Premier League Tactical Preview: Liverpool and Man City could drop points...

Man City manager Pep Guardiola
Man City could finally drop some points this weekend.

For Premier League Gameweek 21 Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles and says West Ham and Sheffield United can take points from the champions and the current league leaders...

"The Blades, fresh from their win at Old Trafford, will be bullish in their approach and extremely difficult to break down."

Striker-less City could be held by Blades

Man City v Sheffield United
Saturday, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Manchester City's 5-0 victory over West Brom does not automatically mean they will make short work of Sheffield United. Sam Allardyce has failed to strengthen the Baggies back line while the Blades, fresh from their win at Old Trafford, will be bullish in their approach and extremely difficult to break down.

The return of the three-man midfield that was picked consistently in 2019/20 - John Fleck, John Lundstrum, and Oliver Norwood - has stabilised the club, and their 3-5-2 formation is the ideal shape to stunt Man City in the half-spaces, where their playmakers all like to create. Without Sergio Aguero or Kevin de Bruyne, Pep Guardiola has doubled down on cramming the central attacking midfield areas with creators; this is unlikely to be fruitful given the number of bodies United have in these positions.

Man City have won their last two meetings with Sheffield United 1-0, thanks to a rare long-range strike from Kyle Walker and a poacher's goal from Aguero. This time, without a recognised striker and up against a rejuvenated team, City should struggle to break down Chris Wilder's compact defensive unit.

New-look Arsenal to create an open game

Arsenal v Man Utd
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Arsenal's front four is looking very sharp recently thanks to Mikel Arteta dramatically reshaping the style of his attacks. Whereas previously he focused on stable possession and moving the players up the pitch in rigid formation, more recently he has unleashed quick vertical ball progression through forwards who love to play on the half-turn and run straight at the opposition.

Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe did this very effectively in the 3-1 win at Southampton and all three will anticipate maximising the attacking transitions this Saturday, mainly because Manchester United's full-backs do not receive enough support. With Paul Pogba tucking in from the right wing and Marcus Rashford expected to lurk high on the left to support the centre forward, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka may be left exposed to Arsenal's pacey front line.

But that does not necessarily point to a home win. Arsenal's man-to-man pressing could disrupt United's passing out from the back, as it did in the reverse fixture in November, but more likely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will continue a tendency to hit long balls over the top. With Rashford and Edinson Cavani playing on the shoulder of the last defender, United ought to be able to ensure this game descends into an end-to-end contest like their 3-2 win against Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal manager.jpg

Tuchel's 3-4-2-1 should work on the flanks

Chelsea v Burnley
Sunday, 12:00
Live on BT Sport 1

Tactically studious Thomas Tuchel often tinkers with his formation and system, but we can only go off what we have seen so far - and the Conte-esque 3-4-2-1 deployed against Wolves is actually a good fit for the visit of stubborn Burnley. Sean Dyche's side looked porous in their fortunate 3-2 win over Aston Villa, and their main flaw appears to be defending wide areas.

Burnley's 4-4-2 is more decompressed than you might expect, and its narrowness caused serious problems against Villa - leading directly to Ollie Watkins' opener, from a cross, and to several big first-half chances for Bertrand Traore. Tuchel's 3-4-2-1 was specifically designed to draw the opponent inwards, sucking the play towards the dual playmakers Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, in turn creating unseen space out wide.

Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges as a direct result of this tactical strategy against Wolves. Chelsea soon slowed down and the gaps disappeared, but since Burnley are weaker out wide and generally less defensively secure, Tuchel's tactics should bear fruit.

Soucek & Rice too much for Liverpool midfield

West Ham v Liverpool
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Liverpool's return to form against Tottenham may well be short lived. Spurs were abject on Thursday night, failing to close players down and playing with a general passivity that allowed Liverpool's midfield to dominate the ball. Trent Alexander-Arnold had the freedom of the right wing while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were easily released into space. West Ham will not make it so easy.

Instead, David Moyes' side will hold firm in a compressed midblock that provides plenty of defensive support surrounding their two most important players: Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. The brilliant positioning, tackling, anticipation, and distribution of these two players has formed the foundation of West Ham's six-game winning run. Liverpool's central midfield, weakened by the absence of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, won't be able to play with enough tempo or rhythm.

That should lead to a low-scoring game and a rare chance for the hosts to take three points. Michail Antonio's runs into the channels will provide Soucek with an out ball behind Liverpool's defence, too, although on balance West Ham will probably be pinned too far back to counter-attack with consistency. Moyes would be delighted to cling onto a point.

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