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Jose Mourinho alters man-marking scheme to stifle Conte’s colourless Chelsea

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Jose Mourinho’s stock as a top-class manager decreased following his return to England. Mourinho’s initial positive start to his second stint at Chelsea swiftly transformed into a toxic environment, and he’s currently failing to receive full support at Manchester United for failing to instantly challenge for a Premier League title.

For all the skepticism regarding Mourinho’s ability to manage younger talent and carry out his methodology with devastating efficiency, United lacked a thoroughly convincing performance against a top Premier League side under Mourinho. But, much of that banter has been halted in recent weeks given United’s displays against Chelsea over the last month, which suggests the Portuguese manager remains the master of winning big games.

United’s FA Cup loss at Stamford Bridge will be remembered for Ander Herrera’s harsh first half dismissal, but it’s often forgotten that Mourinho’s men were the better side in the opening 15 minutes. Chelsea struggled to get out of their half as a unit, and provided no answers for United’s pressing across the pitch thus leaving David Luiz with no options to play forward passes into from the back.

At Old Trafford, Mourinho followed a similar man-marking approach, but ultimately shifted to a 4-4-1-1 with Jesse Lingard playing off Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba pairing in midfield with Marouane Fellaini, and Herrera playing in a deeper right-sided role to swarm Eden Hazard’s movement across the pitch.

While many oddly questioned Mourinho’s initial team selection, this was merely an XI constructed to disrupt and contain Chelsea’s attacking threat. Mourinho persisted with harrying Hazard, but handed the task to Herrera who retained possession deep, intercepted passes into the Belgian’s feet, yet ironically created United’s opening goal – albeit potentially handling the ball in the build up – with a clever pass behind Luiz for Rashford.

Where Hazard varied his movement in the FA Cup tie by drifting to the opposite flank and moving deeper into midfield to drag defenders out of position, the Belgian was deprived of the natural width and overlapping presence of the unavailable Marcos Alonso. Conte preferred Cesar Azpilicueta at left wing-back, but quickly swapped the Spaniard with Victor Moses to attempt to create space for Hazard.

Still, Hazard struggled to find space due to Herrera’s consistent pressure, yet the Belgian was quickly fouled when he bypassed the Spaniard. Elsewhere, Chelsea were deprived of creativity and guile in attacking zones due to United’s disciplined man-marking.

Chelsea’s creativity and goal-scoring threat heavily hangs on Hazard’s shoulders with Costa’s form dipping since the turn of the year, whereas Conte preferred protection ahead of the back four opposed to Cesc Fabregas passing range from deep. The other issue Chelsea encountered involved the lack of mobility at the back without Azpilicueta, who has done a great job in serving as a reliable recovery outlet for David Luiz and Gary Cahill.

The significance in familiarity within a defensive back-line is often overlooked, but here, Kurt Zouma’s last minute inclusion disrupted the cohesion amongst the back three, and deprived the Blues pace at the back. Rashford and Lingard’s partnership was Mourinho’s attempt at utilizing pace to fluster the Chelsea back-line, and the decision was further justified once Conte was forced to alter his back trio.

Rashford spurned a glorious chance in United’s FA Cup loss at Stamford Bridge when he cleverly turned David Luiz down the channel, and here, he instantly charged into these aforementioned wide areas to pull the Chelsea defenders out of position. From the early moments, Chelsea’s defence never appeared comfortable against the pressing or swift darts into space from United’s speedy frontmen – Luiz conceded possession to Lingard which led to a Rashford chance minutes prior to the United striker’s opener.

Although the hosts always offered a threat in transition, this was more about Mourinho’s organization and instilled defensive discipline, rather than United’s offensive productivity. Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini pressed the Chelsea midfield, Mateo Darmian was tight on Pedro, Diego Costa rarely got the better of the opposing centre-backs, and the United full-backs proactively pressed Chelsea’s wing-backs.

Conte’s attempt to rescue a point following Herrera’s fortuitous second half goal, led to the introduction of Willian and Fabregas. Mourinho quickly introduced Michael Carrick to ensure United maintained control of the midfield zone, as the combination of Chelsea’s sloppy passing and United’s disciplined man-marking prevented the Blues from recording a shot on target.

Ironically, Mourinho’s tenure appears to be heavily associated with “playing the United way,” yet he approached the match similar to predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson’s sides remained defensively sturdy and found ways to steal goals on the counter-attack, yet these decisive triumphs were always overshadowed by the memorable home matches at Old Trafford.

Both the players and Conte were unusually lifeless, and simply outworked and out-muscled by a United side that’s slowly finding their groove and arguably produced their best performance of the season. Although, Chelsea’s run-in is fairly manageable, this result suggests the title race is back on. The most worrying feat, however, is United possibly validated a successful ploy to outwit Conte’s 3-4-2-1.

It’s unrealistic to believe multiple teams can replicate United’s man-marking for 90 minutes, but the use of two forwards breaking quickly in transition against Chelsea’s back three proved successful for Crystal Palace and United. For the first time since Chelsea’s emphatic defeat at the Emirates, the pressure is on Conte to make vital tactical adjustments to overcome the opposition’s attempts to nullify Hazard’s influence in the final third.

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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Eden Hazard regains status as Premier League’s best player under Antonio Conte’s guidance

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Eden Hazard’s first half brace against Manchester City provided another case for the Belgian to claim his second PFA Player of the Year award along with a Premier League title. Although Chelsea have performed better as a unit over the course of the season in comparison to the 2014-2015 triumph, Hazard has once again dominated in the latter stages of the season when the Blues have slightly plateaued.

Hazard, who arrived from Ligue 1 a few seasons ago as one of the most coveted youngsters in European football, has now developed into the finest player in the country. Along with several teammates, the 26-year-old endured a poor campaign in the build up to Jose Mourinho’s dismissal last season, but now represents a rejuvenated figure under Antonio Conte.

Chelsea sit seven points clear of second place Spurs with seven games remaining and barring a tragic slip-up, Hazard’s been the catalyst in another successful title campaign, which includes several standout performances to covet another PFA award. Oddly enough, for lengthy spells this season Chelsea’s diminutive dynamo wasn’t mentioned as a potential candidate for the award, often overshadowed by teammate N’Golo Kante who is also close to playing an integral role in two consecutive title triumphs.

