Premier League Tactical Preview: Thriller at Liverpool & Chelsea could be beaten

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard
Chelsea could be set for a difficult start at Brighton
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Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the first day of the 2020/21 Premier League season, predicting Brighton will take points off a new-look Chelsea...

"Marcelo Bielsa is an uncompromising manager; an idealist about to enter a league that rewards pragmatism. He will no doubt believe his high-pressing and vertical attacking lines in a 3-3-1-3 formation can work at Anfield, which points to either an explosive end-to-end contest on Saturday evening or an emphatic victory for Liverpool."

Aubameyang & Pepe to expose Parker's possession game

Fulham v Arsenal
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Fulham's tactical blueprint ahead of the 2020/21 season is a tad alarming. Scott Parker has implemented a patient possession system at Craven Cottage that aims to rotate the ball over and over until spaces appear, using Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed to control proceedings. Only Manchester City attempted more passes than Fulham's 26,269 across the top two divisions.

Those tactics are a little outdated for the Premier League in general, but certainly cannot work for a side as low on quality as Fulham. Presumably in time Parker will adapt to a more conservative and counter-attacking system through necessity, especially given their best player is target man Aleksandar Mitrovic. But for their opening home game Fulham will likely be in their expansive, low-tempo, ball-playing shape.

Arsenal should take advantage of that. Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette are expected to drive forward at break-neck speed when counter-pressing situations occur, and Mikel Arteta's high press is bound to catch out these inexperienced Fulham players. Once possession is won in the Fulham half, Arsenals' quick forwards can take advantage of Parker's wide-open shape.


Bielsa & Klopp differences to create an open game

Liverpool v Leeds
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Marcelo Bielsa is an uncompromising manager; an idealist about to enter a league that rewards pragmatism. He will no doubt believe his high-pressing and vertical attacking lines in a 3-3-1-3 formation can work at Anfield, which points to either an explosive end-to-end contest on Saturday evening or an emphatic victory for Liverpool.

Leeds United look to attack predominantly down the flanks, overloading these areas when in possession to create triangles and work their way quickly into the penalty area, often at the expense of having adequate cover in central midfield should the attack break down. That approach could work well given Liverpool's narrowness; Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson occasionally find themselves without defensive support, as in Watford's 3-0 win last season.

But it could also mean Liverpool's front three run riot on the counter-counter, given that Leeds favour the wings and Jurgen Klopp's side like to stay infield. The best case scenario for Leeds, then, is for a wild game to swing either way, but it is highly unlikely that Bielsa's usual approach will be able to match the brilliance of this Liverpool team. Unless Bielsa springs a surprise with a more conservative approach, this one could either be 6-0 or 3-3.

Marcelo Bielsa shout 1280.jpg

Hojbjerg and Rodriguez battle could be key

Tottenham v Everton
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Jose Mourinho's project is starting to come together, with Tottenham moving to a compressed midblock and counter-attacking system towards the end of the 2019/20 season. One of the basic ideas of his tactical philosophy is to encourage the opposition to hold the majority of possession, leading to over-confidence and mistakes - which his quick attackers then pounce upon. New signings for both Spurs and Everton make this pattern likely on Sunday.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Matt Doherty fix significant weaknesses in the Spurs first 11. Hojbjerg should be able to free the likes of Gedson Fernandes and Dele Alli to play their natural game while instilling a greater sense of aggression throughout the team, while Doherty is a clear upgrade on error-prone Serge Aurier. Spurs are ready to player proper Mourinho football.

And Everton may well be a bit cocky this weekend. James Rodriguez, Allan, and Abdoulaye Doucoure are exceptional signings, but the added flair means Carlo Ancelotti will look to play free-flowing possession football in their season opener. Allan and James are likely to struggle to adapt on their Premier League debuts, leading to some positional errors and stuttering possession of the sort Tottenham can capitalise on.

Potter's tactics to foil new-look Chelsea

Brighton v Chelsea
Monday, 20:15
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

The tactical issues at Chelsea are systemic, and cannot be entirely solved by new signings. Frank Lampard's side are far too stretched out when in possession, attacking with a careless abandon that makes them vulnerable in the transition; if N'Golo Kante looks lost in midfield with huge patches of grass to cover, then you've got a serious problem. That Lampard has only signed one defensive player - and Thiago Silva doesn't have the pace for Chelsea's high line - points to the same problems in 2020/21.

Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have the intelligence and coaching to press effectively, but that won't entirely patch up their problems getting caught on the counter against mid-ranking sides. Brighton, then, are just the opponents to spoil the debuts of Chelsea's new forwards; Graham Potter has the tactical sophistication to target weak spots, patiently absorb pressure, and hit Chelsea with the sucker punch.

That is exactly what happened in Brighton's 3-0 victory over Tottenham in October last season, when Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay continually got in behind Spurs' high line. It is easy to imagine that happening on Monday night, particularly with Ben White and Lewis Dunk looking like an outstanding centre-back partnership to defend against Werner, Havertz, and Christian Pulisic.

Alex Keble,

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