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Premier League 2017-18: Tactical changes the Top Six need to make this summer

After a summer of tactical tweaks Chelsea's rivals will all be stronger.
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Alex Keble takes a look at the biggest tactical flaws of the Premier League top six in 2016/17 and suggests improvements that each club could make.

"More chaotic, dribbling-based intervention is still needed in the final third, and with Coutinho moved away Liverpool have space for dual wingers, which would force their opponents to become more stretched as they attempt to cover both flanks."

The 2016/17 Premier League season failed to provide us with the thrilling title race we had anticipated upon the appointment of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and Jurgen Klopp over the last 18 months, but their respective transitional years have left the league considerably more tactically sophisticated.

We take a look at the tactical changes each of the top six needs to make in order to challenge for the title in 2017/18...


Liverpool

The most glaring tactical flaw in Jurgen Klopp's gegenpressing model is their inability to break down ultra-defensive opponents; they dropped points against teams outside the top seven on 11 times this season. A lack of depth in central midfield (a more fluid, positionally mobile central midfielder is needed to challenge Emre Can) and goalkeeping woes have contributed to this problem, but more importantly Liverpool are overly reliant on scoring from counter-counter situations.

Fortunately, Klopp appears to have found a solution to this problem in the final two games of the campaign. Using Philippe Coutinho in a false-eight position (like Kevin de Bruyne at Manchester City) means the Brazilian can thread through-balls and cut through the lines of defence from deep - often before the opposition are able to retreat into a compact shell.

Klopp's clever tactical tweak means he should now look to sign a left winger who can mirror Sadio Mane. More chaotic, dribbling-based intervention is still needed in the final third, and with Coutinho moved away Liverpool have space for dual wingers, which would force their opponents to become more stretched as they attempt to cover both flanks. Currently, Liverpool are very narrow and require intricate, but predictable, build-up play when Mane is not involved.

With a second quick winger and Coutinho deep, not even the most stubborn of mid-table sides will be able to stop them.

Liverpool to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 9/1


Arsenal

Arsene Wenger's reluctant shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation has dramatically improved the overall cohesion of his often-disjointed Arsenal side, and the club must continue with this system in 2017/18 regardless of who is in charge. However, they remain too wide and expansive, largely due to a weakness in central midfield and their sporadic, haphazard pressing system.

Wenger is one of the few remaining top-level managers to snub the gegenpressing model popularised by Klopp at Dortmund. Too often this season his forwards, led by Alexis Sanchez, will hound down the ball while others rapidly retreat, creating three distinctly uncooperative lines of defence.

When confidence is high their shape inevitably becomes more compressed, but during those stodgy spring months it is their disorganised, half-hearted pressing that makes them so brittle and makes their central midfielders look so lost. Repetitive, hard work on the training field, led by a coach more attuned to modern aesthetics than Wenger, is the only way to solve this problem.

Arsenal also need to sign a new centre-forward in the mould of Antoine Griezmann; a mobile, connecting player who alternates as a false-nine and poacher. Sanchez was superb in this role in the early parts of the season, but the Gunners need his magic in the number ten space.

Arsenal to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 11/1


Manchester United

Jose Mourinho must increase speed, fluidity, and inter-connectivity in the final third if United are to challenge for honours. Mourinho's defensive tactics are the best in the division, but without a dramatically more courageous approach he risks fading into irrelevance.

Firstly, United must sign a box-to-box central midfielder capable of dominating space alongside Ander Herrera, which in turn will release Paul Pogba to make more aggressive shuttle runs up and down the pitch. Mourinho would do well to implement a 3-4-2-1 formation with Pogba in one of the number ten roles, but since it is highly unlikely he will abandon a 4-3-3 shape then freeing the Frenchman is his best option.

More importantly, Mourinho needs to land Griezmann. United's static attacking interplay is largely because there is not enough positional overlap in a team bereft of roaming playmakers. Griezmann's agility should help fold Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan into the game, while improving their ruthlessness in the penalty area.

Man Utd to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 3/1


Manchester City

Guardiola's incessant formation changes have undermined his team in 2016/17, but having secured Champions league qualification he won't mind too much. Next season, with a large arsenal of systems at their disposal, City will be ready to challenge for the title.

His inverted full-backs idea in August remains the most interesting yet used, although City have looked very effective in the V-shaped 4-5-1 that has allowed David Silva and De Bruyne to flourish as alternating false-eights. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are quickly learning how to make early runs from out to in, and increasingly through balls between the opposition full-back and centre-back are a crucial feature of this team.

Guardiola, then, simply needs to stop experimenting. Inexplicable decisions (either by ignoring the most glaring tactics of his opponents or by trialling untested formations at inopportune moments) caused City to drop points against Middlesbrough, Leicester, Everton (twice) and Southampton this season. If they had won all of these matches, City would have finished second, on 90 points.

A few high-quality upgrades in defence, plus the return of Ilkay Gundogan, will be enough to make them the biggest force in English football by the end of the summer.

Man City to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 23/10


Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs' points tally (86) was enough to win the Premier League title in four of the last eight seasons; Mauricio Pochettino's tactics do not need much improving. However, at times their wonderfully choreographed system is almost too well organised, and lacks moments of inspiration that are effective precisely because they break the rhythms set by the manager.

Pochettino must sign a creative player who can make that cult-hero impact, such as Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea City. His set-piece specialty and long-range finishing would make him a valuable rotation player, adding the final piece to the jigsaw.

Spurs to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 8/1


Chelsea

Antonio Conte's 3-4-2-1 could become stale next season as wary opponents begin to follow the precedent set by Mourinho at Old Trafford, although the Italian has already started work on a back-up plan. Chelsea's main goal over the summer is to continue working on the 3-4-1-2, a variation of the current system that will require a second striker to play alongside Michy Batshuayi.

The ex-Marseille forward has a better goals-per-minute ratio than any other player in the division and deserves a chance in the first-team, perhaps alongside a more-advanced Pedro. Other than replacing Diego Costa, there is very little for Conte to change.

Chelsea to win the 2017/18 Premier League is currently available at 7/2

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