Kante’s move to Chelsea is one of many factors associated with Leicester City’s decline, but more importantly, the Frenchman’s arrival substantially improved Antonio Conte’s midfield. The Frenchman may arguably be the pivotal cog to Chelsea’s title-winning success, but Hazard’s flourished in decisive moments throughout the campaign.

In many ways, Hazard’s subject to downfall is possibly his individual playing style. Far from a natural goal-scorer, or a tireless runner, it’s unsurprising that the Belgian attacker is slightly underrated. The Chelsea star plays relatively simple passes to switch play, and can be guilty of slowing down the tempo of the game to isolate defenders, but the close body control, swift incisive passing combinations, along with his ability to dribble and simultaneously shrug off opponents places the Belgian in a different class.

Unlikely to consistently showcase Alexis Sanchez’s work-rate on both ends of the field, poach goals like Harry Kane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Romelu Lukaku, and unable to provide the composure, silky passing and vision in the final third like David Silva, Hazard’s fine-tuned his trade to dominate Premier League opponents at will. Even Dele Alli’s growth at Spurs is fairly noteworthy, but where the aforementioned players have fizzled out at some point this season, Hazard as provided several moments of brilliance this season, whilst arguably surpassing the level displayed in Chelsea’s 2014-2015 triumph.

Then, Mourinho demanded the Belgian to be a hardworking wide player that performed his defensive duties, but be equally efficient in the final third. Ultimately, Mourinho inevitably questioned the Belgian’s work-ethic and was keen to state his disappointment in Chelsea’s 2014 Champions League semi-final exit to Atletico Madrid.

“Eden is the kind of player that is not so mentally ready to look back to his left-back and to leave his life for him,” said Mourinho. “If you see the first goal of Atletico you completely understand where the mistake was and why we conceded that goal. The perfect team at the top-level cannot make these kinds of mistakes.”

On the other hand, Hazard’s production in the final third also hindered the appreciation surrounding the Chelsea star. One of the Belgian’s flaws prior to Chelsea’s initial title triumph this decade involved the 25-year-old’s reluctance to dominate games by opting to play short incisive passes opposed to shooting in dangerous positions around the box.

Despite several news outlets linking the Belgian with an eventual move to Real Madrid, Hazard doesn’t necessarily possess the goal-scoring prowess previous world-class exports (Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale) displayed prior to their big money transfers to Spain. Yet to eclipse the 22 goal tally – in all competition – recorded in the Belgian’s final season at Lille, Hazard should surpass his league best 14 Premier League goals at the bare minimum.

Still, Hazard’s rediscovering his status as a devastating attacker surfaced following Conte’s tactical shift to a 3-4-2-1. The tactical rejig presents Hazard the freedom to float around the final third and into pockets of space across the field to receive the ball and subsequently dribble past opponents.

The other key aspect associated with Chelsea’s successful 3-4-2-1 involved Conte ridding Hazard of his defensive duties. Similar to Ronaldo, Hazard’s disinterest in consistently tracking advancing full-backs has proved a liability to Chelsea’s defensive shape, and another reason Mourinho and the Belgian’s previous managers fell out with the 26-year-old.

But with Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante protecting the midfield zone and the wing-backs offering width going forward and additional defensive cover on the flanks, Hazard’s been able to flourish as a pure attacker with minimal defensive responsibilities. It’s also why Hazard remains one of the top scorers, dribblers and most fouled players in the Premier League.

Likewise, Hazard rediscovered his knack of scoring decisive goals throughout the season.

There was the individual run from half to shrug off Francis Coquelin and mesmerize Laurent Koscielny to defeat Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. Dribbling from both sides of the field to gain a yard on Everton’s Ashley Williams to score twice from the flanks resulted in a blowout against Everton. Meanwhile, swift transitional breaks at West Ham and Manchester City provided examples of Hazard’s threat on the counter-attack.

Goals at home to Manchester United, Leicester City and most recently Manchester City were also significant, but the varied aforementioned moments of brilliance justify the 26-year-old’s status as a top-class all-round attacker. Now capable of scoring goals consistently from open-play, on the counter-attack or through sheer moments of individual brilliance, Hazard has restored himself as the key man in possibly another title-winning side.

Coincidentally, Chelsea’s final hurdle against a top five side presents the Blues with their first trip to Old Trafford this season against a United outfit that have struggled to win home games. With Diego Costa struggling for form since the new year, and Pedro’s goal return fizzling out, Hazard remains Chelsea’s main goal threat and source of creativity – assuming Cesc Fabregas doesn’t feature in the XI – and Mourinho will be tasked with nullifying the Belgian.

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In United’s FA Cup quarter-final exit at Stamford Bridge, the plan to have Phil Jones track Hazard, and constantly hack the Belgian – a tactic responsible for Ander Herrera’s harsh dismissal and also utilized by PSG during Mourinho’s second tenure at Chelsea – backfired, yet oddly enough, limited the Blues’ attack for large portions of the match.

“In 20, 25 minutes for Hazard, it was impossible for him to play football,” said Conte following Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph over United.

“I see only that he got a lot of kicks. I don’t think that I’m crazy and I see only him in this situation. “He started receiving kicks and finished receiving kicks. No one person can say this did not happen.”

Many teams have fallen into the trap of trying to outwit Conte, but in the meantime haven’t identified a ploy to stifle Hazard’s all-round attacking threat. The latter represents the significant feat in Mourinho’s first major win against a top side as United manager, whilst preventing Chelsea from cruising to another Premier League title.

Nevertheless, the recurring emphasis on reducing Hazard’s influence validates Conte’s tactical alteration as a pivotal moment in terms of Chelsea’s resurgence as an elite Premier League side, and the Belgian’s status as the best player in the country. Another top performance against his former manager would make it difficult for even Mourinho to question Hazard’s merit.

Under Conte’s guidance, Hazard’s reemerged back into the conversation as one of world football’s top talents. Similar to the current title race, there just doesn’t appear to be another legitimate front-runner, which is another testament to Hazard’s greatness. His evolution into a devastating, reliable final third attacker solidifies his status as this year’s standout Premier League player.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Christian Eriksen’s guile sparks Spurs past Conte’s imperious Chelsea

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Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs have developed a knack of producing their finest performances against top Premier League opponents at White Hart Lane. Spurs’ first half display against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set the bar this season, but ending Chelsea’s 13-game winning streak may hold higher value given the Blues’ dominance since their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal a few months ago.

