Sports from the Basement

Woah, there are some pretty good EPL games this weekend

When I checked out the fixture list Tuesday morning, I was admittedly unimpressed by the midweek matchups. To the surprise of the league, the perennially disappointing team that is Everton not only made the only possible matchup that could be entertaining, quite entertaining, but they also gave every other big clubs a great chance at gaining points on Arsenal. On Wednesday, that’s exactly what happened. The eight other teams in the top of half of the table + Everton all gained at least a point on the Gunners. Even rounds with lackluster matchups can be worthwhile.

Round 17 of the Premier League is a little different. I think there are more than a few watchable six point games this weekend with the obvious headliners being Arsenal at the Ethiad on Sunday and the Merseyside derby on Monday. Here are my thoughts.

Manchester United at West Brom Albion Saturday 12:30

I’ve been watching the Premier League for a long time. I can say with 100% confidence that I have never been excited to watch a West Brom game. If, for whatever reason, West Brom is one of the teams being aired in the United States, I’ll let out an audible cuss before turning off the TV and doing literally anything else. I picked West Brom to be relegated this year. I was wrong. I apologize.

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In the theme of 2016 events not making much sense, United at West Brom is somehow a matchup between teams 6th and 7th in the table despite United’s summer spending spree. Form is relative and Tony Pulis’ side must be thrilled to be sitting in the top half of the table. West Brom crushed Bob Bradley’s Swansea midweek thanks to a 15 minute hat trick from Rondon. On the flip side, United is unbeaten in their last seven league games but have only managed three wins in that span.

Much like the Van Gaal era and the Moyes era before that, I view Mourinho’s time in charge thus far as a train wreck and I’m certainly not one to look away. I can’t buy into a team that needed a handball pass to an offside player to put in a goal against a struggling Palace side. Further, injuries are accumulating for United, particularly in the back line. West Brom is unbeaten in their last three games at home, scoring ten goals in that span. I think they’ll take at least a point from United.

Arsenal at Manchester City Sunday Sunday 11:00

The marquee matchup of the weekend features two managers who need to make a statement to the rest of the league (and their fans). Just when everyone was on the Arsenal train, myself included, it derailed in typical Arsenal fashion. Arsenal’s loss to Everton tells me the Arsenal team of this year is no different than any of the last five years. They’re good enough to hang around in the title conversation, but never will be the team that everyone else is chasing. A good gauge of a champion is the ability to win hard fought games away from home. Arsenal Have yet to do that this season. Missing this opportunity would only further prove my point.

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City are coming off a dominant win against Watford, but will still be without Sergio Aguero up front. Pep’s deficiency in attacking without Aguero was not obvious against a Watford side who has now conceded as many goals as bottom of the table Sunderland. City will also be without Ilkay Gungogan for an extended period of time in addition to not having Fernandinho through suspension. Using the same 4-1-4-1 used against Watford would force nearly half the field into sub-optimal positioning. A 4-2-3-1 with Yaya and Fernando as the holding midfielders would make the most sense, but Pep likes to keep us guessing.

This is a game that Arsenal need more than City not just to put more than a point between them in the standings, but to prove they can show compete away from the Emirates. It’s not much of a surprise, but Mesut Ozil is the X factor for me in this game. Ozil is the beating heart of Arsenal and many of their good (and bad) results can be attributed directly to how well he plays. I think the Gunners bounce back from their loss at Everton and take all three points in this match.

Liverpool at Everton Monday 3:00

The Merseyside Derby is capable of producing both end to end drama (3-3, 2013) and being nothing more than a background game in a bar not worth paying attention to (0-0, 2015). Real quick, let’s take a snapshot of where both clubs are after this week. Everton are coming off a huge, come from behind win against Arsenal. Their win against Arsenal tied the number of wins against top four competition they’ve had in the previous two seasons combined. Liverpool  are coming off a dominant victory against a team whose coach conceded  that they’re likely the best competition they’ve played so far this season. This game is going to be good.

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The fact that this game comes the day after Arsenal at City should have a huge impact on how the match is played. Regardless of the outcome of the match on Sunday, either Liverpool will have a chance to put distance between fourth and possibly third place in the table or Everton will have a chance to close the gap on the top four. I expect a high intensity press from Liverpool, but Klopp would be wise to switch to a defensive style should they gain a lead; a strategy not employed against Bournemouth. Everton have struggled at times to get Lukaku involved and they need him to feast on Liverpool’s shaky defense. Balls over the top will force Liverpool defenders to make decisions when under pressure, something they really struggle with.

Let’s focus on the real story of this game, Mike Dean. Mike Dean has refereed exactly one Liverpool game in his entire career and hasn’t refereed an Everton game in over ten years. Mike Dean’s kids are Liverpool season ticket holders. Mike Dean is notoriously bad at making judgement calls in high pressure situations. Now obviously the FA thinks Mike Dean is up for this match, but there’s an old saying about referees. The best referees go unnoticed. Mike Dean is not going to go unnoticed on Monday and for that reason I think a Mike Dean call/non-call is going to have a big impact on this game.

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