Alex Keble assesses four tactical battles ahead of this weekend's Premier League games, with a bet from each game building a fourfold that pays out at over 22/1...
"West Ham can win the midfield battle, slow United right down, and expose the problem with Ronaldo leading the line."
Burnley v Arsenal
There are finally some green shoots at Arsenal. Five new signings started the win over Norwich City, and it looks as though Mikel Arteta now has the tactically adaptable and intelligent players he needs to put that Pep Guardiola teaching into practice. For the final 30 minutes against the Canaries, Arteta switched to the 4-3-3 formation he has always wanted to deploy, and it worked pretty well.
Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe were deployed as the dual playmakers, as we see with Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva at Manchester City, and Norwich's midfield were unable to cope with the speed of their interplay. Encouragingly for the visitors, this is exactly how Everton managed to turn the game in their 3-1 defeat of Burnley last weekend, as Rafael Benitez made a substitution that added an extra midfielder and pushed Abdoulaye Doucoure up the pitch.
Burnley's two-man midfield could not cope with the attacking midfielders as Everton cut through the wide open spaces centrally. Arsenal's new 4-3-3, then, is ideal to outnumber Sean Dyche's side and record back-to-back wins. Contrary to popular belief Burnley are not good against the big teams. They should fold under pressure on Saturday.
Norwich City v Watford
This is a must-win game for Daniel Farke, whose side were supposed to be more streetwise this season following the signings of Billy Gilmour, Ozan Kabak, Milot Rashica, and Ben Gibson. Instead, they look exactly the same as in 2019/20: overly adventurous, porous between the lines, and generally disorganised in their own third. This is a six-pointer and disaster looms if Norwich are beaten.
Unfortunately, Watford are likely to win. Xisco has made a confident start to the Premier League season thanks to his use of a deep and compressed counter-attacking system, in which Watford humbly look to absorb pressure before releasing Ismaili Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis down the flanks (only Newcastle attack through the middle less often than Watford's 21% of the time, per WhoScored).
This humility, up against Norwich's expansive football, should work. Norwich have already conceded 11 goals and allowed the fourth most crosses against them in the division (23 per game). As they pour forward to attack the visitors, big gaps will appear for Sarr to break clear and get the better of Brandon Williams.
West Ham v Man Utd
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Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Young Boys in midweek showed that Cristiano Ronaldo might not be the answer to the Red Devils' problems. The way he drifted through the game, getting increasingly frustrated, showed that his minimal impact outside the box may not make up for United's lack of sophistication in their ball progression. More importantly, his lack of pressing set an unhelpful tone. Young Boys' equaliser began with a dribble and pass made where Ronaldo should have been, but instead he was jogging back, out of position.
If Ronaldo does not press from the front then United are vulnerable to being turned in central midfield - their weakest position - once the ball is easily fed into this area. That should give West Ham fans some optimism this weekend considering David Moyes will undoubtedly sit his team a little deep, looking to create those weary sideways passes we see all too often from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer teams, and then use Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek to surge past Ronaldo.
Michail Antonio's absence is a problem but Jarrod Bowen will run the channels well as his stand in. West Ham can win the midfield battle, slow the visitors right down, and expose the problem with Ronaldo leading the line. They are more than capable of getting at least a point.
Spurs v Chelsea
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Tottenham Hotspur are struggling to pass with any cohesion at the moment; they rank bottom of the league for 'progressive passes', per WyScout. Chelsea are surprisingly conservative in big games, only snapping into challenges in the central third, just as Crystal Palace did in a brilliant 3-0 win that exposed the problem with Nuno Espirito Santo's focus on counter-attacks over meticulous possession.
Spurs won't be able to build up the pitch easily then, a problem made worse by Heung-Min Son's absence and Harry Kane's sluggish performances. It is hard to see where their goals will come from, and defending won't be easy either. A defensive crisis has developed after Japhet Tanganga's suspension, Eric Dier's injury, and the quarantining of Davinson Sanchez and Cristian Romero. Romelu Lukaku might have a field day at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
If that wasn't enough to predict a Chelsea win, Tottenham's very narrow 4-3-3 is leaving lots of space on the flanks for opponents. Their overworked full-backs could be in trouble up against Chelsea's wing-backs, who will look to repeat the overloads used so effectively in a 2-0 defeat of Arsenal. Emerson Royal, still recovering from a nightmare debut against Crystal Palace, is particularly vulnerable to the marauding runs of Marcus Alonso.
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