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

Crystal Palace could spring a surprise on Sunday at White Hart Lane
Crystal Palace could spring a surprise on Sunday at White Hart Lane
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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 Adebayor could come back to haunt Tottenham at White Hart Lane...

"Spurs have a superb defensive model and are strong favourites for the tie, but the narrowness of their tactical model - Mauricio Pochettino instructs his three attacking midfielders to stay extremely central when in possession - could leave gaps down the wings for Zaha and Adebayor to exploit."

Tottenham v Crystal Palace

Zaha & Adebayor v Danny Rose
Sunday, 15:00

Emmanuel Adebayor relishes encounters with former employers, and his burgeoning partnership with Wilfried Zaha has led to a tactical tweak at Selhurst Park that could cause problems for Tottenham's Danny Rose.

Crystal Palace's nine games without a win corresponds exactly with Yannick Bolasie's absence from the side, demonstrating Alan Pardew's reliance on one or two key players to instigate his simplistic tactics. Palace rely on counter-attacking down the wings to score goals after absorbing pressure for long periods of the match: 77% of their attacks come down the wings (league highest) and 48% of their goals are from set-pieces, often from fouls earned by those tricky wingers bursting into space (Dwight Gayle and Wilfried Zaha are fouled 5.0 times per match between them).

Adebayor's arrival has given Pardew the opportunity to vary this approach. They attempted 33 crosses against Watford last weekend, up from a season average of 25; Adebayor scored from a cross situation whilst Zaha, whose piercing runs are vital to the counter, attempted the most crosses (seven, up from an average of 4.5).

Spurs have a superb defensive model and are strong favourites for the tie, but the narrowness of their tactical model - Mauricio Pochettino instructs his three attacking midfielders to stay extremely central when in possession - could leave gaps down the wings for Zaha and Adebayor to exploit.

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Recommended Bet
Back Adebayor to score any time at 16/5


Arsenal v Hull

Arsenal full-backs v Hull crosses
Saturday, 12:45, Live on BT Sport 2

Arsenal will undoubtedly dominate the ball against Steve Bruce's Hull City, but the Championship leaders have plenty of experience putting up a fight at the Emirates. With Curtis Davies and Michael Dawson likely to excel as part of a deep-lying, no-nonsense defensive unit (10.2 aerial duels won per match), the most interesting tactical battle in this match is predicting what will occur at the other end. And Hull City's full-backs could find joy with their persistent crosses in behind Arsenal's high line.

Hull drew 2-2 at the Emirates in October 2014 and were within two minutes of a famous victory. Their second goal came from a cross into the box, which is unsurprising; Steve Bruce has always focused on throwing crosses into the area via overlapping wing-backs. This season, their full-backs attempt, on average, 9.8 crosses per game and this will only increase when counter-attacking down the wings on Saturday. Hull make the second most crosses in the Championship, with 24.0 per game.

Nacho Monreal is arguably the weakest of Arsenal's defenders, and his propensity to play high up the pitch in order to add width to the team could allow right-back Moses Odubajo to flourish - with the help of star player Robert Snodgrass (4.3 crosses per match and makes 1.7 key passes). With Abel Hernandez in superb goalscoring form, any complacency from Arsenal will be punished.


Recommended Bet
Back both teams to score at 10/11


Chelsea v Man City

Fabregas v Fernando
Sunday, 16:00, Live on BBC One

Chelsea will have taken confidence from their performance in Paris on Tuesday night and with nothing to play for in the league will once again show great tenacity and team spirit this weekend. Cesc Fabregas's form has dramatically improved in recent weeks, and his ability to float in between Man City's unconvincing Fernando/Fernandinho partnership could decide the tie.

Fabregas is beginning to look like his old self again, moving around the pitch with purpose and showing increasing tactical discipline. In his last five league matches he has averaged 4.8 tackles per game (up from a season average of 2.6) and 2.1 key passes per game (up from 1.6). Furthermore, his performance in Paris was surprisingly thoughtful, holding his position alongside John Obi Mikel whilst joining the counter at key moments.

Man City have looked flaky in central midfield all season. Fernando (2.1 tackles, 1.5 interceptions) in particular does not close down space in the centre of the park effectively enough, and frequently opponents find joy attacking down the centre - most notably Tottenham last weekend, whose overload of this area led to the winning goal. Fabregas will most likely thrive.

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Recommended Bet
Back Chelsea to win at 21/10


Blackburn v West Ham

Jordi Gomez v Sam Byram
Sunday, 14:00, Live on BT Sport 2

An injury to Carl Jenkinson has thrust new signing Sam Byram into the spotlight sooner than Sam Allardyce would have liked, and he faces a stern test this weekend against Blackburn's intelligent playmaker Jordi Gomez.

Gomez 49 passes per game and 2.3 key passes, floating infield from the left wing to sew the lines together in a Koke-esque role for Blackburn. This presents a difficult challenge for the young full-back Byram, who will need to stick tight to the centre-back whilst ensuring left-back Thomas Spurr does not move past him on the overlap.

Byram has only started one game for the Hammers so far, and although he performed admirably throughout the 90 Byram was turned in the build-up to Norwich's second goal at Carrow Road. This match-up will be a good early test of his tactical intelligence.

Recommended Bet
Back both teams to score at 19/20

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