Premier League Betting: Four key tactical battles this weekend

Jedinak: Crucial to Palace's chances of success against Liverpool
Jedinak: Crucial to Palace's chances of success against Liverpool

In a brand new column here on Betting.Betfair, Alex Keble assesses four tactical battles from the weekend's fixtures and picks out some best bets based on his conclusions, including a juicy 15/2 shout...

"This transition to direct football is indicative of an increasing unease and lack of confidence in United's play, as they look to throw the ball to their wingers as quickly as possible."

Man Utd long ball v Arsenal slick passing
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 1

Can Man Utd cope with Arsenal's pressing game?

Louis van Gaal's self-assurance has begun to waver since becoming Man Utd manager; his latest attempt at striking the right balance - a 4-5-1 utilised in the last three games - is his third formation in just 20 matches. So far, it shows little sign of being more cohesive than their previous 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 models.

Most strikingly, the change in formation has turned United into a long ball team. Averaging 73 long passes per game, they are amongst the most direct teams in the division. This strategy is magnified when playing away from home against top teams; needless to say, Arsenal can expect to see a lot of long passes hurled into the final third.

The vast majority of these have come from their centre-backs, all of whom have averaged 5+ per game. Against Chelsea, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo amassed 31 long passes between them, and in their away fixture against Man City (a similar threat to the one Arsenal will pose this weekend), David De Gea made 33 long passes, and Wayne Rooney made 11.

This transition to direct football is indicative of an increasing unease and lack of confidence in United's play, as they look to throw the ball to their wingers as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, United's long balls are quite effective. Nobody in the league has played more accurate long balls (40.5 per game), and with Radamel Falcao - a significant aerial threat - returning from injury this weekend, Van Gaal will expect his team to score. Arsenal will need to press high up the pitch to nullify this threat.

Arsene Wenger's men can be confident that if they can close down quickly (with a league best 18.6 interceptions per game, this is something they are very good at), they will leave Man Utd looking very flat indeed. While the visitors have enough attacking talent to get on the scoresheet, expect the Gunners to emerge victorious.

Recommended Bet
Back Arsenal to win with both teams to score at 14/5.

Error prone Gael Clichy v Swansea's wingers
Saturday, 15:00

Can Swansea expose Man City's ultra-attacking full-backs?

Buoyed by their dramatic late victory over Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium, Garry Monk's high-flying Swansea will be confident of a positive result against Man City this weekend - and with good reason. City's free-roaming, attacking full-backs have left them vulnerable on the counter-attack all season. 

Of the champions' last six Premier League goals conceded, five have come on the counter-attack. Even more worryingly, all five have come down their left-hand side, and all five can be traced back to defensive errors by Gael Clichy: twice he has been caught out of position, twice he was beaten on the dribble, and once he was beaten in the air.

In the majority of matches, City's dominance of possession (60.3% average) allows their full-backs to sit high up the pitch, but increasingly teams are becoming aware of the defensive vulnerability this creates.

With Wayne Routledge returning from injury this week, and with Jefferson Montero in fantastic form (2.6 dribbles per game, top ten in the division), the visitors have a great chance of pulling off a shock win.

Recommended Bet
Back Swansea to win at 15/2

West Ham's attacking trio v weakened Everton midfield
Saturday, 15:00

Without Barry's commanding presence, can the Toffees stop Downing and co?

Seeing Gareth Barry stretchered off against Sunderland must have made Roberto Martinez wince: averaging 71 passes per game at an 89% completion rate, his control over the midfield has been an integral part of the Everton manager's short passing philosophy. Only Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas have had more time on the ball this season.

And Barry's absence could not have come at a worse time. On Saturday, Everton will have to face an attacking trio - in Sakho, Downing, and Valencia - oozing with confidence. Since Everton possess a handful of technically-gifted, creative players of their own, this game could well be decided by the performances in defensive midfield.

Stewart Downing's burgeoning creativity will not surprise Middlesbrough or Aston Villa fans, who both saw him revel in the number 10 role. From this position, Downing is able to find pockets of space to run directly at the opposition, ghosting into wide positions; his cross rate of 2.8 per game is the highest in the league, playing for a team who top the table for crosses into the box (26 per game).

Barry's and James McCarthy's control and work rate in the heart of midfield provides the basis for Everton's defence against the likes of Downing, but without Barry alongside him, McCarthy will struggle to restrain West Ham's talented forwards and the Hammers should have enough in the locker to score and grab at least a point.

Recommended Bet
Back Draw and Both Teams to Score at 10/3

Mile Jedinak v Raheem Sterling
Sunday, 13:30
Live on Sky Sports 1

Can Crystal Palace's captain quash Liverpool's most potent attacking threat?

Despite the tireless work rate of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson (whose passing remains - at 61.8 and 55 per game respectively - as assured as it was last season), Liverpool's new look front line is not moving with the speed or cohesion needed to unlock Premier League defences.

Last season, Luis Suarez averaged 38.3 passes per game, with 2.7 key passes. In comparison, Mario Balotelli has averaged 18.7 passes per game, and 0.8 key passes.

Carrying the burden of this creative void, Raheem Sterling - averaging 2.7 dribbles per game, and drawing 2.6 fouls per game - is currently the only threat Crystal Palace need to nullify.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, Palace may have just the man to stop him.

Captain Mile Jedinak, averaging 4.6 tackles per game (the second highest in division) and 3.8 interceptions per game (also second highest), will return from suspension on Sunday with the hope of being able to drown out Sterling's influence.

If Jedinak man marks the England man, Brendan Rodgers may find this to be yet another frustrating afternoon and Palace could easily nick a valuable point.

Recommended Bet
Back the draw at 27/10

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