Tactical analysis of the weekend’s games and Premier League predictions!
In his latest tactical analysis blog, Alex Keble offers ‘four things we learnt’ from the Premier League action, including why Fabregas is a liability for Chelsea…
1) Day-dreaming Fabregas is a familiar liability
Chelsea 2-2 Swansea
As a scowling Jose Mourinho watched his Chelsea side stutter clumsily to a draw, he may have begun to question both his inactivity in the transfer market and the long-term viability of fielding Cesc Fabregas in central midfield. His multiple failings on Saturday evening confirmed with alarming clarity the Spaniard’s inability to function with the consistency and tactical intelligence Mourinho demands of his small Chelsea clique.
The Swansea match told a familiar story; Fabregas, drifting lazily across central midfield and frequently caught ball watching, simply does not fit in. In the build-up to Bafetimbi Gomis flicking a header just wide of the far post, it was Fabregas being caught in possession that led to the corner. As Gomis went through on goal later in the half, Fabregas’s poor positioning had created a gaping hole in central midfield for Jonjo Shelvey to run through. As Andre Ayew opened the scoring, Fabregas failed to apply pressure in the box. And finally, it was Fabregas – out of position and lazily jogging back – that allowed Shelvey the time and space to play in Gomis and force Thibault Cortois into a clumsy challenge.
Fabregas’s entire defensive contribution amounted to two failed tackles and one failed clearance. This forms part of a very consistent pattern. Fabregas frequently leaves Nemanja Matic overstretched, either failing to hold the correct position by leaving too large a gap between himself and the Serbian, or roaming into attack and failing to return quickly.
It is this indiscipline, or at least forgetfulness/ball-watching, that led to Mourinho moving Fabregas into the number ten role for the last few months of 2014/15. A new box-to-box midfielder, with greater pace, energy, and tactical intelligence, is vitally needed if Chelsea are to retain the title.
Chelsea’s next match: Man City (a) With Yaya Toure marauding through the middle, expect Chelsea to struggle if Fabregas starts alongside Matic.
Recommended bet: Back Man City to win at 21/20
2) Tottenham attacking tactics are too narrow: predictable Pochettino was easily stunted
A remarkably consistent tactical pattern has emerged at Tottenham ever since Mauricio Pochettino took charge in the summer of 2014. Since strategic evolution and constant tactical tweaks are a necessity at the highest level, it was unsurprising to see their predictable style nullified by Louis van Gaal.
Last season, 63.5% of Spurs’ attacks came down the centre of the pitch (more than any other team in the top ten), thanks largely to their use of inverted wingers that attempt to cut inside at every opportunity. Pochettino likes to create narrow passing triangles that focus around swarming central areas of the pitch, in a similar style to Arsenal. The idea is to dominate possession and play with a high tempo, short passing game; unfortunately, it often means that their movement is predictable and creates claustrophobic football that cannot break through the lines.
In the opening twenty minutes Spurs provided width by positioning their full-backs very high up the pitch (the most common way to stretch the play when using a narrow playmaker-driven formation), but after the opening goal – directly the result of Kyle Walker being caught high up the pitch – they became more reserved and retreated.
Man United easily swept up their centrally focused attacks with an off-the-ball formation perfectly designed to counter Spurs’ patterns. Narrow, compacted, and shifting expertly as a unit, there was no way through.
If Pochettino is to be successful as Tottenham manager he must show more versatility and willingness to adapt; it is worrying that such a familiar tactical issue has already been problematic this season.
Spurs’ next match: Stoke (h) Expected to dominate at home, these high full-backs will return. This could be very costly against the pace of Ibrahim Afellay on the left.
Recommended bet: Back the draw at 11/4
3) Sherwood’s first transfer window looks successful, with like-for-like replacements acquired
A gloomy pessimism may have dominated the newspaper predictions but Aston Villa’s gritty victory at Bournemouth has allayed fears of another relegation scrap. Tactics Tim has emerged from his first transfer foray with some astute acquisitions and appears, once again, to have defied the media’s perception of him by displaying a complex appreciation of the game.
Idrissa Gueye assumed Delphian responsibilities with a reserved but useful energy, flitting between the lines and adding an important combative edge to Villa’s performance. Jordan Veretout showed the quick-witted control and give-and-go attitude of Tom Cleverley, Micah Richards displayed all the positional experience and domineering strength of Ron Vlaar, whilst Rudy Gestede towered and bullied like Benteke.
Optimism fizzes quietly around Villa Park after such a promising start, and indeed it would be unwise to bet against Sherwood galvanising his players to avoid the ignominy of last season. Tim’s managerial reputation could be about to soar.
Villa’s next match: Man Utd (h) The defensive solidity of van Gaal’s team should be challenging for Villa to break down, Manchester United’s Daley Blind could be bullied by Gestede.
Recommended bet: Back over 2.5 goals at 10/11
4) Yaya Toure’s return rewrites pre-season predictions
It was like he’d never gone away. The ambling, disinterested, cardboard cut-out central midfielder of 2014/15 was nowhere to be seen on Monday night as Yaya Toure shimmied and ghosted across central midfield with dominant charisma.
Completing 83 passes and scoring twice, this was the connective, vertically transitioning Toure that sews the lines together, using his strength to scare the opposition onto the back foot and his technical precision to pull the strings as team-mates circle around him.
Those who predicted that Man City would fail to challenge for the title had assumed this version of the Ivorian had died, but the threat of Fabian Delph seems to have galvanised him. If this form is kept up, then City will most likely win the Premier League.
Man City’s next match: Chelsea (h) On this kind of form, and against Fabregas in midfield, Toure should run riot.
Recommended bet: Back Toure to score any time at 13/5
Alex Keble – @alexkeble