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Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Kante v Alli & other key battles

Klopp's Liverpool will need to be wary of Benteke this weekend
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Alex Keble takes a look at four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League and FA Cup, including why Crystal Palace could beat Liverpool at Anfield...

"Sam Allardyce is employing his tried-and-tested methods to turn Crystal Palace into an effective counter-attacking team. Liverpool could easily be caught out, unless Lucas Leiva successfully mops up around former team-mate Christian Benteke."

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur

Kante v Alli
Saturday, 17:15, Live on BBC One

At a neutral venue and on a large pitch, this match should closely mimic the tactical battle of Spurs' 2-0 win against Chelsea at White Hart Lane in January. On that occasion, the aggressiveness of Mauricio Pochettino's high line forced Chelsea back, with Pedro and Eden Hazard struggling for space against a back three. It was the first successful instance of a team stunting Chelsea by copying their 3-4-2-1 formation.

Assuming Pochettino uses this system again, much will rest on N'Golo Kante's ability to control Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen better than last time. Supported by a high back line, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama will sit on top of Pedro and Hazard, forcing them out wide and making it very difficult for Antonio Conte's team to counter. Chelsea will find themselves under the cosh unless they can force Spurs deeper.

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Doing so will require Kante controlling the central space, which in turn will create room for Chelsea's wing-backs to move ahead of the play and push the two teams away from the Chelsea goal. Alli has been in outstanding form recently and is even more effective in a 4-2-3-1 (the close support of Eriksen gives him more room in the number ten space), making Kante's job incredibly difficult. Given that the Frenchman has not been on form recently, Spurs should come out on top.

Recommended Bet
Back Spurs to qualify at 10/11


Arsenal v Man City

Wenger's high pressing v Toure & Bravo
Sunday, 15:00, Live on BT Sport 1

Arsenal's impressive 2-2 draw against Man City at the start of April was largely the result of their surprisingly aggressive pressing, which disrupted City's attempts to pass out from the back. Willy Caballero attempted 26 long passes and just 14 short passes, which resulted in Pep Guardiola's team becoming elongated and disjointed; the defenders came ever shorter to receive the ball while the forwards went longer to wait for long passes.

Arsene Wenger's team should be able to do this again on Saturday, although this time Yaya Toure and Claudio Bravo are expected to start. The former will add more composure into central midfield (making it easier to get away from the press, and bringing David Silva into the game) and the latter should be able to make more accurate passes. Together, these two may create a sense of calm that allows City to carry the ball from the back, ready to release Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin de Bruyne in the carefully choreographed patterns they plan in training.

However, if either of these players are off form then Arsenal could disrupt the flow of the team. Their high pressing, led by Alexis Sanchez, may also lead to goals for Wenger's side. Jesus Navas continues to look uncomfortable at right-back, while Bravo's confidence is still low. If Arsenal's pressing wins them the ball deep in City territory, expect Sanchez to make them pay. As such, a high scoring game is imminent.

Recommended Bet
Back over 3.5 goals at 5/4


Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Lucas v Benteke
Sunday, 16:30, Live on Sky Sports 1

Palace's 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge has made us sit up and pay attention to the Big Sam project in west London. Using a big target man, plenty of long balls, and quick distribution to the wings, Sam Allardyce is employing his tried-and-tested methods to turn Crystal Palace into an effective counter-attacking team. Liverpool could easily be caught out, unless Lucas Leiva successfully mops up around former team-mate Christian Benteke.

Lucas has completed 13 tackles and eight interceptions in his last two games, adding much-needed stability to the base of the Liverpool midfield. Jurgen Klopp's frantic playing style has left them vulnerable in the defensive midfield zone all season, but the Brazilian's ability to sense danger - and sweep up the second balls - has changed that. Romelu Lukaku was completely nullified in the Merseyside derby as Lucas made nine tackles. He stuck tight to Lukaku, either winning headers or calmly collecting the loose balls that fell around the Belgian.

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Benteke won an average of 10 headers per match in Palace's wins against Arsenal and Chelsea. He was the fulcrum of their long-ball football, and his aerial dominance allowed Allardyce's team to get up the pitch before quickly spreading the ball out to Andros Townsend or Wilfried Zaha. The only feasible way to prevent this is for Lucas to be first to the second balls. Given the defensive chaos around him, Lucas' work is unlikely to be good enough.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Palace/draw at 29/20


Burnley v Manchester United

Keane v Ibrahimovic
Sunday, 14:15, Live on Sky Sports 1

Bunrley do not get enough credit for their home record, which is the sixth best in the division; only four teams have won at Turf Moor this season and Sean Dyche's team have conceded just 16 goals. Goal-shy Manchester United, then, will struggle get maximum points in this one, with Jose Mourinho likely to return to his usual 4-3-3 formation.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been relied upon for a moment of inspiration on far too many occasions. Against a deep-lying, highly organised defence his strength, and ability to score from the most unlikely scenarios, is surely United's best route to goal (the brilliant Marcus Rashford/Jesse Lingard striker-partnership used against Chelsea last weekend isn't suited to games when United will dominate possession, and so will be put to one side for now).

Michael Keane has been the most important player in the Burnley squad this season. The 24-year-old has blossomed into a natural leader, and it is he who will organise the brick wall facing Mourinho's team. If Burnley pull off an upset this weekend, Keane will surely be walking off the pitch as man of the match.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Burnley/draw at 13/10

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