Pulse Check: English Premier League (February 2021)

We made our predictions at the start of the season, let’s see how we’re tracking just past the halfway mark…

By Will Guthrie

At the start of the Premier League season, we created a ‘cheat sheet’ for anyone who might be new to the league. Aforementioned sheet contained a number of predictions regarding teams and players we thought it best to keep an eye on. We’re just past the halfway mark, with the business end of the season in sight, so we’re checking in to see how we’ve fared and whether or not we’ve completely let you down and should just give it up.

Top Four

Our Prediction: Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal

Currently: Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City, Liverpool

Ok, so we’re only half right here and there’s still time left for things to go our way as it’s tight at the top. It’s looking like it’s City’s title to lose though, their entire squad is fit and firing, and they’re back to their free scoring best, their recent 4-1 against Liverpool at Anfield is testament to that. Had Virgil Van Dijk not done an ACL early in the season, we’d be right on the money, however as things stand Liverpool are still trying to find their rhythm. The continued excellence of Leicester City has made us feel stupid, especially considering that Jamie Vardy missed crucial games with injury. Brendan Rodgers has them absolutely humming. As for United, well, we didn’t think that Bruno Fernandes would continue to paper over the cracks of a very ordinary defence. He’s carried a significant burden, however he’s also inspired others such as Luke Shaw to career-best form, so United might be set to stay in the top four, who knows?! Chelsea sacking Frank Lampard was something we probably should have seen given the amount they spent and Roman’s itchy trigger-finger. While Arsenal had a similar crisis for a while on the cards, they have recently found form again but with Chelsea still well in the mix for top 4, things look less promising for the Gunners.

Four Teams to Watch

Our Prediction: Tottenham, Everton, Leeds, Wolves

Currently: West Ham, Everton, Tottenham, Aston Villa/Leeds

We’re sitting back and smoking the pipe here – verrrrrrrry happy with ourselves. We predicted a potential Jose Mourinho meltdown and while it hasn’t been that bad, the Gareth Bale saga is becoming embarrassing for the club, as have recent crucial losses. Everton are nothing short of deadly when they’re firing; they’ve taken big scalps and are a team no one wants to play in the run in. Leeds have, for the most part, been box office, completely engrossing with their style of play whether things are going well for them or terribly – the 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Man United an example of when their attacking style of play comes back to haunt them. The one we missed is Wolves, they’ve had a poor season by their recent standards, however losing hitman Raul Jimenez to a sickening skull fracture early in the season has hurt them badly, as has record signing Fabio Silva failing to fire. Two teams who deserve a mention here are Villa and West Ham, both have put together fine seasons to date, taking it to the big boys and are well within touching distance of the top 4. They’ve been genuinely entertaining at times and hopefully continue their good run of form.

Players to Watch

Our Prediction: Gabriel Magalhaes, Kai Havertz, Takumi Minamino, Phil Foden
Currently: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Emile Smith-Rowe, Dominic Calvert-Lewin

This is one we’re feeling less smug about, although it should be noted we did question why only Chelsea seemed interested in Kai Havertz, who on current evidence would seem not quite capable of coping with the intensity of the Premier League consistently, half a point there for us. Phil Foden has been nothing short of mesmerising as of late, he is genuinely world class and the hype around him is proving to be warranted. Gabriel has been solid without spectacular for the Gunners; however, they seem to have found their own Foden-esque talent with exciting youngster Emile Smith-Rowe, who has shown himself to be another off the recent conveyor belt of potentially world conquering young English talent. As for Minamino, he struggled to break into the Liverpool line-up and was loaned to Southampton in January, where he has since scored twice in three games, jury’s still out there. As for Grealish, he was mentioned in our Cult Heroes section, however he deserves greater recognition. There was scepticism around Villa asking for £50 million for him, yet that is now seeming unders, he has been spectacular this season as they chase a place in Europe. In Calvert-Lewin, Everton have found an outlet to goal that is fittingly English, a lad who can get his head on the end of a cross and put it in the net, he is looking a very good chance to be called up to the England squad for the coming European Championships and is a big part of their push for a top 6 finish.

Cult Heroes

Our Prediction: Adama Traore, Jack Grealish, Allain Saint-Maximin, James Rodriguez

Currently: Bruno Fernandes, Ollie Watkins, Ruben Dias, James Rodriguez

Half marks here we think is fair, given that Grealish was named and Rodriguez has made all who didn’t think he was worth a free transfer look like clowns. James Rodriguez has been the man who makes the pass before the pass, finding people in spaces that lead to goal chances being created, his vision, skill and poise are sublime, he’s a joy to watch. As is Villa’s Ollie Watkins, who was a club record signing from Brentford and has shown he was worth every penny. So far, he averages a goal every two games and has scored some crucial ones in the Claret’s unlikely push for Europe. In Manchester, there are plenty of names vying for a mention, United’s latest cult hero is Bruno Fernandes and it’s not hard to see why. Since joining United a little over a year ago, he has 30 goals and 20 assists in 56 appearances, which is phenomenal. Fernandes is the main reason United even have a sniff of the title. Speaking of titles, the City defence has gotten it’s groove back and it’s largely down to Diaz and his stable influence at the back. He’s been a fantastic buy for City and has helped take Pep Guardiola’s side back to the top. As for our other predictions, Traore has been well down on his output without Jimenez in the side, failing to score this season, while the less said about Saint-Maximin and Newcastle in general, the better.

As you can see, we’ve done reasonably well, without quite nailing the predictions, if we were giving ourselves a mark (and we are), a solid B- is probably being generous, but we’ll take it. Tune in for our other Pulse Checks of the major leagues around Europe over the coming weeks!

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