Premier League Tactical Preview: Ward-Prowse v Fabregas and other key battles

Southampton manager Mark Hughes
Hughes's Southampton have a great chance of winning points against Chelsea this weekend.
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Alex Keble returns with his tactical analysis for the big Premier League games, including why Spurs could condemn Man City to a fourth consecutive defeat and how Southampton can shock Chelsea...

"With Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Erik Lamela swapping positions superbly of late, there is no doubt Spurs can jab at City’s soft underbelly – but only if they can outmanoeuvre the City press deeper down the field."

Ward-Prowse's movement to catch Fabregas on the break

Southampton v Chelsea
Saturday, 12:30,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Southampton's winless run in the Premier League stretched to six with the 3-2 defeat at Arsenal, but Mark Hughes has at least discovered a tactical model that could serve the club well in their difficult run-in. Playing a 3-4-2-1 formation, Saints' wing-backs were free to bomb forward while James Ward-Prowse caused damage in a roaming number 10 role.

Chelsea, who have won just six of their last 20 matches in all competitions, are definitely beatable - particularly by a side that will mirror their formation and play aggressive football filtered through the middle. Cesc Fabregas remains the weak link in the Chelsea midfield, which should mean Ward-Prowse can get ahead of the Spaniard and cause damage on the counter-attack; the Englishman's runs from right to centre, particularly those that went beyond the striker, threatened Arsenal at the Emirates.

Mario Lemina and Oriol Romeu are excellent central midfielders who should, in a low block, be strong enough to stunt a confidence-stricken Chelsea side. If Southampton can find their rhythm on the counter, and if Ward-Prowse's set-piece-taking is up to scratch, then this could be the day Hughes's side kick-start their battle against the drop.

Dembele's control will allow Spurs to attack City's soft underbelly

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
Saturday, 19:45,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Man City are going to be a bit fragile at Wembley on Saturday, and after Liverpool and Manchester United showed how to get at Pep Guardiola's side Tottenham will no doubt attack fearlessly through the middle. With Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Erik Lamela swapping positions superbly of late, there is no doubt Spurs can jab at City's soft underbelly - but only if they can outmanoeuvre the visitors' press deeper down the field.

Mousa Dembele is always a key Tottenham player in these big games. He has an almost unique ability to wriggle away from pressure in his own half and calmly slip the ball into the forwards, which will prove very useful as City charge out of the gates. Guardiola's solution to his team's wavering self-esteem will be to attack assertively from the off.

City's opponents are increasingly realising that the best way to approach matches against the league leaders is to attack the spaces around Fernandinho with quick counters. It isn't hard to imagine Alli slipping Harry Kane through on goal, but the number of chances this pair get depends on Dembele's performance.

In-form Kenedy can give Bellerin a hard time

Newcastle United v Arsenal
Sunday, 13:30,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Newcastle United are looking very solid at the moment, largely because of the midfield partnership between Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame, but also because Kenedy has injected energy on the left flank. His strength in possession is precisely the sort of characteristic that has exposed Hector Bellerin in the past.

Arsenal might have won six matches in a row, but it is worth nothing their last five have all been at home; the Gunners remain poor on the road, losing their last four in the Premier League. They are generally disjointed, overly-expansive, and full of defensive errors when travelling.

Consequently Kenedy, with two goals and an assist in his last two games at St. James' Park, should be able to drive at the heart of the Arsenal defence and force some mistakes. Bellerin, the full-back most frequently tasked with joining attacks, will probably get caught out at least once.

Hernandez can inspire West Ham against overly-attacking Stoke

West Ham v Stoke City
Monday, 20:00,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

David Moyes's team were very fortunate to escape with a point against Chelsea last weekend, but should fare much better against Stoke City - whose determination to play an attacking 4-2-3-1 will allow Marko Arnautovic to dominate the game from a deeper position than usual.

Javier Hernandez's goalscoring cameo should be enough to earn him a starting place, which means Arnautovic taking one of the two number ten spots in Moyes's 3-4-2-1. Hernandez is one of the league's best finishers and, as was proved last weekend, you cannot afford to leave such instinctive players out during a relegation dogfight.

Since Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's injury Paul Lambert has been forced to play Moritz Bauer and Ramadan Sobhi on the flanks with Xherdan Shaqiri centrally, leaving Stoke with an overly attacking system. Both Spurs and Arsenal comfortably dominated behind the two Potters wingers, something we can expect Arnautovic to do as he naturally drifts into the flanks. From here, the Austrian should be able to feed Hernandez.

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