Champions League Tactical Preview: Mahrez v Augustinsson and other key battles

Claudio Ranieri's Leicester could make it three wins out of three on Tuesday
Claudio Ranieri's Leicester could make it three wins out of three on Tuesday

Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the midweek action in the Champions League, including why Dembele is the key to stopping Leverkusen..

"Dembele is one of the best players in the world at coping with the high press. He twists and turns away from trouble expertly, and will need to be at his best to help Spurs avoid defeat to the counter-press; Spurs currently have the second most unsuccessful touches (14.5 per match) and are the most dispossessed team (20 per match) in the Champions League."

Bayern Leverkusen v Tottenham

Leverkusen's gegenpress v Mousa Dembele
Tuesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 2

Roger Schmidt's Bayern Leverkusen utilise an aggressive gegenpressing model which aims to win the ball deep in the opposition half. Playing in a 4-2-4 formation, they are even more extreme in this tactical philosophy than Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool; Leverkusen sit third in the table for most tackles (25.5 per match) and top the charts for interceptions (28 per match) in this season's Champions League.

As Dortmund found in their recent 2-0 defeat, a disjointed shape at the back will be ruthlessly punished. Spurs' defenders and deep-lying midfielders need to ensure that they consistently provide short passing options for their team-mates, or else Leverkusen will suffocate them. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker need to stay very high and wide - to give the defenders an outlet with a long diagonal pass - but more important is the returning Mousa Dembele.

Dembele is one of the best players in the world at coping with the high press. He twists and turns away from trouble expertly, and will need to be at his best to help Spurs avoid defeat to the counter-press; Spurs currently have the second most unsuccessful touches (14.5 per match) and are the most dispossessed team (20 per match) in the Champions League. If Dembele cannot help them change these statistics then Javier Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu will tear them apart.


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Recommended Bet:
Back Leverkusen to win at 6/5


Leicester City v FC Copenhagen

Riyad Mahrez v Ludwig Augustinsson
Tuesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 3

Ludwig Augustinsson has been the stand-out performer in both of FC Copenhagen's Champions League games this season, and so his head-to-head with Riyad Mahrez is one of the most interesting among this week's games. Mahrez will, of course, be a major threat on the counter-attack. How the attack-minded Augustinsson copes with his movement will be pivotal.

But more important will be Mahrez's ability to track back. He was dropped for the Chelsea match last weekend because of his defensive laziness (Claudio Ranieri was worried that Chelsea's wing-backs would dominate with the Algerian in the side) but should return to the starting line-up on Tuesday. Augustinsson has already created nine chances in the competition, and his excellent crossing ability could undo Leicester if Mahrez fails to help out Danny Simpson.

Even if Copenhagen do not score directly from these crossing situations, an overload in attack on their left would lead to plenty of corners for the away side. Leicester have struggled badly from set-pieces this season, as was evident when Diego Costa opened the scoring at the weekend, whilst Augustinsson has already recorded two assists from his corner kicks in the Champions League this season.


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Recommended Bet

Back over 2.5 goals at 5/4


Arsenal v Ludogorets Razgrad

Theo Walcott v Natanael Pimienta
Wednesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 3

This is a must win game for Arsenal, and one that they should easily dominate. Ludogorets Razgrad will sit very deep - they average 43% possession in the Champions League - and try to prevent Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez from threading the ball into the box. Against such a narrow defensive block, the pace of in-form Theo Walcott will be pivotal.

Brazilian left-back Natanael Pimienta will be charged with preventing Walcott from making those dangerous overlapping runs into the box from right to centre and his form so far this campaign suggests he could be successful. Pimienta has averaged 3.5 tackles and 4.5 interceptions per game this season in Europe, making him Ludogorets' best defender statistically.

Arsenal can expect to make the breakthrough in other areas of the pitch, but a strong showing from Pimienta could keep the score down early on and frustrate Arsenal. Then again, Walcott has scored seven goals in ten games this season and will be expecting to beat the Brazilian on Wednesday.


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Recommended Bet
Back half-time draw at 21/10


Barcelona v Man City

MSN v Guardiola
Wednesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 2

How do you stop the best front three in the history of world football? Pep Guardiola is not averse to a huge tactical gamble in big matches, and he will need one here. He experimented with a 3-4-3 formation against Everton at the weekend and might adopt this approach at the Camp Nou, or he may choose his inverted full-back system to stamp out Andres Iniesta. Whatever approach he takes, expect Man City's high pressing to create a frantic and fascinating 90 minutes.

It is impossible to predict Guardiola's plans, but we can say with confidence that his overall tactical approach to MSN will be the defining battle. If he continues with the 3-4-3 from Saturday, he risks being overrun in central midfield (where Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan will have a lot to do) and risks a similar humiliation to the one he suffered as Bayern Munich manager, when he went three versus three in the Champions league semi-final at the Camp Nou.

Celta Vigo's 4-3 victory against Barcelona reaffirmed the idea that high pressing is the best way to disrupt Luis Enrique's side, and Guardiola will definitely instruct his players to follow suit. However, this could mean that Kevin de Bruyne becomes a liability leaving Fernandinho with too much ground to cover against Iniesta and Lionel Messi. An inverted full-back 4-2-3-1 would probably be the best approach.

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Recommended Bet

Back Messi to score any time at 19/20

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