Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including how Crystal Palace will beat Man United, and why Liverpool should hand Mourinho another defeat...
"Crystal Palace relish matches such as these. The Selhurst Park crowd will rally behind the underdogs, and Manchester United's possession obsession (57% average) will draw them into Alan Pardew's counter-attacking trap."
Cabaye v Martial
Crystal Palace v Man Utd
Crystal Palace relish matches such as these. The Selhurst Park crowd will rally behind the underdogs, and Manchester United's possession obsession (57% average) will draw them into Alan Pardew's counter-attacking trap. It is obvious to see how Palace, who attack down the wings more than any other team (78%), will try and exploit Man United. The task facing Louis van Gaal is more complicated.
Alan Pardew will attempt to draw their opponents out by sitting in deep defensive lines before pouncing via Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie on the counter. The main reason this model is successful is the superb shimmying midfield trio that support behind the wingers and striker; Zaha and Bolasie can lurk high up the pitch during sustained pressure from the opposition only because Palace's trio acts like a quartet.
Pardew believes that only two central midfielders are needed when the ball is currently out on the flanks, and a compact three when the ball moves centrally; constant diligence from a shifting trio is enough to afford Zaha and Bolasie a free-roaming role.
Yohan Cabaye (3.7 tackles, 3.7 interceptions) is the most important of the three, covering huge amounts of ground from the right of centre to simultaneously shut out the middle and offer support to his right-back. This zone will be the most important against United on Saturday.
As Wayne Rooney's performances wilt and Manchester United struggle to find cohesion, Anthony Martial increasingly represents the biggest threat to opponents. His alarmingly direct playing style (7.8 dribbles attempted per 90, most in the Premier League) almost carved out chances in the most congested of games - the Manchester derby last weekend.
By sitting deep and cutting off the passing lines, Crystal Palace will present a similar predicament. Martial is undoubtedly his team's best chance of breaking through the brick wall, but his ability to do so depends upon how effectively Cabaye can get across to stop him.
Back Crystal Palace to win at 13/5
Lallana v Ramires/Mikel
Chelsea v Liverpool
Saturday, 12:45, Live on BT Sport 1
It is easy to picture Liverpool - on a Klopp-inspired upswing of momentum - causing panic among the confidence-stricken players of Chelsea on Saturday. The visitors' frantic high pressing could cause familiar chaos for Jose Mourinho, particularly if Liverpool start with the kind of fearless attacking energy that has become a hallmark of Jurgen Klopp.
Three underwhelming draws have calmed the giddy optimism that had surrounded the German's appointment, but tentative signs of progress have emerged. Chief among them is the return to form of Adam Lallana, a delicate and intelligent playmaker perfectly sculpted for the Klopp system.
In his last two matches - against Ruben Kazan and Southampton - Lallana has averaged 3 dribbles and 3 key passes, up significantly from 1.6 dribbles and 0.6 key passes per match before these games. Lallana's first touch and speed of thought have suddenly re-emerged - along with his confidence - since Brendan Rodgers' departure.
In both of these matches he was Liverpool's most potent threat, playing in his favoured central attacking midfield position alongside Philippe Coutinho (in a narrow 4-3-2-1 formation). His direct opponent this weekend will be either Ramires or Mikel, depending on which player plays to the left of a defensive midfield pairing (Nemanja Matic is absent through suspension).
Both players are enduring a dreadful season, and are frequently caught out of position (leaving huge holes for players like Lallana to play in) or simply dribble past. Mikel averages a woeful 0.5 tackles and 0 interceptions per game this campaign, while Ramires is dribbled past 3.4 times per 90 minutes. He made just 1 tackle and 0 interceptions in the defeat to West Ham last weekend.
Whilst Chelsea are currently weak all over the pitch, the poor form of their defensive midfielders - and the absence of Matic - makes this zone the best place to exploit. Fortunately for Liverpool, it is the precise area in which Lallana operates.
Back Liverpool to win at 29/10
Lens v Coleman
Everton v Sunderland
Sunday, 13:30, Live on Sky Sports 1
Big Sam was brought to Sunderland to crack the whip, but so far the pattern of lazy defending and tactical indiscipline has continued; in the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday Newcastle were dominant on the left-hand side before Fabricio Coloccini's needless red card changed the game. Similar sluggishness against Everton is likely to be fatal.
Moussa Sissoko and Daryl Janmaat were afforded huge amounts of space in the opening 45 minutes, largely because Jeremain Lens offered no defensive support to his left back (1 tackle, 0 interceptions in his own half). Ambling forwards undermining hard working central midfielders typifies Sunderland's tactical woes this campaign; that Ola Toivonen, at the tip of a midfield three, barely entered his own half only exacerbated the problem.
Allardyce may choose to play Adam Johnson on this side for extra defensive support at Everton, but this is not much of an improvement (largely because Johnson loves to over-exert himself on the counter). If big gaps persist in this zone, Everton's in-form duo of Seamus Coleman and Gerard Deulofeu could win Everton the match.
With Deulofeu cutting inside and drawing the left-back in with him, Coleman overlaps to great effect: it is vital that Sunderland's left winger tracks back to hold off this run. Between them, Coleman and Deulofeu made 3 key passes and 8 dribbles against Arsenal. Their interplay could be Sunderland's downfall on Sunday.
Back Everton to win and over 2.5 goals at 23/20
Jamie Vardy v West Brom's aerial threat
West Brom v Leicester
Leicester's swashbuckling form is largely thanks to counter-attacking football centred on long through ball into the channels, and exploiting the opposition's high line. However, West Brom's extremely robust defence and narrow, compact shell will nullify this approach on Saturday; the crossing ability of Jeffrey Schlupp and Marc Albrighton will be key.
West Brom have kept a clean sheet in 60% of matches so far this season by consistently lining up in two flat banks of 4-5 and relying upon strength and aerial power to prevent their opponents from creating opportunities. Leicester and Jamie Vardy will struggle to burst down the flanks with the same gung-ho speed as they have in recent weeks, but can still expect to find some joy out wide; whilst West Brom play with narrow full-backs, Leicester's Albighton and Schlupp stick to the touchline.
In the first two matches of the season, Leicester's primary tactic was to swing crosses into the box as frequently as possible. This system will almost certainly return against such a deep-lying defence. West Brom (19.4 aerials won per match) and Leicester (19.3 aerials won per match) are the 3rd and 4th best headers of the ball respectively, but Leicester lead the chart for most headed goals (5).
This will not be the prettiest of football matches, and likely be settled by the accuracy of Leicester's crossing.
Back under 2.5 goals at 4/5