Champions League Tactical Preview: Spurs and Man Utd to win first legs
Alex Keble looks ahead to the first set of Champions League second round matches, predicting wins for both English clubs against PSG and Dortmund...
"Thomas Tuchel will be forced to play a flimsy 4-4-2 with an unfit Verratti and Marquinhos in the middle. It seems unlikely this pair can hold Pogba, Lingard, and Ander Herrera at bay."
Man Utd v PSG
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Paris Saint-Germain have suffered a series of injuries in recent weeks to hand Man Utd a huge advantage on Tuesday night. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's dynamic, narrow 4-3-3 formation asks his forwards to frequently swap positions as Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba dominate through the centre, which should be the ideal system to pierce through PSG's tissue-paper midfield.
Marco Verratti is back from injury but badly lacking in match fitness, lasting just 60 minutes at the weekend, and the Italian tends to be flaky defensively when not at his best. If that wasn't bad enough PSG are in such a desperate situation that Dani Alves played in central midfield on Saturday, yet will return to right-back following Thomas Meunier's concussion. Consequently Thomas Tuchel will be forced to play a flimsy 4-4-2 with an unfit Verratti and Marquinhos in the middle. It seems unlikely this pair can hold Pogba, Lingard, and Ander Herrera at bay.
PSG's lack of forward options means United should be able to maintain a high tempo, applying constant pressure in front of the Old Trafford crowd to ensure this already-nervous PSG team crumble. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will struggle to hold the ball up, allowing United to dominate the ball.
Roma v Porto
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Roma will anticipate a fairly easy victory on Tuesday night, with Porto facing their first real test of the entire season; a simple Champions League group means the Portuguese club haven't had to play on the counter-attack at all this season. The hosts will dominate possession and look to attack down their favoured left flank, which means the key battle is between Stephan El Shaarawy and Eder Militao.
El Shaarawy has scored five goals in his last six Roma matches in all competitions, but more importantly was hugely influence in a 3-0 victory over Chievo last time out, attempting 11 dribbles and completing five from the far left side of the pitch. He hugs that flank to provide width and directness, two attributes Roma will need when faced with a deep-lying Porto defence.
Militao, moved to right-back for the last four matches, is an excellent young defender. He averages 3.75 tackles and 2.0 interceptions per match from that position; El Shaarawy will struggle to beat the 21-year-old one-on-one.
Tottenham v Dortmund
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Tottenham have finally found a formation that works while Fernando Llorente is up front: a diamond 4-4-2. It just happens to be the right system to face a Borussia Dortmund team that have failed to win any of their last three matches in all competitions. This is the perfect time to play Lucien Favre's side, who conceded three sloppy goals against Hoffenheim at the weekend - all from the sort of crosses that Spurs' full-backs will look to deliver as frequently as possible.
The diamond formation allows Spurs to maintain some control of midfield - which will be vital against such a possession-centric Dortmund - while narrowing the pitch. Mauricio Pochetino's side attempted plenty of long balls forward towards Llorente against Leicester, with Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son remaining close to the Spaniard for the knock downs. Although this tactic alone could be successful against Dortmund's shaky defence, the real danger for the visitors is Tottenham's overlapping full-backs.
Jan Vertonghen - who is likely to be at left-back with Danny Rose and Ben Davies injured - and Kieran Trippier get more room to cross the ball (aiming, of course, for Llorente's head) when Spurs use a formation without any wingers, because the system sucks the opposition inwards.
Dortmund have conceded seven goals in their last three games. Six have come from crosses. Llorente has a huge opportunity to be a Tottenham hero on Wednesday.
Ajax v Real Madrid
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Erik ten Hag's Ajax only know one way to play. Averaging 61% possession in the Eredivisie, they have returned to the expansive, position-swapping football of Johan Cruyff, which means Real Madrid can expect to meet quick, agile attackers - and a leaky defence. Ajax drew 3-3 with Bayern Munich in the group stages, while over the past month the Dutch side have drawn 4-4 with Heerenveen and lost 6-2 to Feyenoord.
The inexperience of youth will also play a part at the Amsterdam Arena. Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek are exciting technicians but as a duo in midfield are far too soft for the speed and fluency of Real's midfield. Luka Modric, back in form since January, should be able to dominate the game for the visitors.
However, Ajax's fluid one-touch football is bound to create chances on the counter-attack. Dani Carvajal and Marcelo will burst forward at every opportunity, leaving Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech potentially free to run at the Real centre-backs. There should be plenty of goals.