Premier League Tactical Preview: Palace can hold Arsenal & Spurs to lose on home soil

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho
Spurs look set for their third league game in a row without victory.

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 22nd round of Premier League fixtures and predicts Liverpool will beat Tottenham in north London...

"However, none of these players will find much room against such a well-organised Palace defence, while Roy Hodgson’s three-man central midfield is likely to mean Mesut Ozil meanders."

Resolute Palace could bring the worst out of Ozil

Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Saturday, 12:45
Live on BT Sport 1

Although Mikel Arteta's furious half-time team talk roused Arsenal into a better second-half performance against Leeds United, their hesitancy in the first 45 shows there is much work ahead. Crystal Palace - who have conceded six goals in their last nine matches and have only conceded more than one goal on four occasions this season - are just the sort of resolute opponent Arsenal could struggle against.

Arteta's Guardiola-esque high-pressing possession football forces opponents into their own third, and consequently requires complex, high-energy attacking moves in order to pull the defensive shell apart. We have seen positive early evidence of this in the 2-0 win over Man Utd, when Arteta's use of Ainsley Maitland-Niles as an inverted full-back allowed for five front players to attack across the width of the pitch.

However, none of these players will find much room against such a well-organised Palace defence, while Roy Hodgson's three-man central midfield is likely to mean Mesut Ozil meanders. The German playmaker will be forced wide and, against a determined Palace team on home soil, that probably means Arsenal's lines will be too disconnected to attack with speed.

Hodgson Thinking 1280.jpg

Martial & Rashford to punish wide-open Norwich again

Man Utd v Norwich
Saturday, 15:00

It is well known that Man Utd can only perform well when allowed to counter-attack, whereas clubs who sit deep nullify Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's fast forwards and force United to play sluggish football - revealing their complete lack of in-depth tactical coaching. Norwich City are pretty much perfect opponents, then, mixing poor form with a strategy highly vulnerable to the hosts' preferred method of attack.

Norwich are on an eight-match winless run in the league and have recorded three points only once since mid-September. That alone makes them ripe for a defeat at Old Trafford, but worse still Daniel Farke continues to insist on expansive possession football no matter the opponent. Norwich will hold a midblock and fan out into a wide shape, opening up massive spaces for United to counter when they win the ball.

That's exactly what happened in the reverse fixture, a 3-1 win for Man Utd in which Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford both scored goals on the break after their team-mates won the ball in the Norwich half. They should again combine, and again make Norwich pay for failing to adapt their approach.

Liverpool to dominate midfield as full-backs flourish

Spurs v Liverpool
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Jose Mourinho will likely continue with a 3-5-2 formation for this game since this is ordinarily the best way to nullify Liverpool's full-backs without leaving too much space for the front three; wing-backs can afford to push up and get tight to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson safe in the knowledge they are still leaving four defenders to shuffle across behind them.

It still won't be enough. Tottenham look passive in the transitions as they struggle to adapt to Mourinho's tactics, with constant changes in central midfield reflecting their problems controlling this zone of the pitch. Liverpool, by contrast, look sharper than ever and so should be able to swarm and overwhelm the hosts like Chelsea did just before Christmas.

More importantly, whether playing as full-backs or wing-backs Serge Aurier and Ryan Sessegnon struggle to get the balance right between attacking and defensive positioning. Like so many clubs visiting the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Liverpool's centre-backs can play raking long balls into the channels to get in behind the defence.

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Sarr & Deulofeu to capitalise on weak full-backs

Bournemouth v Watford
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

There are numerous areas in which Bournemouth, with a single win in their last ten league games, are weak tactically, but perhaps the most important is on the flanks. Their 4-4-2 formation consistently leaves too much space out wide and gives too big an advantage to the opposition winger.

Bournemouth's full-backs are overworked because the 4-4-2 is inherently narrow, the shape dragged infield by opponents outnumbering them centrally. The first three goals in West Ham's 4-0 win last weekend came down the wings as David Moyes's side easily cut to the byline, and Watford should be able to mimic that performance.

Nigel Pearson is focusing heavily on the flanks. His midfielders are looking to find two pacey and creative wingers at every opportunity, hence the dramatic upturn in form from record-signing Ismaila Sarr. In his two matches under Pearson Sarr has been considerably more direct, tasked with running at the opposition full-back (three dribbles v Wolves, five fouls against v Villa). Sarr and in-form Gerard Deulofeu ought to dominate.

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