EPL Week 20 – A review of the action in English Soccer

EPL Week 20 – A review of the action in English Soccer

EPL Week 20 – Review at a little bit past the halfway point in the English Premier League

Are you not entertained? With the curtain set to fall on the busiest period of the Premier League season following today’s match between Brighton and West Ham (that will have little to no impact on the table as it currently stands), now is the time to take a step back and admire all that we have witnessed in the past few weeks. The popular saying “you can’t win the league in December but you can certainly lose it” feels more relevant this season than many others but that’s a testament to just how competitive the title chase is this season. The parity doesn’t just stop there either. The competition for European qualifications stretches the entire top half of the table and the relegation battle has heated up despite the declining temps this time of year. 

The festive period’s biggest victim this season appears to be the former league leaders Arsenal. They entered the holiday week in first place but have entered the new year clinging on to 4th place. To make matters worse, they are a mere point above cross town rivals Tottenham after much has been written about Spurs’ disastrous turn in their season’s fortune. Many had tabbed Arsenal as “the ones to beat” this season after Declan Rice bedded in early and their defense led the league in most statistical categories. 

We were not fooled as we wrote back in week 13 that the title chase would come down to Liverpool and City yet again and we certainly appear well on track for just that. Picking up just the one point in 3 matches across the holidays has brought about new scrutiny for Arteta . The most compelling arguments focus on the Gunners front line that has turned anemic in scoring goals with many fans clamoring for a new “20 goal striker” in January. Last I checked, those just don’t grow on trees in London and any rumored move for Ivan Toney appears to be baseless optimism unless Brentford’s (justified) asking price falls well below the current 100m pound mark. Until then, Saka, Martinelli and Jesus (when healthy) are going to need to find a vein of form else the Gunners risk slipping out of Champions League qualification altogether. 

Liverpool were quick to seize the opportunity snapping up 7 points in the same period putting them atop the table coming into 2024. The complete turnaround for Klopp’s team from last year has been remarkable as the complete teardown and rebuild of their midfield over the summer has come through with more success than even the most optimistic supporter could have imagined. The benefits have been clear: Liverpool now boast the slowest goals conceded tally in the league with Virgil Van Dijk looking his best in recent seasons now that he has more protection in front of him in the form of Endo, Mac Allister and Szoboszlai. Curtis Jones has also taken another step in his development and has emerged as not just a rotation piece in the midfield but a potential mainstay even with everyone available. Better yet for the Reds: Thiago is close to making his return from injury that has kept him out of the squad for the entirety of the season so far.

If there is a fly in Liverpool’s ointment, it would be that the three time reigning champion Manchester City is merely 5 points back with a game in hand despite missing Kevin de Bruyne for most of the season and Erling Halaand being sidelined for the past month with a foot injury. With de Bruyne almost certainly going to be ready for their next league match at Newcastle and Haaland likely returning not long after, it’s looking like City are getting ready for yet another strong 2nd half surge that has been staples in the previous Title winning campaigns. The defense still remains a very large question mark but the talent and ability is there. It’s just a matter of Pep unlocking the right setup between Ake, Dias and Gvardiol behind Rodri before they eventually get their act together. 

Aston Villa narrowly avoided disaster by salvaging a win against 10 man Burnley in very unconvincing fashion. Combine that with the draw to last place Sheffield United and the loss and 3 goals conceded to offensively challenged Manchester United and the cracks in Villa’s side are really starting to show. It feels like their season is at a bit of an inflection point with a strong response needed following the Cup break else they risk a quick slide down the table of their own. 

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Tottenham has bounced back from their tumultuous November which says a lot about the progress Ange Postecoglu has made in his short time in London. There is every reason that Spurs could be sitting in 8th with Champions League hopes all but dashed. Yet they have fought back time and time again and are now well positioned to continue their push to return to Europe’s biggest stage. Richarlison having scored 5 goals in 5 games might be the most important development for Spurs in the past few months and could be massive for their hopes of staying afloat with Son leaving the squad for the next month to play in the Asia Cup. 

The remaining European contenders are all clustered tightly together. West Ham, Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester United, Chelsea and Wolves (yes Wolves!) are all within 5 points of each other. Newcastle have taken 2 massive steps backwards in recent weeks and are unrecognizable from the side that had joint fewest losses in the league last year with Manchester City. In fact, they lost as many matches in December (5) as they did all of last season! Eddie Howe will be happy that the transfer window is back open again as his squad has struggled against even the clubs at the far bottom of the table.

West Ham have a chance to join Wolverhampton as the only clubs to get a perfect 9 points from the Holiday fixtures if they managed to beat Brighton. The Hammers have been miserable defensively all season long but have rattled off 3 consecutive clean sheets in the league (with a 5-1 cup loss to Liverpool thrown in for good measure ). If Moyes can keep his team’s defensive form up for the 2nd half of the season, you would have to put West Ham as favorites to secure one of the Europa qualification spots. 

Manchester United and Chelsea have remained inconsistent and unable to string together wins which has plagued them all season long. It’s hard to say which of the two clubs stands to kick on the best in the new year. On the one hand, Chelsea are starting to get healthy and Nkunku could provide that consistent goal scoring threat going forward that they have greatly missed. On the other hand, United have new minority owners that will be running the team moving forward with the hope that the proper gutting of the squad that has been long overdue might just be over the horizon. At this point, the remaining games this season are just means to measure the performance of players and perhaps even managers prior to a much anticipated blank slate next season. 

We’ll wrap with a quick assessment of where the relegation battle sits today. There hasn’t been much development here week to week as the newcomers to the league have nestled safely at the bottom and looked little threat to the other clubs from sticking around for year 2. However, Luton Town might just be starting to find their footing in the top flight. They snagged 2 wins in their first 2 matches over the Holidays and fell just short of pulling off a 3 goal comeback to snag another point against Chelsea on Saturday. Premier League veterans Andros Townsend and Ross Barkley have provided the leadership necessary for a proper relegation fight and Elijah Adebayo has scored 3 goals in his last 5 matches providing the offensive spark needed to turn draws into wins. 

The clubs most threatened by a surging Luton Town would be Everton and most surprising – 

Brentford. Everton fell back to Earth with a heavy thud losing all of their matches over the last week and a half. Prior to this, we had actually tabbed them as potentially top half of the table finishers given their 52 point pace but between their losing streak and difficulty of fixtures coming up, perhaps it’s just best for them to focus on surviving the relegation scrap at the bottom. 

The only team in worse form at the moment would have to be the Brentford Bees. Losers of 5 in a row and 7 of their last 8, Thomas Frank’s squad has never looked more out of their depth. They will get star striker Ivan Toney back at the end of January after serving his suspension for gambling but any hopes of achieving something this season besides another season in the Premiership are likely out the window thanks to a miserable December. 

So now we shift gears into the next stage of the season. We have survived the roller coaster ride of the congested December schedule and now we enter the “can {insert club} survive without {insert player leaving for AFCON or Asia Cup}” phase. Salah, Son, Bissouma, Kudus, Onana, Gueye and Nicolas Jackson are just a few of the names that will be leaving the clubs this month and will certainly add another delicious layer of drama onto this already incredible season in the English Premier League. 

This is an Article Written by Kicks & Picks

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