Premier League Tactical Preview: Salah v Mendy the key battle at the Etihad

Man City manager Pep Guardiola
Man City must face Liverpool just after handing them the title

Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the next week's Premier League matches, including Benjamin Mendy up against Mo Salah in Man City v Liverpool...

"Liverpool can win this game on the rare counter-attacking moments that are presented to them, with Salah – looking sharp since the break – getting a run on Mendy and comfortably beating him in the dribble."

Traore and Jimenez to wear down rudderless Villa

Aston Villa v Wolves
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Dean Smith's side look completely out of ideas since the restart, focusing on long balls up to a target man and aimless crosses into the box from out wide. Against such a well-drilled three-man central defence, punts into the box certainly won't work for Villa. Smith's use of an unfit John McGinn in the middle points to Wolves dominating the midfield battle on Saturday.

Even if Villa do match Wolves for long periods, there is one crucial statistic that should decide this game: Villa have conceded the most headed goals (11) in the Premier League this season. Adam Traore, whose pace and powerful dribbling are more important than ever while players are only half fit, has twice assisted headed goals for Raul Jimenez since the restart.

Matt Targett is expected to overlap during Villa attacks to link with Jack Grealish, and so when Wolves break Traore will find the space he needs to be the match-winner. At the other end, Grealish tends to struggle when up against wing-backs who can get tight, such as in the tepid 0-0 draw with Sheffield United.

Bowen-led counters hosts' only hope

West Ham v Chelsea
Wednesday, 20:15
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Like Aston Villa, West Ham will simply sit deep and look to absorb Chelsea pressure throughout this match, hoping their ultra-defensive approach leads to the visitors holding sluggish possession. Given David Moyes' side is in very poor form and their back four is full of holes, it is highly likely Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, and Tammy Abraham will have enough quality to create match-winning chances.

However, the impressive individual performance of Jarrod Bowen in West Ham's 2-0 defeat against Tottenham gives them some optimism. His movement and first touch from the right wing provided a sharpness that became the fulcrum of their counters, with Bowen drifting infield on the ball and then spreading the play with a long pass out to the left wing. It is a move that could cause damage.

When Chelsea dominate possession, their 4-3-3 leaves too many gaps either side of N'Golo Kante. Mount pushes on from left central midfield while the left winger holds the width, which should open up a big space for Bowen to pick up the ball and create counter-attacking opportunities by threading balls in behind for Michail Antonio.

Frank-Lampard claps fans 1280.jpg

Aurier & Bergwijn to target struggling Stevens

Sheffield United v Tottenham
Thursday, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Chris Wilder has seen his side's chances of Champions League football evaporate over the last week, and unfortunately on Thursday his side's biggest weakness will correlate with Tottenham's main strength. Enda Stevens made a dreadful error to gift Newcastle United the lead in their 3-0 defeat, and followed that up with another haphazard performance against Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho, ever the reactive manager, will look to target this chink in the Sheffield United armour. Spurs already shift into a 3-2-5 when in possession, with Ben Davies forming part of a back three and Serge Aurier sitting very high and wide to receive long switches into feet and attack the full-back.

His width is counter-balanced by the right winger dropping infield into the half-space, providing them with space in between the opposition defence and midfield. Stephen Bergwijn, who looked particularly sharp against Manchester United, will be a dangerous distraction in pockets of space in front of the Sheffield United back five (when confidence is low, United move into a clumsy 5-3-2). That should give Aurier the chance to turn Stevens inside out and win Spurs the game.


Salah versus Mendy could be the only battle that matters

Man City v Liverpool
Thursday, 20:15
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Matches between the Premier League's top two are normally tight affairs played at a high intensity, but without fans in the stadium and with nothing to play for things could be looser than usual. It is more likely that both sides will lower their energy levels and play conservatively, leading to a claustrophobic game in which neither team is able to build meticulously into the opposition penalty area.

In this scenario, the key battle is between Benjamin Mendy and Mohamed Salah. Mendy is consistently a problem for Pep Guardiola, making a crucial error for Chelsea's first goal on Thursday and repeatedly getting caught on the break once Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic began making runs in behind the City defence.

Consequently Liverpool can win this game on the rare counter-attacking moments that are presented to them, with Salah - looking sharp since the break - getting a run on Mendy and comfortably beating him in the dribble.

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