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

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

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.

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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Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea

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.

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: Chelsea – Everton

Chelsea’s current form indicates that they’re vying to partake in this year’s title race, but they encounter a stern test against Ronald Koeman’s Everton. Koeman’s arrival has witnessed Everton improve their defensive shape, but the Toffees’ poor record at Stamford Bridge means the Blues start the match as favourites.

Chelsea have won four consecutive league games since moving to a back three, and more importantly have yet to concede a goal during that time. Therefore, Antonio Conte is expected to make few changes to his starting lineup following impressive victories over Leicester City, Manchester United, and Southampton.

David Luiz and Gary Cahill appear more assertive at the back with Cesar Azpilicueta sweeping up where necessary, and the Brazilian’s ability to play positive passes in advanced areas will likely keep captain John Terry out of the lineup. Marcos Alonso and the in-form Victor Moses will retain their roles as wing-backs, but both men represent potential defensive liabilities against Everton’s swift wide players.

“He [Luiz] has made us solid in defence but I am not surprised. He is a good player and won a lot in his career,” said Conte.

“But we must win more and that is why he is at the club. We wanted to buy him for this reason.”

Koeman possesses excellent dribblers – Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas or Yannick Bolasie – that can play from the flanks, and the Everton manager will encourage his wingers to attack the Chelsea wing-backs. Also, with Seamus Coleman capable of motoring forward, Conte may swap Eden Hazard and Pedro to avoid potential overloads against Alonso.

On the other hand, Hazard’s form has substantially improved since Chelsea moved to a 3-4-2-1, as the wide players now have license to move into central positions and beyond Diego Costa. However, with Idrissa Gueye suspended and Leighton Baines unavailable due to injury, Hazard can pose issues in both areas.

Bryan Oviedo endured a difficult time against Michail Antonio last weekend and could be overwhelmed by Hazard’s dribbling if he drifts towards the right flank. Meanwhile, Gueye’s dynamism has aided Gareth Barry throughout the season, and the former England international may struggle against Hazard’s quick movement and sharp turns between the lines.

With James McCarthy also unavailable, Koeman may turn to Tom Cleverley’s energy alongside Barry, opposed to sacrificing Ross Barkley’s potential threat in transition. Nonetheless, the midfield zone is expected to be scrappy with Conte expected to persist with the midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic that’s based around strength and tackling.

This also places emphasis on whether Koeman will field Barkley – who has struggled to impose himself against competent defensive shield’s this season – in the no.10 role, or perhaps place a direct outlet in Bolasie or Mirallas centrally. Koeman’s arrival has also offered Everton flexibility, which means they’re capable of reverting to a back three or shifting to a 4-3-3 to ensure they clog spaces in central areas, which proved to be a successful ploy against Manchester City.

Ultimately, Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa, two of the three leading goal-scorers this season will face stern challenges. Lukaku’s service has decreased due to the emphasis on getting the ball into wide areas, but he remains a proficient finisher around the box and can’t be awarded space in the final third. However, it will likely be 3v1 at the back, though Lukaku will likely aim to isolate the diminutive Azpilicueta to attack crosses in the box – yet, he poses an advantage in similar scenarios against Cahill or Luiz.

Elsewhere, Costa will face another physical battle against Ashley Williams and Funes Mori, here. Costa’s showcased his all-round talent throughout this current season, but the combination of athleticism and power could limit the Chelsea striker’s link-up play, though he should receive space to work the channels and charge forward into the box. There’s also the possibility of replicating Chelsea’s system to include Phil Jagielka in a back three to negate Costa’s threat upfront, and rely on individual battles across the pitch.

“We know that Chelsea is a strong team, a different team than last year,” said Koeman.

“They play with a lot of intensity and are aggressive. They have a different system, have got a lot of clean sheets and are winning games.”

Nevertheless, Costa and Hazard remain Chelsea’s difference-makers, with the latter in particular, favoured to continue his impressive form due to Everton’s deficiencies in the centre of the pitch and their left flank. Everton also pose a threat in transition, and if they can get their wingers to run at the wing-backs or Lukaku isolating centre-backs in the box, Conte’s men face a realistic possibility of conceding their first goal in over a month.

Chelsea will likely dominate possession for large spells and locate space to create chances, but the pace and power Everton pose on the counter presents a genuine challenge to the Blues’ improved defensive structure under Antonio Conte.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Manchester United

Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge is the main storyline in the Premier League this weekend. Sacked less than a year ago, Mourinho will face Antonio Conte for the first time and attempt to overpass his former employers in the league table.

