Premier League Tactical Preview: Liverpool could struggle at Newcastle and other battles

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool need Rodgers to foil Man City.
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Alex Keble looks ahead to the 37th round of Premier League games, predicting Leicester won't have enough to take points from Man City...

"Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah play as inside forwards, and the spaces they arc into will be comfortably closed out by that flat back five, while Liverpool lack the sort of creativity in central midfield needed to cut their hosts open."

Fraser & Wilson can outrun injury-plagued Spurs midfield

Bournemouth v Spurs
Saturday, 12:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Mauricio Pochettino will surely wrap Moussa Sissoko in cotton wool for this weekend's game at Dean Court, which means a return to the 3-5-2 formation that began the match against Ajax. With a struggling Victor Wanyama the only defensive player in a two-man midfield, and with Spurs set to rotate their full-backs to prepare for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, Bournemouth have a big chance of winning on Saturday.

Central midfield remains a problem area for Bournemouth, too, although they will be happy to sit deep and allow Spurs to recycle possession - before springing the counter-attack, focusing particularly on the second half when those jaded Spurs players are flat. At this point, the battle between Ryan Fraser and Juan Foyth will become interesting, the makeshift right-back having struggled recently to play with positional awareness in this role. He will not be the favourite in any one-on-ones.

Callum Wilson's form makes him a potent weapon, too, and for Bournemouth to succeed this weekend his hold-up play against Spurs' central defence will be crucial. Differing fitness levels and form - Bournemouth have scored eight goals in their last three games - should be decisive.

Rested Alexander-Arnold the key to unlocking Newcastle

Newcastle v Liverpool
Saturday, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

The last time Newcastle United played a Big Six club at home they utilised an ultra-deep 5-4-1 formation to block all passing lines through the centre, only allowing their opponents space on the flanks where the wingers flung hopeful crosses into the box - only for the Newcastle defenders to clear. The team was Manchester City, and Rafael Benitez's side won 2-1. Liverpool's title challenge could end on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp rested some players for the 3-0 defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday, and the most important of these is Trent Alexander-Arnold; his fresh legs will be crucial from the right wing primarily because Liverpool's 4-3-3 is too narrow to break through Newcastle's defensive shell. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah play as inside forwards, and the spaces they arc into will be comfortably closed out by that flat back five, while Liverpool lack the sort of creativity in central midfield needed to cut their hosts open. Not even Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva could do that back in January.

But Liverpool's narrowness can help create space for overlapping full-backs, and indeed in 2019 Andrew Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have been vital weapons against deep-lying opposition. Alexander-Arnold's whipped crosses from the right can make the difference, particularly if Benitez continues to play Matt Ritchie at left wing-back. Ritchie may be too slow closing down the Liverpool right-back.


Hazard's movement problematic for Watford's unusual midfield formation

Chelsea v Watford
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Two of the Premier League's most consistent tacticians go head-to-head on Sunday, and so it makes sense to look back at their most recent meeting to predict the pattern of this one. Eden Hazard operated as a false nine in a 2-1 win for Chelsea in which the Belgian was able to repeatedly pop up either side of Watford's two man midfield, exploiting the gaps that inevitable open up when facing a narrow 4-2-2-2.

Gonzalo Higuain's arrival means Hazard will be limited to the left this weekend. Hazard hugs that touchline, offering himself for a cross-field pass that allows him to isolate a full-back - and that spells trouble for Daryl Janmaat. He will receive some support from Will Hughes during sustained periods of Chelsea pressure, but often the channel between Janmaat and Abdoulaye Doucoure (Hazard's favourite space) will be unoccupied.

When Chelsea build from the back, and particularly on their right side of the pitch, Hughes will begin to float up into his right-sided attacking midfield position, assuming that Hazard's lurking presence near Janmaat is being dealt with. When Chelsea switch it, Hazard is likely to get a pretty clean run into the left half-space - and that will be enough for an under-par Chelsea to take the points.

Rodgers unlikely to be brave enough to trouble Man City

Man City v Leicester
Monday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Brendan Rodgers' first game as Leicester City manager against a Big Six club was Arsenal last weekend, and despite winning 3-0 the signs are not good for Liverpool fans hoping their former boss will take points from Man City. Rodgers was far too cautious with his initial team selection, picking Hamza Choudhury alongside Wilfried Ndidi despite Arsenal's persistent problems in central midfield.

Instead of being brave and continuing to play Youri Tielemans and James Maddison together against Arsenal's soft centre, Rodgers picked a defensive team - and only switched systems once the Gunners had gone down to ten men. Consequently we can predict that Leicester won't attack Man City; won't press high to get at the visitors' full-backs or target central midfield.

Should Rodgers trust his favourite attacking line-up, then Maddison and Tielemans could cause serious problems on the counter, overwhelming Fernandinho and putting Jamie Vardy through on goal. But instead, the Foxes will probably be too defensive to seriously threaten.

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