EPL Match of the Week

This weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals have resulted in some shuffling in the Premier League fixture list, but there are still a number of cracking encounters to look forward to, and FOX Sports’ Edward Russell has the lowdown…

It’s a strange old fixture list for this weekend’s round of matches in the Premier League. Arsenal’s FA Cup fifth round replay win over Hull has now resulted in yet another postponed league game, meaning that there are now just about as many games taking place in the Cup as there are in the Premier League. Nevertheless, such is my journalistic duty that I shall endeavour to struggle on despite the adversity, and take a look at a couple of games that could have a profound effect on both ends of the table.

Leicester vs Newcastle

Just in case

With a number of top half teams otherwise engaged over the weekend, this game presents a perfect chance for the league leaders to run even further away from the chasing pack.

In stark contrast to the Foxes’ monumental rise to the top, their opponents Newcastle are in abject free-fall, having won only two league games since the start of the year. That form, or lack thereof, has left the Magpies second from bottom and facing, with increasing probability, a second relegation in under a decade.

Furthermore, out of all the Premier League managers whom, according to the media, are facing a weekly battle to save their jobs, Steve McClaren is the most likely to soon be seeking pastures new. In fact, the former England manager could even be missing from the dugout by the time Craig Pawson gets proceedings underway on Monday night, with a decision over McClaren’s future expected within the next 48 hours (at the time of writing.)

While on paper a win against a side languishing at the bottom of the league should seem a mere formality for Leicester, it could in fact prove to be a lot more difficult. There is no doubt that against the big clubs the Foxes have been flying, with clubs such as Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham all among their recent league victims. However, against sides in the bottom half of the table, positive results have been a lot harder to come by.

Two weeks ago Ranieri’s men were incredibly fortunate to take all three points from their game against Norwich – an 89th minute Leonardo Ulloa goal preventing the Canaries from coming away with a deserved point. Similarly, they have struggled against basement dwellers Aston Villa and Bournemouth in recent weeks, only managing a draw in both fixtures.

It’s a pattern that many commentators have attributed to Leicester’s style of play. Against more skilled sides, Leicester tend to find themselves starved of the ball for large swathes of the game. This allows them to absorb the pressure and remain patient, until the time inevitably comes when their opponents momentarily switch off, allowing the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to pounce with unerring precision. Against lower placed teams however, the Foxes tend to enjoy a lot more of the ball for prolonged periods, and perhaps it is down to how rarely they find themselves in that situation, but they often seem less threatening as a result.

Despite all that, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to bet against Leicester at the moment. Thus one would surely expect the the Foxes to clip the Magpies’ wings on Monday night, and compound the unlikelihood of them taking flight out of the relegation zone. Indeed, the only flight that Newcastle can now be almost certain of, is the second flight next season.

Aston Villa vs Tottenham

Just in case

Thankfully neither of these teams have any avian nicknames to speak of, because quite honestly I’m all punned out. Nevertheless both Aston Villa and Spurs do share very similar positions in the table to those in the above fixture.

Following their pulsating draw in the north London derby, Mauricio Pochettino bemoaned two points firmly lost, having seen his team in the ascendancy for most of the match. Regardless, the result sees Spurs stay very much in the title race, and one would feel only a couple of Leicester slip ups away from being crowned Champions.

While I hypothesised that Newcastle might offer some fight and stoicism against Leicester on Monday night, the same really can’t be said for an Aston Villa side that continue to be humiliated week after week. The bottom side in the league has conceded 15 goals in their past four league games, and it’s rather hard to foresee their leaky defence keeping a revitalised Harry Kane at bay. The England man had been going through a relative dry spell leading up to last Sunday’s match, but looked back to his best against Arsenal, scoring one and threatening throughout.

That being said, it will be a quick turn-around for Pochettino’s side, as they travelled to play Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday night, leaving them very little time to prepare for their trip to the Midlands on Sunday. The Premier League represents Spurs’ greatest chance of success this season, and with their current league position already all but assuring them Champions League football next year, it was no surprise that the Argentine fielded a weakened side against the German outfit,  with the Villa game earmarked as more of a priority.

With Dele Alli still finding his touch after returning from injury, and with Christian Eriksen also looking uncharacteristically subdued, this fixture could provide the perfect opportunity for out of form players to gain some much needed confidence as they near the home stretch.

Edward Russell
FOX Sports Presenter