Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including why Stoke can beat Man City and how Diego Costa will return to form against Bournemouth...
"Delph's wonderfully agile dribbling through the middle will be key to breaking through the brick wall, and it will be Whelan (2.4 tackles, 2.1 interceptions per match) charged with stopping this."
Delph v Whelan
Stoke v Man City
Saturday, 12:45, Live on BT Sport 1
Manchester City's incisive speed and dominance reignited last weekend in their emphatic 3-1 victory over Southampton, and similar energy levels will be needed to break through Stoke City's extremely compact defence. The reason for City's upturn in momentum is the emergence of Fabian Delph, whose battle against Glenn Whelan will be vital at the Britannia on Saturday.
Delph is a superb athlete; he is an elastic-limbed box-to-box player capable of both dominating in the tackle and dribbling through the centre of the pitch with remarkable ease. He is a leader on the pitch, and in time will become one of Man City's most vital assets. In his short time at the Etihad, Delph already averages more tackles per 90 (5.0) and more dribbles per 90 (5.0) than any other City player; it is no coincidence that his full debut coincided with a forceful, high-velocity performance from Manuel Pellegrini's team.
Stoke City may be struggling creatively, but they have only conceded four goals in their last seven games. All four of these were against weaker opponents - Watford and Sunderland - who faced a higher line than will be used against City. Delph's wonderfully agile dribbling through the middle will be key to breaking through the brick wall, and it will be Whelan (2.4 tackles, 2.1 interceptions per match) charged with stopping this. Their head-to-head will be a fascinating duel, and a potentially decisive one.
Back under 2.5 goals at evens
Brady v Cathcart
Watford v Norwich
At this stage of the season, a league position and points tally can be misleading. With a flurry of winter fixtures around the corner Watford's encouraging start could dissolve in an instant. It may not be the most glamorous tie of the weekend, but if Watford are defeated by Norwich then Quique Flores's team could be dragged into the relegation mire by Christmas. They will need to watch out for the in-form Robbie Brady.
Six of Norwich's 17 goals this season have come from set-pieces, the highest ratio in the division (35.2%). Eight of their last ten goals have resulted from crosses (their 2.6 key passes from crosses per match is the highest in the bottom half of the table) and Norwich's five goals scored from corners is the joint most with Man City. It is clear where their primary threat lies.
Only three Premier League players complete more crosses per match than Brady's 2.0, and his form has improved greatly since Alex Neil moved him to left wing. In a scrappy affair at Vicarage Road between two teams with organised and compact defensive shapes, crosses from deep are likely to be a feature; as such, Craig Cathcart may just be Watford's most important player.
Cathcart is the leader of this defence, and acts as such with 5.6 clearances per game. It is unlikely that Watford will be able to prevent those dangerous crosses from coming in, but Cathcart is their best chance of nullifying the threat.
Back both teams to score at 5/4
Tiote v Coutinho
Newcastle v Liverpool
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports 1
Given Liverpool's frenzied attacking mentality and the unsettling nature of the gegenpress, they are possibly the worst team for confidence-stricken Newcastle United to be facing right now. If Steve McClaren is to somehow prevent Jurgen Klopp's men from running riot, they will need to close out the enormous spaces between defence and midfield - something that may be achieved by welcoming back Cheick Tiote.
Newcastle have conceded more shots per game (16.9) than any other team, and this is partly due to the open spaces between the back four and midfield five (an issue that usually arises due to a lack of hard work and tracking back). They have conceded seven goals from outside the box this season, with Crystal Palace's first and third goals resulting directly from within these areas; Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita failed to make a single interception.
Tiote has been plagued with injury this season, but in his last two starts before his latest setback - against Bournemouth and Stoke - he helped Newcastle keep clean sheets with seven tackles. His role between the lines will be essential against the constant flitting of Liverpool's supporting trio behind Christian Benteke.
Adam Lallana has excelled under Klopp, but it is Philippe Coutinho - cutting in from the left - that will present the biggest problem if these holes are not closed out. Given that Newcastle have misplaced more passes in their own half this season (364) than any team bar Bournemouth, and Liverpool's entire tactical model is focused on winning the ball deep in opposition territory, it is likely that Tiote will struggle to achieve this on his own.
Back Liverpool to win and over 1.5 goals at 19/20
Hazard v Distin
Chelsea v Bournemouth
Saturday, 17:30, Live on Sky Sports 1
The wily determination in Chelsea's dogged draw at White Hart Lane felt like a typical Jose Mourinho performance; there is plenty of work left to be done, but it looks like Chelsea are slowly recovering form. It is vital that they beat Bournemouth comfortably at Stamford Bridge to build momentum, and Eden Hazard holds the key to success.
In his last home match Hazard amassed nine dribbles and five key passes in a menacing performance from central attacking midfield (where he is likely to play on Saturday, given Diego Costa's bullish threat against the league's leakiest defence).
Chelsea can be expected to dominate possession as Bournemouth camp deep in their own half, and Hazard's ability to thread the killer ball through the defence will be a defining feature. The key battle therefore will be against Sylvain Distin, a 37-year-old defender particularly vulnerable to this strategy due to his poor speed and agility. It is not hard to envisage Hazard dance through midfield and provide an assist for Costa - as he easily turns the Frenchman.
Back Costa to score any time at 10/11