Weekend Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 22

Another weekend of important matches is nearly upon us in the Premier League. This slate of games has potential to shake up the table quite a bit. The marquee matchup of the weekend is between a red hot Tottenham Hotspur side and desperate Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City. Manchester United faces a test to stay relevant. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all face manageable games, which they must take advantage of.

 

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Man City Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been heavily criticized in recent days. He will need to be stellar in between the sticks on Sunday against Tottenham.

The difference in current form between the two sides could not be larger. Tottenham are winners of seven straight in the league dating back to last month. They are also enjoying second spot in the table on goal differential over Liverpool. As for City, they have lost two of their last three including an embarrassing performance last weekend at Everton. City’s slim title hopes and fading Champions League aspirations are on the line this weekend.

The key player in this match will be City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo was brought in from Barcelona to replaced the out of favor Joe Hart. His play has been heavily scrutinized as he owns the worst save percentage in the league this year. Tottenham is playing too well to not get their chances, but can Bravo make enough saves to keep City in it? Man City’s attack has also stalled recently and must get back on track. Although it won’t be easy against league-best defense. Can City break through? Maybe, but it won’t be enough for three points at home.

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

 

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to get on the score sheet against Stoke City.

 

The Red Devils travel to Stoke this weekend in what is always a tricky match to get three points from. Stoke have long prided themselves on tripping up title contenders late in the season and derailing their hopes. If Mourinho wants to keep any chance of a title this year, United must get three points from this match.

One thing to watch for will be who controls the aerial game. This match features the top two aerial sides in the Prem according to WhoScored.com. It is not hard to see why, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stoke’s 6’7 striker Peter Crouch featuring in the game. In the end, it will come down to what it always has this season for United, finishing chances. Mourinho’s men will dominate possession, but can they score enough?

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 2

 

 

 

Chelsea vs Hull City

 

Chelsea will reportedly welcome back star striker Diego Costa to the lineup.

 

The Blues have built a seven point lead for themselves already in their first year under the guidance of Antonio Conte. They managed to win last week despite the absence of Diego Costa and the drama surrounding his situation. Costa will reportedly be back on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this weekend against Hull City. The Blues will be heavy favorites to continue to build on their impressive point total.

Unfortunately for Hull, a David and Goliath story doesn’t seem to be in the cards this weekend. The Tigers have only taken four points away from home all season and Chelsea have taken 29 of a possible 33 at Stamford Bridge. Look for Chelsea’s attacking trident of Costa, Eden Hazard, and Willian/Pedro to feast on one of the worst defenses in the league. Unless Conte’s men show up horribly under-prepared, I would expect no problems for the hosts here.

Chelsea 4 Hull City 0

 

Other Matches: 

Arsenal 2 Burnley 0: Burnley is worst in the league away from home, and Arsenal don’t seem in the mood to drop points at the Emirates.

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1: League-worst Swans are badly undermanned defensively to deal with Liverpool’s attack.

Middlesborough 0 West Ham 0: Two stingy, conservative defenses play to a stale mate with no Dimitri Payet to guide the Hammers.

Bournemouth 1 Watford 1: Interesting match up, thinking Watford sneaks one in here to salvage an away point.

Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2: Everton look good were very impressive last week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lay an egg here.

West Brom 1 Sunderland 0: West Brom are very sound defensively and aren’t in eighth for no reason.

Southampton 1 Leicester 1: Maybe a bit optimistic for Foxes to get an away point sans Mahrez and Slimani.

 

One Signing Each Premier League Contender Should Make in January

 

We are just past the halfway point in this Premier League season. As it stands, six teams are within ten points of the top. January is the final chance for these sides to polish their team as the final dash for the title is in sight.

Chelsea: Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko could help stabilize Chelsea’s midfield.

The Blues have been tearing through the league this season. New manager Antonio Conte has instilled his 3-4-3 formation into the side and Chelsea has rocketed to the top of the league. The brilliant play of summer signing N’Golo Kante has been a large reason behind Chelsea’s turnaround season. The ability to win the ball in the midfield has allowed the Blues to feed their very talented attacking players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have each enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

If a side is going to run the 3-4-3 effectively, they need excellent defensive midfield play to make up for the one less defender at the back. While Kante and Nemanja Matic have done well thus far, Chelsea is still thin at the position. Bakayoko is just 22 years old and is enjoying a breakout season for Monaco. His dribbling ability through the middle would allow Hazard and Willian to play more wide. From there they can whip in crosses to Costa, one of the best in the air in all of England. Bakayoko’s youth is enticing as Matic is 28 and has been inconsistent at times this season. Although his playing time could be limited initially, Bakayoko will undoubtedly be a big part of the future at Stamford Bridge if Conte is able to acquire his services.

Liverpool: Quincy Promes, Spartak Moscow

Liverpool target Quincy Promes has helped Spartak Moscow to the top of the Russian Premier League

In Jurgen Klopp’s second season at Anfield, Liverpool have arisen as serious title contenders at this point in the season. Their plethora of attacking players, including Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino have been very efficient in the attacking third.

However, Klopp will be without Mane for a large part of the next month. The Senegal international will be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament comes at a critical time in Liverpool’s season with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on there horizon. Promes has had a great season at Spartak. He has netted six goals and also has six assists in the Russian Premier League as Spartak have surprised by leading at this point in the season. It may be tough to coax Promes from Spartak, but Klopp should try. Promes will give Liverpool some width while Mane is away. He can play opposite Mane, which will benefit the Reds when Mane returns from international duty.