Where other managers have adjusted their shape with hopes of halting Chelsea’s remarkable form, Pochettino’s move to a 3-4-2-1 felt natural considering he’s utilized the system on a few occasions – most recently in Spurs win over Watford a fortnight ago. Spurs obliterated Watford based on extremely poor defensive play from the hosts so it was difficult to truly assess the system’s value, and the decision to replicate the league leaders’ default system aimed to man-mark across the pitch.

The recurring issue involving two sides adopting identical systems is that it often produces uneventful, cagey battles. With the midfield zone containing physical ball-winning midfielders opposed to creative no.10’s ensured this was expected to be a scrappy affair between two well-drilled units.

In central areas, Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama harried N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic when they pushed forward, so the midfield duos were often restricted to safe passes from deeper positions. However, the midfielders were effective in various manners – Kante and Matic were protecting space in central areas to clog space that Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen preferred to receive possession. Meanwhile, Dembele flourished when he dribbled past opponents in the left channel, while Wanyama sat deep attempting to thwart Hazard’s threat in transition.

Elsewhere, Spurs’ possession dominance combined with Chelsea’s reluctance to press high witnessed Danny Rose and Kyle Walker maintain advanced positions to peg Chelsea wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses into their half. Chelsea’s best spell in the initial meeting at Stamford Bridge involved Moses eventually pushing forward beyond Eriksen towards the Spurs box, which is why the switch to a 3-4-2-1 was a logical move, here. Therefore, the two sides created dangerous attacking moves in contrasting manners.

In the opening phase of the match, Chelsea’s long diagonals into wide positions exploited Spurs’ high defensive line with Hazard’s wasting a quality chance via Matic’s reverse pass from midfield. Chelsea’s swift counter-attacks amongst the front three easily bypassed Spurs midfield, but the away side’s inability to complete the final pass around the box was pivotal to their downfall.

From a defensive aspect Chelsea were far more reserved. Conte’s men maintained their base 5-4-1 and retreated into their half to negate Spurs’ clever movement and intricate passing between the lines. The away side only pushed forward as a unit when passes were played back to Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with hopes of building attacks from deep.

Spurs, on the other hand, struggled to find space between the lines, and heavily relied on their energetic organized pressing to breach the Chelsea back-line. Prior to Alli’s opener, Spurs received two openings in a minute span that epitomized their identity under Pochettino: Wanyama intercepting a pass into Hazard and Eriksen subsequently picking up a loose Kante pass in midfield, but both men guided their efforts wide.

The key element to Spurs defensive instructions involved Alli and Eriksen tucking in centrally to prevent Kante and Matic from receiving possession in the midfield zone. Chelsea were often forced to play long balls into the channels for Costa, or have Hazard drop extremely deep to receive the ball in a midfield zone, but the Blues encountered difficulties finding a natural rhythm in possession.

Although Alli will dominate headlines for the game-winning brace, the key man, here, was Eriksen. Eriksen, in truth, is an extremely misunderstood footballer under Pochettino. Once believed to develop into a creative dynamo, the Dane now represents a functional attacker capable of playing throughout the midfield.

But where other key players struggled to perform in congested areas, Eriksen varied his movement to receive possession and play key passes throughout. Alli often aided Kane in pressing from the front, but when the Spurs striker pulled Luiz out of position, the former attempted to charge behind the Chelsea back-line.

This was the ideal movement required to pull Conte’s back-three out of position – Kane dropped deep, Alli charging behind and Eriksen forcing Cahill away from the six-yard box – and was evident in the buildup to both goals, though a collective defensive breakdown was the catalyst for the opener. Walker’s pull back to Eriksen attracted four defenders to the ball, but Luiz’s attempt to play offside, and Cahill’s intent to join three teammates to close down the Dane, enabled Alli to tower over Cesar Azpilicueta to freely nod a well weighed cross past Thibaut Courtois.

Despite a positive Chelsea onslaught to start the second half – Spurs retreated into their base shape, keen to play on the counter – Spurs secured maximum points in a similar manner. Walker’s advanced positioning, along with Eriksen floating deeper in the right channel, led to another superb cross into the box that provided another example of Alli’s fine heading ability over the diminutive Azpilicueta. Though Chelsea were better positioned for Alli’s second, isolating Azpilicueta and exploiting his lack of height at centre-back was a clever – though far from innovative – ploy from Pochettino.

Chelsea were forced to chase the remainder of the match, but a lack of sharp and precise passing ensured Spurs coped well defensively. Conte received plenty of deserved praise for reinvigorating Chelsea’s season, but clever movement, patience and perhaps Cahill’s early booking – bypassed by Eriksen following a poor header and virtually halting his aggressive tight marking on the Dane – resulted in Spurs’ trident attack outwitting a resolute Blues back-line.

Nevertheless, similar to Spurs’ defeat over City earlier this season, this doesn’t appear to be a reliable template in consistently defeating Conte’s Chelsea side. Poor performances from key players combined with various sides’ inability to replicate Spurs pressing and energy levels over extensive periods, suggests Chelsea should rarely encounter sustained vulnerable periods of this nature.

However, although this serves as a great reminder that Chelsea’s road to another league title is far from over, it equally highlights that an efficient tactical scheme will be required to overwhelm Conte’s diligent regime.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea

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Antonio Conte’s Chelsea recorded their eighth consecutive Premier League victory at Manchester City in a fairly open tactical showcase.

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Pep Guardiola made several changes to the side that defeated Burnley at Turf Moor last weekend. Ilkay Gundogan joined Fernandinho in midfield, whereas Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas operated as wingers. Opting for power against a decent counter-attacking Burnley outfit, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were recalled, here, for their creativity and guile in the final third.

Conte was forced into replacing the injured Nemanja Matic, and therefore turned to Cesc Fabregas to form a midfield duo with N’Golo Kante.

For large portions of the match it appeared Guardiola had conquered Conte’s 3-4-2-1, but City’s profligacy in the final third provided Chelsea a lifeline to punish the hosts with efficient direct attacks.

