Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Wolves to lead a Man Utd cupset
Alex Keble looks ahead to the 31st round of Premier League matches and FA Cup quarter-finals...
"Chelsea’s fortunate 1-1 draw with Wolves last weekend is a warning to Man Utd: this game will not be easy for a jaded team plagued with injuries."
Fulham v Liverpool
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Scott Parker has done little to improve Fulham, instead continuing with a relatively expansive shape and persisting, given little other choice, with a central midfield partnership too technically poor for this level. Kevin McDonald and Calum Chambers were frequently left wanting in Fulham's recent 2-1 defeat to Chelsea (Jorginho's winner the result of a huge hole in midfield) before Leicester City won 3-1 last weekend by setting pressing traps for the midfield pair.
Brendan Rodgers' side sat off the centre-backs, and then engaged in a pincer press when the ball went towards McDonald or Chambers, consistently leading to James Maddison putting Jamie Vardy through on goal. Liverpool usually struggle against deep-lying teams, but Fulham won't be able to resist passing out from the back - making them vulnerable to Jurgen Klopp's gegenpress.
Adam Lallana led the charge last weekend with an energetic midfield display that gained recognition because of his block tackle for Liverpool's second goal. With the playmaker likely restored to midfield at Craven Cottage, the visitors should have no problem breaking beyond Parker's doomed side.
Everton v Chelsea
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Everton's poor defensive record is well documented, and the partnership between Kurt Zouma and Michael Keane appears to be getting worse over time. They were all over the place at Newcastle last weekend, easily pulled out of shape by Salomon Rondon - hence why Rafael Benitez moved Ayoze Perez further forward for the second half. Perez made runs into the spaces left by Keane and Zouma; Newcastle's front two really isn't as good as Everton made them look.
That's good news for Gonzalo Higuain, whose sudden bursts of movement in the final third are his most potent weapon. More importantly, Everton will play either Theo Walcott or Richarlison on the right wing, which means very little support for Jonjoe Kenny or Keane as Eden Hazard gets on the ball and cuts inside.
Together, Higuain and Hazard form a strong partnership that should pretty comfortably rip through the Everton centre-backs and their unsupportive team-mates. What's more, even if Everton sit deep to frustrate the visitors it will only require one moment of quality for Chelsea to win; the Toffees have scored just one goal in their last 270 minutes of football at Goodison Park.
Watford v Crystal Palace
Live on BT Sport 2
Both Crystal Palace and Watford struggle against teams who allow them to hold the majority of possession, a growing theme in the Premier League that can lead to chaotic matches when two tactically similar clubs go head-to-head. On Saturday, we should get plenty of goals as the teams race from end to end.
For Watford, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray will prove a handful for two error-prone Palace centre-backs. Scott Dann and James Tomkins were directly at fault for both Brighton goals last weekend, and the week before Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku had far too much space in the box for both of his goals. Deeney and Gray will create a two-on-two on the counter that should catch out such slow, flat-footed defenders.
But Palace are just as dangerous. Wilfried Zaha can expect joy down the left because Watford's 4-2-2-2 doesn't offer much support to the full-backs, while Leicester's goal in Watford's last home game - a simple, centre-back-splitting pass from Youri Tielemans for Vardy to score - highlighted how Andros Townsend and Michy Batshuayi can hurt the hosts.
Wolves v Manchester United
Live on BBC One
Chelsea's fortunate 1-1 draw with Wolves last weekend is a warning to Manchester United: this game will not be easy for a jaded team plagued with injuries. Wolves sat in a deep 5-4-1 formation at Stamford Bridge, closing off all available passes in the final third and Chelsea just couldn't find the tempo in their passing to pull the visitors out of shape.
United may face a similar energy problem, largely because key players such as Jesse Lingard remain on the treatment table. Fred continues to play mostly sideways passes as he adjusts to Premier League life and Nemanja Matic has never been one to raise the tempo. A lot of pressure is on Paul Pogba to perform, and the Frenchman will be closely tracked by Wolves' tactically intelligent three-man midfield.
The hosts are very dangerous on the break, and after David de Gea's mistake last weekend there will be some nerves as Diogo Jota, Raul Jimenez, and (late on) Adama Traore sprint forward. This game has all the makings of a classic FA Cup shock.