Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Four key battles

Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal
Swansea stand a chance of at least holding Spurs this weekend.
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Alex Keble returns with his tactical analysis for the big Premier League and FA Cup games, including why Chelsea and Spurs might struggle to progress...

"Wilfred Ndidi and Vicente Iborra amassed eight tackles between them at West Brom. Together, these two are highly likely to deny Hazard the space he needs in central attacking midfield, stunting Chelsea and causing a low-scoring result at the King Power."

Swansea's narrow five-man defence to stunt Kane-less Spurs

FA Cup: Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur
Saturday 12:15, Live on BT Sport 1

Swansea City have won each of their last seven home matches in all competitions since losing 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in Carlos Cavrvalhal's first match at the Liberty Stadium. The Welsh club were unlucky to lose that game after an offside goal from Fernando Llorente broke the deadlock before Dele Alli scored in the 89th minute after a moment of Harry Kane magic. Crucially, neither Llorente nor Kane will likely play this weekend in the FA Cup.

Swansea's 5-4-1 formation squeezes space superbly, which is particularly effective against teams that like to play almost exclusively through the centre of the pitch. Spurs can be guilty of overly-elaborate play in the middle, which will be problematic without Kane on the pitch; Heung-Min Son will drop deep to help swamp the number 10 space, but against such deep-lying opponents there is a danger Spurs will struggle to carve Swansea open.

Over-playing in front of a deep defence and failing to adapt to a wider tactic is exactly what led to Spurs' draws at Newport County and Southampton in 2018. They also only just beat Palace last month thanks to an 88th-minute goal from the absent Kane.


Ndidi and Iborra to keep Hazard quiet

FA Cup: Leicester City v Chelsea
Sunday 16:30, Live on BBC One

Leicester's recent 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge gives us a strong indication of how this match will go. The two biggest moments of the game - a Shinji Okazaki chance and a Riyad Mahrez penalty shout - came via long balls into the channels from Leicester as Chelsea's stand-off approach invited pressure. Given that Mahrez and Jamie Vardy combined brilliantly to break the deadlock at West Brom with a long ball forward, Chelsea fans should be concerned.

But even if Leicester cannot find enough space to win the match they will be confident of keeping the score low. Chelsea consistently rely upon Eden Hazard for inspiration these days as the club slowly crumble under Antonio Conte, and this weekend the Belgian will be faced with one of the best defensive midfield partnerships in the country.

Wilfred Ndidi and Vicente Iborra amassed eight tackles between them at West Brom. Together, these two are highly likely to deny Hazard the space he needs in central attacking midfield, stunting Chelsea and causing a low-scoring result at the King Power.


Richarlison can inflict further damage on Alexander-Arnold

PL: Liverpool v Watford
Saturday 17:30, Live on BT Sport 1

Detailed analysis of Manchester United's opening goal against Liverpool last weekend saw 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold feel the full force of the British press for the first time, but in truth he was lucky few seemed to spot a similarly glaring error for United's second. He turned his back on Marcus Rashford's shot, something Jurgen Klopp will have been keen to point out this week in training.

Likely to be nervous for this one, then, Alexander-Arnold will fear coming up against Watford's Richarlison, who will have been instructed to isolate the young full-back and get round the outside. The 20-year-old Brazilian hasn't scored or assisted in the Premier League since mid-December, but this is the perfect opportunity for him to end that run.

Liverpool should still have enough to comfortably win the match, but as Watford break down the left it would come as no surprise should Alexander-Arnold once again get caught out of position - particularly if Troy Deeney tries to bully Dejan Lovren as Romelu Lukaku did at Old Trafford.


Returning Zaha to take on Hadergjonaj

PL: Huddersfield Town v Crystal Palace
Saturday, 15:00

This relegation six-pointer seems likely to follow the "attack-versus-defence" pattern that has become newly popular in the Premier League. Crystal Palace's run of seven matches without a win means Roy Hodgson will look to sure up the defence and hit the hosts on the counter, while Huddersfield Town are playing with increasing adventurousness on home soil.

Huddersfield have held an average of 62% possession in their last five league games at the Kirklees, while they remain top of the charts for tackles (19.5 per match) and third for interceptions (12.9 per match). David Wagner's side will play expansively, happy to push Palace back and force the opener. Unfortunately, this plays to Wilfried Zaha's strengths.

He is excellent at breaking on the counter alongside Christian Benteke, waiting for flick-ons and charging down the left touchline. This should cause a big problem for right-back Florent Hadergjonaj, who was at fault for both of Tottenham Hotspur's goals in the 2-0 defeat a fortnight ago. First he tried to play Heung-Min Son offside at an inopportune moment, and then in the second half he failed to track the South Korean's run. Unless Hadergjonaj significantly improves, Zaha will come out on top.


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