Premier League: Four key battles from the weekend's action

Sigurdsson faces his former employers on Sunday
Sigurdsson faces his former employers on Sunday
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Tactical expert Alex Keble is back with his regular early look at the weekend's key match-ups. Can Hull stifle Chelsea's creativity? Will Gylfi Sigurdsson upset his former club? Who wins the Midlands derby? Check out his verdict and recommended bets...

"At The Hawthorns, an assured team in ascent meets an uncertain team on the slide. What's more, of the last ten goals West Brom have conceded, seven have been from high crosses so the in-form Christian Benteke will fancy his chances."

Back Aston Villa to win at 27/10

Villa's passing v West Brom's passing
Saturday, 15:00

Stephane Sessegnon's explosive slalom-runs and Saido Berahino's goal-poaching prowess must seem like years ago for West Brom fans, the memories now quietly fading - like their optimism - into a mere footnote of an increasingly sterile and complicated campaign.

As the form of their two star players has drifted, so too has the team's confidence, leaving Alan Irvine's men looking disjointed and nervous in possession; West Brom are dispossessed 13.9 time per match (second highest in division), and have an average of 78% pass completion.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa - having repaired some of their own self-esteem issues with back-to-back league victories - are showing tentative signs of developing into an assured passing unit. West Brom's possessional flaws could prove decisive in the Midlands derby.

After initial teething problems, Carlos Sanchez and Tom Cleverly are emerging as incisive, dynamic passers of the ball, their movement and interplay combining rhythmically with Ashley Westwood's assured distribution from the base of midfield.

Against Leicester, Villa held 65% possession and made 477 passes, more than in any other game this season. Furthermore, Jores Okore's composure in possession (87.7% pass accuracy) provided Villa with a technical skill usually lacking in their somewhat lumbering defence. 

At The Hawthorns, an assured team in ascent meets an uncertain team on the slide. What's more, of the last ten goals West Brom have conceded, seven have been from high crosses so the in-form Christian Benteke will fancy his chances.

Recommended Bet
Back Aston Villa to win at 27/10


Burnley's direct approach v Southampton's controlled possession
Saturday, 15:00

An unfortunate defeat at QPR, in which a typically determined Burnley side caused problems throughout, should not deflect attention away from the growing confidence in Sean Dyche's side; on Saturday, Southampton can expect to face well organised, hard-working opposition.

Burnley favour a direct attacking approach, pumping long balls towards a target man as part of an old fashioned 4-4-2, with a big and little striker combination. They play more long passes (81 per match) than any other club, where Ashley Barnes (9.2 aerial duels per match) or Lukas Jutkiewicz (6.7 per match) attempt the flick-on.

This smash-and-grab approach, led by Danny Ings' clinical finishing and Dean Marney's tireless hounding in central midfield, has successfully bullied numerous clubs this season. 

However, Southampton's directly juxtaposing playing style should significantly counteract Burnley's uncontrolled, chaotic system (43.4% possession, 71% pass completion).

The Clarets may boast an increasingly impressive home form, but the calibre of opposition contradicts suggestions of defensive solidity; we have to go back to Everton, in October, to find the last time Burnley faced controlling, possessionally dominant opponents.

An ever-bold Burnley fielded - as usual - two strikers against Roberto Martinez's side, and ended the match with a measly 38% possession and three goals conceded. Southampton, on the other hand, continue to play with composure and confidence, in spite of a series of unfortunate results.

Saints will be desperate to get back on form. Against Man United, Dusan Tadic (five key passes) showed signs of returning to form, while Graziano Pelle's first goal in six is bound to help his confidence. Back him to notch again.

Recommended Bet
Back Graziano Pelle to score any time at 13/8


Hazard v Hull City back five
Saturday, 15:00

Tactically, Steve Bruce's side are one of the most interesting teams to watch in recent weeks, having reverted to a lopsided 3-5-2 formation that regularly shifts to 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 depending upon the scenario.

This tactical confusion stems primarily from the drifting positional play of Liam Rosenior, operating nominally as a third centre back, but spending the majority of recent matches hugging the left touchline.

We can expect this movement and fluidity to be firmly stamped out at Stamford Bridge, where Bruce - likely to continue employing three centre-backs - will hope to deny Chelsea space in the final third with deep, narrow defensive lines.

Despite the unpredictable spread of Chelsea's creativity, a significant proportion of their attacks are initiated in central areas, where their inverted wingers are inclined to drift. Both Sunderland and Newcastle successfully stifled Jose Mourinho's side by packing the areas in front of the back four, where Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Cesc Fabregas all lurk.

With the impressive Mohamed Diame (3.9 tackles per match) injured, Bruce cannot rely upon a defensive midfielder - such as a Lee Cattermole or a James Colback - to snuff out attacks, and will instead expect one of his centre-backs to move up into the space.

Unlike Newcastle, who sat two defensive midfielders in the hole, Bruce will instruct one of his three centre-backs to step out of defence.

Unfortunately for Hull, Chelsea's strength at Stamford Bridge should prove too much for a side without a win in eight league games. Backing a home win would barely pay out, so it's worth doubling up with Diego Costa scoring first.

Recommended Bet
Chelsea to win and Diego Costa to score first at 12/5


Sigurdsson v Eriksen
Sunday, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports 1

With both sides struggling desperately for form (four points from their last five games), this delicately balanced fixture could swing on a single act of creative ingenuity; lurking dangerously in the number 10 position and increasingly shouldering the creative burden at their respective clubs, the performances of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Christian Eriksen should decide this match.

Sigurdsson (eight assists, 2.6 key passes per game) has rediscovered the glittering form that defined his first spell at Swansea, and will be keen to prove to his former employers that they didn't give him a proper chance. By fielding him sporadically (14 league starts last season) and in unfamiliar positions (wide or in a deep-lying role) Tottenham rather set him up for failure.

Considering Tottenham's defensive frailties in recent weeks, he will be relishing the encounter; all three of Chelsea's goals in Spurs' last defeat came from through balls in central positions. Sigurdsson will be ready to pounce. On the other hand, Eriksen - whose high profile arrival essentially forced Sigurdsson out of the Spurs team -  has also shown dramatic improvement this season (five goals, 2.1 key passes per game).

Both of these teams remain vulnerable to defensive lapses, particularly on the counter-attack, due to their similar tactical philosophies of high defensive lines and fluid pressing and, with these two playmakers on form, winning the possession battle will not necessarily win the war.

Given Swansea's home record and Spurs' trip to Turkey on Thursday night, back Sigurdsson's side to edge it.

Recommended Bet
Back Swansea to win at 7/5


Please note: Prices quoted are from our Sportsbook product so are exempt from commission

All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Alex Keble 2014/15 P/L

Staked: 12 points
Returned: 4.7 points
P/L: - 7.3 points

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