Premier League Tactical Preview: Gomez v Rashford and other key battles

Andy Carroll will play a key role for West Ham at Burnley
Andy Carroll will play a key role for West Ham at Burnley
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Alex Keble returns with his weekly tactical preview of the Premier League, picking out four key battles, including why Manchester United have the upper hand against Liverpool...

"You don’t have to be a Premier League manager to see that right-back is Liverpool’s weakest area, meaning Marcus Rashford – followed by the usual substitute cameo from Anthony Martial – will be crucial at Anfield."

Liverpool v Manchester United

Gomez v Rashford/Martial
Saturday, 12:30,
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

In typical Jose Mourinho style, this should be a claustrophobic match with few clear-cut chances as the Man Utd boss settles for a 0-0 draw - and focusing relentlessly on one key opposition flaw. You don't have to be a Premier League manager to see that right-back is Liverpool's weakest area, meaning Marcus Rashford - followed by the usual substitute cameo from Anthony Martial - will be crucial at Anfield.

Against big teams this season Mourinho has deployed a lopsided 4-3-3 that leans heavily to the left. Rashford stays extremely wide to stretch the pitch and offer a quick out ball, while the right winger (usually Juan Mata) drifts infield to add more numbers in the middle. Directly attacking the left-back in Fergie-esque style, Rashford and Martial have bagged five goals and five assists in the league this season.

Joe Gomez should be nervous. In Liverpool's 3-2 defeat of Leicester City in September Jamie Vardy's pace was a constant source of discomfort down that channel, leading to both of the hosts' goals. It was a familiar pattern that will surely be repeated on Saturday.

Recommended Bet
Back United to win at 17/10

Tottenham Hotspur v Bournemouth

Spurs' high back line v Cook & King
Saturday, 15:00

Bournemouth are enduring a torrid 2017/18 campaign that makes Tottenham firm favourites at Wembley, but Lewis Cook's intriguing performance a fortnight ago - on his first start of the season - offers a glimmer of hope for Eddie Howe. Together with Josh King, the piercing runs of the 20-year-old could catch Spurs on the counter.

Cook completed a surprising six dribbles against Leicester a fortnight ago, piercing the first line of defence with ease at Dean Court. The central midfielder's powerful runs through the middle of the park helped the Cherries advance up the field at a time when their passing rhythms are looking laboured; Cook's Dembele-like weaving is the perfect antidote to the U-shape passing of Howe's nervy midfield.

Spurs will play a very high line, as usual, and could be found guilty of over-committing to attack in a match they are firm favourites to win. Josh King has struggled to find his feet this season, but his pace might prove deadly on the counter should Cook successfully burst through midfield and feed his fellow Englishman. The hosts should still win this one, but Bournemouth might grab a goal on the break.

Recommended Bet
Back BTTS at 9/10

Burnley v West Ham United

Mee v Carroll
Saturday, 15:00

Slaven Bilic is hanging onto his job by a thread, triggering some desperate tactics of late; an uber-simple 4-4-2 formation, complete with a little-n-large strike partnership, was in effect last time out. Lumping the ball to Andy Carroll will once again be the primary method in this horribly cautious, low-quality game against such a doggedly defensive side as Burnley. The simplest battle on the pitch, between Carroll and the rather short Ben Mee, will probably decide the outcome.

Carroll is intelligent enough to drift over to the most easily bullied of the two Burnley centre-backs, and although Mee is a very capable defender the 13cm (five inches) height difference between the two players could prove costly for the hosts. Carroll wins 8.5 aerial duels per match compared with Mee's 4.6.

However, Carroll's superiority in the air does not necessarily mean West Ham will win. Javier Hernandez struggles to influence such physical matches (he only touched the ball 31 times against Swansea City) and Burnley are undefeated in five league games. A low-scoring game is the most likely outcome.

Recommended Bet
Back under 2.5 goals at 4/6

Brighton v Everton

Stephens v Everton's narrow midfield
Sunday, 13:30

Ronald Koeman has reportedly been given one month to save his job but defeat at Brighton might cause the Everton board to have a rethink. Against such narrow opponents who have an excellent home record, Everton must change their tactics considerably if they are to get anything from Chris Hughton's side. This being Koeman, they probably won't.

The Toffees' 1-0 defeat to Burnley a fortnight ago came as no surprise - and we could be set for an almost identical match on Sunday. Like Burnley, Brighton sit in a deep and narrow 4-4-1-1 that looks to squeeze out space in central areas, relying on their centre-backs to clear the danger should crosses come in from the freer wide areas.

The key battle at the Amex will be between Everton's overly narrow midfield and Dale Stephens, arguably Brighton's standout performer so far this campaign. Stephens averages three tackles per game this season and was inspirational in Brighton's successive home league wins against West Brom and Newcastle. Koeman's bizarrely narrow 4-2-2-2 system will surely come unstuck again against Stephens and company.

Recommended Bet
Back Brighton to win at 11/5

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