Premier League Tactical Preview: Chelsea v Watford and other key battles

Watford should be able to get a result at Chelsea on Saturday
Watford should be able to get a result at Chelsea on Saturday
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Alex Keble returns with his weekly tactical preview of the Premier League, picking out four key battles, including why Watford should avoid defeat at Stamford Bridge and how Palace can win at Newcastle...

"In the narrow 5-3-1-1 formation used in midweek, Spurs can nullify Philippe Coutinho’s movement into the middle while denying space for Mohamed Ssalah on the right."

Chelsea v Watford

Kante-less Chelsea v Silva's aggressive midfield
Saturday, 12:30,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

A run of three successive games without victory, including an exhausting draw in midweek against AS Roma, leaves Chelsea tired and low on confidence as they welcome one of the most energetic and in-form teams in the Premier League. N'Golo Kante's continued absence only increases the likelihood that the hosts will be outfought by Watford on Saturday.

Watford make 13.9 interceptions per match - the third highest in the division - largely because of Marco Silva's complex tactical system (that shuts down passing lines, rather than players) but also thanks to their aggression and tenacity in central midfield. Their winning goal against Arsenal last weekend was the perfect example of Silva's bold attacking tactics and compressed formation; Watford won the "second ball" three times in the build-up to Tom Cleverley's stoppage-time winner.

When confidence is low, winning second balls and maintaining shape becomes increasingly difficult, making Chelsea second favourites at Stamford Bridge. Abdoulaye Doucoure and Cleverley should get the better of Tiemoue Bakayoko and either Cesc Fabregas or David Luiz - both of whom are positionally undisciplined when playing in a deep midfield role.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Watford/draw at 12/5

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace

Unfamiliar possession v Zaha & Townsend
Saturday 15:00

Rafa Benitez's cautious tactical approach is well documented, but it might still come as a surprise to learn his Newcastle side average 38.7% possession at St. James' Park, the second lowest in the division. Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace won't let that happen this weekend, which could leave the Magpies' defenders in an awkward and unfamiliar position, favouring the counter-attacking speed of Palace's stand-in forwards.

Andros Townsend and Wifried Zaha were exceptional at the top of a 4-4-2 formation against Chelsea last Saturday, often drifting out wide to aid the counter but always sticking close together. It was a clever move from Hodgson that exploited Chelsea's high line.

They won't have as much room at Newcastle, but, with Palace sitting deep and inviting pressure, Newcastle are likely to leave some gaps for these two to drive into. Any mistakes at the back will be punished, and as Benitez's side become increasingly lethargic with their aimless possession Zaha should pounce.

Recommended Bet
Back Palace to win at 3/1

Swansea City v Leicester City

Olsson v Mahrez
Saturday, 15:00

Two teams under pressure, and lacking in quality from top to bottom, will no doubt produce a low-scoring and uninteresting game at the Liberty Stadium. Neither side have particularly intricate attacking tactics currently, but there is a key battle on Leicester's right that is worth keeping an eye on in this must-win game for the visitors.

Riyad Mahrez has rediscovered some of his swagger over the last few weeks, culminating in his fine goal on Monday night. Under new management, he will be a threat to the Swansea goal - particularly since the hosts are vulnerable on that side of the pitch.

Tom Carroll is not defensively reliable from left-sided central midfield while Jordan Ayew rarely tracks back, which could leave Martin Olsson with too much to do against the Algerian. However, Swansea's recent win against Huddersfield Town should give them enough confidence to see off the threat.

Recommended Bet
Back the draw at 11/5

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool

Spurs' defensive approach v Milner & Salah
Sunday, 16:00,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

The key question here is whether Spurs will continue with the deeper, counter-attacking system that was so successful against Real Madrid or revert to a more open, typically-Pochettino approach; the former is more likely, given Liverpool's vulnerability to this style and Spurs' key midfield injuries.

In the narrow 5-3-1-1 formation used in midweek, Spurs can nullify Philippe Coutinho's movement into the middle while denying space for Mohamed Ssalah on the right. The result would be a tense, low-scoring match in which Harry Kane and Dele Alli become key players when the hosts break.

However, if Pochettino uses a more open system then the returning James Milner, interacting with Salah on the right, will cause problems for the returning Danny Rose if he plays (or whomever fills in for the absent Ben Davies). Neutrals should hope for the latter option, which will lead to an end-to-end encounter, but far more likely is a dull draw at Wembley.

Recommended Bet
Back the draw at 13/5

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