Alex Keble runs through the best and worst of the tactical decisions from the weekend's latest round of Premier League games.
Absolute carnage in the North London derby
It’s a game that never seems to disappoint, and for that we can thank the chaotic defence assembled by Unai Emery and the assertive counter-attacking football he seeks to play. Tottenham’s surprise flat 4-4-2 formation aimed at sitting deep to nullify the pace of Arsenal’s front three, but with both sides eager to break quickly it inevitably became a stretched, end-to-end match.
There will always be defensive errors when David Luiz and Sokratis play together, and they were at their most shambolic on Sunday, both maniacally rushing out of position ahead of Tottenham’s opener. Granit Xhaka’s comedy foul was an even bigger mistake, while at the other end Davinson Sanchez was woefully out of his depth.
Arsenal were the better side overall, their aggressive tackling and attacking football making them look distinctly like an Emery team. That’s the good news for Gunners fans, but with such a poor defence – and no defensive midfield screen – 2019/20 looks set to be another year of ups and downs.
Sheffield United’s comeback shows Stamford Bridge has lost its fear factor
Chelsea crumbled in the second half, as usual, but nevertheless Sheffield United deserved to take a point from Stamford Bridge once they overcame their initial jitters. The hosts went 2-0 up primarily because United played within themselves, backing off more than usual and consequently allowing Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho to dictate the tempo.
However, after scoring early in the second half their 3-5-2 formation began to look like a very smart system to capitalise on Chelsea’s flaws. Chris Wilder’s side had a numerical advantage in central midfield, helped further once Kovacic began to visibly tire, while their overlapping left centre-back Jack O’Connell doubled up with the impressive Enda Stevens to overwhelm Cesar Azpilicueta. The Spaniard was at fault for both goals.
As for Frank Lampard and Chelsea, their flaws are becoming worryingly familiar now. They are seriously vulnerable home and away, and if opponents stop fearing them – as United did midway through this game - then their place in the top six will be under threat.
Fabien Delph lifts Everton to the next level
Having spent the last three years as a left-back under Pep Guardiola it is easy to forget that when Fabien Delph arrived at Man City from Aston Villa he was one of England’s most naturally gifted central midfielders. The Premier League was given a powerful reminder of that on Sunday when Delph inspired a 3-2 win for new club Everton, bossing one of the league’s most organised midfields.
Andre Gomes was appalling at Villa Park a week ago, making Delph’s performance alongside the Portuguese even more impressive. Delph completed more tackles (four), interceptions (three) and passes (64) than any other player on the pitch, regularly breaking up the play and distributing sharp, crisp passes into the Everton forwards.
He is an outstanding acquisition for Marco Silva, and just the sort of technically gifted, line-breaking midfielder who can take Richarlison and Moise Kean to the next level.
Southampton’s early tactical mistake deprives them of possible win
One of the most unique, iconic things about the Premier League is the frantic nature of the first 10 minutes. It takes a long time for matches to settle into a rhythm, as both clubs typically press hard from the off, charging at each other to land an early punch. Unfortunately for Southampton, this approach proved their undoing against Manchester United on Saturday.
They sat too high and pressed too aggressively in a 4-4-2, with the wide midfielders and two strikers regularly caught well ahead of play for the first ten minutes. Daniel James scored the opener after a simple pass took half the Saints team out of the game, and their backpedalling defence was incapable of closing the gap between themselves and a high-pressing midfield.
Once the match calmed down Southampton copied Crystal Palace’s template and dropped deep, frustrating the visitors by denying space in behind for their quick forwards. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side struggled for fluency yet again and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side deservedly won a point. Future clubs take note: there is no shame in immediately falling back against United.
Norwich’s naive tactics away from home
It might appear like a bold, admirable strategy – it certainly won a lot of plaudits in the 4-1 opening day defeat at Anfield – but Norwich’s expansive formation and possession-centric playing style should not be so indulged when playing away from Carrow Road this season. West Ham United eased to a 2-0 victory characterised by repeatedly countering down the flanks through Felipe Anderson an Andriy Yarmolenko.
By stretching themselves across the pitch, Norwich played into their hosts’ hands. Manuel Pellegrini – like quite a few Premier League managers – wants to play on the break but is ordinarily denied doing so on home soil. It is not (though this may be counterintuitive to a side newly promoted from the Championship) a sign of strength to play openly on the road, but rather a sign of weakness. Norwich must be more conservative if they are to avoid the drop.
Bournemouth continue their leaky start to the season
Bournemouth’s start to the season doesn’t look particularly bad on paper, but they were outplayed for the vast majority of their 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on match day two and could easily have lost to Sheffield United. Eddie Howe’s side have conceded eight goals in four league matches; their regular 4-4-2 formation doesn’t look a good fit.
James Maddison and Jamie Vardy cut them open far too easily on Saturday, Leicester cruising to victory by overwhelming the visitors in central midfield and taking advantages of a too-high defensive line. Bournemouth have Everton at home after the international break. Failure to win would set off the alarm bells.
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