Review 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 Sherwood’s tactical acumen and how Yaya Toure is being used incorrectly …
1) Sherwood is a better tactician than people give him credit for
Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool
Aston Villa’s transformation under Tim Sherwood continues to astonish. Their passion, guile, and creative freedom comfortably overwhelmed a Liverpool side stuttering helplessly into the summer break. But Villa’s Wembley win also indicated, not for the first time, that Sherwood’s tactical prowess is under-appreciated by a media sidetracked by his unusual touchline antics.
His first tactical tweak was to shift Chrstian Benteke out to the left, thus avoiding a difficult confrontation with Martin Skrtel and instead overwhelming Emre Can; Brendan Rodgers’ switch to a 4-5-1 after just 20 minutes signified the extent to which Sherwood tactically outwitted a manager far more renowned for his strategic mind. Villa swarmed the left flank and, via Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph, left Liverpool dazed.
And yet despite Rodgers’ changes, the triangular interchanges continued thanks to Sherwood’s intelligent tactics. For the first time since taking charge, he played two attacking midfielders behind the Belgian striker, thus overwhelming Liverpool’s defence and leaving both Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson incapable of influencing play.
The victory will have felt particularly sweet for a manager unfairly criticised for a lack of tactical acumen. Rodgers, after failing to successfully alter the course of the match, has some serious questions to answer.
Villa’s next match: Man City (a) City’s confident dismantling of West Ham has little bearing on this match. Confidence remains fragile in Manchester, and with Villa’s fearless attacking intent, Manuel Pellegrini’s side may stumble.
Recommended bet: Back the draw at 49/10
2) Mourinho recovers from tactical mistake – and is capable of playing less defensively in big games
Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd
By the final whistle, Chelsea’s performance had seemed adequately professional, but in truth Jose Mourinho’s initial tactical misjudgement could – and perhaps should – have seen Manchester United score at least twice in the opening half hour.
As expected, Mourinho instructed Kurt Zouma to man-mark Marouane Fellaini, leaving Nemanja Matic to sweep up across midfield. However, with Cesc Fabregas typically defensively indisciplined and Fellaini operated in an extremely advanced position, this left Chelsea exposed.
An enormous central zone of the pitch was left for United to stride into unchallenged, causing complete possessional and positional dominance in the opening stages; with Matic too deep and Zouma preoccupied by Fellaini, Ander Herrera won the central midfield battle with ease.
However, in the second half Mourinho addressed this problem by instructing his players to move considerably higher up the pitch, adopting an unusually confrontational approach; Mourinho was forced to abandon his typically defensive tactics, and instead Chelsea pressed from the front to prevent Herrera and Wayne Rooney from dictating the tempo.
At full-time Chelsea celebrated a champions performance, and a confident nullification of Ashley Young and Fellaini. But in reality, it could have been a whole lot different; credit should go to Mourinho for bravely switching out from ultra-defensive mode.
Chelsea’s next match: Arsenal (a) Tactically, Mourinho will approach this game very similarly. Again, pressing higher than anticipated will be a requirement to prevent Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil from dominating Matic. They may not manage it quite so well this time.
Recommended bet: Back over 2.5 goals at 1/1
3) Toure’s performance proves he is still a good player – but Man City have been using him wrong
Man City 2-0 West Ham
Yaya Toure’s marauding, casual domination of midfield against West Ham was confirmation that Manuel Pellegrini’s usual 4-4-2 formation does not compliment Yaya’s talents. If Man City are allowed to dominate possession and pass with ease, Toure will run the game – it is not, as is often supposed, the other way around.
Toure is frequently accused of disappearing in matches, rarely defending with gusto or, more importantly, grabbing a scrappy game by the scruff of the neck; he requires others to do so, and promises to deliver quality only if this is the case.
Against West Ham, Toure made a phenomenal 112 passes and had 133 touches, pulling all the strings with those sweeping passes to the flanks. However, with Sam Allardyce instructing his three cenrtal midfielders to sit in a deep, compact formation, it was easy for Toure and City to dominate these statistics. And, even more crucially, Toure was operating in the number ten role, with Frank Lampard and Fernando behind him.
Toure averages just 0.6 interceptions per match which, if sitting deep in central midfield as part of a 4-4-2, is unacceptable. It is no wonder that in City’s recent defeats to Barcelona and Man United he averaged 40 passes, and looked out of his depth alongside Fernandinho.
Toure is far more successful operating in front of two more combative midfielders, but Pellegrini has rarely done so, leaving City frequently exposed in midfield as a lifeless Toure struggles to find the ball in those congested central areas.
With such power and technical skill, Toure will always dominate games against fearfully retreating opposition. But since he will not control midfield in trickier fixtures, the lesson learnt from the visit of West Ham is to play Toure in a more advanced role.
Man City’s next match: Aston Villa (h) Toure should continue at the head of 4-2-3-1, and thus should continue his good form.
Recommended bet: Back Toure to score any time at 7/5
4) The heroics of Cambiasso can lead Leicester to safety
Leicester 2-0 Swansea
Amongst the tactical tweaks, resurgent players, and strokes of luck that have resulted in Leicester’s succession of victories, it is Esteban Cambiasso’s thumping displays that have driven this club forward.
The influence his intelligence and composure have on the Leicester dressing room is difficult to quantify, but the impact these attributes have on the pitch is becoming increasingly obvious. Against Swansea City, the captain made 7 tackles and 5 interceptions, whilst also having more touches (66), and making more passes (42) than any other Leicester player.
Elsewhere, Nigel Pearson’s unexpected shift to a 3-4-1-2 bamboozled Swansea’s defence, and several players – Jeffrey Schlupp and Marc Albrighton in particular – continued an excellent run of form that has come out of nowhere.
Leicester City seem destined for Premier League survival.
Leicester’s next match: Burnley (a) The scrappy, attack-minded approaches of both sides should make for a fantastic match. Expect plenty of long balls, crunching tackles, and gung-ho counter-attacks.
Recommended bet: Back Leicester to win at 15/8
For more tactical analysis, follow Alex on twitter – @alexkeble