Guardiola’s shape

City’s flexibility following Guardiola’s appointment meant the pre-match team sheet offered no hints regarding the hosts’ default system. Guardiola tends to find weaknesses in the opposition’s set up – that could explain why Matic’s injury wasn’t mentioned by Conte in the buildup to the match –  and bases his XI on his own analysis of the opposition, but the Spaniard replicated Everton manager Ronald Koeman’s decision to also employ a three-man defensive system.

What was initially meant to be a 3-2-2-3 was actually a similar 3-2-4-1 with Sane and Navas operating as wing-backs, whilst De Bruyne and Silva floated around pockets of spaces behind Aguero. Ultimately the risk of a dull encounter was possible due to sole overloads between the centre backs and lone striker, but both sides possessed personnel issues that resulted in structural deficiencies.

Wing-backs

The key feature of the match in the opening 45 minutes involved the wing-backs. One of Chelsea weak points in the system should lie here: Marcos Alonso is vulnerable against pacy runners, whereas Moses isn’t a natural defender. Yet, the opening stages of the first half witnessed Moses and Alonso maintain advanced positions to peg back the City wide men, which made Guardiola’s shape look like a 5-2-2-1 out of possession.

More so the early frenetic stages presented an open end-to-end encounter based heavily on transitional play. But both sides enjoyed spells of dominance in the first half that was predominantly based around the individual displays of their wing-backs.

Chelsea chances

Conte’s men were positive in the opening half hour comfortably bypassing City’s occasional high press with swift passes, while Hazard’s quick combinations with Diego Costa steered the Blues towards goal. Hazard constantly got the better of Otamendi on the half turn, and quickly aimed to play quick intricate passes with the Chelsea striker, but a sole shot from distance that flew wide served as their main threat when Pedro latched onto a poor John Stones header.

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But where Moses and Alonso surged into good crossing positions during this period, and Hazard’s ability to turn defence to attack with his dribbling posed danger, the away side failed to convert positive moves into goals. Majority of Chelsea’s moves stemmed down the channels behind the space of City wing-backs as Guardiola’s men were unable to contain Hazard’s transitional threat until they gained control of the overall tempo.

City overload the right

Guardiola’s men also enjoyed space behind the wing-backs, but there appeared to be a designed model that they continuously followed to exploit space in the channels. Initially, it was believed that encouraging Navas to run at Alonso would be pivotal – this did result in City’s opener – but Silva and De Bruyne’s movement were the catalyst to the hosts’ best moves.

Within the opening 10 minutes De Bruyne had already made two clever darts into space behind Alonso only to have his cross cut out after he embarrassed Cahill, and force Azpilicueta to cover ample ground to make a vital tackle. Silva and De Bruyne constantly took turns drifting behind the Chelsea midfield pair and charging down the right channel with the intent to launch counters.

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The other aspect of the creative duo’s threat was their positioning. Converted to a deep-lying central midfield position under Guardiola, here, they predominantly floated around pockets of space on the right side to overload that area of the pitch. When De Bruyne held a wide position, Silva was central in half spaces to form passing triangles with Navas and vice versa.

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Still, De Bruyne was often finding space deeper behind Hazard who was clearly reluctant to track back and not quick enough to close down his compatriot’s dangerous crosses – Cahill was then dragged into these positions – into the six-yard box that forced Chelsea defenders into desperate lunges to avoid potential Aguero tap-ins.

Silva, on the other hand, played two clever reverse balls over the Chelsea defence when he dropped deeper to pick up possession. First, Luiz had to recover to block Aguero’s effort, then Sane exploited Moses’ wing-back positioning and darted behind the Nigerian to receive the pass, but Azpilicueta blocked Aguero’s tap-in.

Silva and De Bruyne were expected to pose threats in these areas, but the formation change offered an element of surprise. Nonetheless, the overloads on the right and the ability to identify pockets of space throughout the final third perplexed Conte’s men in the latter stages of the first half and they were fortunate to head into half-time trailing by a solitary goal.

City fail to capitalize

The peculiar factor surrounding the final result involved City failing to increase their first half lead. Put simply, Guardiola’s men were dominant during the opening 15 minutes of the second half by forcing Chelsea players into sloppy passing via pressing.

Costa’s lazy pass in City’s third ignited an individual mazy run from Sane that eventually led to Thibaut Courtois making a key save, whereas miscommunication from Alonso and Cahill enabled Aguero to round the Belgian keeper only to be denied by a last-ditch block from the latter. Frankly, De Bruyne’s missed sitter subsequent to a swift Navas break potentially turned the tide, as it was the best chance City created prior to Chelsea’s equalizer.

Fabregas

The other key element to City’s dangerous spell was Silva’s appreciation of space behind the Chelsea midfield. Kante and Matic, two of the league’s best ball-winners and tacklers, protect the back four by maintaining their central position and quickly closing down opposing central midfielders, but they also deprive Chelsea of astute passing from deep, hence the significance of Luiz.

But with Fabregas operating alongside Kante, the Spaniard displayed the pros and cons of his overall game. Throughout the match, Silva freely roamed between the lines, often adopting positions to either side of Fabregas or behind his compatriot. Silva may have spent extensive periods in wide areas attempting to create overloads, but his best moments in open play and transition stemmed when he drifted laterally into space behind Fabregas.

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However, it was extremely odd that City players weren’t wary of Fabregas’ passing range, thus allowing the Spaniard to play forward passes opposed to applying pressure. City were warned in the first half when Fabregas’ long range pass into space behind Otamendi and Navas played Hazard free to round Claudio Bravo, yet the Belgian opted to pass rather than shoot into an open net.

Fabregas may have his defensive limitations in terms of his work-rate and lack of pace, but he remains an elite Premier League passer, and City’s reluctance to close down the midfielder’s passing lanes was pivotal to the equalizer. The Spaniard received time and space to look up twice and hit a long ranged pass into Costa, who had time to chest the ball beyond Otamendi and equalize.

Chelsea were struggling to bypass City’s 5-4-1 defensive shape with patient possession, and Fabregas’ passing range provided an alternative direct outlet to bypass the hosts’ midfield block. It must be said that given Fabregas played under Guardiola at Barcelona, failing to press the Spaniard when he dropped into deep positions in the Chelsea half was an unlikely goal source prior to kick off.

