FA Cup Tactical Preview: Spurs v Leicester and other key battles

Villa are in for a very tough game against Wycombe Wanderers
Villa are in for a very tough game against Wycombe Wanderers
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Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the FA Cup, including why Oxford and Wycombe could cause major upsets against Premier League sides...

"This is a potential banana skin for Aston Villa, who face a physically combative, fearless side in good form and playing on their own bobbly pitch."

Spurs v Leicester
Davies v Simpson
Sunday, 16:00, Live on BBC One

Successive 0-0 daws suggest that Leicester City's erratic defending has stabilised, but in truth there remains an alarming gap in their defensive formation - on the right hand side, where Danny Simpson is often left to fend without the support of Riyad Mahrez. Given that Mauricio Pochettino is a reactive manager who adapts his tactics to exploit each new opponent's vulnerabilities, expect Spurs to focus their attacks through Ben Davies.

39% of Tottenham's attacks come down the left (only Chelsea and Man United attack on this side more frequently), largely because of Harry Kane's natural inclination to drift to this flank and Ben Davies' excellent attacking play. Pochettino uses inverted wingers to create an overload centrally, playing virtually with three central attacking midfielders behind Kane in order to maximise short-passing options and overwhelm the opposition defence with bodies. In order to prevent the middle of the park from becoming congested, they stretch the opposition by hitting their extremely wide, attack-minded full-backs as often as possible.

This could prove problematic for Leicester. Mahrez is rarely present as a right midfielder when his team lose the ball in the attacking half, instead remaining high up the pitch and jogging back listlessly. This is undoubtedly their biggest weak point: in Leicester's last five matches, 26 of the 43 chances created by their opponents during open play have come down Leicester's right side (61%), and all four goals conceded in that time were created and scored in this area. Davies may give Simpson a torrid time on the overlap, whilst Christian Eriksen, drifting inside, will find plenty of space in Mahrez's absence.

Recommended Bet
Back Spurs to win and over 2.5 goals at 7/5

Wycombe v Aston Villa
Wycombe aerial strength v Villa defending corners
Saturday, 12:45, Live on BT Sport 2

Gareth Ainsworth's side will be quietly confident that they can cause a major upset on Saturday. This is a potential banana skin for Aston Villa, who face a physically combative, fearless side in good form and playing on their own bobbly pitch. Villa, on a 19 game winless streak, are trying to play short-passing football under Remi Garde and will surely struggle on a difficult surface and against gritty, confident opposition.

15 of Wycombe's 32 league goals this season have been scored by defenders, and given Villa's persistent struggle to defend set-pieces this season this will be the home side's key focus. It is the traditional path to FA Cup upsets, something that seems plausible given Villa have lost 75% of their last 20 away games, whilst Wycombe have failed to score only twice in their last 20 at Adams Park.

Recommended Bet
Back Wycombe to win at 5/2

Man Utd v Sheff Utd
United possession v Billy Sharp
Saturday, 17:30, Live on BT Sport 2

Sheffield United's season is not going to plan. Now entering their fifth year in League One, they sit eighth in the table and 14 points behind the automatic promotion spots. At Old Trafford, this will be a simplistic backs-to-the-wall fixture for the Blades, and thus all hope rests on star player Billy Sharp's ability to hold up the ball and instigate the counter.

Man Utd's woeful goalscoring record may appear to favour the away side, but in truth Louis van Gaal has allowed for greater urgency and directness in their attacks in recent weeks. Juan Mata has begun to drop deeper in order to fire quick passes into the channels, whilst Wayne Rooney is flitting about with greater purpose; his winner last weekend should reinvigorate the England captain.

If Sheffield United are to hold out then they will need Sharp to dominate physically in order to relieve pressure on the back four. But Chris Smalling has been in exceptional form this season, winning 3.0 aerial duels per match (most in Man Utd squad); he should easily keep Sharp quiet and ensure a comfortable win for Van Gaal.

Recommended Bet
Back Man Utd to win and over 2.5 goals at 17/20

Oxford v Swansea
Kemar Roofe v Jack Cork
Sunday, 14:00, Live on BBC Wales

Like Villa at Wycombe, Swansea's desire to play attractive, short-passing football that builds from the back will likely be disrupted by the playing surface in Oxford and by the tenacity of Michael Appleton's team. Oxford United have lost lost just once in 15 games in a run that has seen them climb to third in League Two, whilst Swansea are slipping ever closer to the relegation places.

Oxford's most potent attacker is Kemar Roofe, a central attacking midfielder who has amassed more goals (13) and assists (5) than any of his team-mates. The former Saints midfielder Jack Cork will be charged with man-marking their star player, and this could prove to be the key battle if Swansea struggle to find their rhythm (which seems likely, given that they have won just once in eleven away games whilst Oxford have kept a clean sheet in half of their previous twenty home matches).

Cork makes more tackles and interceptions (3.6 per game) than any other Swansea player, but he could be ruffled by the less glamorous task awaiting him on Sunday.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Oxford/draw at 5/6

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