Premier League Tactical Preview: Manchester United can silence Stamford Bridge

Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
United can do the double over Chelsea on Monday

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead from the second half of the 26th round of Premier League fixtures, including how Manchester United can complete the double over Chelsea...

"The pace of Anthony Martial & Daniel James will again cause issues around Jorginho, left alone in midfield, while Bruno Fernandes's passing can help evade the initial Chelsea press."

Rodgers to mistakenly use a three-man defence

Wolves v Leicester
Friday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 1

Brendan Rodgers has a habit of switching to a three-man defence every time he faces an opponent that regularly play in that system, presumably on the basis that formation mirroring is the best way to nullify its strengths. It worked in a 3-0 win at Newcastle, but Leicester were lucky to draw 0-0 with Wolves on the opening day and recently lost 2-1 at Aston Villa.

Leicester's 3-4-2-1 doesn't suit them. Like Villa, one of the Wolves centre-backs will step out to meet James Maddison, leaving two defenders to mark Jamie Vardy, while Ayoze Perez should again struggle from such a narrow starting position. Given that Wolves will concede possession and territory willingly, Leicester's shape will see the playmakers crowded out and Harvey Barnes nullified by Matt Doherty.

Wolves' familiarity with their 3-4-3 makes the Leicester back line vulnerable to counters, as they have been for most of the season (they've kept just one clean sheet in their last ten league games). Diogo Jota and Adama Traore move into clever inside forward positions that should mean Wilfried Ndidi is occasionally unable to track them, and once he is turned a slow Leicester defence will be exposed.

Villa's light midfield vulnerable to Spurs' emerging patterns

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

The problem with Dean Smith is that he is slow to change his tactics, and after holding onto a 4-3-3 for far too long, he is now clinging to a 3-4-3 long after it has been shown to be light in central midfield. Villa, without John McGinn, don't have the strength, agility, or technical quality in their midfield to play with a two here, which has left them repeatedly exposed to sides that pass creatively through the middle.

Bournemouth's 2-1 win in Villa's last match was the perfect example, as Philip Billing dominated the game as the spare man. Tottenham remain flawed under Jose Mourinho but things are certainly coming together in midfield; Harry Winks and Giovani Lo Celso make for an assertive, line-breaking central midfield duo and are supported by Dele Alli, two inverted wingers, and a false nine. Spurs are linking in neat triangles through midfield.


That should be enough to allow the visitors to keep the pressure on for long periods, forcing Villa into an uncomfortably deep position and bringing out the hesitancy in Tyrone Mings. Worst of all, it means Heung-Min Son and Steven Bergwijn will get plenty of opportunities to run at the Villa wing-backs, neither of whom are strong defensively.

Arsenal's stilted attacks but strong defence point to draw

Arsenal v Newcastle
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Newcastle's ultra-defensive 5-4-1 is exactly the tactical model that worries Arsenal, who despite Mikel Arteta's best efforts are still struggling to play with tempo or fluency. The ambling Arsenal of the Unai Emery days seems likely to return as they fail to break down two stubborn defensive lines happy to concede 70%+ possession.

However, there is the chance that Arsenal will enjoy a 10 minute burst of Guardiola-esque synchronicity, as they have in many home games under Arteta, and that could be enough to grab the winner. After all, it will only take one goal to win this game.

Unlike under Emery, Arsenal are no longer vulnerable to the counter-attack. A key aspect of Arteta's complex positional coaching has been to prevent breakaways via Granit Xhaka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles; the former stays deep at all times to screen and leans left to cover for the flying left-back, while the latter becomes an auxiliary central midfielder to form a solid 2-3 defensive shape even during sustained periods of Arsenal pressure. Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron won't find space.

Chaotic game should be a repeat of opening day

Chelsea v Manchester Unitwd
Monday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

It says a lot about the lack of in-depth tactical coaching at both Chelsea and Manchester United that nothing has changed since United's 4-0 win on the opening day. Frank Lampard's side are still open to the counter-attack, and United still lack any real sense of rhythm - only to suddenly score on the break.

It shouldn't be another 4-0, but the pattern of the game will certainly be similar. Lampard's side continue to spread out too much, getting caught too far up the field in their frantic search for a goal - and the problem has only got worse since their creativity dried up. Desperation to return to the attacking patterns of the first half of the season is leaving huge gaps through the middle.

United only look good when playing against teams like that, and will happily sit off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The pace of Anthony Martial and Daniel James will again cause issues around Jorginho, left alone in midfield, while Bruno Fernandes' passing can help evade the initial Chelsea press.

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open account using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn We'll Refund You £/€20 If the Bet Loses

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles