Premier League Tactical Preview: Fernando v Shelvey and other key battles

Fernando's reckless play offers Swansea the chance of an upset at Man City
Fernando's reckless play offers Swansea the chance of an upset at Man City
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Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including why Leicester should beat Chelsea and how Swansea can win at Man City...

"If Chelsea's central midfield is typically soft, Drinkwater will be able to wrestle for possession and free Vardy on the counter with ease."

Fernando and back four v Shelvey and Ayew
Man City v Swansea
Saturday, 15:00

With Garry Monk sacked, Swansea's confidence-stricken players need to collect points at the Etihad on Saturday to impress the new manager-in-waiting; this may be a daunting task, but close inspection of Man City's tactical failings against Stoke last weekend suggest that Swansea could exploit the same areas.

Fernando flew recklessly into tackles at the Britannia and was consistently caught too square (and too far away from) Fernandinho; he missed five tackles and allowed Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan to dominate the right side of the pitch. Unless Fabian Delph is brought in (his high energy is better suited to dominating a midfield battle) then expect Swansea's natural narrowness to overwhelm Man City.

Swansea will attempt to match City's possession, their controlling aesthetic achieved via wingers drifting infield to provide short-passing triangle options to overload central midfield. Andre Ayew is the key player in this system, and if he is on-form then they may stroll through the centre of the pitch - neither Yaya Toure nor Fernandinho are looking particularly dominant of late.

Furthermore, without Vincent Kompany Man City's high defensive line (they rarely enter their own penalty area even under sustained periods of territorial pressure) is in chaos; Stoke's Shaqiri played two wonderful through balls in between the back four last weekend, highlighting the large gaps between players and the confused offside trap. In Jonjo Shelvey, Swansea possess a player who will embrace the opportunity to attempt similar passes; four of their 14 goals this season have resulted from defence-splitting ground passes.

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Recommended Bet
Back Double Chance Swansea win/draw at 13/5

Ibe/Lallana v McClean
Liverpool v West Brom
Sunday, 16:00

Jurgen Klopp's tactical system has come up against an intriguing challenge in England. Victories over Southampton, Swansea and Man City have proved the effectiveness of the swarming gegenpress against ball-playing sides, but Liverpool have struggled against deep-lying teams (Crystal Palace and Newcastle) that refuse counter-attacking space and use long balls to nullify the press.

Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans will partner at centre-back for the first time in four matches, potentially ending West Brom's recent run of one clean sheet in five; their record prior to this was 55% clean sheets in matches under Tony Pulis. West Brom's model - a deep, narrow, congested shell with minimal risk-taking - is well renowned, and has led to under 2.5 goals in each of their last seven away league matches.

Liverpool, then, will need to find a way to create space despite holding the majority of possession in non-dangerous areas. Expect Jordan Ibe - offering natural width and directness - to start on the right in an effort to pull the model apart, with Adam Lallana supporting him on that right side (the most frequent source of Liverpool's attacks - 37%). Lallana has looked sharp under Klopp, and this right-centre zone will be a crucial creative area for the Baggies to defend.

Left winger James McClean boasts 2.5 tackles per game, and has shown great defensive discipline in tucking infield to defend as the corner of their brick wall. However, he is likely to drift away from this area as West Brom counter, and thus the returning Claudio Yacob (3.1 tackles, 3.2 interceptions) will be key in covering.

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Liverpool have scored just four goals in four home games under Klopp, while West Brom have conceded the fewest goals away from home (five). Yacob and McClean will be feeling confident.

Recommended Bet
Back under 2.5 goals at 5/6

Drinkwater v Oscar
Leicester v Chelsea
Monday, 20:00, Live on Sky Sports 1

Leicester City's swashbuckling tactics are built on solid defensive foundations, but the most crucial aspect of their play is lightening counter-attacks - invariably started by sweeping long passes from Danny Drinkwater for Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to chase. Chelsea's number ten must close him down quickly and consistently to prevent Leicester's remarkable charges towards goal.

Drinkwater attempts 9.0 long passes per game, hitting his target 49% of the time; these are not hoofed clearances, but careful hook passes over the opposition defence for Vardy to burst onto. All three of his assists have come from this type of pass, and the vast majority of Leicester's goals are initiated by a long ball.

Chelsea's Oscar will need to close him down immediately after his team lose possession, something that the Brazilian is not particularly adept at doing; he missed five of six tackles attempted in his last two games, against Spurs and Bournemouth.

Statszone (46).pngOscar's tackles v Spurs (left) and Drinkwater's long passes v Swansea (right)

This battle will only become important depending on the ability of Cesc Fabregas to control midfield when faced with N'Golo Kante; Kante makes more interceptions than any other player in the Premier League (4.3 per match), and more tackles than any of his Leicester team-mates (3.8 tackles per match). If Chelsea's central midfield is typically soft, Drinkwater will be able to wrestle for possession and free Vardy on the counter with ease.

Recommended Bet
Back Leicester to win at 21/10

Sanchez v Ozil
Aston Villa v Arsenal
Sunday, 13:30, Live on Sky Sports 1

Injury hit Arsenal were surprisingly self-assured against Sunderland last weekend, and their meeting with Aston Villa should comfortably see them claim three points. However, Remi Garde has significantly narrowed Villa's formation and injected a defensive solidity that grows week by week; employing a man-marking system against the more dangerous players, Carlos Sanchez's ability to track Mesut Ozil will be the key battle in this game.

Sanchez (2.9 tackles, 2.3 interceptons per game) was instrumental in Villa's impressive 0-0 draw with Man City in Garde's first game in charge, following Yaya Toure closely and nullifying his threat (zero chances created). Expect a similar man-to-man system on Saturday as Ozil ghosts around the pitch in search of space between the lines of defence and midfield. He is excellent at evading the challenge, and has scored or assisted in nine consecutive league matches; it is unlikely that Villa can hold him at bay.

Recommended Bet
Back Arsenal to win and over 1.5 goals at 5/6

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