guided the team to first place in the Championship but he hasn’t stopped there. With the help of chairman Jeff Shi Wolves are breaking all expectations and there is a feeling that England could well get 7th place as a Europa League qualifying as long as one of the big teams can win the FA Cup.

Shi and Santo realised quickly that the club would need to completely reshape after promotion to arguably the most competitive league in the world, certainly Europe and brought in 20 players to the squad even though they had done so well in the Championship the need to do better was recognised and adopted.

Santo also used his connections to being in loans, which has paid dividends. One such player who has come in and lit the place up is Raul Jimenez who was brought in from Benfica.  Nine players were sold on, with most being for undisclosed fees and to lighten the squad up another 30 players were loaned out, Wolves potentially had the biggest overall squad in the league and it was clear that Santo needed to work with a group that he believed could achieve what he set out to do in the Premier League.

There have been some inspired buys from the club. Notably Diogo Jota who first arrived in the Championship on loan from Atletico Madrid, he was bought for proper last summer and he has scored 23 times for the club in under two seasons. Joao Moutinho has been able to shore up defence and comes with bags of experience and Rui Patrico a club legend at Sporting in Portugal has guarded between the sticks as clubs regular goalkeeper.

The result has been quite incredible as the team have won 12 games this season and at home they have lost just 35% of their games claiming 24 points from 45. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Wolves, but it was never going to be. But if the club can finish in 7th place it would be a fantastic achievement for a club that many thought might finish 10 places below that at the beginning of the season.

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The rise of the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six

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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…

Abdoulaye Doucoure

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.

Andre Gomes

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.

 

 

James Ward-Prowse

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.

Ruben Neves

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.

EPL Player of the Week – Diogo Jota (Wolves)

jotaIt is not really creating any headlines to say that Premier League new boys Wolverhampton Wanderers have impressed many a neutral this season. The club have been in the Premier League before, of course, and have experienced football as low as League One in the intervening years, but this time they have played their top flight football at a level which seems assured to keep them among England’s elite for the forseeable future. While things can change in the blink of an eye, of course, Wolves have some real quality among their ranks – chief among them is this week’s EPL Player of the Week, Diogo Jota.

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The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

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

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

EPL Best XI – Week 29

pereiraThis 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!

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