Premier League Tactical Preview: Chelsea to drop points at Palace

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson
Crystal Palace could emulate West Brom on Saturday

Alex Keble assesses the tactical battles in the weekend's Premier League games and looks for the best betting value

"Man Utd top the charts for Premier League goals scored in the final 10 minutes (11); Spurs top the charts for Premier League goals conceded in the final 10 minutes (9)."

Alex looks at four of the top-flight's finest fixtures, predicting Aston Villa and Crystal Palace can dent the Champions League hopes of Liverpool and Chelsea but Spurs will not be able to profit from their top-four rivals' failings...

Watkins & Davies can give centre-backs a headache

Liverpool v Aston Villa
Saturday, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

It won't be a repeat of the 7-2 at Villa Park, but the pattern of the game itself could be fairly similar. Once again Aston Villa will sit deep before hitting Liverpool on the break and once again the Liverpool midfield will fail to press, allowing Dean Smith's side to get their heads up and play balls over the top of Jurgen Klopp's high line. Jack Grealish may be out, but so too is Virgil van Dijk, who played 90 minutes of the 7-2.

Real Madrid's route through Liverpool in the Champions League followed the rhythm of how Villa did it back in October. Toni Kroos was consistently given acres of space in midfield to look up and play a ball either in behind (as for Vinicius Junior's goal) or out to the flanks, where the Liverpool full-backs were easily isolated. Villa don't have Real's quality, of course, but John McGinn and Douglas Luiz have the passing range, while an in-form Trezeguet can cause problems.

What's more, Smith has the option of playing Ollie Watkins and Keinan Davis together, either up front in a 4-4-2 (the system Villa switched to in order to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Fulham last weekend) or by deploying Watkins on the left. Their partnership looked pacey and powerful, and in a two they can pile pressure onto Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips - a centre-back pairing that looked very ropey against Real Madrid.

Hodgson's left side vital at both ends

Crystal Palace v Chelsea
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Thomas Tuchel will be a little worried about a trip to Selhurst Park so soon after the collapse against West Brom, who took charge of the 5-2 win after Sam Allardyce switched to a 4-4-2 not dissimilar to the one Roy Hodgson deploys at Crystal Palace. The Baggies disrupted Chelsea's midfield by pressing intensely in central areas, and while Palace will be likely to take a less confrontational approach it is still possible Tuchel's cautious and highly structured possession football will lack spark.

It will all come down to Palace's left flank. On the counter-attack, pretty much all of their play comes down this side through Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze, giving Cesar Azpilicueta a problem as he comes across to cover for the advancing Reece James. Chelsea fell apart when West Brom broke down the left last weekend as Callum Robinson and Matheus Pereira ran the game.

But this is also Palace's weakest area defensively. The have only conceded two or more goals in one of their last five matches - a 4-1 defeat to Spurs in which Gareth Bale easily dominated. It didn't take much for Bale to find space between the lines, capitalising on Eze's high positioning and a lack of cover from the left-sided central midfield (Jairo Riedewald isn't good enough). However, Chelsea don't have a right winger of that quality, and in a 3-4-2-1 tend to attack more through the middle - which suggests more dropped points.

Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea boss.jpg

Maddison return gives Leicester midfield edge

West Ham v Leicester City
Sunday, 14:05
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Neither of these teams hold a particularly high line or press particularly aggressively once the game settles into a rhythm, therefore - like so many Premier League games in this pandemic-hit season - this may be a fairly tame match of toing and froing. Within this careful structure, everything will come down to who can disrupt things by breaking the lines through central midfield.

Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans ought to be strong enough as a partnership to prevent Jesse Lingard from bursting through as he has in recent games, while Michail Antonio's absence also means West Ham could struggle to progress the ball out of their own third. Leicester seem primed to win the territorial battle, then, by screening in key areas where Antonio and Lingard usually flourish.

Worse still for the hosts, Declan Rice is out injured while James Maddison returns to the starting line-up for Leicester. Brendan Rodgers will most likely continue with the 3-4-1-2 formation, but with Maddison coming in for Ayoze Perez the Foxes can play through the lines more carefully on Sunday. Without Rice to track Maddison, Leicester have the edge.

United can target the right flank in final 20

Tottenham v Manchester United
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

This won't be a classic, despite the 6-1 score line when the teams last met. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho are very cautious tacticians in games like these, and having come through the early-season madness Sunday's meeting will be far more predictable - and low scoring. Man Utd and Tottenham are both poor at constructing attacks unless on the counter, and with both teams playing relatively deep that means a lot of ambling, lifeless football on display.

But United have the advantage purely because of the respective psychological states of the two teams: where Solskjaer has fostered a positive energy that sees his players keep their chests puffed out right until the final minute, Mourinho has created a toxic atmosphere that sees Spurs fold in on themselves as the clock ticks down.

Man Utd top the charts for Premier League goals scored in the final 10 minutes (11); Spurs top the charts for Premier League goals conceded in the final 10 minutes (9). United will crank up the pressure just as Spurs begin to retreat, focusing on Japhet Tanganga's side - where Spurs have struggled all season and where Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw combine so effectively.

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