EPL WEEK 17: REVIEW – WHAT WE LEARNED

EPL WEEK 17: REVIEW – WHAT WE LEARNED

English Premier League Review for Week 17 – What did we learn?

Another weekend in the books and we have found ourselves on the precipice of the Holiday schedule that will bring us a flurry of matches all in the span of about 9 days. It will be a crucial run of games for all teams in the league but especially so for those that have players due to compete in either AFCON or the Asia cup in January. Clubs like Tottenham will lose their starting midfield (Sarr and Bissouma) and primary goalscorer (Son) for the month and will be forced to find answers from players waiting to step up and take the spotlight (Richarlison?).

Let’s start this week with Spurs. Coming off a massive win over Newcastle at home, Spurs got a virtual layup on Friday in the form of Nottingham Forest. You’d be hard pressed to find a team in worse form than Forest at the current moment and Spurs made sure to take full advantage leaving with all 3 points and hope that they can find their footing once again after a disastrous November.

Perhaps more importantly, Richarlison picked up his 3rd goal in the past week showing he might be capable of being “The Guy” when Son leaves at the end of the month for the Asia cup. On the other hand, Yves Bissouma will be starting his absence from the squad a bit early thanks to the Red card he picked up meaning he will miss all of their remaining games prior to his departure for AFCON. With a trip to Brighton sandwiched between visits from surprisingly in-form Everton and Bournemouth, Ange Postecoglu will have plenty of opportunity to see how his midfield might fare in January with those absences in the squad and perhaps adjust transfer plans accordingly.

The race for first place continues to make more turns which seems like it will be the trend this season. Manchester City dropped points at home yet again, but conceding a 2 goal lead to meager Crystal Palace should set off ALL the alarm bells for Pep Guardiola. In 17 league matches so far, Manchester City have managed just 4 clean sheets. City fans have pointed towards the imminent (but maybe not so imminent?) return of Kevin de Bruyne as the catalyst for their annual charge in the 2nd half of the schedule, but as good as de Bruyne is – he isn’t going to solve the woes of their backline. I’m no expert but maybe it’s time to end the “Gvardiol as a Left Back” experiment, afterall you rarely spend 90m on a CB just to shift him outside.

Arsenal managed to take care of business against Brighton but was once again somewhat underwhelming at home for most of the match. It may sound overly critical to say that given they walked away with a 2 goal win and 7th clean sheet but look no further than Liverpool as to why poor performances in wins may be more telling than the scoreline. Liverpool have been far from their best in recent weeks but have been pulling out results nonetheless putting themselves on top of the table coming into the weekend. A visit from a miserable Manchester United side had everyone in the media recounting the 7-0 drubbing that happened in their last visit and postulating about what would happen should a similar result occur on Sunday.

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Well, as it so often happens, all of that hot air was wasted because Erik Ten Hag came into Anfield with a plan that would make Mourinho and Simeone blush. United conceded 34 shots and 70% possession but their plan worked. A frustrated Liverpool side with just 1 goal from a forward in their 5 games resorted to shots from far outside the box that often ended up blocked or deflected by a United player before getting secured by Onana. The heatmap from United on Sunday perfectly encapsulates how ever visiting manager not named Pep Guardiola should setup when they visit Anfield.

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What does this mean for the title race? Arsenal currently have the edge by a point but with their own trip to Anfield due this coming weekend, we could see yet another twist in the story. It’s much too soon to discard Manchester City altogether despite their lackluster defense but it certainly feels like a season where a new champion will be crowned. The winner of Sunday’s match in Liverpool will hold the advantage for the time being, but so far no one has looked like the infallible goliaths we are used to seeing run the league in recent seasons.

At this point you might be asking where the mention of Aston Villa might be in all this title chatter. The truth is pretty simple – they have a long way to go before being considered anything other than a long shot “Hail Mary” for title winners. Books currently have their odds at winning the title at +1200 compared to Manchester City at +125 and Liverpool/Arsenal sitting around +250. Ollie Watkins has been fantastic so far this season starting all 17 matches and contributing 9 goals and 6 assists (already a career high) to the cause. This represents a whopping 41% of their goals in that time which begs the question – can Ollie Watkins both stay healthy AND sustain this level of play for another 20 matches? I’m dubious that he can, which would put the ceiling on Villa’s season somewhere around “5th place challenger”.

The mid-table clubs failed to generate much buzz this weekend. Chelsea and West Ham took care of business at home against bottom of the table squads. Everton did notch yet another win firmly supplanting them as a mid table club that will avoid another close shave in the springtime relegation fight.

Sunday’s Luton Town vs Bournemouth match was shaping up to be a fun back-and-forth affair with valuable points for Luton Town on the line as they attempted to pull themselves out of the bottom 3. The match was suspended after another cardiac event from club captain Tom Lockyear. Fortunately, it has been since reported that Lockyear is stable and responsive and will hopefully have a full recovery but it’s too early to say whether he will return to play for Luton Town. With this being the second time in 6 months that Lockyear has had a cardiac event and with these events seemingly to be occurring more frequently in the sport, additional care and protections for the player should be implemented similar to what we’ve seen with concussions. Hopefully there will be more discussion on this topic to come within the top European leagues.

That wraps this week’s What We Learned. Our next edition will come following the completion of the busy holiday schedule that will see teams officially cross over into the second half of their league fixtures. Until then, enjoy the holidays and may your team close out 2023 with good health and points aplenty!

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