Premier League: This weekend's four key tactical battles

Expect goals as Kane's Spurs meet Everton
Expect goals as Kane's Spurs meet Everton
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Alex Keble is back with his tactical preview of the weekend action, picking out four key battles and recommending bets based on who'll come out on top...

"Fortunately for the TV viewer, being caught between high pressing and retreating has left both teams defensively exposed; Everton matches have seen, on average, 3.4 goals, while Tottenham's have seen 2.8."

Back Over 3.5 Goals at 19/10

Toure v Schneiderlin
Sunday, 13:30
Live on Sky Sports 1

Storming through Swansea's defence to steal a winning goal last weekend symbolised Yaya Toure's re-emergence as City's orchestrator; in the last four Premier League matches, Toure has averaged two key passes and 2.5 dribbles per game, significantly higher than his average in his previous six full games (0.5 and 0.8 respectively).

However, Man City averaged 60% possession in these recent fixtures, and - crucially - Toure's performances cannot account for this growth in dominance; he averaged 86.5 passes in this sequence, down from 87.5 in the previous games. 

Against a Southampton side whose near perfect home record comes with a 55% possession average, it is unlikely that Man City will be conceded so much of the ball and allowed to dictate the tempo. 

Is Toure's re-emerging creativity dependent upon City's possessional dominance, and the freedom this gives him to roam out of position? If indeed this proves to be the case, then Morgan Schneiderlin - with his defensive bullying and controlled passing - will be the man that stifles him.

With David Silva a major doubt, and Southampton full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand in magnificent form, City will continue to focus their attacks through the centre, where Toure and midweek hero Sergio Aguero operate. At St Mary's, though, this is Schneiderlin's territory.

Schneiderlin's 3.7 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game ranks him amongst the league's finest defensive midfielders, his strength and tactical intelligence making him the linchpin of Ronald Koeman's side. The decisive factor in this game will be whether or not he can nullify the joint threat of Toure and Aguero.

Possessing considerable creative threats themselves, and boasting the league's best defensive record, Southampton can carry on their dream run on Sunday.

Recommended Bet
Back Southampton to win at 9/4

Burnley's self-confidence v Villa's counter-attacks
Saturday, 15:00

When Burnley step onto the Turf Moor pitch on Saturday, they will be greeted by a tremendous roar. Buoyed by back-to-back victories, and facing a woeful Villa side with only two away goals, their fans will be basking in a new found optimism. It could be their downfall.

While their away record is pitiful so far, it would be dangerous to underestimate the counter-attacking threat Aston Villa pose, particularly considering Burnley's propensity to concede against quick wing play this season: a factor that will only be exacerbated by their increasing confidence and the pressure (to play higher up the pitch) that this brings.

And in spite of abysmal attacking statistics - fewest shots per game (9.2), fewest key passes (6.8), fewest goals (5) - Villa's pace remains a serious threat to teams that misjudge their quality; Gabby Agbonlahor's goal last weekend - caused by complacent defending and a high defensive line - is testament of this.

Significantly, Burnley have been beaten on the dribble more times this season (12.3 per game) than any other team, frequently conceding from crossing situations after being beaten for pace. Against Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia, Sean Dyche's side could easily be caught out - if they give in to the crowd's demands and attack freely.

It is also worth noting that Villa, despite their league position, possess superb defensive organisation, sitting extremely deep and shutting teams out. Led by the imperious Nathan Baker (10.3 clearances per game) they have shown particular ruthlessness away from home, conceding as few goals as Chelsea and Man City.

Given Villa's defensive strength and Burnley's potentially dangerous self-confidence, this match is not as straightforward as it seems. Back the visitors to secure their third point in a row.

Recommended Bet
Back the Draw at 23/10

Kane v Lukaku
Sunday 16:00
Live on Sky Sports 1

A clash of stylistically similar philosophies at White Hart Lane should provide plenty of goalmouth action, in a match that hinges on which team is more careful in possession, and which team can improve their defending of counter-attacks.

Both Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino are firm believers in short passing and possessional dominance, characterised by a high defensive line and quick pressing off the ball. Unfortunately, the success of this approach relies heavily upon motivation and self-belief, characteristics depleting rapidly in both camps.

As results falter, nervousness causes players to unconsciously retreat when defending, and abandon the pressing game; players are thus too deep when possession is regained and the fluidity disintegrates, as players wrestle with the manager's attack-minded directions and their own instincts. It is for this reason that both managers have, at times, appeared tactically inadequate this season, in stark contrast to their individual successes last campaign.

Fortunately for the TV viewer, being caught between high pressing and retreating has left both teams defensively exposed; Everton matches have seen, on average, 3.4 goals, while Tottenham's have seen 2.8.

What's more, neither team is short of attacking quality. Erik Lamela's and Christian Eriksen's influence is growing exponentially (1.8 and 2.0 key passes per game respectively), while Harry Kane's goal poaching has been both dramatic and timely.

Meanwhile, with Romelu Lukaku back in form and set-piece specialist Leighton Baines returning from a hamstring injury, Everton should create plenty of goalscoring opportunities against a team who struggle in the air (fewest aerial battles won this season, 12.2 per game).

Both teams are capable of winning this one; either way, there will be goals.

Recommended Bet
Back Over 3.5 Goals at 19/10

Arsenal's defence v Berahino
Saturday, 12:45
Live on BT Sport 1

Wenger's frustration with his side's defensive vulnerability is perfectly understandable; Wayne Rooney's breakaway goal was not the first time Arsenal's high defensive line has let them down this season.

West Brom will be hoping to lure Arsenal towards a similar fate this weekend, where Saido Berahino - who has scored twice this season from counter-attack created one-on-ones - will be waiting to pounce. 

After squandering chance after chance, late counter-attacks have cost Wenger's side four points in their last two matches. With Chris Brunt (four assists, 1.3 key passes per game) providing the passes, and Berahino more than capable of beating the offside trap, Arsenal will need to be more ruthless in front of goal, and less chaotic at the back.

The longer the game goes without a goal, the more likely that Arsenal's sluggish centre-backs will be caught out again, costing them three points

Recommended Bet
Back the Draw at 27/10

All stats courtesy of

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

Alex Keble Premier League 2014/15 P/L

Staked: 4pts
Returned: 0pts
P/L: - 4

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