Premier League Tactical Preview: Villa and Everton could both lose

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti
Everton's flaws could be tested for the first time by Southampton

Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the weekend's action, including why Man Utd v Chelsea will be an entertaining game...

"Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will again deploy a 3-5-2 in the hope of sitting deep and counter-attacking through that porous Chelsea midfield."

Bielsa's right-wing triangles a worry for Villa

Aston Villa v Leeds United
Friday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport Box Office

One of the most important tactical attributes of Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds is the overloads he creates on the wings. Using vertical possession and attacking in high numbers to move the ball into the wide areas, Leeds are then able to move in perfect synchronicity to set up with three players in a triangle shape for one-twos into the penalty area.

Against Wolves, whose ruthless back five held firm despite holding just 32% possession in their 1-0 win on Monday night, Leeds were particularly dangerous down the right wing. Luke Ayling pulled wide to stretch the left wing-back back away from the left centre-back, with Rodrigo then dropping into that space as Mateusz Klitch acts as a wall for the two of them - completing the triangle.

Leeds were sharp here, but just unable to break Wolves down. Aston Villa, however, are much weaker in this area, firstly because Jack Grealish doesn't defend particularly well on that flank and secondly because Matt Targett is Villa's weak link in terms of defensive positioning. Nobody has tested that side of Villa's so far this season; Leeds will overload them.

Back threes & bad transitions mean goals

Man Utd v Chelsea
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

After losing consecutive league games to Manchester United last season, Frank Lampard switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation for the 3-1 victory in the FA Cup semi-final in Wembley. He will probably repeat that tactic on Saturday, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will again deploy a 3-5-2 in the hope of sitting deep and counter-attacking through that porous Chelsea midfield.

Certainly how Chelsea can cope in the transitions and prevent United from breaking at speed, as they did in the 4-0 win on the opening day of 2019/20, is the main story - and Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, as split strikers, could get in behind. But Lampard is savvier in these big games now, and like Solskjaer he will deploy a relatively safe midblock here to help out his error-prone defenders.

Consequently what is more significant is that both midfields will be open, leading to an entertaining game. Chelsea's two-man midfield in a 3-4-2-1 is clearly light on numbers and will struggle to track Bruno Fernandes if the Portuguese is on form, whereas United cannot confidently be trusted to cope with inside forwards Mason Mount and Kai Havertz as they drop into pockets of space.

Adams & Ings can find the flaws at Everton

Southampton v Everton
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Nobody has managed to put Everton under consistent pressure this season, but Liverpool did enough to show there are flaws in Carlo Ancelotti's side that, with time, will come to undermine any hope of a title challenge this season. Yerry Mina and Jordan Pickford are error-prone, and as Liverpool attacked relentlessly down the right last weekend it became clear that Richarlison's role in supporting Dominic Calvert-Lewin leaves Everton light on that flank.

Richarlison is suspended for this game, but his likely replacement Alex Iwobi will be expected to perform a similar role. Ralph Hasenhuttl being particularly skilled at focusing in on opposition weaknesses, he will probably target this flank via Stuart Armstrong; Southampton's quick vertical transitions could be a problem for Everton should the league leaders be expected to dominate the ball.

However, more important is the relationship between Che Adams and Danny Ings, the former feeding the latter in one of the Premier League's best striker partnerships. Their explosive form should be able to force errors from Mina and Pickford, especially at moments when Everton are caught on the ball in their own half with Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman already having moved forward to attack.


Leicester's 3-4-3 has midfield issue Saka can exploit

Arsenal v Leicester City
Sunday, 19:15
Live on Sky Sports Box Office

Brendan Rodgers will probably use the 3-4-3 formation that got him a 1-1 draw against Arsenal in July or the 3-5-2 deployed for the 5-2 victory over Manchester City, and either way that creates a certain hole in central midfield. The absence of Wilfried Ndidi is being keenly felt, handing Bukayo Saka an advantage from his hybrid role.

Arsenal might be lacking a playmaker, but they make up for it with Mikel Arteta's positional setup in the 3-4-3/4-3-3. Saka was exceptional in the 1-1 draw in July from a right wing position, although on Sunday he is more likely to feature at left wing-back with licence to roam into central midfield. Arriving here late, and intermittently, makes him very difficult to track - especially for a team missing their key central midfielder.

Ross Barkley's late winner for Aston Villa last weekend was a glimpse of this emerging problem. He found far too much space between the opposition lines of defence and midfield, and it is easy to imagine Saka popping up in a space like that to dictate the tempo.

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