Premier League Tactical Preview: Liverpool to lose at Anfield again

Mohamed Salah
Liverpool will need Salah on form to avoid defeat.

For Premier League Gameweek 23 Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles and says Man City will beat Liverpool at Anfield to extend Jurgen Klopp's miserable run...

"If Gundogan manages to weave his way forward then Liverpool’s injury-hit midfield will most likely be overwhelmed, sucking Jurgen Klopp’s already narrow formation further infield."

Expansive, confused Villa midfield at risk

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

Dean Smith dismissed the suggestion his players were tired after their midweek defeat to West Ham, despite the fact Villa looked dead on their feet. His consistent team selections are taking their toll, particularly in central midfield, and things were not helped on Wednesday by the slight formation change as John McGinn played further forward alongside Ross Barkley.

Whatever the configuration of Villa's three-man midfield, it lacks energy at the moment and that gives Emile Smith Rowe the chance to dominate. Mikel Arteta's side are particularly adept at drawing the opposition forward with short passing out from the back before suddenly changing the tempo with quick one-touch football through their youthful front four. Villa's tired midfield is highly susceptible.

As are Villa generally, who like to play expansively whenever possible. Consequently they will press the Gunners and leave themselves open to the dribbling abilities of Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe, with Alexandre Lacazette dropping off the front line to overwhelm an isolated Douglas Luiz. This should be a relatively comfortable win for the visitors.

Fernandes can unpick midfield but Digne a danger

Manchester United v Everton
Saturday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

This may turn out to be the best game of the weekend, such is the attacking threat posed by each side at the moment. Everton's defence has been resolute recently as Carlo Ancelotti deploys a fairly low block, and yet his central midfield still looks vulnerable while Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes sit in it.

Bruno Fernandes returned to form in United's 9-0 win over Southampton, a game that should ensure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side again play with furious energy, using constant diagonal switches to pull Everton out of position. Fernandes can dictate the play in pockets around Gomes and Sigurdsson, in turn getting United's wide players on the ball up against full-backs who don't always seem adequately supported by the Everton wingers.

However, on the break Everton will be dangerous. Lucas Digne, Richarlison, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are back in their rhythm, with the left-back swinging in dangerous crosses from the space that opens when Richarlison's diagonal runs drag the opposition right-back infield. Aaron Wan-Bissaka may not get much help from Paul Pogba, creating an open game with lots of goals.

Lucas or Pereira to define tight game

Tottenham v West Brom
Sunday, 12:00
Live on BT Sport 1

Tottenham are in a serious slump, and since Jose Mourinho's biggest flaw is an inability - or unwillingness - to coach attacking patterns the last thing they need is to play an ultra-defensive team coached by Sam Allardyce. The reality, of course, is that West Brom are still very leaky, conceding 12 goals in their last six Premier League matches, but with Tottenham in complete disarray the visitors can be hopeful of a low-scoring game.

Mourinho is frequently changing formation in the hope that something will stick, and for this game he might be advised to play a wide 4-3-3 that focuses on using pace down the right flank; six of the last 12 goals West Brom have conceded came down that side of the pitch as opponents found plenty of room to play crosses into the penalty area. Lucas Moura could be a key player, then.

Mourinho annoyed 1280.jpg

At the other end, Matheus Pereira - the free man in a 4-4-1-1 - is West Brom's best chance of counter-attacking through a sluggish Spurs midfield; the Brazilian has scored five goals in his last six games in all competitions. However, more likely both teams will fail to create chances, leading to another dull game at Tottenham.

Gundogan should capitalise on sluggish midfield

Liverpool v Manchester City
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

This is dreadful timing for Liverpool, whose run of defeats at Anfield makes them highly vulnerable to Manchester City at the moment. Pep Guardiola has laid a strong foundation for pandemic football by slowing the game down and increasing the number of short passes they play, although in the win over Burnley they were sensational on the ball - swapping positions and cutting through their opponent like the Centurions in 2017/18.

Ilkay Gundogan's performance will be crucial at Anfield, because he has been Man City's main creative force recently but will probably be dropped deeper for this game. If Gundogan manages to weave his way forward then Liverpool's injury-hit midfield will most likely be overwhelmed, sucking Jurgen Klopp's already narrow formation further infield.

From here, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez should find themselves with room to cut into the penalty area and cause mayhem. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold just don't get enough help when Liverpool are under the cosh, partly because the champions simply aren't set up to be under pressure for long periods. But with confidence low, that may well be the case on Sunday, which points to a Gundogan-led victory for the visitors.

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