We have officially waved goodbye to 2015, and what a year it was… for some people anyway
but it’s now time to focus on 2016, starting with the all-important January transfer window that opens for business TODAY, which has the potential to dramatically change the dynamic at both the bottom and top of the EPL table. So before getting into this weekend’s action, let’s take a quick look at what each club is likely on the prowl for…
Beginning at the top of the table and moving on down to the tired, poor, huddled Aston Villas as the bottom, here is a very brief look at what should be at the top of each club’s “want” list:
Arsenal – DM
Leicester – HOLD ONTO WHAT IT’S GOT
City – CB
Tottenham – F
Palace – F
United – F
Liverpool – GK
West Ham – Winger
Watford – Winger
Stoke – DM
Everton – MF
Southampton – F
West Brom – LB
Chelsea – F
Norwich – Winger
Bournemouth – F
Swansea – F
Newcastle – LB
Sunderland – CB
Aston Villa – EVERYTHING
The moves that will inevitably attract the most attention will be those made by the top 5-6 clubs, highlighted by the likes of Arsenal (which lost a handful of its mini midfield minions to various injuries)
and United, where LVG is under serious pressure after spending a billion dollars this summer to spruce up a club that still can’t score for shit.
For my money though, Leicester will be the most interesting club to watch. Will it sell high, stand pat or possibly even mortgage the farm and make an acquisition or two? Manager Claudio Ranieri is playing his cards close to his chest at the moment, though legitimate arguments could be made for any of the above options.
I could spend hours writing about all the various murmurings about which club is kicking the tires on what players, but transfer rumors are notoriously fickle so might as well wait to actually hear who is going where before spending much time trying to break down the winners and losers. Instead, let’s go make some money this weekend…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
A quick reminder of what happened last matchday:
– Three different 0-0 draws, including two in featured games (United/Chelsea and Leicester/City), plus a 1-0 yawnfest in which Liverpool prevailed over hapless Sunderland… I think it is fair to say that the EPL’s offensive quality – perhaps attributable to manager’s universal acquiescence to single-striker systems – is at its lowest point in years.
– Gutty win for Tottenham with a big assist to Watford’s Nathan Ake, whose red card (on a ridiculously stupid challenge) gave Spurs a man-advantage for 30 minutes to find a winner… an opportunity that – for once — they didn’t squander.
– Everton and Stoke played one of the best games of the season, with a questionable penalty call in extra time handing the visitors all three points.
We are now halfway through the season, and traditionally the clubs in the top four positions at this point tend to hold on to them for the rest of the season. I’m not so sure that’s going to be the case this season, with one and possibly even two clubs have a legitimate chance of falling out (Leicester due to injuries/transfers and Spurs due to being Spurs), though things will become a lot clearer by the time the January transfer window closes. For the moment, this is how things stand:
As for the games coming up this weekend, here’s what we got…
PICKS OF THE WEEK
This is likely the game of the weekend (barely nipping Spurs/Everton) and I can’t help thinking that the bookies are basically daring us to take Watford. City is without Vincent Kompany again leaving a huge hole the center of defense, while Sergio Aguero simply has not looked fit since coming back from injury last week. Watford, on the other hand, is totally healthy and (save for Ake’s suspension) will be playing at full strength. It feels like any time I start to doubt City they come back to bite me in the ass, but the odds on the home team are just too tasty to pass up. If we’re being honest, I’ll probably sprinkle a little something on the draw, but no guts no glory so my official pick is Watford to win 2-1 in a too-good-to-pass-up value pick.
Everton is a bit hard to pin down at the moment as the club has shown flashes of the form that could have them battling for a Europa spot, but these have obviously been too few and far between considering the Toffees are still sitting in the bottom half of the table. For their part, Tottenham just keep chugging along, making sure never to lose though too often ending up settling for just a share of the points. Everton has scored the third most goals in the EPL this season whereas Spurs have allowed the fewest of any club, meaning something has got to give. My guess is the home side does find a way through but ends up getting exposed itself while doing so. I’m going with an entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying (for either club) 2-2 draw.
• Early bird special! Liverpool (+100) visits West Ham (+300) at 6:45am CT on Saturday morning in a game many of you will probably sleep through, and those of you who don’t may end up wishing you had. The Hammers have been bitten by the injury bug while the Reds’ offensive woes – overshadowed to a certain extent by United’s even greater failings – are going to be a real hindrance in their question for a top four finish. (It’s gotten so bad there’s even talk of bringing Mario Balotelli back from Italy… and I’m not even kidding.) At full strength, and especially with Dimitri Payet, I might stump for West Ham in this one, but Liverpool has “chosen” a good time to visit Upton Park as the Hammers are missing a handful of important puzzle pieces. As it is, this one has all the markings of another yawner, which my crystal ball is suggesting will finish as a 1-1 draw [+245].
• Chelsea [+110] has been awful this year and there is simply no sugar-coating that, however, it must also be said that they’ve experienced a lot of bad luck as well. This weekend the Blues received some good fortune as Crystal Palace [+270] is absolutely decimated by injuries (Bolasie, Wickham, Gayle, Sako) and a suspension to talisman Yohan Cabaye. If both clubs were at full strength I would suggest you liquidate your 401(k) and dump it on the Eagles, but as it is there is no way their B-squad is going to be able to hang with the visitors. Chelsea to win 2-0.
• Southampton showed some spine for the first time all season on Boxing Day when they laid an inexplicable beatdown on Arsenal, then followed it up with a disappointing effort in losing 1-2 to West Ham. The Saints has been pretty awful on the road this year and will be missing Graziano Pelle to a knee injury, but Sadio Mane and Shane Long possess the kind of speed that Norwich’s leaky defense has had difficulty with all season. I’m going Southampton to win 2-1.
REST OF EUROPE
La Liga: 6th place Deportivo La Coruna have gotten hot lately and welcome 4th place Villarreal on Sunday (11:15am CT) in what should be a great game… unfortunately I don’t believe beIN Sports will be showing it, though perhaps it will be available on their online offering?
[Note: the Bundesliga and Serie A are taking the weekend off because they are lazy.]
So there you have it: the best weekly soccer preview that Barstool will ever publish today. The funky holiday schedule is almost behind us so we can settle back into the normal routine of weekend games and (eventually) Champions League midweek action, and needless to say I’m looking forward to that. FA Cup action coming at you next weekend (highlighted by Spurs hosting Leicester) but don’t miss me too much in the meantime.
Sam U.L. Army