Alex Keble looks ahead to the eighth round of Premier League matches, using tactical analysis to predict Liverpool will beat Man City and Newcastle will frustrate Man Utd...
"More chaos is likely this weekend, primarily because Rafael Benitez knows just how to get under Mourinho’s skin. Newcastle United’s ultra-defensive approach will frustrate Man Utd by denying them space in behind."
Knockaert to benefit from tactical decompression for West Ham
Brighton v West Ham
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
West Ham United appear to have turned a corner since switching to a counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation, picking up seven points from three league matches, but this is partially because Everton, Chelsea, and Manchester United all allowed West Ham to sit back. Brighton, averaging 39.2% possession this season (second lowest in the Premier League), will force the hosts to go back to playing expansively.
That spells trouble for Manuel Pellegrini's team. Their immobile central midfield struggled during four consecutive defeats in which the Hammers were on the front foot, while problems developed on the flanks because of a disconnect between the wingers and the full-backs. Felipe Anderson rarely tracks back on the left, leaving Arthur Masuaku exposed on the counter.
Consequently Anthony Knockaert - who has scored or assisted 80% of Brighton's goals from open play this season - could do damage when Brighton break. Chris Hughton's side can expect success in a deep-lying shell, drawing West Ham forward before catching them on the break. Knockaert's crosses for Glenn Murray (four goals in six games) will feature prominently at the Falmer Stadium.
Zaha versus Traore to decide cautious game at Selhurst
Crystal Palace v Wolves
Wolves and Palace have conceded fewer goals than any club outside the top four (six and eight respectively) but both are in the bottom six for goals scored (eight and five). All of the statistics suggest the direct head-to-head on Crystal Palace's left flank between Wilfried Zaha and Adama Traore will settle a tight match won by a single moment of quality. Both players' creativity is vital to their respective sides, and in both cases their lax defending could leave too much space for their rival.
Zaha has scored or assisted 80% of Palace's league goals this season, but since being moved to the let flank following Christian Benteke's injury Patrick van Aanholt is struggling without the support of Jeffrey Schlupp on that side. The Ivorian's disconnect with Van Aanholt could cause problems when Adama Traore comes onto the pitch.
All five of Wolves' goals since the end of August have come down their right wing and four of these have been scored after Traore was brought onto the pitch. His dribbling speed tends to make the difference as opposition legs tire, making Zaha's high starting position even more problematic. Then again, Traore won't venture back himself, which could lead to a late goal for the hosts. Either way, it'll be another conservative, low-scoring contest.
Mourinho's tactical cluelessness to produce another stalemate
Man Utd v Newcastle Utd
Live on BT Sport 1
What was most shocking about Man Utd's defeat against West Ham United wasn't the lack of pressure on their opponents or the low tempo of their own attacks, but the bizarre tactical decisions made by Jose Mourinho. He made the pitch as narrow as possible despite West Ham's compressed shape in recent weeks, fielding slow central midfielders rather than creative players capable of grinding the hosts down.
More chaos is likely this weekend, primarily because Rafael Benitez knows just how to get under Mourinho's skin. Newcastle United's ultra-defensive approach will frustrate Man Utd by denying them space in behind; the only way to beat a side that has parked the bus is by pulling them apart with high-tempo football, something Mourinho's team simply cannot do at the moment.
As the game wears on at 0-0 Newcastle's confidence will grow: Jamaal Lascelles will dominate Romelu Lukaku, while Paul Pogba will start moaning at his team-mates' lack of movement among the tight throng of Newcastle midfielders. Another infuriating 90 minutes awaits for Mourinho's side.
Salah to rediscover his form against Man City's weakened left flank
Liverpool v Man City
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
There are numerous key battles at Anfield this weekend as two high-pressing teams meet for another wild, frantic match between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. But among the chaos there is one clear mismatch on the pitch: Mohamed Salah is up against either Oleksandr Zinchenko or Aymeric Laporte on Liverpool's right.
Guardiola has put Benjamin Mendy as a "maybe" for the match, although after five games out with a metatarsal injury (only returning to training on Wednesday) he will be a liability even if he does make the starting lineup. Liverpool's gegenpressing, which will catch Fernandinho and John Stones on the ball, should create one-on-one dribbling opportunities for Salah down the right.
Salah should comfortably beat the City left-back (his agility, speed on the turn, and first touch have gradually improved over the last fortnight) which means the Egyptian will get several shooting chances in this match. This could be the day Liverpool's talisman finally gets his 2018/19 campaign started.