Tactical analysis of the weekend’s games and Premier League predictions!
In his latest Premier League tactical analysis blog, Alex Keble offers ‘four things we learnt’ from the action, including how James Milner and Raheem Sterling have changed their clubs’ fortunes…
1) Liverpool look balanced with Milner in the side, but lack a cutting edge
Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth
It was an acquisition made with little fanfare, but the signing of James Milner could be the most astute this summer; his tireless energy and intelligent interplay are perfectly suited to Brendan Rodgers’ system, as exemplified in the 1-0 victory at Anfield.
Milner is arguably amongst the most underrated midfielders in Premier League history. His positional awareness is phenomenal, and on Monday night it was his ability to flit seamlessly between central midfielder and right midfielder – whilst see-sawing in sync with Jordan Henderson – that caused Liverpool’s high tempo fluidity in the early stages.
Philippe Coutinho flourished thanks to Milner’s endeavours, drifting into a number ten position despite operating as a right winger. This caused an overload in the centre of the park as Bournemouth – playing with only two central midfielders – failed to track the Brazilian’s movement.
Liverpool still lacked a cutting edge (mostly due to the absence of attackers running into the channels or searching for a through ball), but Milner’s partnership with Henderson was superb. A natural leader – and so versatile he affects the game as if he was two players and not one – the England international could become the fulcrum of this Liverpool team.
Liverpool’s next match: Arsenal (a) The Milner/Henderson combination will be vital at the Emirates, as Arsenal’s high pressing creates a congested centre of the pitch. Both teams should be organised; back the draw at 57/20Add to betslip.
2) LVG tactical tinkering creates another stilted display
Aston Villa 0-1 Man Utd
Manchester United’s two victories have looked somewhat fragile and tactically constricted, and clearly this team needs time to gel. But as the front-line shake-up at Villa Park indicated, a consistent team selection and formation will be needed to achieve this.
Despite admitting that Memphis Depay needs time to adjust to the number ten role, the Dutchman was shifted to the left wing on Friday evening with Adnan Januzaj starting behind Wayne Rooney. Januzaj was frequently outmuscled by Micah Richards and spent the majority of the match drifting aimlessly and failing to find space.
Similarly, Depay struggled to make a valuable impact, understandably finding it difficult to communicate with his new team-mates in a second role in as many weeks. Not fielding Ashley Young against Villa’s weakest defender Leandro Bacuna was a strange decision, and one that contributed towards United’s lacklustre attacking threat.
Interestingly, the goal came from a situation in which United’s forwards reverted to their best positions; Juan Mata made the pass from a number ten position and Januzaj collected the ball in the left wing role. The only other major chance – Depay’s one-on-one miss – saw Mata thread a through ball from a central position into Depay, who made the run of a centre forward.
If van Gaal wants this team to settle into a rhythm, he must not tinker with the formation so drastically, and instead allow partnerships to forge in each player’s most comfortable positions.
Man Utd’s next match: Newcastle have been guilty of leaving huge pockets of space between the defensive lines this season, and Depay – if played centrally again – could benefit. Back Man United to win and over 2.5 goals at 10/11Add to betslip.
3) Pardew makes formation error / Bolasie’s defensive work needs improvement
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal
The optimism reverberating around Selhurt Park prior to kick-off was understandable. Having built upon their highest ever Premier League finish with the capture of Yohanne Cabaye and a 3-1 victory on the opening day, Alan Pardew can be forgiven for approaching the game with too much confidence. His attacking 4-3-3 formation led them to a defeat that could have been avoided.
Within minutes of kick-off Yannick Bolasie’s defensive failings were exposed, as the Congolese winger failed to track back with speed or determination. It led to numerous Arsenal chances and, ultimately, the opening goal of the match.
Palace were frequently set-up with a back four shielded by three central midfielders, all shifting across to restrict the space but failing – understandably – to cover the wings. Pardew may have assumed that the threat in wide areas was limited; Arsenal are usually extremely narrow, a criticism levelled at them after the opening day defeat to West Ham. However, on Sunday Mesut Ozil consistently drifted to the left flank and helped overload this area of the pitch.
Bolasie was rarely providing defensive cover for his right-back, who had to deal with three Arsenal players.
The opening goal resulted from an Ozil cross that went unchallenged. Joel Ward was forced to close down Alexis Sanchez, leaving Ozil free on the outside to collect the ball and cross for Olivier Giroud; in a more cautious formation, Bolasie would have been covering to prevent this.
Crystal Palace’s next match: Aston Villa (h) More caution will be needed against Jordan Amavi and Scott Sinclair, but ultimately finding the balance between defence and attack should be simpler for Pardew. Back Palace to win at 5/6Add to betslip.
4) Raheem Sterling offers a new dimension – by creating space for David Silva
Man City 3-0 Chelsea
The £49 million acquisition of Sterling already looks successful. Last season, Man City’s attacks were predictable, jaded, and easily stunted by defences that focused upon limiting space for David Silva; with Sterling in the team, even Chelsea could not keep up with the ferocity of their attacks.
The England winger may have seemed muted, but the fear his presence induces both stretches the opposition back line and draws attention away from Silva. City could be seen frequently sweeping passes out to the left touchline, spreading the pitch and forcing Chelsea’s defenders to scurry across. Once stretched, it was far easier for David Silva to pull the strings from a central position.
What’s more, Sterling’s intensity when cutting inside brutally exposed Fabregas’s weaknesses, whilst sucking opposition players towards him. Adding pace to the left touchline, and a trickery that alarms defenders, City have instantly shaken off the low tempo predictability that defined their attacking tactics last season.
Man City’s next match: Everton (a) Everton’s duo of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy should deal with this threat far better, although on this form it is difficult to bet against City. Back both teams to score at 5/8Add to betslip.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.