Premier League Tactical Preview: Ighalo v Mangala and other key battles

The high pressing of Watford's forwards could unsettle Mangala and Otamendi
The high pressing of Watford's forwards could unsettle Mangala and Otamendi

Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including why Watford might beat Man City, and how Jack Cork can nullify Man United...

"With Kompany in the team, Man City have conceded one goal in nine matches this season. Without him, they have conceded 18 in nine matches and failed to keep a single clean sheet; Deeney and Ighalo will be confident of ruffling some feathers."

Ighalo & Deeney v Mangala & Otamendi
Watford v Man City
Saturday, 17:30, Live on Sky Sports 1

Quique Flores has not received nearly enough credit for implementing a Klopp-esque high pressing, counter-attacking tactical model at Watford, but a flurry of recent victories has finally drawn attention to his use of the German system. This weekend's opponents, Manchester City, will be particularly vulnerable to this without Vincent Kompany to control the defence; the partnership of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi is nervy and easily ruffled by the press, as in the 4-1 defeat to Klopp's Liverpool in November.

Flores instructs his Watford players to hound down the ball from the front, putting the opposition defenders and midfielders under significant pressure to release it quickly; they make 18.6 interceptions per match (4th highest in the league) and commit 11.8 fouls per match (4th highest in the league).

The Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo partnership is successful - they have scored 17 of Watford's 21 league goals (81%) - because winning the ball high up the pitch opens up space behind the back-line for these two to burst into.

The way in which they bulldozed through a shaky Liverpool team was testament to this method; they completed a very impressive 28 tackles (the highest average in the league is Liverpool's 23.6 per game) and lowered the pass success rate of Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel to 82% and 75% respectively. Mangala and Otamendi are highly vulnerable; it was a needless bad pass that handed Arsenal a winning goal last weekend.

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With Kompany in the team, Man City have conceded one goal in nine matches this season. Without him, they have conceded 18 in nine matches and failed to keep a single clean sheet; Deeney and Ighalo will be confident of ruffling some feathers.

Recommended Bet
Back Watford to win at 4/1

Van Aanholt v Hutton
Sunderland v Aston Villa
Saturday, 15:00

Aston Villa simply cannot find a victory. Remi Garde has switched from 4-3-3, to 4-2-3-1, to a narrow diamond 4-3-1-2, but in each instance the result - and the major flaws - are the same.

Garde's insistence on a narrow midfield (to maximise short passing options and congest opposition build-up play) has led to teams flourishing down Villa's right. It is here that Sunderland's most important attacker, the reinvigorated Patrick van Aanholt, operates.

Alan Hutton has struggled for form this season and is certainly prone to the occasional error. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of defensive cover he receives from Villa's right winger (when playing 4-2-3-1) or right sided central midfielder (when playing in a narrow diamond 4-3-1-2). Three of the last four goals they conceded game down the under-populated right hand side, as illustrated by the image below.


Sam Allardyce's Sunderland are still struggling for points, but are beginning to look robust on home turf; they have conceded just two goals in their last four home games. Key to this has been switching to 3-5-2, a formation that provides the error-prone Van Aanholt with cover behind him whilst freeing him for a more advanced role. The Dutchman has averaged 1.7 key passes and 2.7 dribbles in each of his last three games, more than any other Sunderland player. Against Hutton - and the open spaces in front of him - Van Aanholt could propel his team to a vital three points.

Recommended Bet
Back Sunderland to win at 11/8

Schneiderlin v Cork
Man Utd v Swansea
Saturday, 15:00

This is likely to be a low tempo match defined by short passing, tentative build-up play, and a reserved defensive approach; Swansea have recorded three consecutive clean sheets, and United have scored just ten league goals at Old Trafford all season. As such, the team that is able to control central midfield will likely force the breakthrough, making the tussle between two newly-revived players - Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin - the most important on the pitch.

Cork's omission from the starting line-up under Garry Monk was a mystery. His composure in possession and superb defensive positioning skills were pivotal in Swansea maintaining their form in the second half of last season. A Michael Carrick type, Cork attempts more tackles per 90 (2.7) than any other Swansea player, and more interceptions (3.0) than any bar Leon Britton. Cork is arguably the best midfield orchestrator at the club since Joe Allen; remarkably, Swansea have conceded just seven goals whilst Cork has been on the pitch this season, equating to one goal conceded every 132 minutes.

Swansea's upturn in defensive solidity can be attributed to his reintroduction under Alan Curtis. Similarly, Morgan Schneiderlin helped revive Man United on Monday after finally being given his chance by Louis van Gaal. Schneiderlin made six tackles, cementing his record as United's most prolific defensive midfielder statistically (3.2 tackles, 2.7 interceptions per match). Given the woefully inept performances of both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini this season, the Frenchman's absence has been baffling.

Finally back in the side, his domineering presence - both on and off the ball - will be needed to match the stature and swagger of Cork's style.

Recommended Bet
Back under 1.5 goals at 21/10

McCarthy-less Everton v Lamela & Alli
Everton v Spurs
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports 1

Everton were drawing 1-1 with Stoke when James McCarthy limped off the pitch. The ensuing carnage, and further three goals conceded by Roberto Martinez's side, came as no surprise; his team were 2-0 up at Bournemouth the last time McCarthy was forced off through injury, and went on to draw 3-3. In his absence this weekend, Dele Alli and Erik Lamela - recently paired in the middle of the pitch - could tear through Everton's soft centre.

Only Brendan Galloway attempts more tackles per 90 than McCarthy's 4.4. His tireless energy and feisty playing style are vital components of the Everton midfield, and without Tom Cleverley to replace him they are in deep trouble. Alli and Lamela played almost side by side in the victories over Watford and Norwich, controlling advanced central areas and completing a combined five key passes and eight dribbles (Alli assisted once against Norwich and Lamela scored against Watford).

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Spurs relentlessly look to attack through the middle by utilising inverted wingers, and these two in-form playmakers have the chance to overwhelm their opponents in the spaces where McCarthy usually dominates.

Recommended Bet
Back Spurs to win at 13/8

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