A rare midweek Premier League schedule means a midweek £5,000 Pick 5. Chris Bland runs the rule over four of the midweek Premier League games and reckons that there could be more misery in store for Everton at Anfield.
Manchester United vs. Tottenham
Old Trafford hosts a heavyweight clash on Wednesday night, as Manchester United welcome a resurgent Tottenham. The signs are ominous for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side.
Pressure is building on the Norwegian manager following Sunday’s disappointing 2-2 draw against Aston Villa. Their defensive frailties were highlighted once again by Dean Smith’s side. Jack Grealish gave Andreas Pereira a torrid time for the opener and their lack of depth in midfield is particularly worrying heading into this encounter.
With Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and, potentially, Scott McTominay all sidlelined ahead of Spurs’ visit, Solksjaer may be forced to revert to a more resilient back three. Especially with Pereira and Fred not offering enough defensive support in central areas. This could be exploited by a Spurs side whose attackers appear to have found their spark again.
Jose Mourinho has immediately improved the tactical shape of Tottenham. Their newly organised midfield has helped to alleviate the defensive worries at full back which have plagued them this season. Deploying Vertonghen at left back has allowed Serge Aurier to provide an outlet on the right. He will be confident of targeting either Brandon Williams or Ashley Young down this flank. Particularly with Marcus Rashford’s defensive work questionable.
The balance of Eric Dier and Tanguy N’Dombele in midfield has helped add further cover, as has the energy of Moussa Sissoko.
Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son have also looked revitalised. Son created four chances whilst Alli netted twice and both are well suited to take on this United backline. Particularly with United expected to sit deep, alleviating the worries of pace in behind.
United do offer a counter-attacking threat and it is an area that they can threaten Spurs, especially with the high pressing full back and lack of pace on Vertonghen’s side. However, the lack of creativity in behind may hamper these chances and Solksjaer’s side will be happy with a draw.
Since Mourinho has returned to the managerial hotseat, Spurs have racked up an xG of 2.21 (v West Ham) and 2.93 (v Bournemouth). This increased attacking output, coupled with United’s leaky defence and struggling midfield, makes Spurs the appealing choice.
Southampton vs. Norwich
Southampton host Norwich looking to make it back to back wins following a much-needed victory over Watford on Saturday.
After going behind to Ismail Sarr’s goal, Southampton rallied in the second half. They dominated possession with the clinical Danny Ings and excellent set piece ability of James Ward-Prowse sending them to victory.
Norwich followed up an impressive win away at Everton with a draw against struggling Arsenal. Both games demonstrated their imperious counter attacking form. It would be no surprise to see Daniel Farke utilise this again, especially against a Southampton backline that has shown its susceptibility to being hit on the break. Their high line has been punished more than once this season.
Sarr’s opener highlighted the lack of pace in the Southampton defence. Teemu Pukki’s movement up top, coupled with the energetic Todd Cantwell and Onel Hernandez on the wings, means that Norwich will be well suited to capitalise on this again. The goals against Arsenal showcased their ability on the break. However an xG of only 0.81, and 15.28 across all their league games this season, highlights their creative struggles.
The return of Christoph Zimmermann at the back has helped ease some defensive concerns. However, the fast attacking play of Arsenal did highlight vulnerabilities and the wide players of Southampton will be well equipped to capitalise on Norwich’s defensive vulnerabilities.
Southampton showed a preference to attack wide against Watford. Cedric Soares in particular was utilised to whip crosses in. This is an area where Norwich have shown vulnerability this season. Often opting to defend narrow, it can leave the full backs 2 vs. 1, allowing plenty of crosses into the box and leading to them conceding a high volume of corners. Concerningly, Arsenal showed a strong threat from set pieces on Sunday
The form of Danny Ings is noteworthy, with seven goals this season. Southampton have seen their xG pick up in their last two encounters since Ralph Hasenhuttl’s tactical switch, rising to 2.60 (v Arsenal) and 1.97 (v Watford). The increased volume of chances created, coupled with Ings’ form, makes it a particularly worrying prospect for the Canaries. When everything is considered, Southampton look the stand out option.