Chelsea’s swift counters

It’s difficult to determine whether Pedro’s substitution was tactical or related to the minor knock he picked up in the first half, but the introduction of Willian proved beneficial to Chelsea’s counter-attacking threat. While Pedro’s threat running behind is essential, Willian’s ability to transition from defence to attack meant Chelsea didn’t have to solely rely on Hazard.

With City pushing for a go-ahead goal, and lacking natural defensive midfielders – Fernandinho and Gundogan are purely box-to-box players than ball-winning pivots – counter-attacks were always plausible outlets for Conte’s men. Regardless that both goals stemmed from this route of attack, the significant feat was the ruthless direct finishing from the Blues.

First, Costa cleverly turned Otamendi at the halfway line to play in Willian who stormed into the box to slide the ball beyond Bravo. The move from Chelsea’s box to the City goal ignited by the Blues trio (Hazard-Costa-Willian) lasted 12 seconds, further summarizing the threat they posed. Hazard’s stoppage-time goal was strictly direct, but again, it followed an identical template to the Costa’s equalizer: Alonso clipping a ball in space beyond Otamendi, and Hazard shrugged off pressure from Kolarov to secure three points.

Chelsea’s threat on the break was evident through Hazard’s dribbling in the opening stage, but Willian’s speed, and Costa varying his movement to link play and drag both City defenders out of position was decisive. The simplicity in Chelsea’s attack shouldn’t be understated, as Conte’s men quickly facilitated the attackers with the ball once possession was regained, placing them in positions to bypass one defender en route to goal.

Final 20 minutes

Now the onus was on City to push men forward and accepting the possibility of conceding more goals on the counter. Navas and Silva continued to find openings around the box but last ditch interventions ensured City couldn’t find a breakthrough inside the box.

Guardiola summoned Yaya Toure and Kelechi Iheanacho and transitioned into more of a 3-5-2 that still had Silva floating around, and encouraged substitute Gael Clichy to move forward, but even then, the hosts struggled to identify an opening. Chelsea sat deeper in a narrow 5-4-1 and eventually brought on youngster Nathan Chalobah for Costa – who couldn’t continue – to protect the centre of the pitch.

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City’s key play-makers ran out of ideas in the final third, and the Chelsea defence coped with Aguero’s threat around the penalty area, which could explain his frustration and eventual sending off for a poor challenge on Luiz. Chelsea’s “smash and grab” second half performance flustered Guardiola’s men, and once the Blues retreated deeper into their half, there was less space for Silva to exploit between the lines, and limited opportunities to exploit the wing-backs.

Conclusion

From a tactical perspective, neither manager would be pleased with the open nature of the encounter, but it vividly describes the work and additional personnel required to take both clubs to the next level. The battle, nonetheless, may have been won by Conte, but Guardiola’s approach was successful for a large portion of the match.

Though Guardiola’s philosophy is a work in progress, City are still creating ample chances, but failure to keep clean sheets is a product of the lack of balance and possibly a defensive issue amongst individuals. While Chelsea encountered issues with their wing-backs and Fabregas’ positional deficiencies, the decision to push the attackers higher and quickly facilitate balls to their feet was logical.

On two separate occasions the Blues overcame deficits against intense high pressure, and though their first half displays may worry Conte, the response following half-time represents resilience within the Chelsea camp. 3-4-2-1 vs. 3-2-4-1 was an intriguing tactical battle that’s refreshing to modern-day Premier League football, and Conte’s decision to push the floating attackers in advanced positions and encourage his men to bypass the City press with instant balls into their feet trumped what was nearly a classic Guardiola display.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Manchester City – Chelsea

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The Premier League’s two key managerial acquisitions this summer, Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte, face off in this weekend’s big clash at the Etihad Stadium. The stark contrast between Guardiola and Conte’s philosophy is vivid, and with both sides vying to mount a title challenge, this clash has all the ingredients of a potential Premier League classic.

Matches of this stature tend to be cautious considering most managers prefer to avoid defeat against title rivals, but City have failed to record a domestic win since the Manchester Derby, and will be desperate to make a statement here. Frankly, Chelsea’s form hints that the pressure will be on Guardiola to end their seven-game winning streak.

Chelsea are the Premier League’s form team following a tactical switch to a 3-4-2-1, and it would be surprising to see Conte stray away from the successful system. Diego Costa has often struggled against the sheer physicality of Manchester City centre-backs Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, but with both men unavailable – the former injured and the later on loan –the Chelsea striker should fancy his chances running at John Stones rather than Nicolas Otamendi.

Though the Blues have been fairly convincing in Conte’s 3-4-2-1, last weekend’s clash with Spurs posed the league leaders a few issues, despite their impressive fight back. It was always uncertain as to whether Chelsea could cope with intense high pressure, and for large spells of the first half against Spurs, the Blues struggled to push into the opposing half as a unit.

City are likely to replicate Spurs’ pressing but in an intelligent manner: where Mauricio Pochettino’s men constantly pressed and tired before half-time, City will likely aim to fluster the Blues in spurts. But where Chelsea’s shape is all but certain to be a 3-4-2-1, Guardiola’s unpredictability makes it difficult to determine how the Spaniard will approach the match.

However, Eden Hazard and Pedro’s resurgence poses a similar threat. The former operating in an inside-left role may force a centre-back or Fernandinho to keep tabs on the Belgian, whereas Pedro’s movement beyond the defence could force Claudio Bravo off his line on several occasions.

Between the 3-2-2-3 and the 4-1-4-1, it’s possible we may see a hybrid of the two. Guardiola should offer a hint of caution going forward, but he may instruct full-backs, Aleksandar Kolarov and Bacary Sagna to sit in half-spaces to help negate potential counter-attacks with Ilkay Gundogan or Fernandinho splitting the centre-backs when necessary.

In the past Guardiola preferred to control bigger matches with ball retention, and considering Chelsea has yet to sort out issues with their midfield two when opposing sides overload central areas suggests the City manager could sacrifice a winger for a ball-player. Gundogan and Fernandinho will likely start in midfield with David Silva, but Raheem Sterling’s fitness remains pivotal, nonetheless.

Conte’s wing-backs are integral to their success and Guardiola is forced to make a major decision regarding his shape. Nolito and Sterling possess the work-ethic to track the forward movement of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, yet if City dominate possession, as expected, he may aim to quickly shift balls to the wide players to peg the Chelsea wing-backs deeper.

