Premier League 2019/20 best and worst: Manchester United tactics, Jack Grealish and VAR

Alex Keble delivers his latest Premier League best and worst column
Alex Keble delivers his latest Premier League best and worst column

Premier League expert Alex Keble runs through the best and worst from matchday nine.

Best

  • Everton’s return to form
Gylfi Sigurdsson scores Everton's second against West Ham
Gylfi Sigurdsson scores Everton's second against West Ham

For the first time this season Everton looked like an organised and purposeful football team and, perhaps for the first time since he took charge of the club, they looked like a Marco Silva team.

The Portuguese historically plays narrow attacking football with high pressing and aggressive full-backs but that has rarely been the case at Goodison Park. Two additions to the team, Tom Davies and Djibril Sidibe, and a new-look front line has significantly changed the mood.

Davies is always looking to play a forward pass, and his energetic attitude had a huge impact on the rest of the Everton team. He ran the midfield along with a much improved Andre Gomes, consistently seeking out the clever runs of an interchanging front three.

Everton pressed hard and quickly moved the ball into the final third, while the narrowness of their attacking lines created extra space out wide for Lucas Digne and Sidibe. The former Monaco right-back sprinted into attack at every opportunity, helping implement the bold attacking football that Silva has struggled to achieve in his 12 months at the club.

  • Solskjaer’s rare tactical success in a 3-4-1-2
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Not many managers can tactically outfox Jurgen Klopp, but for an hour at Old Trafford on Sunday that’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did.

After weeks of sterile football, Man United had a coherent plan: the wing-backs pushed bravely ahead of the play, pulling Liverpool’s full-backs wide and creating space for the forwards; Daniel James and Marcus Rashford countered behind the Liverpool high line, as in their opening goal; and the three-man defence shepherded the visitors’ forwards man for man.

The tactics wouldn’t have worked if Liverpool had shown up – they were oddly nervous and badly disjointed – but nevertheless Solskjaer deserves credit for his system. Andreas Pereira’s role as a number ten making runs in between Rashford and James as they split was a surprisingly clever and effective move.

Considering the low quality of the United midfield, this 3-4-1-2 could be the solution to Solskjaer’s problems in the short term at least.

  • Grealish’s performance in front of Southgate
Jack Grealish: Celebrations for the Aston Villa midfielder in their win over Brighton
Jack Grealish: Celebrations for the Aston Villa midfielder in their win over Brighton

Jack Grealish is getting better with each appearance and on Saturday he ran the show once Aaron Mooy was sent off.

The Aston Villa captain was everywhere, scoring the first goal and assisting the second with some outstanding wing play as he continues to benefit from a recent switch to the left flank.

With Gareth Southgate watching on, Grealish recorded personal bests for the season in dribbles (five), key passes (six), and fouls won (six).

The Premier League just doesn’t know how to handle him; Mooy’s second yellow was a clumsy foul representative of the confusion caused by the division’s most fouled player.

It cannot be long before Southgate puts him in the England squad, especially now he is playing in a position where Raheem Sterling – a very different kind of player – is his only real competition.

Worst

  • Ridiculous use of VAR undermines the action

One of the main arguments for bringing in VAR was the claim it would end debates and stop players from complaining to referees, but in fact it has exacerbated both issues.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of complaints we have about a system that slows down the game, takes away the moment of celebration from fans, and – after this weekend – can now be said to consistently get things wrong.

Tottenham’s equaliser should have been disallowed, but VAR let it stand. Gerard Deulofeu was taken out in the box by Toby Alderweireld, but got nothing.

Kevin de Bruyne was clearly fouled in the box in Palace v Man City, but VAR waved it on. Man Utd’s goal should have been ruled out for an obvious foul, but VAR didn’t think the high bar had been reached. Burnley’s goal should have stood against Leicester, but was cruelly ruled out for an invisible infraction.

It was a weekend when the whole system descended into total farce. This high bar simply has to come down, and if not then the referees need to be looking at pitch-side monitors.

We cannot go on like this. (Incidentally, the Villa match was the first time this season VAR has overturned a refereeing decision because of a foul; Mat Ryan was judged to have been impeded in the build-up despite referee David Coote clearly having seen the incident live.)

  • Tottenham are still stuck in a hole
Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham have won just one of their last seven matches in all competitions
Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham are out of sorts

It was only two truly extraordinary VAR errors that saw Spurs earn a point against bottom-of-the-table and winless Watford.

Mauricio Pochettino went for a 3-4-2-1 formation – anything to end the rut – but it didn’t work at all as inside forwards Lucas Moura and Dele Alli struggled to find space against the impressive Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Spurs were hopelessly flat, again, until Heung-Min Son came off the bench at half-time and Pochettino switched to 4-4-2.

Son’s directness helped get Spurs into the match, and yet as the hosts cranked up the pressure Watford’s chances at the other end actually increased.

Counter-attacks led by Deulofeu repeatedly got Quique Sanchez Flores’ team in behind only for the visitors to squander their chances.

Tottenham look completely bereft as they head into a difficult run of fixtures including Liverpool, Everton and West Ham all away from home.

  • General absence of drama or quality

You know it’s been a drab day of Premier League action when first on Match of the Day is a 2-1 between two relegation candidates. Aston Villa versus Brighton genuinely was the most entertaining and dramatic game, though, on a weekend that saw a measly 17 goals in nine matches.

One possible explanation for this is the two-week international break, which may have left players either tired or rusty depending on their participation.

However, it might just be that the big six aren’t very good at the moment, and the quality of the football is suffering because of it. Spurs, Liverpool, Man Utd, and Chelsea were all very average indeed.

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