Premier League Tactical Preview: Firmino v Ndidi and other key battles

Firmino could find it tough up against Ndidi on Saturday
Firmino could find it tough up against Ndidi on Saturday
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Alex Keble returns with his tactical analysis for the big Premier League games, including why Leicester City have a chance of beating Liverpool at Anfield...

"Remarkably, Ndidi is the best tackler in the league (4.2 per game) and the best dribbler (2.5 per game); his defensive work on Firmino (when he drops off the front line) will be crucial, but so too will be his ability to weave away from the gegenpress."

Firmino-led counter-counters v Ndidi

Liverpool v Leicester City
Saturday, 15:00

Currently on a run of four matches without a win, Leicester City will no doubt play in a defensive manner at Anfield on Saturday when facing the "Fab Four". Liverpool's run of 12 goals in their last three games ensures Claude Puel will pick a defensive team and happily absorb pressure before springing forward on the break.

Against the Klopp gegenpress - and a collection of attackers who swarm the number ten space -Wilfried Ndidi has a lot of work to do as part of a two-man midfield, which hands the initiative to Liverpool and in particular to Roberto Firmino. However, since Leicester will largely sit back and maintain a narrow shape Firmino will only really become dangerous on the counter-counter - in other words, when Leicester start launching their own counter-attacks but get picked off by the press. Tellingly, Liverpool have scored more goals on the counter (seven) than any other Premier League team this season.

Remarkably, Ndidi is the best tackler in the league (4.2 per game) and the best dribbler (2.5 per game); his defensive work on Firmino (when he drops off the front line) will be crucial, but so too will be his ability to weave away from the gegenpress. Assuming Ndidi is his usual brilliant self both on and off the ball, Jurgen Klopp's side won't be able to break down the defensive shell or stop the Foxes' breakaways.

Recommended Bet
Back double chance Leicester/draw at 11/4

Ibe v Bolasie

Bournemouth v Everton
Saturday, 15:00

On a run of eight Premier League matches without a win, Eddie Howe's Bournemouth will probably look jaded and vulnerable up against such a physical side as Everton. Sam Allardyce will ensure the Cherries' more delicate players are out-battled, punishing their timidity via long balls into the channels that bypass the hosts' ball-playing midfielders.

The key battle area will be down Everton's left, where Yannick Bolasie - who played his first 60 minutes of the season against West Brom - will largely operate. Allardyce's 3-5-2 in midweek is likely to be repeated, meaning Bolasie will start up front but constantly peel wide to receive those long searching passes, and he will be joined on that side by Cuco Martina. The Spaniard has been freed to charge forward in his new wing-back role.

This is a particular problem for Bournemouth because right-winger Jordon Ibe has been struggling for form of late and won't offer much support to right-back Simon Francis. Ibe makes 0.6 tackles and 0.4 interceptions per 90 minutes, which are among the lowest defensive stats in the division. The Englishman won't track back enough to prevent Bolasie from terrorising Bournemouth.

Recommended Bet
Back Everton to win at 11/5

Zaha v Mangala

Crystal Palace v Manchester City
Sunday, 12:00, Live on BT Sport 1

Manchester City are clear favourites for this game and can hurt Palace in a variety of different ways, whether deploying Kevin de Bruyne in a deeper role to clip balls in behind; using Leroy Sane as a traditional winger to move around the outside of Palace's shell; or simply passing their way through the middle. A more interesting battle, then, is at the other end as Wilfried Zaha tries to get the better of Eliaquim Mangala, the shaky centre-back likely to deputise for Vincent Kompany.

If Palace are able to release the ball before they are swamped by the high City press - which is dependent upon the mobility of Yohan Cabaye - then Zaha could cause problems. The Ivorian will target Mangala's side as he looks to get in behind, although he won't be able to do much with the ball unless his strike partner Andros Townsend stays close by.

The task facing Palace is an almighty one, and another City win seems almost certain. However, Roy Hodgson will have watched Newcastle United's embarrassingly timid display in midweek and recognised the need to be bolder. With enough guts, there is no reason why Zaha cannot find a way through.

Recommended Bet
Back both teams to score at 9/10

Pardew's two-man midfield v Ozil

West Brom v Arsenal
Sunday, 16:30, Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Alan Pardew hasn't been able to lift West Brom out of trouble so far, amassing just three points from his first six matches in charge. Consequently, he will deploy an ultra-defensive formation at the Hawthorns on Sunday in an attempt to frustrate Arsenal. It could be quite successful given Tony Pulis's excellent defensive coaching is still fresh in the memory. However, Mesut Ozil's superb distribution should ultimately be enough.

The biggest flaw in Pardew's tactics thus far has been using a two-man midfield. Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore are not energetic enough to function as a two, which should mean Ozil is able to drift into little pockets of space on the edge of the area.
Along with Alexandre Lacazette's great movement, Ozil's delivery should ensure the Baggies' brick wall is eventually broken down - albeit without much swagger from Arsene Wenger's side.

Recommended Bet
Back under 2.5 goals at 11/10

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