• Joe Boulcott

Tuesday's Premier League fixtures previewed

With four matches to look forward to, Tuesday night's action will be crucial at the top and bottom of the Premier League, with Manchester City taking on West Brom and Steve Bruce looking to get Newcastle back to winning ways.

The end of an eventful FA Cup fourth round weekend brings the start of a midweek round of Premier League fixtures, with all 20 teams playing as they look to push on into the second half of the season.

The majority of teams have now played 19 games (with some still having games in hand due to fixture postponements) meaning that the season is officially at the point where the table starts to take a more structured form.

It might be a bit different this time around though, with the 2020/21 season proving to be one of the most unpredictable and chaotic in memory. The absence of fans adds to the feeling of uncertainty, with some clubs thriving and some not.

Whatever the second half of the season brings, it will be a big task for it to be as entertaining as the first half. The title race as well as the European race seems to be as competitive as ever, whilst the relegation scrap has the potential to be one with twists and turns, especially now Sam Allardyce is back in the league.

The first two games of the ‘second half’ see Crystal Palace host in-form West Ham and Leeds visit Steve Bruce’s struggling Newcastle on Tuesday evening. The Hammers were the only side in action in the FA Cup at the weekend, with a resounding 4-0 victory over Doncaster sending them through to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the fifth round.

David Moyes, it’s fair to say, has proved almost everyone wrong this season. They started the season as one of the favourites to get relegated, not helped by a lack of spending and a dismal 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle on the opening day. Since then, Moyes and his side have proved tricky customers for every opponent they have faced, only losing four games and with higher xG in two of those defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United (2.06 and 2.53 respectively).

The Eagles face a side who have won their last three league games and are comfortable at 7th in the table, just two points off 4th. Palace currently sit 13th in the league and seemingly have little to play for, being 11 points clear of the drop but also nine points off the Hammers in 7th. Murmurs of discontent have been emerging from the Palace fanbase amid the mediocre start to the season, but the exciting form of Eberechi Eze gives them something to be pleased about.

The dazzling solo goal at the start of January showed Eze’s talents for all to see, with QPR and Championship fans unsurprised by the quality he is showing in the top-flight. Perhaps with him and Zaha, Palace can play a bit more adventurously in future games. In their last six games, they haven’t reached an xG of 1.0, with their last figure amassing that amount coming in the reverse fixture at the London Stadium, with 1.09.

Further up north, Newcastle will be hosting Leeds in a game that has fast become a must-win for the Magpies. Steve Bruce’s side have not won in 11 games and have been knocked out of two cup competitions in that time. Pressure is mounting quickly on Bruce.

The side sit 16th in the league, seven points above Fulham in 18th, and have failed to score in all but one of their last eight game in all competitions. The struggles are summed up by an xG difference of -11.7, displaying their lack of attacking output and their struggles defensively as well.

Over in the other corner, Leeds are possibly the most difficult team to predict this season, sitting in 12th feels right given their chaotic start to the season. They have scored 30 goals, the most in the bottom half of the table, but have conceded 34 – only 19th placed West Brom have conceded more.

If xG was used instead of points, they would be 9th with an xPTS (expected points) of 26 - three more than what they are currently on - above the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton, but the defensive issues have largely caused them to fall down the table. However, under Marcelo Bielsa, anything is possible and the number of chances they create should for sure keep them up. Whether they can push for a top-half finish remains to be seen.

Later in the evening, Southampton host Arsenal in a repeat of Saturday’s FA Cup fixture that saw the Saints defeat the Gunners 1-0. The feeling of frustration surrounding some of Arsenal’s highest earners – Willian and Nicolas Pepe – continued after the FA Cup exit. Neither were able to take their chance in the starting line-up and will be dropped again for this game. They have no cause for complaint that they are behind the likes of youngsters Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka in the pecking order.

Mikel Arteta’s side sit one place and two points behind Southampton in the table, with the hosts sitting in 10th with mixed recent form, including the 1-0 win over Liverpool but also a 2-0 loss at Leicester last time out. This game is likely to be a tight contest again, with both sides playing defensively solid football yet they are both able to sparkle in attack.

The hosts have struggled in recent matches to create quality chances, not having higher than 0.8 xG since their 1-0 loss to Manchester City in mid-December. Perhaps this is a game that Theo Walcott could flourish in, with the former Arsenal man scoring in the reverse fixture and hoping to repeat the feat again on Tuesday.

Prior to the defeat at Southampton, Arsenal had won five of their last six in all competitions and were finally starting to show their quality in the league, with their expected goals in the four wins higher than 1.0 each time, including three of their highest xG tallies of the season so far. Emile Smith-Rowe coming into the side has injected some creative quality that hopefully won’t be stifled by the imminent arrival of Martin Odegaard on-loan from Real Madrid.

At the same time, Pep Guardiola will take his side to Sam Allardyce as West Brom host Manchester City. Allardyce taking on Guardiola is the truest clash of styles that the Premier League could produce, even if the defensive qualities of each manager seem to have switched in recent times. With John Stones back in the side and in the form of his life alongside Ruben Dias, Manchester City have only conceded two league goals in their last 10 games, with City winning nine of those games.

West Brom, on the other hand, have conceded 17 goals in the six league games that Sam Allardyce has taken charge of, with only one victory in that time. Allardyce has a big task on his hands if he is to retain the ‘never relegated from the Premier League’ tag, with the Baggies in 19th with 11 points, six off Brighton in 17th and with only two wins all season. They have shipped the most goals with 43 and only scored 15, leaving them with the worst goal different in the league.

The challenge against in-form Manchester City is obvious, with Guardiola’s side only two points off top and with a game-in-hand. City will be looking to go top for the time being ahead of the Red side of Manchester and they seemingly couldn’t ask for a much better chance than away at the Hawthorns.

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