Tottenham: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would bring creativity on the wing to White Hart Lane

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has put Spurs squarely in the title conversation. Tottenham sit third in the table at the turn of the calendar year. Young players have stepped up this season, including 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli. Spurs are fighting off Real Madrid for his services.

However, Spurs could use an outside threat to compliment their plethora of middle attacking players. Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen have combined to score 25 goals in the league this season. All of those players are under the age of 25. 24-year-old Zaha could add to this “young core” that Pochettino has built at White Hart Lane. Zaha, who plays on the left wing at Crystal Palace, would compliment Kane, Eriksen, and Alli in the middle. Zaha is extremely skilled with the ball at his feet and has a tremendous ability to get crosses in from tough angles. Erik Lamela has been underwhelming again this season and Zaha could fill the void for Spurs.

Manchester City: Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich

Holger Badstuber’s experience at the back could prove invaluable for Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s highly anticipated first year at the Etihad has been up and down. A victory against Barcelona in the Champions League showed City’s potential under Pep. However, they have been very inconsistent at times domestically. Their inconsistency, especially at the back, is the primary reason why they find themselves seven points adrift at this juncture.

Man City payed quite a bit to sign promising young English center back John Stones from Everton over the summer. Stones, while very talented and promising, is still raw. There has been more than one occasion where he has looked lost this season. Captain Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have continued and it is difficult to rely on him for an extended period of time. Eliaquim Mangala consistently underperforms when given a chance in the starting XI. Badstuber is very experienced at just 27 years of age. He has 119 caps for Bayern and 31 for the German National Team. While a permanent deal is unlikely, Pep could explore a six-month loan deal for Badstuber. This would give City added security and depth at the center back for the remainder of the season while Stones continues to develop.

 

 

 

Arsenal: Ricardo Pereira, Porto (on loan at Nice)

Ricardo Pereira is a perfect solution to Arsenal’s right-back injury crisis.

Arsene Wenger is notorious for not making moves in the January transfer window, even when his team could really use them. Fifth place Arsenal have been by no means bad this season, but there is always room for improvement at the Emirates.

Promising young right back Hector Bellerin will be out for an extended period of time with an injury and his predecessor Mathieu Debuchy is rumored to be at odds with Wenger and on his way out of North London. This leaves the underwhelming Carl Jenkinson as the only right back on the Gunners’ roster. Ricardo, who is on loan at Ligue 1 leaders Nice from Porto has exploded this season. His 7.6 match rating on WhoScored.com has him placed in their Ligue XI team of the season. He provides sound defending and security at the back. Pereira is also a threat going forward, with a goal and three assists this season. He could be a perfect solution in the interim while Bellerin is injured. And his ability going forward could see him utilized as a wing-back or midfielder when the Spaniard returns.

Manchester United: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann would be an expensive, but worthwhile signing for Manchester United.

After a disastrous start to the season, Jose Mourinho has begun to right the ship at Old Trafford. Despite being ten points back of Chelsea, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Manchester United have played well throughout the season, but have failed to convert the many chances they create. 31 goals in the League is significantly less than the other five “contenders”.

Griezmann is widely considered one of the best players in the world and would not come cheap. However is precision in the final third is exactly what United need. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a pure striker who doesn’t create, and while Paul Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world, he is limited going forward to do the teams reliance on him from a defensive standpoint. Griezmann would fit right into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 as an attacking midfielder. He played this role brilliantly for France in this summer’s European Championships where he scored a tournament-high six goals. It also doesn’t hurt that Griezmann is close friends with fellow Frenchman Pogba. The two could do lots of damage if they play together under Mourinho.

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Messi Retires From His Unfamiliar Home: Argentina

Last night, after Argentina lost in the Copa America Final to Chile in penalties, Lionel Messi announced his retirement from the Argentina National Team. While just making a final with his national team would normally be a huge accomplishment, this is the third final in three years Argentina has lost in a major tournament. The last two being the World Cup in 2014 against Germany and last year in the Copa America against Chile.

While it could just be a reaction to losing his fourth final for Argentina, there is always the chance that it is something that he was thinking about going into the final. It could also be the effects of missing the first penalty for his country in the latest Copa America Final for Argentina. If it is permanent, there could be long lasting effects for Argentina, with another seven players who were involved in the tournament looking to leave as well.

Messi playing for Barcelona. From bleacherreport.com.

Messi is a player who has won every trophy possible for his club team. Barcelona FC in Spain, which totals 16 major trophies. He moved from Argentina to Barcelona at the age of 11 to play in their legendary youth academy. “La Masia”, and made his first-team debut at 17. Having won the Ballon de’Or five time (best player in the world for that year) he is considered by some to be the best player in the history of the decorated club, if not the greatest to ever play the game.

Maradona lifing the World Cup trophy in 1986. From sirfnews.com.

Messi is endlessly compared to Argentine legend Diego Maradona,which is a lot to live up to, because he won the 1986 World Cup. Maradona is a hero to the people of Argentina because he grew up playing soccer in the streets and played professionally in the country for ten years, something that Messi didn’t do and is criticized for at times.

Messi and Argentina is a puzzle due to the public feeling that he is more Catalan than he is Argentinean. No matter what he is able to accomplish as an athlete, there is a feeling he will never be a “real” Argentinian. This may be what lies at the heart of his decision to retire from international play.