Sports.Winner.co.uk’s Alex Keble (@alexkeble) tactically analyses some of the key moments from the weekend’s action.
Arsenal’s shift in style and Newcastle’s high pressing
Inspired by a dramatic stylistic shift in central midfield, Arsenal scored four goals for the first time in the league this season, and, with the introduction of Alex Oxlaid-Chamberlian in a deep midfield position, overcame the lack of charisma and dynamism that has so often held them back.
Responding to the incessant complaints of fans and media alike, Wenger discarded the defensive midfield role (usually held by Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta) and injected some directness and pace into a deeper area of the pitch. Chamberlain, meandering gracefully around the pitch and dribbling directly through the middle, played a pivotal role in creating the space for Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to flourish.
His speed and technical precision (5 dribbles completed against Newcastle) provided Arsenal with a dynamism that – in deeper areas of the pitch – is vital; many of Arsenal’s opponents defend in deep, compact lines, limiting space in the final third if build-up play is too slow.
Chamberlain’s movement on the ball persistently dragged Newcastle defenders out of position, opening up space for Arsenal’s playmakers. In this example, Sanchez received the ball in enough space to pick out Danny Welbeck, whose volley sailed just wide.
Chamberlain excelled in this role against Galatasary in midweek, when Arsenal again scored four; losing Arteta and Flamini – who are too slow and static to aid Arsenal in attack – gives them a more incisive creative edge.
However, Chamberlain and co were certainly helped in achieving this by Newcastle’s high pressing, a tactic far too dangerous against the speed and creativity of Arsenal. Perhaps suffering from over-confidence after the victory against Chelsea, Pardew’s side attempted – somewhat optimistically – to intimidate their opponents by closing down quickly. Against a slick and intelligent team, this tactic proved disastrous, as Arsenal consistently found space between the lines and opened Newcastle up.
For the opening goal, Newcastle were caught too high up the pitch and with their full-backs out of position. Instead of reforming into a unit, Newcastle pressed the man on the ball, and space developed for Arsenal’s attackers.
A combination of Newcastle’s high pressing and Wenger fielding an explosive, direct player at the base of midfield contributed towards a dominant display; their next match, at Anfield, will see a similar defensive set-up from the opposition.
If they approach Liverpool with the same bold attacking intent as they did at the Emirates this weekend, they have every chance of winning the match in similar style. Tip: bet on an Arsenal win at 2.45.
Lampard’s intelligent distribution
When Frank Lampard waves a tearful goodbye to the Chelsea faithful at the close of last season, nobody expected him to become one of their most important rivals. In this kind of form, he is precisely the playmaker Man City have been craving, and – potentially – the biggest obstacle between Chelsea and the title.
Lampard’s quiet composure, intelligent distribution, and quick feet under pressure, are skills that only develop with experience; it is a rare and remarkable gift to be able to dictate the tempo of matches and orchestrate goalscoring opportunities in such an unassuming fashion, calmly stretching play with technically precise distribution and intricate, controlled passing.
His contributions against Leicester were sparse, but crucial; it is very easy to underestimate the importance of possessing a player who can, when pressurised by the oppositions attackers, turn quickly and play a simple pass to a team mate. It is the first and most important step in stretching the opposition and instigating an attack, and Lampard, roaming between the lines, is one of the best in the country at doing so.
Toure’s shot on target resulted from a quick, simple pass from Lampard under pressure from three defenders (left).
Lampard’s value to Man City is his intelligence and vision: attributes that are lacking in the rest of the squad. Crystal Palace, with Miles Jedinak (4 tackles & 4.1 interceptions per match) and James McArthur (2.9 tackles & 1.5 interceptions), are a muscular side with the power and speed in midfield to close out space for opposition play-makers. Lampard’s slick passing and space-creation will be vital. Tip: if he starts, bet on a Man City win at 1.28.
The highs and lows of using wing-backs
Unable to resist the temptation of the latest tactical trend sweeping its way across Europe, Brendan Rodgers mimicked Louis van Gaal’s favourite defensive formation, and fielded three central defenders with wing-backs. It was a huge mistake.
Having overcome the initial teething problems associated with retraining wingers into wing-backs – a notoriously difficult position to master – United looked composed and creative in this area; it was a tough lesson for Jordan Henderson and Alberto Moreno, who looked decidedly uncomfortable in their untested new roles.
One of the core concepts of this tactical oddity is that, by occupying a role that is neither a full-back nor a winger, the opposition find it extremely difficult to understand how to mark the wing-back. In United’s system, this confusion allows Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to attack with gusto, running from positions too deep to mark, dribbling through the defence at angles too unconventional to be defended against.
With Liverpool’s players unsure of whose responsibility it is to step out of defence and meet him to the ball, Valencia frequently found space. Once in possession, he was able to run between the lines: in short, Liverpool seemed baffled by his positional play. Crucially, with three centre-backs, he could move forward with confidence, knowing that his position will be covered by his team mates shifting across.
Liverpool, on the other hand, had no idea how to use their wing-backs effectively; United’s opening goal resulted from Liverpool’s players entirely misunderstanding their new roles. Joe Allen failed to help his left wing-back when facing Valencia on the charge, and Liverpool’s left sided centre-back did not come across to cover the gap.
As Valencia broke past Moreno, he found himself in remarkable amounts of space. Aside from the positional ineptitude that saw two midfielders dragged to the ball and a three-on-three left at the back, Dejan Lovren failed to shift over and cover the space. This was a theme that reoccurred throughout the match.
Rodgers’ tactical gamble was, in short, a disaster. Clearly unprepared for the positional responsibility, his side crumbled at Old Trafford. It is unlikely that we will see another Liverpool 3-4-3 any time soon.
Next weekend, Man Utd travel to Villa Park, where they face a side that are particularly narrow and – utilising strikers as wingers – defensively vulnerable against complicated wing-back play. Tip: back United to win at 1.61.
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