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Premier League Tactical Preview: Ritchie v Olsson and other key battles

Guardiola must preach bravery ahead of the clash with Liverpool's front three
Guardiola must preach bravery ahead of the clash with Liverpool's front three
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Alex Keble returns with his tactical analysis for the big Premier League games, including why Liverpool's forwards could end Man City's unbeaten run...

"If Jurgen Klopp’s front three remain high this could pin back the City full-backs, causing Pep Guardiola’s defensive structure to fall apart."

Chelsea's open channels v Mahrez & Gray

Chelsea v Leicester City
Saturday, 15:00

Claude Puel is gradually turning Leicester into a more aggressive counter-attacking side that isn't afraid of pressing high or pouring forward in great numbers. This might come as a shock to Chelsea, whose 3-5-2 formation was pulled alarmingly out of shape by another assertive opponent, Arsenal, earlier this month.

Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray will sit high up the pitch on Saturday and be ready to burst forward whenever possession is won by the Foxes' defence. Chelsea's midfield organisation generally makes this task difficult, but if Leicester's bold wingers pin back the wing-backs then there will be trouble. In the league match against Arsenal Antonio Conte's formation frequently fell into a flat 5-2-1-2 shape as the wing-backs dropped to make a five and the front three roamed high, leaving Tiemoue Bakayoko and N'Golo Kante with far too much space to cover in the centre of the pitch.

This is likely to happen again on Saturday and, like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Leicester's most talented attackers will benefit from the elongated central midfield space. It should lead to a surprisingly open contest with plenty of goals.

Recommended Bet
Back over 3.5 goals at 6/4


Matt Ritchie v Martin Olsson

Newcastle United v Swansea City
Saturday, 15:00

As is always the case in relegation six-pointers between teams lacking confidence, this match will almost certainly be of low quality and with few clear-cut chances. Consequently, it is worth looking at one direct head-to-head battle for clues as to where this game might be won or lost; Matt Ritchie's crossing from right midfield could cause problems against the hapless Martin Olsson.

Olsson has been directly at fault for five opposition goals in the last six league matches. His errors include: failing to track back; being beaten on the dribble; being caught out of position; and inexplicably refusing to close down when crosses are imminent. The Swedish left-back needs a break from the first-team, but judging by Carlos Carvalhal's team selections so far this isn't going to happen.

Ritchie, meanwhile, is gradually improving. He averages 2.9 accurate crosses per match (the eighth most in the Premier League) and was impressive during Newcastle's 1-0 win at Stoke. A similar sort of match, with a Ritchie-inspired Magpies win, seems likely.

Recommended Bet
Back Newcastle to win at 10/11


Liverpool's front three v Man City's defensive line

Liverpool v Manchester City
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports Premier League

It might seem obvious to posit that Liverpool's pacey front three will test City's high line, but in reality Pep Guardiola's brilliant positional coaching means the hosts won't be able to break successfully - unless the City defence fearfully drops deeper than instructed, which could happen given their lack of leadership at the back.

Fabien Delph and Kyle Walker move infield to make a flat three with Fernandinho during City periods of possession, which should prevent Liverpool from launching the initial pass in the counter. However, if Jurgen Klopp's front three remain high this could pin back the City full-backs, causing Pep Guardiola's defensive structure to fall apart.

What's more, if Liverpool grow into the game then John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi might drop deeper, opening up a huge number 10 space between the lines of midfield and defence. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah love dropping off into this zone of the pitch, handing Liverpool the advantage on Sunday.

Recommended Bet
Back over 3.5 goals at 5/4


Man Utd possession v Berahino counters

Manchester United v Stoke City
Monday, 20:00, Live on Sky Sports Premier League

It is difficult to predict exactly how Stoke will approach this game given a new manager could be at the helm before Monday night, but we can safely assume they will spend the majority of the game defending deep. And irrespective of whether Martin O'Neill is in charge by then, Stoke will also want to play with a quick striker who can run the channels, giving the Potters a long-ball option to initiate the breakaway.

New managers mean a fresh start, and it is often a team's hidden gem - a player out of favour under the old regime but capable of emerging as a star - who gets a surprise start in the first match of a new era. Step forward Saido Berahino, a one-time target of Tottenham Hotspur who is in desperate need of an arm around the shoulder. There is still time to get a place in England's World Cup squad.

His main target on Monday should be United's left, where Ashley Young is expected to contribute in the final third and thus leaves a gap on that sided of the pitch. If Joe Allen can quickly release balls into the channel, we might just see Berahino back in the headlines.

Recommended Bet
Back Berahino to score any time at 4/1

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