Alex Keble assesses four tactical battles ahead of this weekend's Premier League games, building a 33/1 acca based on the idea that Wolves will take Man City close and Gerrard will endure an unhappy return to Anfield...
"Wolves play with a two-man midfield and while that was not an issue against Liverpool (who attack predominantly out wide through their full-backs) the way De Bruyne floats into the half-spaces could evade Leander Dendoncker on the left."
Man City v Wolves
Live on BT Sport
Live on BT Sport 1Wolverhampton Wanderers have been far more attacking this season despite retaining the 3-4-3 formation used by Nuno Espirito Santo. Bruno Lage builds possession more carefully, giving Wolves a greater share of territory and allowing them to play on the front foot - but that all changed for the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool, in which their defensive resolve took them within minutes of a draw.
They will follow that pattern at the Etihad. Wolves will be happy to sit back, pressing only in the middle third of the pitch and allowing Man City to hog as much as 70% of the ball. Pep Guardiola's side, without a central striker, have been shown to struggle on occasion this season when faced with a brick wall of defensive bodies. It could be enough for Wolves to grab an unlikely point.
However, the return of Kevin de Bruyne throws a spanner in the works. Wolves play with a two-man midfield and while that was not an issue against Liverpool (who attack predominantly out wide through their full-backs) the way De Bruyne floats into the half-spaces could evade Leander Dendoncker on the left of the Wolves central midfield. Nevertheless it will be a low-scoring game.
Liverpool v Aston Villa
Aston Villa pushed Man City all the way a fortnight ago but travelling to Anfield is a different proposition altogether, and Steven Gerrard's narrow 4-3-2-1 - with two number tens behind the striker - is potentially vulnerable to Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Certainly if Villa start slowly again, and fail to aggressively take the game to Liverpool, they will be beaten comfortably.
Against Leicester City last weekend, in the first half the full-backs had too much time on the ball due to Villa's very narrow formation even when out of possession, but Gerrard's side built into the game by moving to a 4-5-1 (the number tens dropping like wingers) in the second. Villa must start that way on Saturday, otherwise Jurgen Klopp's flying full-backs will be able to dominate the game, especially because the Liverpool front three tend to draw the opposition defenders inwards anyway.
Villa's main hope is Ollie Watkins managing to hold up the ball and get the visitors up the pitch, but in truth they don't have the pace on the counter to really damage Liverpoo's high defensive line. Klopp's side should be able to keep a clean sheet, and surely they can score; Villa have only kept one clean sheet under Gerrard so far.
Leicester City v Newcastle
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Newcastle's huge result against Burnley is supposed to kick-start their season, but an unconvincing win against a fellow relegation struggler does not prove much. Granted, Joelinton's good form as a number ten and Callum Wilson performing well ahead of him is a positive sign for the future, but Eddie Howe is introducing a more attacking and possession-based way of playing, which is unlikely to work in the majority of matches.
Leicester will be able to start James Maddison and Jamie Vardy in this game, and the last time they played together at home Maddison twice assisted Vardy with brilliant, quick through balls in behind. It was the classic combination, back in action, and the number ten should find plenty of space to play those passes this weekend.
Newcastle's two-man midfield of Jonjo Shelvey and Jo Willock surely isn't good enough. They are not helped by how stretched Newcastle will be, such is their new commitment to attacking football and counter-attacking in numbers; in the transition, Leicester can play fast vertical football through midfield and get Maddison in space to assist Vardy.
Crystal Palace v Everton
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Crystal Palace's form has fallen off a cliff, losing three in a row and not recording a win in the Premier League since the beginning of November. The hit to their confidence has seen a significant downturn in energy, badly affecting their usual excellent collective pressing in the middle third of the pitch, and all of a sudden they are struggling to get the ball into Wilfried Zaha in dangerous areas. The most important game of these four, in terms of what will happen on Sunday, is the 2-1 defeat to Villa.
In that game Patrick Vieira's side held 63% possession and yet they were easily held back by Villa, who always seemed in control of the game. Rafael Benitez likes to hold a deep defensive line and wait for opportunities to counter-attack through Demarai Gray, and so this game may look similar - although the littany of errors we see at Everton, particularly from Michael Keane, suggests this game will be more chaotic.
The speed and drive in the Palace attack, led by the aggressive Conor Gallagher, can disrupt some passive Everton midfielders and create chances. However, with the hosts at a low ebb, they are clearly vulnerable to Gray's breaks behind Joel Ward. In other words, this should be a really entertaining game that yo-yos from end to end.
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