Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the fourth weekend of the 2020/21 Premier League season, including why Spurs could take all three points at Man Utd...
"With the Chelsea full-backs pouring forward simultaneously, and Thiago Silva struggling with the pace of Zaha and Eberechi Eze, it could prove to be a long and wearying day for Lampard's side."
Chelsea v Crystal Palace
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Chelsea continue to look remarkably open in the transition, failing to re-compress when they lose the ball or show the positional discipline and organisation needed to play with a high defensive line. Frank Lampard lets his players attack with creative abandon, and by fanning out across the pitch they are open to quick counter-attacks from the opposition. This explains their erratic form and their wild 3-3 draw with West Brom.
New signings are unlikely to fix a systemic, tactical error. Crystal Palace will give Chelsea's new-look defence a serious test at Stamford Bridge, as Roy Hodgson's well-known tactic - sit deep, absorb pressure, break with speed down the flanks - exposes the shallowness of Lampard's approach. As in the 3-1 victory over Manchester United, a similarly disorganised outfit when in possession, Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew will run into the channels, looking to pull the Chelsea centre-backs into uncomfortable wide positions and isolate them.
With the Chelsea full-backs pouring forward simultaneously, and Thiago Silva struggling with the pace of Zaha and Eberechi Eze, it could prove to be a long and wearying day for Lampard's side. Reece James is particularly vulnerable to getting caught too high, meaning space for Eze and Zaha, while Chilwell faces a baptism of fire up against the in-form Andros Townsend.
Everton v Brighton
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Brighton have made a strong start, playing a more adventurous style of football in a 3-4-3 this season thanks to the additions of Ben White and Adam Lallana, both improving the side's distribution. However, with the outside centre-backs often dribbling out of the back, Graham Potter's team are starting to look too porous as they spread wide and long to form those neat triangles through midfield.
Timo Werner earned a penalty against them by charging through the middle shortly after one of these Brighton moves broke down, while Marcus Rashford scored on the counter-attack last weekend. Brighton are worryingly open, which hands a big advantage to Everton - and James Rodriguez in particular. The Colombian is excelling from the right wing, drifting into the number ten space (where Brighton lack a strong defensive midfielder) to great effect.
Rodriguez will likely be given the chance to feed Dominic Calvert-Lewin directly through the middle. Worse still for Brighton, they won't get many chances to build their neat counter-attacks out from defence; Everton's new 4-3-3 has shown excellent solidity in midfield as Andre Gomes and Abdoulaye Docoure form a disciplined wall either side of Allan.
Leeds v Man City
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As in the 4-3 defeat at Anfield on the opening day, Leeds United will probably ensure this becomes a wild end-to-end contest. Marcelo Bielsa only knows one way of playing, and his tactical model is perfectly suited to exposing the biggest weaknesses in this Man City team, although doing so will equally leave his own side vulnerable to Pep Guardiola's most potent attackers. There should be goals in this one.
When Leeds have the ball, Bielsa will instruct four or five of his players to make simultaneous runs on the shoulder of the last defender, the idea being to play quick vertical passes in behind to bamboozle the opposition defence. If Virgil van Dijk can get tangled up by such an approach, then imagine what damage it could do against Nathan Ake and Eric Garcia.
However, Leeds empty out central midfield in order to do this, leaving Kalvin Phillips all alone in the middle to ping those long forward passes. Consequently, when Man City get the ball back they will hugely outnumber Leeds in that crucial number ten space. False nine Raheem Sterling will drop (pulling the Leeds defence into a zig-zag shape), while Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez will combine around Phillips.
Man Utd v Spurs
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's inability to coach attacking patterns leaves his team looking lethargic and creatively inept whenever they face a deep-lying opponent; without set moves stored in muscle memory, their free improvisations are sluggish against a rigid defensive blockade. Jose Mourinho's favourite tactic for 'Big Six' clashes, then, is the perfect way to stop the hosts.
In the 1-1 draw in June, Spurs' midfield and attack sat in a pentagon shape around the United midfield, allowing the centre-backs as much time as they wanted on the ball but cutting off the lanes into Bruno Fernandes and company. That approach is likely to work again on Sunday, leading to another cagey and low-scoring game.
Spurs' counter-attacks have improved since June, and should United hold a high defensive line as they probe for space in the final third Harry Kane could repeat his performance against Southampton. In that 5-2 win, Kane dropped into the number ten space before firing brilliant through balls for the runners Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura. Against the immobile pair of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, that could be the key feature of Sunday's contest.