Alex Keble picks out four key tactical battles from the weekend's action, predicting that both West Ham and Sheffield United can win points against the two title favourites...
"Man City are bottom of the table for successful accurate crosses (2.0 per match) despite sitting in the middle of the league for total attempts. United can keep a clean sheet."
Sheffield United v Man City
Live on BT Sport 1
The main reason Manchester City are struggling to score goals this season (eight in five games) is a loss of pace up front and willingness to counter-counter; to attack quickly into the spaces left when an opposition counter-attack breaks down. Their progressive passes - a metric showing vertical, line-breaking balls - has gone down from 85.57 per 90 last season to 66.79 in 2020/21, reflecting a sluggishness in possession that is allowing opponents to sit deep and frustrate.
It doesn't help that Pep Guardiola has never replaced Leroy Sane, whose runs on the shoulder were crucial, plus Sergio Aguero is slower than he once was and Kevin de Bruyne has been hampered by the loss of David Silva. All of that together has left Man City struggling to create chances, which gives Sheffield United the opportunity to frustrate the visitors on Saturday.
Chris Wilder's side have made a poor start to the season but were unlucky to lose 2-1 to both Arsenal and Liverpool. Crucially, three of those four goals were crosses to the back post and all four were built down the flanks, and Man City are particularly weak at this approach. They are bottom of the table for successful accurate crosses (2.0 per match) despite sitting in the middle of the league for total attempts. United can keep a clean sheet.
Liverpool v West Ham
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
In the 1-1 draw with Manchester City West Ham's 5-4-1/3-4-3 formation was superbly compressed between the lines, with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek dominating central midfield as the wing-backs pressed up to join them or the two wide forwards dropped back. The alternation of the approach shut down the half-spaces while ensuring Soucek and Rice had progressive out-balls after they had won a tackle.
Should David Moyes' side play with similar confidence then Liverpool will be completely nullified through the middle of the park, not least because Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will - as usual - struggle against a back three. That makes Liverpool's full-backs the most dangerous players going forward, and judging by Arthur Masuaku's and Vladimir Coufal's strong performances against City they will be comfortable stepping out to meet Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool could also get hit on the break. Even if Joel Matip recovers from injury in time to play, the absence of Virgil van Dijk leaves a psychological hole that will encourage Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to break successfully. Their runs into Liverpool's left-hand channel could unsettle Jurgen Klopp's side enough to give the Hammers a famous victory.
Man Utd v Arsenal
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Manchester United's 0-0 draw with Chelsea was defined by a level of caution that showed managers are keen to regain control of these wild Premier League matches, and meanwhile Arsenal are one of the few clubs who never lost it. Mikel Arteta's side are a little too functional this season because of his preference for low-tempo possession control and his lack of a playmaker; their 3-4-3 is often too flat in midfield.
That points to a low-scoring game on Sunday evening. Arsenal like to pull their opponents up the pitch with short passing out from the back, but this deep-lying and counter-attacking Man Utd side won't be drawn into that system. Consequently Arsenal's defenders will be allowed to carry the ball up to the halfway line, giving the visitors a dangerous amount of territory.
From this position, United will be able to break in behind an error-prone Arsenal back line. David Luiz's injury means Shokdran Mustafi is likely to start at right centre-back, creating a weak spot for United to target. They attack down the left flank 44% of the time, the second highest percentage in the division, and even without the suspended Anthony Martial United can - through Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw- take advantage of the mistakes likely to appear around Mustafi.
Tottenham v Brighton
Live on Sky Sports Box Office
Brighton's propensity for building attacks through neat, triangular short passing makes them one of the most expansive possession sides in the bottom half of the Premier League. This is a commendable pursuit from Graham Potter, but it quickly becomes problematic when facing the strongest teams in the division. Brighton have only played two top teams so far this season, Everton and Man Utd, conceding seven goals.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min are deservedly winning the plaudits as the most important members of Jose Mourinho's team, and indeed their partnership is making a seemingly out-dated tactical philosophy suddenly relevant again. The defensive caution, compression between the lines, and lack of pressing that forms the basis of Mourinho's tactics is creating extra space for Kane and Son to counter-attack.
Brighton will leave space between the lines as they expand outwards in possession, and so when Tanguy Ndombele and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg win the ball back (and these two have been dominant of late) then Kane and Son can pick holes in Potter's defence. As against Southampton, who Spurs beat 5-2, this is the easiest type of tactical system for Mourinho's Spurs to come up against.