Premier League Betting and Tactical Analysis: Four key battles this weekend

Mourinho will expect a comfortable victory over Liverpool
Fabregas will have his work cut out against Coutinho
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Alex Keble looks at four key tactical battles to look out for in this weekend's action, including how the 3-5-2 formations at Hull and Leicester could save their season...

"From a deeper position Coutinho receives the ball in a less crowded area, allowing him to hit the final third at speed; in his last three, he has completed 12 dribbles, despite his team scoring just twice in that time."

Fabian Delph v Stewart Downing
Saturday, 15:00

Considering the rapidity of Aston Villa's ascension under Tim Sherwood, the manager - so often seen as charismatically gifted but tactically naïve - may soon be re-labelled as a master strategist. Chief among his achievements last weekend was positioning Fabian Delph as a left midfielder, although in truth the positional fluidity he brought to the role made such a simplistic definition redundant.

Expected to continue in this role against West Ham, Delph drifted infield to help overload central midfield whilst simultaneously galloping down the touchline - much to the bemusement of Everton's Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon. Caught out by his flitting movement, Lennon was nowhere near the ball when Delph crossed from the left to assist in the opening goal.

cp0706-1430819976368.pngWith Benteke keeping Coleman occupied, Delph roamed inside and out - leaving Lennon caught between two different tasks.

Stewart Downing must show greater tactical awareness to avoid a similar fate at Villa Park this Saturday. The former Villa winger averages just 0.6 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per match, although his work-rate when instructed to operate more defensively is, for the most part, commendable.

West Ham's biggest dilemma is that, operating as a left footer from the right-hand side, Downing enjoys drifting infield before crossing. This could open up a dangerous pocket of space for Delph to stride into; Mark Noble will need to stay alert, and provide support whenever possible.

Villa's explosive attacking football and complex tactical fluidity has welded them into a unit feared by most; a cautious, defensive approach - beginning with Downing's base position - is essential for West Ham.

Recommended Bet
Back Villa to win and over 2.5 goals @ 2/1

Leicester's 3-5-2 v Southampton's high line
Saturday, 15:00

Enormous credit should be given to Nigel Pearson for finding a formation that perfectly suits his players' individual attributes; the swashbuckling long ball strategy behind this set-up could expose the Southampton flaw highlighted by Sunderland last weekend.

It is rare for a tactical change to instantaneously merge with a squads' instincts, but the turn-around at Leicester has been emphatic. There are several clear reasons for this. Firstly, using three centre-backs requires less organisational understanding or speed, while favouring strength in the tackle and aerial prowess - the attributes of ageing defenders Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, and Marcin Wasilewski.

Secondly, Marc Albrighton's phenomenal crossing ability and Jeffrey Schlupp's dribbling power make for excellent attacking wing-backs that will, naturally, thrive in a long ball strategy. The wing-back position is very tactically complex since, occupying a space between the lines, it is extremely difficult to mark.

Finally, the 3-5-2 favours long ball systems since, with Jamie Vardy hovering on the back line and three central midfielders drawing the opposition into the centre, space develops for sweeping passes into the channels. It is this final element in particular that Southampton must be wary of.

Both of Sunderland's penalties resulted from 50 yard clearances that caught Southampton's defenders high up the pitch. With Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand heavily involved in the Saints' attacking play, Ronald Koeman's side showed a vulnerability to this style.

If Clyne and Bertrand hold high starting positions, and Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa continue their flick-on, run-off-the-last-man partnership, then Leicester's wing-backs may find plenty of joy in their opponents half.

Recommended Bet
Back Leicester to win @ 6/4

Dame N'Doye v Michael Keane
Saturday, 15:00

Steve Bruce's 3-5-2 is similarly efficient against the league's weaker teams, and as a demoralised and virtually relegated Burnley visit the KC stadium, their attack-minded wing-backs will be pulling all the strings.

Hull City's Ahmed Elmohamady and Robbie Brady have been in exceptional form recently, and, with Sean Dyche aware of their crossing ability, will be closed down quickly by the terrier-like hounding of Burnley's passionate players.

However, this action will help stretch Burnley's defensive shell, thus creating space in the centre for Dame N'Doye to roam in. If those crosses reach their target, it will be up to the deputising Michael Keane - a full 5 ½ inches shorter than N'Doye - to stop him.

Hull have scored 11 headed goals this season (4th most in division) thanks to the phenomenal delivery from Brady and Elmohamady, whilst Burnley have conceded 17 - more than any other team.

Given the circumstances, the mismatch between Keane and N'Doye could prove decisive.

Recommended Bet
Back N'Doye to score any time @ 9/5

Philippe Coutinho v Cesc Fabregas
Sunday, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports 1

The overly-publicised defensive tactics utilised by Jose Mourinho against stronger opposition should make this a predictably dull, and sadly meaningless, affair. However, if sparks are to fly in what remains a peculiarly fierce, recently-born derby, then Philippe Coutinho - up against a defensively lazy Cesc Fabregas - will be the instigator.

Coutinho has benefited from being shifted into a deeper central midfield position in recent weeks, representing a tactical shift not dissimilar from Santi Cazorla's at Arsenal. From this position Coutinho receives the ball in a less crowded area, allowing him to hit the final third at speed; in his last three, he has completed 12 dribbles, despite his team scoring just twice in that time.

Fabregas is the player that Coutinho should face most frequently (unless Nemanja Matic can move across in time), which will provide Brendan Rodgers with some optimism. Fabregas frequently ducks out of challenges or floats harmlessly in advanced positions - as reflected in his measly 0.7 interceptions per match.

Considering both Hull City and West Brom managed to stifle this lacklustre Liverpool team last month, Chelsea should keep a clean sheet comfortably. Coutinho alone does not represent much of a challenge for the newly crowned champions keen to swagger in front of Steven Gerrard and company.

Recommended Bet
Back Chelsea to win to nil @ 23/10

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