Premier League Tactical Preview: Williams v Benteke and other key battles

Pardew could extend Palace's winning run to four at Everton
Pardew could extend Palace's winning run to four at Everton
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Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including why Benteke can inspire Palace to victory...


"Maurico Pochettino relies upon Kyle Walker and Ben Davies sitting high up the pitch to draw players away from Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, but this could leave the home side vulnerable to counter-attacks led by Sterling and Nolito."

Everton v Crystal Palace
Friday, 20:00,
Live on Sky Sports 2

Williams v Benteke

Everton's successive defeats and Crystal Palace's three match winning streak tips this in favour of the counter-attacking away side - which should mean this is a fairly low scoring game settled by the tightest of margins. As such, the most obvious battle - between Ashley Williams and Christian Benteke - could be the difference.

Benteke leads the charts for aerial duels won this season (8.3 per match) and these are increasingly taking place in the penalty area; he won four headers in the box against Sunderland, significantly more than in any other Crystal Palace match this season. Jason Puncheon in particular looks to be building a strong relationship with the Belgian, having completed eight passes to Benteke, seven of which were long balls and five of which led directly to goalscoring opportunities.

Williams has looked competent under Ronald Koeman so far but has only won 55% of his aerial duels. These two will battle it out at corners and in open play, with the victor likely to help their team to three points.


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Recommended Bet
Back Benteke to score any time at 21/10


Swansea v Liverpool
Saturday, 12:30,
Live on Sky Sports 2

Cork & Britton v Liverpool's front five

Liverpool were hugely impressive against Hull City last weekend and will play in a very similar style at Swansea; their front five of Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, and Sadio Mane will constantly interchange positions in central attacking midfield in an attempt to overwhelm Jack Cork and Leon Britton.

These two struggled against Man City last weekend, who use a fairly similar system (playing two central midfielders as advanced playmakers, with inverted full-backs covering them behind). They only managed one tackle and three interceptions between them as David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne ran riot (seven chances created).

The challenge will be slightly different here. Firmino's movement in a false nine position often draws defensive midfielders towards him, when in reality they should be tracking Lallana and Wijnaldum - and leaving the false nine for the centre-backs to deal with. Don't expect Cork and Britton to pass the test on Saturday.


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Recommended Bet
Back Liverpool to win and over 3.5 goals at 2/1


Man Utd v Stoke
Sunday, 12:00,
Live on BT Sport 1

Pogba v Allen

Jose Mourinho finally found a midfield system that synchronises at Old Trafford a week ago, largely because he selected intelligent, high tempo footballers that are naturally drawn together in the centre of the pitch. Crisis-stricken Stoke City will need a miracle performance from Joe Allen to prevent a mauling.

Pogba was particularly influential, but Jesse Lingard's role - cutting in from the right - should not be underestimated. He and Juan Mata bunched close around Zlatan Ibrahimovic to create quick short-passing options in the opposition half; this system will be replicated at Old Trafford against a Stoke team that have not won just one of their last 13 league games.

Allen has started nicely at Stoke in a slightly more adventurous role than he was afforded under Brendan Rodgers. He is averaging 4.2 tackles per match, the third highest in the Premier League, and is arguably the only Stoke City midfielder that can be proud of his season so far. It seems unlikely, however, that he can thwart Pogba and co on his own...


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Recommended Bet
Back over 1.5 goals in the first half at 29/20


Tottenham v Man City
Sunday, 14:15,
Live on Sky Sports 1

Spurs' full-backs v Nolito and Sterling

This is likely to be the most fascinating match of the season so far as two expansive teams - who use their wide players to stretch the pitch in order to pierce through the middle - attempt to end the other's unbeaten start. Since narrow attacking lines are essential for both managers, how Spurs' full-backs interact with Raheem Sterling and Nolito will be vital at both ends.

Maurico Pochettino relies upon Kyle Walker and Ben Davies sitting high up the pitch to draw players away from Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, but this could leave the home side vulnerable to counter-attacks led by Sterling and Nolito. So far this season Pep Guardiola has instructed these two to hug the touchline, which will make Walker's and Davies' jobs a lot more complex.

How these two balance their duties, and to what extent they can pin Sterling and Nolito back, will be fascinating to watch.


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Recommended Bet
Back over 3.5 goals at 17/10


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