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 why Chelsea’s woes are unlikely to end, and why the Premier League has seen so few away goals…
1) Opponents have worked out Chelsea’s flaws; a difficult season awaits Mourinho
Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace
Significant structural flaws and lacklustre individual performances were brutally exposed by an explosive, sensational Crystal Palace; just four matches in, opposing teams no longer fear the champions – and know exactly how to punish them.
In typical Pardew fashion Palace crouched deep in their own half and awaited the opportunity to pounce forward with alarming speed down the flanks (78% attacks down the wings, league highest). This week, they focused primarily on the left in order to bully the traumatised Branislav Ivanovic, who is flailing desperately this season. Pape Soare and then Yannick Bolasie terrorised, with eight of Palace’s ten chances created coming down the Serbs side.
The second key target was Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic (0 interceptions between them). The latter performed with a familiar desperation, scuttling manically across the pitch in an attempt to cover the listless Fabregas; their central midfield partnership is arguably the worst in the Premier League currently, and Palace worked hard to exploit this by pressing firmly in the centre of the pitch. This task was made simple because, as usual, Chelsea created little out wide and instead attempted to dance through the congested middle areas.
Chelsea’s weaknesses are now well documented, and with Palace providing the template for others to follow, this is unlikely to be the last defeat Chelsea suffer in the coming weeks.
Chelsea’s next match: Everton (a) Roberto Martinez is a superb tactician who thoroughly prepares his teams to exploit the opposition. This is an ominous fixture for Chelsea.
2) Absence of home victories may be explainable; teams struggling to gel at the beginning of the season are more vulnerable in possession
Liverpool 0-3 West Ham
Only 22% of Premier League matches have been won by the home team this season (nine in total), down from a 2014/15 season average of 45%. West Ham’s counter-attacking victory at Anfield – where a simplistic model out-manoeuvred Liverpool’s awkward passing – provides evidence for why this may be the case.
As players build their fitness and begin learning to gel with their new teammates, the tempo and attacking rhythms are lower in the first few weeks of the campaign. The home team, usually dominating possession (Liverpool held 63% at the weekend), thus look rigid and predictable, making numerous backwards passes and struggling to find cohesion (Liverpool had one shot on target despite attempting 540 passes).
What’s more, the team dominating possession is always vulnerable to making mistakes, particularly if they are not yet working well as a unit. West Ham’s second goal resulted directly from a mistake by Dejan Lovren, and Liverpool gave the ball away 32 times (compared to West Ham’s 17).
For the away team, containment of the opposition and quick counter-attacks is a far simpler model to follow, and requires less intricate knowledge of your teammates. Exploiting large pockets of space in the counter does not require the same understanding as carefully creating an opportunity from long periods of possession. West Ham, so used to “parking the bus” after years of Sam Allardyce tactics, have looked much more comfortable on the road (6 points away, 0 at home).
In time, normal percentages will resume and home teams – once settled – will turn their possession domination into goals. But whilst things remain tentative and nervy with new signings and new managers, expect the simple – and less pressured – away teams to flourish.
West Ham’s next match: Newcastle (h) Bilic’s philosophy still needs time, whilst Newcastle are comfortable on the counter after 3 years of Pardew tactics.
3) Garry Monk’s reputation continues to grow after game-winning tactical switch
Swansea 2-1 Man Utd
United’s new midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin looked comfortable and in control until the hour mark, but Monk’s formation change to a narrow 4-4-2 diamond flipped the game on its head.
Ki Sung-Yeun, Jack Cork, and Shelvey became a tight midfield three in order to nullify United’s central midfield pairing, whilst Andre Ayew lurked dangerously in a right forward role. With Swansea no longer playing with wingers, United’s full-backs began to roam forward – leaving new gaps in their defence.
For the equaliser, Shelvey and Sigurdsson split wide on the counter (leading to a stretched back four that failed to track Ayew’s run into the box), and the winning goal came from Ayew finding the ball in space after Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin – confused and dishevelled – lost the Ghanaian.
Chaos ensued as Monk simultaneously changed the roles of Sigurdsson (charging into the space created by an Ayew/Gomis split) and Shelvey (now bursting down the left), whilst also preventing United from overloading the middle of the pitch and finding new space to attack down the wings. It was a stroke of genius, and Louis van Gaal had no answer.
Swansea’s next match: Watford (a) On such an impressive run of form, Watford should be an easy target for Monk’s side.
4) The return of Jay Rodriquez could be crucial for Southampton
Southampton 3-0 Norwich
Though ultimately deserving of their 3-0 victory, Southampton laboured during the first half and, if Steven Whittaker had not been sent off, may not have overcome a plucky Norwich side. Familiar issues of creative stagnancy flared up in the opening 45, but the introduction of Jay Rodriguez provided optimism for fans.
Sweeping long balls to the head of Graziano Pelle (12 aerial duels v Norwich) have become a worryingly dominant feature of Southampton’s play in 2015, with much of the creative fluency that defined the early months of Ronald Koeman’s tenure having evaporated. Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane were both impressive once Norwich were reduced to ten men, but overall there was a lack of cutting edge in central midfield. Steven Davis never looked comfortable in the number ten role.
He was substituted at half-time for Rodriguez, and the returning striker played with great purpose; he received the ball five times in excellent positions that led to shots, and overall provided a directness in the centre that, drawing players towards him, helped Mane and Tadic revel out wide. His return to the first eleven could have a huge impact on Southampton’s fortunes.
Southampton’s next match: West Brom (a) Southampton have only scored two goals away from home twice in 2015; Pulis’s highly organised West Brom could frustrate them again, even if Rodriguez starts.
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