Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 21st round of Premier League fixtures and thinks Arsenal's collapse against Chelsea could happen again...
"Jorginho has been superb in possession this season but still isn’t screening effectively, while N’Golo Kante’s higher role further exposes the Chelsea midfield. Mooy and Gross can dominate behind these two."
Brighton v Chelsea
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Frank Lampard inspired a comeback at Arsenal by switching mid-game from a 3-4-2-1 to a 4-3-3, and given he tends to stick with whatever worked most recently that means Chelsea should return to a four-man defence on Wednesday. Brighton, then, will go for the narrow 4-2-2-2 that has previously brought Graham Potter joy against bigger clubs.
Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross drift in from wide positions when Brighton regain the ball, appearing on the blind side into dangerous spaces as the deeper midfield players carefully build out from the back, calmly evading the opposition press. Once Mooy or Gross is released into space, they can then instigate counter-attacks as Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly make runs either side of the centre-backs.
It's an approach that should work against a Chelsea midfield too light in the transitions. Jorginho has been superb in possession this season but still isn't screening effectively, while N'Golo Kante's higher role further exposes the Chelsea midfield. Mooy and Gross can dominate behind these two.
West Ham v Bournemouth
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Manuel Pellegrini's most successful period as West Ham manager was when deploying a deep defence to concede possession before counter-attacking at pace down the flanks. This strategy faded in 2019/20 but should be picked up by David Moyes, a conservative and pragmatic coach with defensive instincts. Consequently this game should see the Hammers sit back and frustrate Bournemouth.
Eddie Howe's side are in freefall, only playing well when forced onto the back foot; when encouraged to play their possession game, Bournemouth are far too open in defence and midfield. As in the 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, in which Bournemouth held 69% of the ball, West Ham should blunt the likes of Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson.
Felipe Anderson is one of the key players most likely to benefit from a manager bounce. He will be released on the counter behind second-choice right-back Jack Stacey, presenting an obvious mismatch that the adaptive Moyes will no doubt have isolated as an opposition weakness.
Manchester City v Everton
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It is too early to know quite what direction Carlo Ancelotti, one of footballs' most flexible managers, will take Everton in. He has deployed a 3-4-1-2 and a 4-4-2 in his two wins so far, but for a trip to Man City will surely add a third central midfielder. Whatever he does it is unlikely to be enough to stop Kevin de Bruyne in this sort of form.
Since Jean-Philippe Gbamin's injury Everton have looked very light in midfield, and while Duncan Ferguson overcame this issue with an aggressive but compact team shape Ancelotti is unlikely to inspire the same defensive energy. Morgan Schneiderlin is passive, Tom Davies undisciplined, and Gylfi Sigurdsson a number ten being played out of position. The three together will surely lose track of De Bruyne.
The Belgian's goal against Sheffield United reinforced the conclusion he must be played regularly through the middle of the park, and indeed throughout his recent purple patch De Bruyne is moving out to the right less frequently. With Riyad Mahrez cutting inside, Man City should play with the same high tempo as they did against Leicester, puling Everton's block from side to side before piercing straight through them.
Arsenal v Manchester United
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It's no secret that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team only tend to win when they have less possession, because a deeper starting position and the opponents' fanned-out shape provides Man Utd's quick forwards with space to sprint into. Wins against Newcastle United and Burnley could be signs of progress on that front, but it's not really relevant for a preview of their trip to the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal will be expansive, hogging the ball and playing with a high defensive line. It will no doubt leave them vulnerable to the sort of football Solskjaer likes to play, particularly given Arsenal are without their first-choice full-backs - and both players sit too high. Bukayo Saka v Daniel James on the counter is a huge problem, as is Anthony Martial against Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Arsenal lost against Chelsea because of familiar issues regarding concentration, intelligence, and positioning. They won't track runs properly or recompress after losing the ball, meaning United will be given ample opportunity to counter-attack at speed and expose a dreadful Arsenal defence.