Premier League Tactical Preview: Spurs to beat Chelsea in top four clash

Spurs manager Jose Mourinho
Mourinho can mastermind victory against his old club.

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 18th round of Premier League fixtures, predicting Nigel Pearson's Watford to get points against Manchester United and Jose Mourinho to outfox Chelsea...

"Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli, and Lucas Moura are starting to play scintillating counter-attacking football under Mourinho. They should tear through that Chelsea midfield."

Richarlison & Calvert-Lewin can ruffle Arsenal feathers

Everton v Arsenal
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Duncan Ferguson will remain in charge for the visit of Arsenal even if Everton finalise a deal with Carlo Ancelotti in the next 48 hours, which means we are treated to one more round of riotous fun under the intoxicatingly emotional Big Dunc. Following on from a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, there is every chance his tactics will repeat the 2-0 victory over Chelsea a fortnight ago - even if Mikel Arteta is in the opposing dugout.

Sitting in a mid-block 4-4-2, Everton will again be supercharged by Ferguson's emotional volatility as it spills out onto the pitch. Tackles will fly in to expose how easily Arsenal can be made timid, while by keeping their basic shape Everton will deny space for runs in behind or gradual build-up play through the middle. Just like Chelsea at Goodison Park, it is easy to imagine Arsenal reduced to hesitant sideways passing, second to every ball and open to quick counter-attacks.

Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin can bully Arsenal's centre-backs. Everton will throw long balls forward to gain yards and set-pieces as part of their attempt to overwhelm the visitors with their attitude, and the two forwards can expect to win the majority of their battles. With breaks played to the two strikers making runs into the channels, and midfielders snapping into challenges in the centre of the park, Everton should out-think and out-battle Arsenal.

Duncan Ferguson, Everton boss.jpg

Foden & De Bruyne to force Leicester into counter-attacking game

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

Just a week ago Leicester would have looked favourites to outplay Manchester City at the Etihad, taking advantage of the champions' disconnected lines between midfield and attack by controlling the midfield. However, Pep Guardiola's switch to a 4-2-3-1 against Arsenal, with Phil Foden cutting in from the left and Kevin de Bruyne back in a number ten role, has flipped momentum back to the hosts.

Using two deeper midfielders side by side (Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri) stabilises City in the transitions while allowing Kyle Walker to go back to regular right-back duties rather than fill in centrally. More importantly Foden and De Bruyne help form a four-man midfield that is considerably more in sync, allowing City to counter-attack at the Emirates and control the rhythm of the game.

Leicester, then, will spend much of the contest on the back foot as Youri Tielemans is forced to drop back with Wilfried Ndidi (assuming Brendan Rodgers' abandons the diamond 4-4-2 after it failed against Norwich). The problem for City is that pinning Leicester back could make the visitors even more successful on the counter, with Jamie Vardy and James Maddison breaking behind City's high defensive line. De Bruyne and Vardy should both find the pockets of space they need to get on the score sheet.

Pearson's defensive coaching can stump Man Utd

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

Watford looked decent at Liverpool last weekend, the game's xG score of 1.57-1.01 reflecting the visitors' fluid counter-attacks and strong defensive performance. After a week on the training field Nigel Pearson will only improve on this display, meaning a very deep defensive shell for the visit of Man Utd; exactly the kind of tactical setup that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team have struggled against.

Everton made the mistake of pressing a tad too high at Old Trafford, which is why United got in behind several times early on, while Mason Greenwood's equaliser was the direct result of Ferguson having two forwards in the wide positions (neither Alex Iwobi nor Richarlison got close to their markers in the build-up). Watford will be much more negative, possibly even going to five at the back - as Pearson's Leicester did towards the end of their great escape in 2014/15. Whatever the line-up, Pearson will deliberately allow United to win the territorial battle.

Consequently Daniel James, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial will all be limited, while Jesse Lingard - United's vital number ten in these creatively bereft times - generally underperforms if there is no space between the lines. Don't be surprised if Solskjaer's side fail to score. With Gerard Deulofeu up against Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ismaila Sarr lacking confidence, don't be surprised if Watford fail too.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 4 1280 .jpg

Savvy Mourinho to squeeze Mount

Tottenham v Chelsea
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Chelsea have lost four of their last five league games largely because opponents have sussed them out. Frank Lampard's gung-ho attacking tactics rely on Mason Mount and the inverted wingers dominating in central attacking midfield, which can't happen if the opposition surrounds that zone (rather than sitting ten yards deeper, as in early parts of the season), leaving Jorginho and the Chelsea centre-backs to hold as much of the ball as they please.

Lampard's team don't have the patience to gradually work through this blockade, or stretch it out of shape with diagonal switches, betraying a lack of detailed coaching. The players are expected to solve their own problems, and are expected to surge forward as quickly as possible - hence the aimless long balls forward from Antonio Rudiger against Bournemouth when patience was required.

Jose Mourinho will know all this, and so Sunday's game will be the first time we see him park the bus as Spurs manager. Chelsea are still incredibly vulnerable in the transitions, unable to press as a unit to screen their own attacks or cover the huge midfield spaces behind those forwards. Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli, and Lucas Moura are starting to play scintillating counter-attacking football under Mourinho. They should tear through that Chelsea midfield.

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