Premier League best and worst analysis, including praise for Norwich, Chelsea and solid Spurs

Best & Worst of the Premier League: Alex Keble runs through the big winners & losers from the weekend
Best & Worst of the Premier League: Alex Keble runs through the big winners & losers from the weekend

Alex Keble runs through the best and worst of the tactical decisions from the weekend's latest round of Premier League games.

Best

Magnificent Norwich are learning from their mistakes

Norwich shock Man City! | Norwich City 3-2 Manchester City | Premier League Highlights

There are so many things about Norwich’s incredible performance that we could talk about, from their nerveless tiki-taka in their own third against a high Man City press to the way their W-shaped midfield formation expertly swamped David Silva, but in terms of their fight against the drop it was their deep defensive blockade that most deserves scrutiny.

Norwich were deep and compact, only ever committing the highest four players to attacks as the full-backs stayed back. The hosts did not press, either, only occasionally engaging when the ball went wide but otherwise leaving the Man City back four free.

It was a disciplined, resolute, humble display entirely at odds with what we saw against Liverpool on the opening day.

After four Premier League matches in which Norwich were far too expansive off the ball, leaving the midfield wide open and allowing opponents to counter-attack easily through the middle, Daniel Farke showed he is learning and adapting. That’s the biggest sign yet that the Canaries can stay up.

Chelsea’s England under-21s flourishing thanks to Lampard’s emphasis on fun

Tammy Abraham, left, is congratulated by Fikayo Tomori after completing his hat-trick for Chelsea
Tammy Abraham, left, is congratulated by Fikayo Tomori after completing his hat-trick for Chelsea

This weekend Chelsea benefitted from a more solid 3-4-2-1 formation that added another central defender, meaning the wing-backs could pour forward without worry and the central midfielders – so often overworked under Frank Lampard – had closer support from two inside forwards. But solidity aside, this formation was even more fun for Chelsea’s younger players.

All 11 Chelsea goals this season have been scored by English players 21 or under. Tammy Abraham’s hat-trick was yet another example of the high chance creation under Lampard and the space his striker is afforded with so many supporting runners, while Mason Mount continues to impress – this time from a left-centre role that saw him team up effectively with Willian.

Having conceded 11 league goals Chelsea obviously need to tighten up, but for now their younger players are benefitting from an emphasis on fun.

Spurs end their poor home form thanks to assertive Aurier and Alderweireld

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics have always relied on quick, direct full-backs providing the width while the rest of the team build carefully through the centre, sucking the opposition infield to open up space for – in the past – Kyle Walker and a peak Danny Rose. This explains why defensive teams keep frustrating Tottenham in 2019, but Serge Aurier’s return to the starting line-up helped end their stagnant home form.

Aurier provided two assists, driving down the right and picking out powerful early crosses to prevent Spurs from falling into typically laboured formation; they are not very good at raising the tempo after a sluggish start at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium.

Aurier was key, but Toby Alderweireld played an equally important part with accurate long balls over the top towards Heung-Min Son that unsettled Crystal Palace and prevented them from falling into a deep blockade.

Directness and assertiveness, the traits Spurs have been missing of late, were added by these two players in particular.

Heung-Min Son scores brace as Spurs score four! | Tottenham 4-0 Crystal Palace | EPL Highlights

Worst

Limp Everton & Leicester don’t look like top-six sides this week

It’s far too early to draw conclusions about season prospects, but based on this weekend alone Everton and Leicester looked well short of the required level to challenge the big six.

Neither side need panic, of course, although it is worth analysing exactly why they failed to impress at Bournemouth and Manchester United respectively.

Leicester were punished for not being brave enough. Brendan Rodgers should have sensed United’s weakness and gone with his usual formation, but instead he added a more defensive midfielder – Hamza Choudhury - and shunted James Maddison out wide. Maddison drifted infield to get the ball but then had no left-winger to pass to, and with Youri Tielemans having a shocker that left the Foxes unable to build. They were limp and hugely underwhelming.

Everton were even worse, hammered by Bournemouth in the second half due to a litany of unforced defensive errors and another flat midfield performance.

Fabian Delph was well below his best and Morgan Schneiderlin lacked dynamism, as usual, hence Bournemouth gradually turned the screw via the impressive Lewis Cook.

An open contest with under-stocked midfields, this was just the game for Tom Davies – but the youngster was once again left on the bench.

Arsenal’s terrible away form is thanks to Emery’s bizarre tactical decisions

For Sunday’s visit to Watford, Unai Emery went with the same diamond 4-4-2 that ended so badly against Liverpool, presumably because he expected the visitors to sit so deep that Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos would be needed to open them up.

Instead, Quique Sanchez Flores’ side attacked well, channelling everything through Gerard Deulofeu to expose Arsenal’s lack of bodies out wide.

The Spaniard had an incredible 92 touches of the ball, receiving the ball in dangerous areas and attacking Ainsley Maitland-Niles – who desperately needed a winger to help him out. Deulofeu should not have been fed so easily, but Arsenal were typically non-confrontational, failing to press Watford and therefore leaving enormous gaps on both sides of their midfield.

Deulofeu helped create the first goal, and then after Flores introduced Daryl Janmaat the right-back was similarly effective on the other flank, helping to earn the equalising penalty.

Arsenal’s chaotic away form looks set to continue as long as Emery picks odd formations with glaring holes – and then fails to make changes during the match.

Arsenal implode as Watford earn draw | Watford 2-2 Arsenal | Premier League Highlights

Defensive errors increase thanks to the new goal-kick law

The most interesting innovation of the 2019/20 season is the new law that allows players to enter the penalty area from goal kicks, which so far appears to greatly benefit attackers.

Counter-intuitively, the change has made the team in possession more vulnerable, not less, encouraging the opponent to press man-to-man throughout one half of the pitch in the hope of forcing an error.

Man City and Arsenal both conceded goals from their own goal-kicks this weekend, ensuring we will continue to see these complex chess games unfold over the coming weeks. The problem is that receiving the ball in your own box actually limits options, leaving the defender too square-on to the pitch for a good passing angle.

In years gone by an engaged opposition press would have meant the ‘keeper waving his hands and punting it long, but the new 16-yard advantage entices teams to perpetually attempt the short-passing route out.

The result is harder pressing, more risk-taking at the back, and more mistakes.


MNF tips: Greal-icious value

George Pitts previews Monday evening's Premier League match under the floodlights in the West Midlands, as Aston Villa host West Ham. Take a look by clicking the image below...

We preview the Monday Night Football clash between Aston Villa and West Ham
We preview the Monday Night Football clash between Aston Villa and West Ham


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