Alex Keble assesses four tactical battles ahead of this weekend's Premier League games, backing a 12.6 bet builder...
"Nuno needs to embrace a more progressive philosophy at Tottenham; this is his first test."
Man City v Norwich
Norwich were far too open against Liverpool and frankly nowhere near aggressive enough to stop Jurgen Klopp's front three from dominating. As we saw two years ago when Norwich were last in the Premier League, Daniel Farke's tactics are too expansive: there is little compression between the lines and no clear structure defensively, which meant Liverpool's full-backs got just as much space out wide as their forwards did centrally.
Man City will win this very comfortably. They struggled to play with fluency in an opening day defeat to Tottenham Hotspur largely because Nuno Espirito Santo did well to block the centre of the pitch in a narrow 4-3-3 formation, but Norwich will not manage this. At the Etihad, City will pass through the lines with ease, getting the ball frequently out to Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling - who combined well last weekend.
Grealish and Sterling took it in turns holding the width and occupying the half-space, generally confusing Spurs until Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg got control of the game. Norwich, with Todd Cantwell staying high up the pitch from the right, will leave Max Aarons with too much to do against this dual threat.
Wolves v Spurs
Nuno Espirito's winning start could be a false dawn, in that his Wolves side managed to beat Manchester City twice in 2019 with similar tactics to those deployed on Sunday. Spurs' narrow front three was superb on the counter-attack after the hosts had absorbed pressure, but this system won't be much use against Wolves. Nuno needs to embrace a more progressive philosophy at Tottenham; this is his first test.
Wolves will be the ones sitting a little deeper, looking to limit space for a pacey front three from within their usual 3-4-3 formation. That should create a tight and claustrophobic game, with few chances for either side as a possible Harry Kane-less Tottenham find out they lack the creativity to break down a deep block.
However, there is hope in the deployment of Dele Alli, who has been in a dual eight/ten role in pre-season as Tottenham's formation shifts between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Given that Wolves only have two central midfielders in Bruno Lage's formation, Dele may be able to ghost into pockets of space to make the difference in a low-scoring game.
Arsenal v Chelsea
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Mikel Arteta is already in trouble, and the Emirates crowd - even when grateful to be back at capacity - are unlikely to be very forgiving if Arsenal again start passively. Travelling to Brentford, whose fans were experiencing their new stadium for the first time and top-flight football for the first time in 74 years, was always going to be an intimidating way to start. Nevertheless, Arsenal looked psychologically distraught from the opening minute.
This will inform the tactical battle on Sunday when a ferocious, hard-pressing, and confident Chelsea will look to swarm their hosts from the off. The measured and structured rhythms of Tuchel's team last season should give way to a more vertical and aggressive aesthetic after a pre-season of his coaching, which will make Arsenal fans nervous. Arteta's plan simply looks too frigid and fragile for the energy Chelsea will bring.
To make things worse, Romelu Lukaku is in line to start. He is the kind of explosive player who will strike fear into the hearts of the Arsenal centre-backs, and flanked by two inside forwards can pull Arteta's back three all over the place. It is hard to see how the hosts will cope with the speed, energy, and incisiveness of Tuchel's side.
Brighton v Watford
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Xisco's first Premier League game was hugely entertaining, mainly because Aston Villa got off to a dreadful start defensively, and although Brighton are far more coherent their expansive possession-based approach is similar to Dean Smith's. Consequently this is another game set up for lots of goals as two distinct styles clash at the Amex.
Watford look to sit back and wait for counter-attacking opportunities, bursting quickly down the flanks via the dribbling of Ismaili Sarr or Ken Sema. Sarr is particularly effective, terrorising Matt Targett last weekend, and he is likely to cause makeshift left-back Pascal Gross similar problems. That is one mismatch in the visitors' favour, made worse by the fact Brighton are clearly vulnerable to quick breaks in Graham Potter's adventurous system.
The creativity in Brighton's side will put a pretty ropey Watford back four under pressure, however, and like Villa in the second half at Vicarage Road Brighton can poke holes in the defence via the creativity of Adam Lallana and Leandro Trossard. There will be goals at both ends in this one, with a narrow Watford win on the cards.
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