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Premier League Tactical Preview: Liverpool have the edge over City & other battles

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool can win a low-scoring game at Anfield.

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 12th round of Premier League fixtures, arguing Liverpool will narrowly beat Man City and Leicester will easily defeat Arsenal...

"There will not be spaces in behind the City defence to run into, but Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have the ability to link in a congested penalty area around Nicolas Otamendi."

Sheff Utd's intricate left wing to bamboozle Aurier

Tottenham v Sheff Utd
Saturday, 15:00

The most interesting area of Sheffield United's fluid, interchanging 3-5-2 is the left wing, where arguably the league's most under-rated player, Enda Stevens, has been heavily involved in most Blades goals. With Jack O'Connell overlapping, David McGoldrick dropping into the left half-space, and John Fleck filling the remaining gap these four players frequently overwhelm the opposition.

Burnley were the latest victims of their cyclical movement, with all four happily performing each other's roles in the first half at Brammall Lane. Stevens' deliveries led directly to United's first two goals last weekend, and it should worry Spurs that he found so much space on the counter given Burnley have a solid right-back and right midfielder guarding this area.

By contrast, Spurs have one of the most error-prone and easily-confused right-backs in the division in Serge Aurier. He makes rash lunges into tackles and is generally caught out of position, making him particularly vulnerable to position switches on that side. What's more, Aurier hasn't received much support recently from a winger, whether Christian Eriksen or Son Heung-Min.

Mauricio Pochettino stares moody 1280.jpg

Leicester's vertical possession & flying full-backs will overrun Arsenal

Leicester v Arsenal
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Arsenals' tactical confusion under Unai Emery continued last weekend with a bizarre diamond 4-4-2 formation that conceded the flanks to Wolves' excellent attacking wing-backs; they were lucky not to lose. Given the Gunners are lifeless on the road and unable to press or hold a coherent shape (they've won just five points from 15 available so far), Leicester's highly structured attacking lines should hurt Emery's team across the width of the pitch.

Raul Jimenez found it remarkably easy to drop off the centre-backs and pick up the ball in space last weekend, reflecting Arsenal's waning pressing and the huge gaps this leaves between the central midfielders. Leicester are particularly strong at carving teams open this way, Brendan Rodgers favouring vertical passing straight through the middle of the pitch from centre-backs to playmaker (Youri Tielemans or James Maddison) to striker. Matteo Guendouzi can't do it all on his own.

Leicester will be just as threatening out wide. Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez, cutting inside from the flanks, will no doubt occupy the hesitant Arsenal full-backs and pull them narrow, creating room for Rodgers' aggressive overlapping full-backs. Wolves repeatedly succeeded doing this down the left last week, with Diogo Jota dragging Callum Chambers away from the on-rushing Jonny.

Flaws in both sides should create entertaining game

Wolves v Aston Villa
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Nuno Esperito Santo's side have improved significantly since moving back to a 3-4-2-1 formation, only with Adama Traore replacing Helder Costa; their forwards, either side of Raul Jimenez, now performed in contrasting roles. Jota drifts infield, pulling the right-back with him and making room for the overlapping Jonny, while Traore hugs the touchline as Matt Doherty underlaps.

It should work against Aston Villa, whose full-backs are susceptible to Wolves' aggressive wing-backs. Frederick Guilbert has been caught out of position at key moments this season and Matt Targett can get a bit lost, while Jack Grealish rarely tracks back effectively from the left wing. Targett especially could get overwhelmed by Doherty and Traore together.

However, Wolves will allow Villa to hold the majority of the ball, and although this means more space for the hosts on the counter it also hands Villa the opportunity to make this an entertaining spectacle. Grealish, joining Conor Hourihane and John McGinn, could cause a numerical overload through the centre. Wolves' two-man midfield was occasionally open at Arsenal. Villa should be more organised and consistent than Unai Emery's team.

Dean Smith Smiling 1280.jpg

Liverpool front three can out-move City defence in tight contest

Liverpool v Man City
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

This is unlikely to be as exciting as the 2-1 Man City win at the Etihad back in April. There is far too much riding on the contest for either manager to commit men forward, while being at Anfield means Pep Guardiola in particular will be wary of getting caught in a blitz, as has happened on several high-profile occasions in the last couple of years. City will keep both full-backs in defence, sit in a mid-block, and take no risks.

Liverpool will want to assert themselves a bit more, and yet a lack of creativity in midfield has seen them struggle to work the ball into the penalty area against deeper sides. They, too, will play it simple, leading to a cagey match with few chances - just like the 0-0 at Anfield last season, in which there were only 13 shots in total.

However, the hosts can still snatch the three points. Should the three forwards be in good form, their sudden, sharp movements in the final third can take it away from a shaky back four; there will not be spaces in behind the City defence to run into, but Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have the ability to link in a congested penalty area around Nicolas Otamendi.

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