The pairing of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are vast improvements to a Chelsea side that were feeble in midfield last season, but once again, here, they face a difficult task coping with intelligent space invaders in Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. Ilkay Gundogan and Silva could operate centrally if Guardiola opts for 4-1-4-1, which would enable De Bruyne to serve as a counter-attacking threat behind the Chelsea wing-backs.

Upfront, Sergio Aguero should lead the line following two goals at Burnley, but unlike previous meetings against Chelsea, he faces a 1v3 disadvantage upfront. Aguero’s pace and movement would likely be a threat to David Luiz and Gary Cahill, but now, they have an additional spare man in Cesar Azpilicueta to sweep up danger. This may see Aguero’s main involvement based around linking play when he drops deep or moves towards the flank, whilst poaching loose balls within the 18-yard box.

On the other hand, Guardiola will be tasked with limiting David Luiz’s productivity from deep areas – the Brazilian is the chief playmaker in Conte’s 3-4-2-1 and his influence was limited against Spurs when Chelsea endured pressure from Pochettino’ men. Therefore, Guardiola is expected to instruct his wide players and Aguero to quickly close down Chelsea’s centre-back trio.

Ultimately, Guardiola’s system should define the tempo and the pattern of the match. With no one yet to identify a ploy capable of nullifying Chelsea’s threats, surely pressure will be on his midfield duo to keep Pedro and Hazard quiet, whilst preventing the wing-backs from pushing forward.

Likewise, Conte’s received a week to manage heavy cohesive high-pressing, but last week’s switch to a narrow 5-4-1 negated Spurs’ superiority in central areas, and he may follow suit here. City’s technically gifted creators and direct wide threats pose a serious threat to the Blues away from home, and if Conte’s men fail to start the match with the intensity the Italian demands, then their seven-game winning streak will be under severe threat.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Yaya Toure can still play a role for Guardiola’s Manchester City

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Yaya Toure’s future at Manchester City was under significant threat following the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s appointment. With the Ivorian’s performances under heavy scrutiny throughout last year’s campaign, along with Guardiola deeming Toure as surplus to requirement during their time at Barcelona, the possibility of deja-vu wasn’t farfetched.

Yet, with the Christmas period vastly approaching, Toure – following a public apology to the club and fans – has returned to the first team with vigour. Two goals at Selhurst Park earned City maximum points, and a standout display in a scrappy match with Burnley has kept City on pace for a proper title challenge.

Though Toure has played an integral role in City’s success this decade, the evolution of the squad has clearly exposed his defensive deficiencies. A player of Toure’s stature, built on strength and heavy running, was always expected to experience a decline towards his early 30’s, but City were reluctant to bolster their options in midfield until Guardiola’s arrival.

Toure and Guardiola’s relationship is mysterious, but the decision to utilize a young Sergio Busquets as his sole pivot at Barcelona didn’t bode well with the media or the Ivorian’s camp. Still, where Guardiola’s Barcelona are now classified as the best club team of our generation, Toure dominated the middle of the park in English football and guided City amongst the division’s elite.

Toure, however, is a difficult player to incorporate into a cohesive side: you can’t play the Ivorian as a sole pivot because he doesn’t possess the work-rate or defensive awareness to protect the back four.

“I’m here to take decisions. Maybe I make mistakes, but I have to take decisions and I respect that all the people cannot agree with me. That happened,” the Spaniard said.

“I spoke in the last month, many times with Yaya because he was my player with Barcelona, I know him very well. So I know how he is like a player.” “As a player there is no doubt — if there was a doubt he would not be here. He is another guy to compete with our midfield players and increase our level.”

On the other hand, Toure struggled in a 4-2-3-1 during the Manuel Pellegrini era because Fernandinho was also an identical box-to-box midfielder and equally lacked the discipline to protect the centre of the pitch when required. From a statistical perspective, Toure may have appeared to be playing well – scoring 20 league goals when City won the double during the 2013/2014 campaign – but in truth, he was partially responsible for the club’s structural issues out of possession.

Likewise, Toure’s best spell at the Etihad was when he played ahead of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, two ball-winners that sat ahead of the back four, therefore providing the City star freedom to push forward. Though it took City’s limitations under Pellegrini to showcase Toure’s current state as a footballer, it’s difficult to dispute that he may solely be useful in two roles.

This however isn’t an issue to Guardiola, who often doesn’t receive credit for being an astute pragmatist. The tiki-taka football played at Barcelona suited the demands of the players that grew up in La Masia, whilst adding direct players in wide positions to provide penetration.

Though Guardiola’s Bayern dominated possession in most games, the German side’s approach was the antithesis of Pep’s Barca. At Bayern, Guardiola’s side revolved around the wing play between the rampaging full-backs and wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery: when the latter was unavailable, Douglas Costa eventual arrival strengthened Bayern’s dominance in wide areas.

Pep’s possession and dynamic counter-pressing guided City back to domestic prominence, shifting between a 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been fielded as deep central midfielders, Aleksandar Kolarov as a centre-back, and full-backs positioned in half spaced to negate counter-attacks have been introduced during Guardiola’s brief stint at City thus far.

But City haven’t been flawless under Guardiola, and several draws have led many to believe the creative, yet frail offensive-minded players required another dimension to their attack. Roughly, this is where Toure’s physical stature has proved beneficial as both a no.6 and a no.10 ahead of Fernandinho and Fernando.

Toure’s production in the final third still remains significant to a City side that can be guilty of being overelaborate. Where his goals won the game at Palace, it was the nifty intricate combinations plays around the box with Nolito that created openings against a sturdy Burnley back-line.

In footballing terms, Toure is the ideal midfielder to be appreciated, and equally thrive in the Premier League. A goal-scoring, powerful specimen that is eager to carry the ball forward, yet capable of simultaneously shrugging off challenges. However, the better teams in the league now rely on heavy pressing, hard-running and defensive organization, all areas that have prevented Toure from maintaining his world-class status following Roberto Mancini’s departure.

