Premier League Tactical Preview: Arsenal could end Liverpool's unbeaten run

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta
Arteta is looking to make it three in a row against Liverpool

Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the third weekend of the 2020/21 Premier League season, including why Spurs, Man Utd, and Liverpool could all drop points...

"The Arsenal manager also preaches quick vertical football with multiple runners on the shoulder of the last defender, not unlike Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds, which could mean Liverpool get caught on the break once again."

Potter's tactical diligence can hit sluggish United

Brighton v Man Utd
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Brighton have developed a style of possession football under Graham Potter that allows them to seamlessly transition into a deeper shape with good compression between the lines, passing quickly into the forwards on the break but without the disorder or dribbling skills of a classic counter-attacking team. Steven Alzati has made a strong start to the season controlling central midfield in this manner, ensuring that Brighton are difficult to break down and unflappable when regaining possession.

It makes them well set up to calmly dominate at the Amex on Saturday against a Manchester United team both lacking confidence and fitness. In Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay the have the ability to pull United's centre-backs out wide and isolate them, as Crystal Palace did last weekend, but instead of countering quickly Brighton will look to overwhelm the visitors should they once again look static and badly organised.

The midfield battle will therefore be of huge importance, putting Donny van de Beek under pressure on what will likely be his first start in a United shirt. The tactical pattern of this game should be Brighton absorbing tentative attacks and then combining strategically in wide areas to outmanoeuvre Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer close up face 1280.jpg

Ultra-defensive Bruce can repeat win

Tottenham v Newcastle
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Newcastle United won this game 1-0 last season to put Mauricio Pochettino on the brink, and a similar game could well develop on Sunday. Steve Bruce will be furious about the lack of defensive discipline his side showed against Brighton, in which his 4-4-2 was hopelessly porous between the lines, and consequently we can expect a more diligent, ultra-defensive blockade at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

This is precisely the kind of formation that causes problems for Jose Mourinho. His inability to coach complex attacking patterns and his reliance on forwards freely improvising in the final third explains why his Spurs team consistently struggle when tasked with unlocking a compact defence. They certainly won't be handed opportunities to break in behind the back line as they were by Southampton last weekend.

Bruce, fearful of Son Heung-min's movement and Harry Kane's distribution, will park the bus. That is highly likely to lead to a low-scoring game, given Spurs don't have a playmaker in the starting 11 these days and generally run out of ideas when the likes of Son and Lucas Moura find themselves up against a brick wall of defenders out wide.

Guardiola to target Justin with Mahrez

Man City v Leicester City
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Brendan Rodgers will probably want to play a 3-5-2 formation for his side's trip to the Etihad, after a switch to that formation almost worked in a 1-0 home defeat to Man City back in February; Leicester held just 38% possession that day but were unlucky to concede in the 80th minute. However, injury concerns mean it won't be the most convincing back five.

Either Christian Fuchs will need to be deployed as the left-sided centre-back with James Justin at left wing-back, or youngster Luke Thomas, who played 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup in midweek, will be drafted into the side. In either scenario that flank will become a major weak spot for Leicester: Justin was directly at fault for both of Burnley's goals in their 4-2 win last weekend.

Pep Guardiola will look to focus on this area, presumably by deploying Riyad Mahrez on the right flank to take Justin on. Man City made a strong start to the season at Wolves, and yet they often lacked a spark in the final third up against a three-man defence. Mahrez, in for Phil Foden, would be the perfect way to isolate Leicester's biggest weakness.

Pep Guardiola, Manchester City coach.jpg

Tierney & Saka can unsettle Liverpool high line

Liverpool v Arsenal
Monday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Arsenal's high press unsettled Liverpool into making two defensive errors in their 2-1 victory at the Emirates back in July, suggesting Mikel Arteta will boldly look to confront the hosts high up the pitch on Monday evening. The Arsenal manager also preaches quick vertical football with multiple runners on the shoulder of the last defender, not unlike Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds, which could mean Liverpool get caught on the break once again.

But the biggest key battle of the game is on Arsenal's left. The fulcrum of their hybrid 4-3-3/3-4-3 formation is left centre-back Kieran Tierney overlapping down the left while wing-back Bukayo Saka (or Ainsley Maitland-Niles) comes inside to become a central midfielder. Their movement, coupled with the out-to-in runs of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, generally cause difficulties to opponents on that flank.

And it is here that Liverpool are most vulnerable. Trent Alexander-Arnold has persistently shown a defensive weakness on this side and is regularly caught ahead of the play, while the Liverpool right-back also struggles to get support from team-mates. It remains to be seen if Jordan Henderson can get across and cover Tierney and Saka, or whether Mohamed Salah staying high will leave his team open on the break.

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