Wolves vs. West Ham United
West Ham ended a barren run of eight games without victory by claiming a shock win at Stamford Bridge. It relieved some of the pressure on boss Manuel Pellegrini.
Aaron Cresswell took his winner well and the introduction of Michail Antonio to the West Ham line up, following his excellent cameo against Tottenham, helped cause problems to the Chelsea backline. Antonio’s aerial ability and hold up play stood out and allowed Sebastien Haller a much-needed rest. Managing an xG of 1.12 from only five shots, West Ham sat deep and rode their luck against a Chelsea side without top scorer Tammy Abraham. He was sorely missed for Frank Lampard’s side.
An xG of 2.73 for Chelsea highlighted the difference the striker makes and, as a result, West Ham’s defensive concerns cannot be overlooked as they head to the Midlands. Especially in a game where they will be expected to sit deep and counter once again.
The main attacking threat from Wolves comes through wingers Diogo Jota and Adama Traore out wide, coupled with their attacking wing backs. It’s worth noting that Chelsea were allowed to attempt 39 crosses as the full backs overloaded West Ham’s backline, particularly targeting the less defence-minded Pablo Fornals down the left. This could be a worrying avenue for West Ham on Wednesday night.
Wolves recovered from an early Lys Mousset goal to score, unsurprisingly, from a cross as Matt Doherty’s header gave them a share of the points. On a run of 9 league games games unbeaten, Nuno Esporito Santos’ side will be well suited to dealing with the threat of West Ham, particularly with Connor Coady up against Antonio centrally. The one concern that Wolves will have is being overrun centrally, as the midfield three of Sheffield United did for periods on Sunday, and Pellegrini will be hoping the energetic Mark Noble and Declan Rice can do a similar job.
Felipe Anderson was moved centrally to help alleviate the lack of creativity without Manuel Lanzini in the side and he could be asked to do a similar job come Wednesday night, with the Argentine still missing.
Despite the shock victory at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, the underlying statistics highlight the luck that West Ham had. In form Wolves will be fancying their chances once again. The form of Mexican striker Raul Jimenez is particularly concerning for Hammers fans up against their leaky backline and, with the susceptibility to wide play and the tricky Traore in Wolves rank, a home win appeals.
Liverpool vs. Everton
Everton travel to Anfield with the pressure mounting on boss Marco Silva after their stoppage time defeat to Leicester City, which has left the Toffees lying 17th in the league.
Liverpool will be without Alisson in goal, however Adrian has shown himself to be more than capable stepping up. Joel Matip remains out, as does Fabinho, and it was Jordan Henderson who capably stepped up to fill the gap vacated by the Brazilian.
Liverpool have shown a tendency to concede which was evidently the case once again against an open, attacking Brighton side who passed Klopp’s side off the park for periods of the game, finishing with 55% possession. Although Everton will look to sit back and soak up pressure before utilising the counter, much like they did against Leicester on Sunday, the xGa of Liverpool at 13.64 this season does suggest that they will get chances and the 3-4-3 employed has highlighted vulnerability in wide areas when countered and overloaded for Liverpool.
Goals conceded against Newcastle and Manchester United have shown a potential area in which Lucas Digne and Djbril Sidibe can capitalise. Richarlison’s aerial ability alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin could offer some level of threat from crosses.
However, Everton’s biggest issues are in central midfield. With the injuries mounting up and Tom Davies’ struggles on Sunday alongside the out-of-position Gylfi Sigurdsson, it is hard to see past Liverpool dominating these central areas. Fabian Delph and Andre Gomes are proving to be huge misses, whilst summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin has been a long term absentee.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will be relishing the opportunity to cause problems for Mason Holgate and Michael Keane, with Salah needing a return to form after a rusty performance against Brighton. With wing backs occupied by Liverpool’s advanced full backs, these match ups, coupled with the creativity offered by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum in behind, makes for a worrying thought for Toffee’s fans.
Liverpool’s xG this season highlights that they haven’t had issues creating at 27.38 and 32 goals scored, and although Everton are massively underperforming all the underlying statistics, it is hard to see past their struggles in central midfield.