Incidentally, Toure’s situation is fairly similar to Cesc Fabregas’ conundrum since leaving the Emirates. Moving into a free attacking role under Arsene Wenger, Fabregas didn’t develop the tactical discipline to be effective throughout midfield. At Barcelona he often played on the flank or interchanged with Lionel Messi at the main centre-forward, because his productivity from deeper positions – specifically when the opposition applied midfield pressure – concerned Guardiola of the Spaniard’s anarchic style.

“Cesc’s anarchy is good for us. He moves down the right and the left; he is physically very strong with a lot of vision and high work rate,” Guardiola said.

“We like the fact that he is so mobile, but it has to be done sensibly. In the end, there is a ball and people who move, but they should move to where they need to be. We do not have a remote control to direct them from the bench.”

Ultimately, Fabregas failed to solidify a role in the Barcelona midfield and his move to Chelsea pushed him into a double-pivot alongside Nemanja Matic. While Fabregas’ first half of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign was impressive, performance levels decreased significantly once sides began pressing the Spaniard when he received possession.

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But where Guardiola’s constant tactical evolution has led to Toure’s recall, Conte simply doesn’t trust Fabregas’ lack of mobility to protect the back four or break up play in midfield. Therefore, apart from brief cameo appearances where his passing range proved crucial in the latter stages of matches, Fabregas is forced to improve his dynamism and work-rate to feature in Conte’s XI.

Conte and Guardiola are seemingly contrasting managers, but with Chelsea being the most in-form team in the league, the latter may be forced into making a few personnel decisions ahead of the Blues’ trip to the Etihad this weekend. Although Chelsea displayed signs of improvement in a 3-4-2-1 rejig following losses to Liverpool and Arsenal several weeks ago, Guardiola may aim to identify one of their few notable weaknesses in central areas.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic’s ball-winning skills offer a solid base in the midfield zone, but last week’s win over Spurs also showcased their susceptibility to midfield overloads. It’s also possible that Guardiola will attempt to match Chelsea for power in midfield as they also pose a slight advantage in that regard.

Guardiola is likely to prefer control through possession rather than sheer power at home, so the likelihood of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho in midfield over Toure is the harsh reality the Ivorian will have to accept at the age of 33. It’s possible that Toure would be better suited in away games against physical opponents that prefer to disrupt opposed to pushing forward to attack Guardiola’s men.

More so, the Guardiola-Toure saga will be intriguing to assess over the course of the season because the added flexibility required from the former suggests Toure would have to adapt his game to solidify a role in the City XI. The days of the rampaging runs, breathtaking goals, and precise passing variations have influenced this club like no other, and though Toure’s best days may have passed, the Ivorian still holds a key role in City’s title quest.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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BPL Notebook Matchday 13: Projected title contenders overcome difficult roadblocks

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Chelsea maintained their seven game winning-streak Saturday afternoon at the expense of rivals Spurs, handing Mauricio Pochettino’s men their first loss of the Premier League campaign.

The result ensures the Blues will travel to Manchester City next week as league leaders, but as expected Antonio Conte’s men endured a few issues to start the match. Within the opening 10 minutes, Christian Eriksen’s impressive opener forced Chelsea’s hands, but worryingly enough, Spurs were equally dominant in terms of their overall play.

Spurs inconsistent form prior to kickoff was slightly downplayed, but Pochettino’s men were still the best defensive team in the league, due to an energetic press that was perfectly executed against Manchester City earlier this season. However, though Spurs were undoubtedly the better side then, they endured dodgy moments when they were unable to sustain their energy levels.

What was key about the performance, in particular, was their efficient finishing in the final third. At Stamford Bridge, Pochettino’s men struggled to get behind the Chelsea defence despite negating their ability to build attacks from the back. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were starved for service, and for large portions of the first half, Conte’s men were overrun in midfield.

Dele Alli and Harry Kane were capable of receiving intricate passes in pockets of space, with the former’s movement playing a critical role to Eriksen’s opener. Meanwhile, Kyle Walker’s pace and strength exposed Marcos Alonso’s deficiencies in a wide defensive role. But it was only until the half hour mark where Chelsea began to grow into the match.

Similar to their emphatic victory over City, Pochettino’s men began to concede space once their pressing decreased. Suddenly Victor Moses was an open outlet on the right, whereas Hazard and Costa found space to carry the ball into, albeit limited support from their teammates. Though Chelsea were presented space as the half progressed, a short spell that involved Hazard cutting off a poor Hugo Lloris pass, followed by Pedro’s incredible equalizer shifted the momentum into the hosts’ favour.

The problems Spurs encountered towards the conclusion of the first half continued at the start of the second. Hazard was constantly fouled with his back to goal, whereas Costa worked diligently through the channels, but it was Moses’ pluck to charge past Son that proved decisive.

Alonso and Moses’ proactive advanced positioning occurred subsequent to Spurs’ dominance within the first half hour, which was always the worry with Son and Eriksen operating in wide areas. Pochettino’s men simply failed to remain compact out of possession, and you can argue that they didn’t really have a plan B once energy levels decreased.

More so, this is the concern with Spurs. Still showing signs of fatigue from last season, apart from the signing of Wanyama, Pochettino’s XI hasn’t improved significantly. Therefore, the onus is on players to exceed last year’s form, and with Spurs’ overall approach largely based on running, it simply doesn’t appear to be attainable.

On the other hand, Conte deserves credit for reinvigorating his side: Chelsea’s shape didn’t change in the second half, but they closed down ball-carriers and open spaces quicker, and Alonso and Moses provided the width to stretch Spurs’ 4-4-2 throughout. Elsewhere, they equally managed the remainder of the match superbly once they went ahead.

The Blues reverted to a 5-4-1 out of possession with Hazard and Pedro maintaining narrow wide positions to ensure Spurs couldn’t overload central areas. Apart from slight defensive mistakes and Nkoudou easing past substitute Branislav Ivanovic, Spurs failed to trouble an organized Chelsea outfit.

Had this been a year ago, Chelsea may have encountered difficulties closing out a tight match, but there’s a sense of revitalization, belief, and hunger under Conte. Although the performance wasn’t comparable to previous home triumphs during this seven game stretch, champions often find ways to win matches when struggling to reach top form.

If anything, this was an audition for a flexible City side that will have alternative approaches apart from Guardiola’s traditional high pressing. It’s possibly still to early to claim title contender’s status, but overcoming multiple formations and Spurs’ heavy pressing suggests the Blues are heading in the right direction.

