Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Four Key Battles

Jurgen Klopp
Alex expects West Brom to continue their good run of form against Liverpool
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Alex Keble returns with his tactical analysis for the weekend's big games, including why upcoming European matches means West Brom and West Ham could take points from Liverpool and Arsenal respectively...

"With Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oriol Romeu once again out-battling Cesc Fabregas in the middle, Southampton stand a real chance of causing an upset at Wembley."

Rodriguez & McClean will threaten Liverpool's weakened right wing

West Brom v Liverpool
Saturday, 12:30, Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Jurgen Klopp is highly likely to rest key players given Liverpool play AS Roma next week, just as he did for the 0-0 draw with Everton that sat between the Manchester City Champions League ties. Consequently, Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke, and Nathaniel Clyne can all expect to start - which significantly weakens the hosts' right flank.

Liverpool's high pressing is considerably less effective without their usual front three, meaning West Brom should be able to launch counter-attacks (via long balls into the left channel) more effectively. Clyne, still recovering from a serious back injury, is lacking the sharpness required to deal with a tricky winger.

West Brom look more stable under Darren Moore, who appears to have simplified their counter-attacking strategy while reinforcing their basic defensive shape. Almost everything now filters through left winger James McClean, who in just two matches under Moore has already posted his highest stats for the season in key passes (four v Swansea), accurate crosses (three versus Man Utd), and dribbles (three v Swansea).

Along with Jay Rodriguez, enjoying a hybrid midfield/striker roll in the new regime to help West Brom transition from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2, McClean can dominate on the left this weekend when isolating Clyne.

Masuaku & Arnautovic counters could be too strong for second string Arsenal

Arsenal v West Ham
Sunday, 13:30, Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Another team with bigger fish to fry is Arsenal, who started Reiss Nelson, Callum Chambers, and Mohamed Elneny against Southampton four days before the club's Europa League tie against CSKA Moscow. Atletico Madrid travel to the Emirates shortly after West Ham's visit, meaning Arsenal will again be weakened - and probably far below their best.

West Ham's Arthur Masuaku is their key counter-attacking weapon, his driving runs down the left often causing damage under David Moyes. Coupled with Marko Arnautovic up-front, these two should get the better of Chambers, who is likely to struggle once again from right-back, particularly if Nelson is tasked with tracking back on that side.

Arsenal's biggest defensive concern is failing to close down crosses; something that has directly led to goals conceded in each of their last four away Premier League games. Their lack of pressing will give Masuaku time and space to pick out Arnautovic.

Eriksen's crossing from wide positions could damage narrow United

Manchester United v Tottenham
Saturday, 17:15, Live on BBC One

Manchester United's dreadful performance against West Brom was characterised by their overall narrowness as Jose Mourinho's team predictably attacked almost exclusively through the middle of the pitch even though the space was clearly out wide. This model is repeated in every United match, and it can often leave them vulnerable to opposition attacks down the flanks. In a congested and cagey affair at Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur's ability to quickly switch the play to the wings could prove decisive.

Spurs cross the ball more than any other Premier League club (22 per match), reflecting their reliance on overlapping wing-backs, long diagonals into the channels, and the expert delivery of Christian Eriksen. The Denmark international is flourishing from wider positions this season, often finding the space he needs to whip crosses into the box; given United's full-backs stay so close to their centre-backs, Harry Kane can expect good service.

Phil Jones's own goal in Spurs' 2-0 victory over United earlier in the season was the result of a low cross from Kieran Trippier, who had fifteen yards of space in all directions. This followed the wider pattern of a match in which Eriksen attempted eight crosses.

Can Alonso-less Chelsea cope with Soares and Ward-Prowse?

Chelsea v Southampton
Sunday, 15:00, Live on BT Sport 1

The most important feature of Mark Hughes's new 3-4-2-1 formation is attacking wing-backs. Both Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand charged forward dangerously against Chelsea and Arsenal in their last two matches, taking advantage of the extra space that comes from their opponents being heavily preoccupied with Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse as dual number tens.

Marcos Alonso has been suspended for three matches for his stamp on Shane Long last weekend, which means Chelsea will be forced to either play Emerson at left wing-back or shift Victor Moses across; either option considerably weakens Chelsea's ability to defend the flanks.

Soares grabbed two assists at Arsenal, while Ward-Prowse's dead-ball delivery was a constant threat against Chelsea - thanks to Saints winning numerous corners and freekicks via Bertrand and Soares. With Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oriol Romeu once again out-battling Cesc Fabregas in the middle, Southampton stand a real chance of causing an upset at Wembley.

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