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Premier League Tactical Preview: Knockaert v Walker and other key battles

Walker is in for a tough debut against Knockaert
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Alex Keble reutrns for his weekly tactical blog, picking out four key battles ahead of the weekend Premier League action...


"Consequently, they are the worst possible opponents that Palace could face on the opening day; it is easy to envisage their patient – though tentative – build-up play being disrupted by Huddersfield’s organised pressing."

Frank De Boer's possession football v Huddersfield's high press


The appointment of Fran de Boer takes Crystal Palace in a completely new direction. After years of counter-attacking, wing-focused football the Dutchman is attempting to instigate a possession-centric 3-4-3. The players will struggle to adapt to the new order, which could prove deeply problematic against such an aggressive pressing team as Huddersfield Town.

David Wagner, heavily influenced by his close friend Jurgen Klopp, instructs his team to aggressively tackle from the front in an attempt to unsettle the rhythm of their opponent. Consequently, they are the worst possible opponents that Palace could face on the opening day; it is easy to envisage their patient - though tentative - build-up play being disrupted by Huddersfield's organised pressing.

With Yohan Cabaye likely to miss out through injury Ruben Loftus-Cheek, on loan from Chelsea, must show composure in possession to outmanoeuvre the onrush of bodies - or else the hosts will find themselves embarrassed by the Premier League debutants. So early in Palace's steep learning curve, expect a disciplined and highly motivated Huddersfield to triumph.

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Back Huddersfield to win at 4/1


Everton's compact midfield v Stoke's flimsy new 3-4-2-1


Mark Hughes has been trialling a 3-4-2-1 formation over the summer, which is likely to prove unsuccessful against Everton's superbly interconnected midfield. The Antonio Conte-inspired formation only works if the three forwards drop back to support those two central midfielders, who can easily become overrun.

Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan Krkic, and Sadio Berahino are all talented footballers but hardly the most hard-working. As a trio, they are unlikely to track back effectively or help create a compact overall team shape, leaving Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher with far too much space to cover in central areas.

Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry, Tom Davies, and Morgan Schneiderlin have all featured prominently in pre-season, suggesting Ronald Koeman is set to continue building attacks through the centre of the pitch. As in the 4-0 destruction of Manchester City in January, and the 4-2 and 3-1 wins over Leicester City and Burnley last April, Everton tend to win comfortably against teams with flimsy midfields.

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Back Everton to win at 4/6


Anthony Knockaert v City's new full-backs


Chris Hughton is a tactically astute manager and will no doubt make life difficult for Manchester City on Sunday. In a deep-lying formation, they will happily concede possession to City and attempt to frustrate them, before launching quick counter-attacks via the excellent Anthony Konckaert. City fans should be thankful that Benjamin Mendy, prone to lapses in concentration, is injured for this one.

Not that Danilo and Kyle Walker will necessarily fare better. Pep Guardiola's relentless pursuit of all-out attacking football means both full-backs will sit deep in Brighton & Hove Albion territory, which should create space for Knockaert to burst forward and pick up speed.

Danilo hasn't had long to adapt to English football and therefore will be caught out by the frantic pace of the Premier League, while Walker might find it tough adapting to a less sturdy defence than he was used to at White Hart Lane. A shock win for the hosts isn't as unlikely as you might think.

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Back double chance Brighton/draw at 13/5


Jonjo Shelvey v Dele Alli


An absence of new signings makes Tottenham Hotspur's tactical model easy to predict, which hands a crucial advantage to Rafael Benitez - a coach who diligently studies his opponents and reacts accordingly. He will know to pack central midfield with bodies and keep an ultra-narrow shape throughout.

Walker's departure and Danny Rose's injury ensure Mauricio Pochettino will focus his attacks through the middle of the pitch even more than usual, with the movement of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen key to their success on Sunday. Spurs are significantly weaker without their star full-backs.

Newcastle United will be quietly confident, then, of nullifying the visitors' threat, although much rests on Jonjo Shelvey - whose positional skills could be the chink in their armour. If he switches off and drifts out of midfield then Alli should be able to find the space he needs to provide an assist for Harry Kane. On a nervous day for the Magpies, Newcastle are unlikely to hold out.

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Back Spurs to win at 4/6


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