Ozil – Sanchez growing partnership overshadows difficult afternoon

Alexis Sanchez’s opener hinted that three points would be a formality, yet this was a difficult outing for Arsene Wenger’s men. Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace earned two members of the Bournemouth back four bookings within the opening 10 minutes as Arsenal’s attacking quartet was built on pace and Mesut Ozil’s creativity.

This was the ideal set up for Ozil to thrive in, yet the wide players were uninspiring following the opener, and the midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka struggled on both ends. Defensively, Bournemouth’s midfield trio easily bypassed the Arsenal duo en route to goal, and Joshua King simply dropped into space between the lines to combine with teammates.

From an offensive perspective, Arsenal simply lacked the control Santi Cazorla, or Mikel Arteta once provided with a mixture of short and long passes to retain possession. At times the match was end to end, and Arsenal weren’t assured on both ends of the field.

With that being said, Wenger at the very least would be pleased to see his best players doing their utmost best to salvage a result. Interestingly, Alexi’s varied positions witnessed the Chilean dropping deeper to supply penetrative passes for Ozil making runs beyond the Bournemouth back-line.

Though the two Arsenal marquee signings were rarely on the same wavelength, the desperation to create plays and surge their teammates forward was fascinating. Arsenal improved significantly in the second half when Bournemouth retreated in their half opposed to pressing.

Bournemouth was forced to chased the game following Theo Walcott’s winner, which ultimately benefitted a speedy Arsenal attack. Likewise, Sanchez doubled Arsenal’s lead and secured three points in stoppage time following a swift break featuring a well-weighed Ozil pass to ignite the move.

Wenger’s side have made a knack of earning results albeit not playing their best football, and a developed partnership with Alexis striving in a centre-forward role ahead of Ozil in his optimum position could prove decisive if the Gunners intend on mounting a proper title challenge.

Yaya Toure staking role in Guardiola’s City system

He did it again. Yaya Toure wasn’t on the score sheet this week, but the Ivorian played a positive role in a narrow win against a resilient Burnley side. Guardiola named the powerful midfield trio that featured in majority of City’s game’s last season, but Toure was involved in several dangerous moves because he was positioned closer to Sergio Aguero and free of defensive duties.

Although a brace at Crystal Palace placed Toure back in the headlines, here, he showcased what he has left to offer. Fernandinho and Fernando remained deeper in fear of the Burnley counter-attack, whereas Toure predominantly linked play with Nolito, who drifted into pockets of space in central areas.

Sergio Aguero poached both goals but his involvement from open play was scare. Raheem Sterling operated in a wide position on the right, but oddly hesitated when he received the ball in key areas and was considerably ineffective in the final third. But Toure rolled back the clock with his quick incisive combinations and powerful sprints towards goal.

Now, Toure might not feature in the City XI every week, but there was a glaring issue regarding their predictability from open play and the fear of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne being overrun in midfield. It’s the dimension City lacked in the early stages of the season, and the new dimension to a fine-tuned flexible unit presents various ways to win in the near future.

Guardiola will always be associated to the possession-based tiki-taka football that revolutionized the sport during his time at Barcelona, but his spell at Bayern proved the Spaniard can adapt to the cultural strengths that define a domestic league. In Toure, Guardiola may still require the Ivorian’s power, precision, and finishing ability around the penalty box, which further justifies his significance to the squad.

Injury-hit Liverpool encounter near scare against Moyes’ Sunderland

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool fell to second place when they failed to score at Southampton, and they appeared destined to suffer the same fate against a resolute Sunderland outfit. Moyes aligned his men to disrupt and destroy, but the hosts were dominant for extensive periods throughout.

For all of Liverpool’s patient build up and clever interchanging movement, the hosts rarely got behind the opposition’s defence. Resorting to long distance shots and poor set-piece execution kept the score-line leveled, while Sunderland were pegged so deep into their half that launching counters was nearly impossible with Defoe isolated upfront.

The second half followed a similar tempo, but Patrick van Aanholt’s inability to play a final pass and Duncan Watmore couldn’t score despite rounding Liverpool keeper Loris Karius. Coutinho’s early departure and the absence of Adam Lallana deprived the Reds of genuine guile and creativity in the final third, as several crosses through the six-yard box went astray.

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Substitute Divock Origi’s individual brilliance won the game, but there’s a fear that Liverpool will struggle to break down opposing teams that replicate Sunderland’s approach. Perhaps Origi or Daniel Sturridge’s presence will be useful to poach goals without two creative cogs in Klopp’s successful system, and in truth, being forced to identify a plan B or C could reap rewards long-term.

Mourinho and United’s issues persist at Old Trafford

It’s now come to a point where Manchester United’s results represent the Premier League’s main mystery. Is it simply bad luck? Or do the players and possibly Mourinho need to be held accountable for consistently dropping points?

This isn’t a Mourinho team we’ve been accustomed to falling in love with over the years. There’s been few significant individual improvements from the players that survived the Louis van Gaal era. Elsewhere, Mourinho’s father-esque mantra often associated with his most successful teams is non-existence.

Once again, United conceded within the opening 90 seconds against West Ham, yet they rallied well subsequent to the goal. Phil Jones was superb at the back, while the midfield pairing of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba occupied half spaces and circulated possession in a tidy manner.

Youngsters Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford received glorious chances to put United ahead but spurned their opportunities, and though Antonio Valencia constantly motored past Dmitri Payet, the Ecuadorian’s crosses didn’t harm the West Ham back-line.

Mourinho’s decision to omit Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Wayne Rooney following positive midweek Europa League performances perturbed United supporters, but the Red Devils weren’t poor, here. The worry, however, rests in United ensuring their positive displays earn the club maximum points on a weekly basis.

Nevertheless, Mourinho will continue to be scrutinized for every United hiccup, but it’s reached the point where the Portuguese manager and the players come together and mount a legitimate top four challenge. At the moment, though, even that goal appears insurmountable.

Results: Burnley 1-2 Manchester City, Hull City 1-1 West Brom, Leicester 2-2 Middlesbrough, Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland, Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace, Chelsea 2-1 Spurs, Watford 0-1 Stoke, Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth, Manchester United 1-1 West Ham, Southampton 1-0 Everton

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2016 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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