Premier League Tactical Preview: Chelsea to be beaten by Wolves

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard
Lampard's Chelsea might get top four despite likelihood of defeat to Wolves.
View market

Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the final day of Premier League, predicting Chelsea and Leicester to lose in their crucial Top 4 Finish games...

"Podence in particular should find joy around Jorginho, dribbling past – or passing through – Chelsea’s worryingly disorganised central defence."

Man Utd can repeat Tottenham's tactics

Leicester v Man Utd
Sunday, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Following last weekend's 3-0 win over Leicester City Jose Mourinho used his post-match press conference to elaborate on the tactical plan. Citing the absences of Ricardo Pereira, Cagla Soyuncu, and Ben Chilwell, he told reporters he instructed his players to sit deep (to limit Jamie Vardy), allow the centre-backs time on the ball, and then counter-attack on the outside of the back three once they had been drawn forward.

Those are exactly the sort of tactics Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likes to use in big games, and so he will have taken note of how Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura, and Harry Kane broke three-on-three against a slow, makeshift Leicester defence. Manchester United will presumably show similar caution, holding a deeper defensive line than usual to stunt Leicester's attacks before releasing their own fluid front three.

An exhausted Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood rarely shone against West Ham, but this game ought to be easier on the legs. Whereas West Ham's defensive setup meant Man Utd had to constantly move to make space, against Leicester the forwards will find joy counter-attacking down the flanks.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the bench 1280.jpg

Podence can exploit problems in Chelsea's 3-4-3

Chelsea v Wolves
Sunday, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

The brittleness of Chelsea's 3-4-3 - in which the centre-backs look lost and the midfield is criminally under-stocked - was brutally exposed by Liverpool on Wednesday night, and yet Wolves' own 3-4-3 means Frank Lampard cannot afford to abandon the shape. That gives the visitors the edge: Nuno Esperito Santo's side are considerably more organised than Chelsea, and hold a key advantage in central attacking midfield.

The compression of Wolves' formation and their cautious midblock should negate Chelsea's tiring attackers, creating a game as low-tempo as Chelsea's 3-1 win over Manchester United (an even game defined by goalkeeping errors). Wolves' use of wing-backs, coupled with the impressive work of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, ensures Christian Pulisic will be controlled far better than he was by the Liverpool defence.

At the other end, Chelsea's two-man midfield could again be run ragged. The narrowness of Wolves' inside forwards Adam Traore and Daniel Podence means the visitors' playmakers will be able to sit in the gaps either side of Jorginho and Matteo Kovacic, controlling the game in the half-spaces as the two pairs of wing-backs cancel each other out. Podence in particular should find joy around Jorginho, dribbling past - or passing through - Chelsea's worryingly disorganised central defence.

Grealish & Targett can hurt inexperienced Johnson

West Ham v Aston Villa
Sunday, 14:00
Live on BT Sport

This is bound to be a nervous final-day game for Villa, whose greatly improved defensive record suggests they will be relatively cautious as they look to build on the solid performance in the 1-0 win over Arsenal. In a tight game, the key battleground looks to be Villa's left, after Jack Grealish - following a slow restart - was back to his best in midweek.

His relationship with the overlapping Matt Targett has been a crucial point of attack for Dean Smith throughout the season, and it should be Villa's primary focus on Sunday given that 22-year-old Ben Johnson is set to play just his third game of the season at right-back.

Johnson has performed well so far, but Villa pose a very different threat compared to an exhausted Man Utd and an out-of-form Watford, his first two opponents. Furthermore, Jarrod Bowen's tendency to dip infield when West Ham have possession could leave the young right-back with too much to do when Villa counter-attack.

dean smith aston villa getty 663x442.jpg

Arsenal possession could wear Watford down

Arsenal v Watford
Sunday 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Football

Watford started fairly brightly against Manchester City on Tuesday before inevitably collapsing, a side-effect of their weariness in the battle against relegation and their fragile self-esteem in the wake of Nigel Pearson's dismissal. City didn't do anything particularly unusual, but in the end Watford couldn't hold out when camped in their own half.

More worrying still, they seemed incapable of getting the ball to stick with Troy Deeney or release Ismaili Sarr into space. Arsenal's pressing after losing the ball isn't as good as Man City's, nor is their ability to convert possession into goals, but Mikel Arteta does deploy a similar methodology - and that most likely means the same end result for Watford.

Arsenal will rotate the likes of Kieran Tierney, Nicolas Pepe, and Granit Xhaka back into the side, which means returning Bukayo Saka to a more advanced role. All together, that should dramatically increase the tempo and rhythm of their passing, ensuring Arsenal are a much stronger outfit than the one that turned up at Villa Park on Wednesday.

Alex Keble,

Read past articles