Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 13th round of Premier League fixtures, including why Jose Mourinho is set for a tough opening game at West Ham...
"Mourinho will give his players creative freedom in the final third, but given Mauricio Pochettino was unable to inspire energy in attack it is unclear how the players will react to this week’s shock news."
West Ham v Spurs
Live on BT Sport 1
Jose Mourinho's appointment may give a quick lift to some of the senior players, notably Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, but the new manager's defence-first approach could make this a tricky opening game. Mourinho will give his players creative freedom in the final third, but given Mauricio Pochettino was unable to inspire energy in attack it is unclear how the players will react to this week's shock news.
West Ham might be on a six-match winless run but that's partly because Manuel Pellegrini's side have been forced to play on the front foot despite preferring to sit deep, absorb pressure, and hit on the counter via speedy wingers. They held 69.5% possession in the 3-2 defeat to Newcastle and 60% in the 3-0 at Burnley, whereas the Hammers beat Man Utd 2-0 with 42%. They will repeat that tactical template on Saturday, lining up in a deep defensive shell that creates a claustrophobic game for Spurs - exactly the setup that led to poor results against the likes of Newcastle and Southampton.
Declan Rice will be much improved with more allies close to him, limiting Dele Alli, although Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko - who would have expected to get in behind Pochettino's roaming, under-performing full-backs - will now be severely limited. This will surely be a low-scoring game.
Man City v Chelsea
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Chelsea continue to play carefree attacking football, fanning out across the width of the pitch and consequently highly vulnerable to getting caught in the transition - it's just their recent opponents have been too defensive to capitalise. Man City's counter-attacks are just one of many reasons this seems likely to be an end-to-end game; the two sides' respective strengths seem to perfectly correlate with the other's weaknesses.
Chelsea's full-backs tend to overcommit going forward, which means City's new propensity to cross the ball at every opportunity (63 against Southampton) will be an ideal tactic to tackle Frank Lampard's team. What's more, City's tandem number eights Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva will expect to easily receive passes between the lines up against a decompressed Chelsea midfield; N'Golo Kante cannot do it all on his own.
However, at the other end City's chaotic back four is particularly susceptible to the directness of Chelsea's dribbling at goal, plus with Fernandinho covering at the back City are defensively light in central midfield. Lampard's 4-2-3-1 uses inverted wingers to overload central attacking midfield with attackers; quick vertical passes from Matteo Kovacic into this zone will unsettle Rodri, further ensuring Saturday's game is one of the most entertaining of the season.
Arsenal v Southampton
Unai Emery might be on the verge of losing his job following a series of maddening tactical choices, but surely Arsenal can record three points against Southampton no matter the system. Ralph Hasenhuttl's side recorded just four shots on goal against Everton and three against Man City - their two most recent matches since the infamous 9-0. In a defensive 3-4-3 formation that quickly becomes an isolating 5-4-1, there is just no creativity in the team to build counter-attacks.
That means Arsenal can maintain pressure on the Saints goal without fear of another second-half collapse. Emery will probably play as many forwards as possible, then, either from the start or for a manic final half hour; Pepe, Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette should all play in a gung-ho 4-2-3-1 at one point or another.
An unforgiving Arsenal crowd and aimless tactics this season suggest we won't see a thrashing, but rather Matteo Guendouzi passing sideways in front of a stubborn, deep-lying Southampton defence. After all, Saints held out for 70 minutes at Man City despite holding just 24.7% of the ball. It'll be a clumsy slog for the hosts, but ultimately they should have enough to score at least once.
Sheff Utd v Man Utd
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Scott McTominay is the latest Man Utd player to be ruled out with injury, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Fred and Tahith Chong as his only fit central midfielders. This is a bad time, then, to be facing one of the division's most meticulously crafted midfields - and a side whose 3-5-2 formation is exactly the right shape to overwhelm Man Utd in almost every area.
Solskjaer might have wished to mirror the hosts with a 3-5-2 of his own, but with nine players out he just doesn't have the personnel to move away from a 4-2-3-1 that will be outnumbered everywhere. Sheff Utd's central midfield trio can boss their counterparts; the wing-backs and overlapping centre-backs can combine to leave Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams with too much to do; and Chris Wilder's defensive cohesion can limit the left-centre space where Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford look to combine.
Assuming the hosts are happy to sit a bit deeper than usual, thus limiting the space in behind for Daniel James, Rashford, and Martial, then Wilder's combination of slick possession football and longer passes into the channels on the counter-attack should reveal Sheffield United to be a better organised, better managed, and higher quality team than Man Utd at this moment in time.