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Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Markovic v Sigurdsson and other key battles

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Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League and FA Cup, including why Liverpool's high line could see Burnley snatch the points at Anfield...

"Sam Vokes and Andre Gray combined superbly to score Burnley's second goal at Swansea last weekend; a long ball was flicked on by Vokes and volleyed home by Gray. It is easy to envisage this partnership exposing Liverpool's brittle defence."

FA Cup: Chelsea v Man Utd

End-to-end Kante v United's rigid formation
Monday, 19:45, Live on BBC One

Manchester United's 10th draw of the season drew attention to a recurring flaw in Jose Mourinho's tactics this season; their 4-2-3-1 formation is too rigid, with players rarely overlapping across the width of the pitch to pull the opposition apart. The predictability of their attacking lines will make it relatively easy for Chelsea to hold them at bay. As usual, much rests on N'Golo Kante, who will be particularly important when distributing the ball on the counter.

Paul Pogba remains a ghostly figure in a United shirt, his occasional bursts of elegance offset by a sense of irritability regarding the speed of English football. He leaves gaps behind him, where Pedro and Hazard will float menacingly - as they did in the 4-0 destruction of United the last time the two sides met.

Kante's ability to cut through United's three-man midfield after winning the ball back will make the difference. Mourinho's tactics are too slow and robotic at present, handing Chelsea a big advantage - both defensively and when counter-attacking opportunities emerge. They should win fairly comfortably.

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Back Chelsea to win at 10/11


FA Cup: Middlesbrough v Man City

Karanka's defensive shell v Sane & Sterling width
Saturday, 12:15, Live on BT Sport 2

Pep Guardiola has discovered a new consistency in a V-shaped 4-5-1, with Yaya Toure at the base of midfield and Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling hugging the touchline. David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne roam as dual playmakers ahead of Toure, and these two find space thanks to those young wingers dragging defenders out wide. Sterling and Sane will be even more important than usual when Pep's team play ultra-defensive Middlesbrough.

Aitor Karanka's side boast the best home defensive record in the Premier League, having conceded just 11 goals at the Riverside; their stubborn shell of bodies may be boring to watch, but it is extremely effective. It will be very difficult for De Bruyne and Silva to find space in central areas, or for Sergio Aguero to get a clean shot away inside the penalty area.

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Guardiola tackled a similar problem last weekend by instructing his players to consistently find Sterling and Sane, switching the ball from flank to flank to tire the Sunderland defence and gradually stretch them apart. A similar tactical pattern will emerge on Saturday, and given Sane is in good form - he created three chances and scored a goal at the Stadium of Light - he should have enough to see City through to the last four. What's more, Daniel Ayala's injury will hurt the hosts.

Recommended Bet
Back Man City to win to nil at 6/5


Premier League: Liverpool v Burnley

Klopp's high line v Gray & Vokes
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports 1

Liverpool may be leading the top-six mini-league, but they have dropped points this season against Leicester, Hull, Swansea, Sunderland, West Ham, Southampton, and Burnley. The reason for this lopsided record is obvious; Jurgen Klopp's high-line, high-pressing tactics are most effective against expansive teams, but leaves them vulnerable to quick counters against more conservative opposition.

Burnley are perfectly set up to repeat their 2-0 win at Turf Moor back in August. Danny Drinkwater split the Liverpool defence with a simple through-ball for Jamie Vardy's opener a fortnight ago, and Andrea Ronocchia did something similar for Oumar Niasse's strike in early February. As Burnley's defensive tactics frustrate Liverpool into over-committing to attack, expect Sean Dyche's long-ball football to catch Klopp out once again.

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray combined superbly to score Burnley's second goal at Swansea last weekend; a long ball was flicked on by Vokes and volleyed home by Gray. It is easy to envisage this partnership exposing Liverpool's brittle defence.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Burnley/draw at 14/5


Premier League: Hull City v Swansea City

Markovic v Sigurdsson & Carroll
Saturday, 15:00

In a nervy game with few clear-cut chances, the key battle area in Saturday's crucial six-pointer will be Hull's right wing, where their star creator Lazar Markovic must balance his attacking duties with attempting to stunt both Glyfi Sigurdsson and Tom Carroll. The two Swansea midfielders - along with the overlapping Martin Olsson - drift to the left flank to overwhelm their opponents, before crossing early for Fernando Llorente.

Paul Clement has quickly realised that Llorente's aerial prowess is the key to Swansea's survival, and adapted his usual tactical philosophy accordingly. Carroll, Olssen, and Sigurdsson - all left-footers - now bunch together on the left flank to create crossing opportunities; they attempted 47 crosses against Burnley (68% coming from those three on the left) as Llorente scored twice with his head.

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Right-back Ahmed Elmohamedy will, play a big role, and Alfred N'Diaye will need to help out as much as possible on Swansea's left, but it is Markovic who will ultimately make the difference. The former-Liverpool winger must not burst forward on the counter too early, or else Swansea could punish Hull if the ball swings back the other way. In a tight game, the visitors' relentless crossing should eventually make the crucial difference.

Recommended Bet
Back Swansea to win at 21/10

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