Premier League Tactical Preview: Fellaini v Slimani and other key battles

Jose Mourinho's Manchester United have struggled over the past week
Jose Mourinho's Manchester United have struggled over the past week
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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 Leicester might heap more pressure on Jose Mourinho...


"Slimani is strong in the air, and after scoring twice against Burnley will fancy himself one on one against Fellaini. Given that the explosive Jamie Vardy will drag United's static defence backwards, the holes in United's midfield could prove disastrous for Jose Mourinho."

Manchester United v Leicester City

Fellaini v Slimani
Saturday, 12:30, Live on Sky Sports 1


Talk of tactical chaos at Manchester United is premature; low confidence gives the illusion of a wider disorganisation because the minutiae of pressing, moving, and overall shape disintegrate when individuals start second guessing themselves. But the stodgy, tentative football that Man United are playing is still cause for concern; Leicester are well equipped to tear through them at Old Trafford.

United's midfield duo of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini is in disarray. Both are meandering in midfield, with Fellaini in particular being drawn too far out of his base position to leave gaping holes in the defensive midfield zone. Odion Ighalo regularly shifted to the left wing last weekend, pulling Fellaini with him and opening up space in the middle (where Pogba failed to cover).

Islam Slimani should do something similar at Old Trafford, which would open up space for Riyad Mahrez to cut into from the right wing (where Luke Shaw, as his manager has been keen to point out, won't close down the Algerian successfully). Slimani is strong in the air, and after scoring twice against Burnley will fancy himself one on one against Fellaini. Given that the explosive Jamie Vardy will drag United's static defence backwards, the holes in United's midfield could prove disastrous for Jose Mourinho.


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Recommended Bet:
Back double chance Leicester/draw at 10/11


Arsenal v Chelsea

Sanchez v Luiz
Saturday, 17:30, Live on BT Sport 1


Arsenal's use of a false nine against Hull City offered an intriguing new option for Arsene Wenger, and Alexis Sanchez is widely expected to play in a similar position against Chelsea on Saturday. Olivier Giroud remains a doubt, whilst Lucas Perez's 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest suggests he won't be given a first league start. Chelsea might struggle to cope with Arsenal's attacking patterns, particularly if David Luiz is given the nod.

John Terry may return in time for the trip to The Emirates, but either way Luiz looks set to play. The Brazilian has a tendency to lunge out of defence and confront the attacker too aggressively, which could prove fruitful for Arsenal given that Sanchez will frequently vacate the striker position.

Defending a false nine is notoriously difficult as it leaves the centre-backs confused; should they come forward to meet him (and thus leave gaps in their back line) or stand off and give him space? Luiz will almost certainly choose the former, which should give Alex Iwobi plenty of opportunities to sneak in behind - as he did so successfully against Hull last weekend.


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Recommended Bet:
Back Arsenal to win at 11/8


Sunderland v Crystal Palace

Sunderland's centre-backs v Palace set-pieces
Saturday, 15:00


David Moyes's team defended well in a narrow, deep block against Spurs but will be forced into playing a less conservative game in front of their own fans. How Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone cope with Crystal Palace's crosses and aerial threat is likely to decide a tense and gritty affair at the Stadium of Light.

Palace largely attack down the flanks with the aim of swinging as many crosses into the box as possible; they attempt more crosses (29 per match) than any other Premier League team and scored two headed goals from set-pieces last weekend. With Christian Benteke up front and Andros Townsend on the left, their main goalscoring method this season isn't difficult to decipher.

Djilobodji made a crucial mistake at Spurs and Kone failed miserably in his attempts to thwart hat-trick hero Romelu Lukaku the week before. Benteke has had a mixed start to life in London but should be able to work in between this slightly disorganised centre-back pair.


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Recommended Bet:
Back Palace to win at 29/20


West Ham v Southampton

Payet v Soares
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports 1


West Ham are in a rut that threatens Slaven Bilic's job. After four successive defeats and shipping eight goals against Watford and West Brom he desperately needs three points here; Dimitri Payet is practically their only hope.

Despite only making two starts for the Hammers this season Payet tops their charts for most assists, most key passes, and most dribbles. He has been a shining light for them amidst the turmoil, but faces a stern test this weekend from Southampton right-back Cedric Soares - an unsung hero from last season.

Soares is a quick, agile defender with the intelligence to cut off Payet's route inside, but if the Frenchman gets the better of him then Saints are in real trouble. Payet's crossing ability has helped West Ham to five headed goals this season (the most in the Premier League), and Southampton currently sit 18th for headers won per match (12.4).


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Recommended Bet:

Back the draw at 9/4


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