FA Cup Tactical Preview: Derby v Man Utd and other key battles

Ivanovic will need to improve to prevent MK Dons' Murphy from causing an upset
Ivanovic will need to improve to prevent MK Dons' Murphy from causing an upset
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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 Derby and MK Dons could cause major upsets against Premier League sides...


"Tom Ince has been the most consistent attacking threat for the Rams this season, and he may fancy his chances against youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson."

Derby v Man Utd

Ince v Borthwick-Jackson

Friday, 19:55, Live on BBC One

This is an FA Cup fixture that neither side will be looking forward to. Whilst Louis van Gaal is fighting for his job once again after tepid performances against Liverpool and Southampton, Derby are on a poor run of form that peaked with a 3-0 defeat to Birmingham City in their last home game. Tom Ince has been the most consistent attacking threat for the Rams this season, and he may fancy his chances against youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Ince has benefited greatly from the stability of playing in a possession dominant team this season (53.8% average) that looks to release the ball to him as quickly as possible on the right flank. Ince has amassed eight goals and three assists so far this season, averaging 2.3 key passes per game (fifth most in the Championship). There is no doubt that his pace and trickery cutting inside from that flank will be the biggest threat to the United goal.

Since Ashley Young's injury Borthwick-Jackson has filled in at left-back for United. If playing as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 he should have sufficient cover behind him but if Van Gaal resorts back to a 4-2-3-1 - which seems likely - then his inexperience could lead to danger on this side; Borthwick-Jackson averages a lowly 0.3 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per ninety minutes.


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What's more, Anthony Martial always stays very high up the pitch when the opposition counter, which exposes his left-back because Marouane Fellaini is so poor positionally. He does not come across to cover effectively, which could leave the 18-year-old isolated one-on-one with Ince.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance home or draw at 17/20

You can read our full Derby v Man Utd Betting Preview behind the link.


Liverpool v West Ham

Firmino v Noble

Saturday, 17:30, Live on BT Sport 2

West Ham have taken 17 points from eight games against last season's top six thanks to the aggressive pressing and narrow formation employed by Slaven Bilic. These results include two league wins against Liverpool to an aggregate score of 5-0; as in West Ham's 2-0 win earlier this month, the key battle will be between West Ham's ferocious central midfield battlers and Liverpool's main pivot Roberto Firmino.

Bilic transitions from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 when possession is recovered, swinging their formation in an arc that creates quick, direct counter-attacks down the wing. Their pressing system is both patient and dogged; they hold off in a tight, narrow cage before suddenly pouncing on the man in possession when the ball enters the final third. Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate are the chief orchestrators of this high energy system as they shuttle across the width of the pitch to crowd out the attackers (they made nine tackles and nine interceptions between them in their recent meeting with Liverpool).


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Liverpool's main creator - whilst Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge are absent - is Roberto Firmino, who flits around in attacking midfield to link up Liverpool's attacks. Occupying the same space as Noble, he will be crowded out if he does not receive close support from the likes of Adam Lallana and James Milner. Liverpool were too far apart from one another for much of the game against Norwich, but will need to be more compact and narrow here to get past the pincer press.

Recommended Bet
Back West Ham to win at 15/4


MK Dons v Chelsea

Murphy v Ivanovic

Sunday, 16:00, Live on BBC One

MK Dons are 20th in the Championship and showing little sign of long term improvement, whilst Chelsea, undefeated in eight matches, are clearly on an upswing. However, on the bobbly pitch at Stadium MK there is something about this game that feels like an upset is on the cards; if they are to topple the champions, Josh Murphy will most likely be the hero.

MK Dons play a possession game in the Championship (54.6% average) that is rarely effective, and it will surely suit them to be forced into a more defensive, deep-lying structure on Sunday. Chelsea are renowned for struggling this season when facing opponents looking to frustrate from deep and there is no guarantee they will make the breakthrough here.

At the other end, 20-year-old Murphy will be a big threat up against Branislav Ivanovic. Murphy is statistically the most creative player in the squad (1.4 key passes, 1.7 dribbles per game) and it is easy to imagine him getting the better of the Serbian international, still defending haphazardly under Guus Hiddink. This threat seems particularly intriguing given that Chelsea will dominate possession, leading to Ivanovic hovering (as he so often does) in an extremely advanced position.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance home or draw at 21/10


Aston Villa v Man City

Kozak v Demichelis

Saturday, 15:00

Though almost certainly getting relegated this season, Aston Villa are on a five match unbeaten run and have conceded just two goals in that time; they will be fighting tooth and nail to sustain another cup run this season. And whilst Man City are firm favourites for this one, Villa's Libor Kozak could provide an aerial threat in Vincent Kompany's absence.

The last four goals Man City have conceded have all been from crosses, and Villa hurl 22.1 crosses into the box per game (the fourth most in the Premier League). Kozac, so threatening in the six yard box, could be just the player to further unsettle Martin Demichelis. The Czech international wins a remarkable 14 aerial duels per 90 minutes, and though yet to score since his recovery (he has spent the last two years out with a broken leg) Kozak is improving with each game.

Remi Garde's first game in charge was a 0-0 draw with Man City in a game that saw Villa hold just 39% possession. Expect a very similar tactical set-up here, but with the added impetus of an in-form Carles Gil crossing from out wide and Kozak lurking dangerously in-between City's slightly disorganised centre-back pairing.

Recommended Bet
Back Kozak to score any time at 14/5


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