It will be United’s second consecutive away match against the traditional top four and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mourinho’s men play on the counter-attack once again. United added power to the midfield by moving to a 4-3-3, with Marouane Fellaini joining Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera to frustrate Liverpool at Anfield, and it’s likely he’ll adopt a similar approach here.

‘I knew that, working in England and staying in the Premier League, sooner or later I had to play against Chelsea and go to Stamford Bridge,’ Mourinho said. ‘The computer has decided it is to go now. And here we go.’

‘I don’t have to analyze their start to the season,’ he added. ‘But you look to the table and you see where they are. They are in a good position. So the start of the season cannot be bad if they are where they are.’

Although Chelsea pose a considerably different threat going forward, it would be surprising to see Mourinho revert back to a 4-2-3-1. Ander Herrera has performed excellent in a deeper role in recent weeks, but with Paul Pogba likely given the license to push forward in a midfield duo, the former would be forced to cover too much space in central areas.

It’s likely Fellaini will retain his place in the midfield trio, but Mourinho’s main decision is where he’ll position the personnel. At Anfield, Pogba operated closest to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and though he rarely influenced the match, the Frenchman did create the best chance for his Swedish teammate.

Herrera is unlikely to feature as the no.10 despite his goal threat around the box, and Mourinho could opt to utilize Fellaini’s aerial presence to fluster Chelsea’s back-line. Gary Cahill has struggled against Ibrahimovic in the past, and Mourinho could instruct the Swede or Fellaini to isolate the out-of-form England international or target David Luiz.

The other major decision involves the wide positions – Mourinho’s traditional no.10’s have operated in wider positions this season, and assuming he doesn’t utilize a 4-2-3-1, this may be his preference against Chelsea. Ashley Young’s efficient performance in a defensive winger role should merit another start on the left, but the big question is whether Mourinho opts for Juan Mata’s guile, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s creativity and transitional threat, or Marcus Rashford’s direct dribbling on the opposite flank.

United’s back four, on the other hand, should remain unchanged. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia have performed well at the full-back position, while Eric Baily and Chris Smalling’s physical stature will provide a stern test against the league’s leading goal-scorer Diego Costa.

Chelsea’s mini-resurgence following two embarrassing defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal involved Conte shifting his side’s shape to a 3-4-2-1. However, Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge will display whether the system is a long-term solution for the Blues.

The return of John Terry could see Cesar Azpilicueta move to a right wing-back role, with Gary Cahill moving to the right of David Luiz. This would provide interesting battles in wide areas with Ashley Young responsible for Azpilicueta, whereas United must be wary of Marcos Alonso’s positioning on the left.

Nonetheless, Chelsea’s centre-backs should cope with Ibrahimovic’s threat in a 3v1 situation, as the Swede lacks natural pace to get behind Conte’s defence. However, the threat of Martial and Rashford breaking into wide areas beyond the wing-backs or into the channels to isolate exterior centre-backs could prove costly.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are expected to continue in midfield, and the former has gradually improved playing slightly ahead of the latter. Chelsea’s midfield possesses tenacity, strength, ball-winning skills, and the willingness to press the opposing midfielders which is why Mourinho may be tempted to summon Fellaini.

Conte will have Oscar and Willian available for selection, but Victor Moses’ positive performance last weekend may merit a start alongside Eden Hazard. Hazard remains the key player, here, though, and may be the reason Mourinho sticks with a 4-3-3 due to his new positional freedom to roam between the lines or break beyond the centre-backs. Once an individual battle between Hazard and Valencia will now require an additional midfielder or centre-back to negate the Belgian.

This also is another opportunity for Costa to provide a big-game moment, following disappointing performances against Laurent Koscielny and Joel Matip in previous weeks. Mourinho may replicate the successful approach of man-marking the Spaniard tightly and encouraging his centre-backs to sacrifice fouls away from the box. Smalling and Bailly have developed a suitable partnership with the latter sweeping danger when required, but against an excellent all-rounder in Costa, this will be no easy task for the United duo.

“I think that it arrives at the right moment for us,” said Conte.

“It’s important to continue this way. The last game we beat a good team that last season won the title and this was important. On Sunday we face another great team. I want to see progress compared to Liverpool and Arsenal. I am confident about this. I saw fantastic commitment this week.”

Chelsea will likely intend to dominate possession and peg United into their own half, but that’s not an issue for Mourinho who will aim to l avoid defeat on his return to Stamford Bridge. Traditionally, United have leant towards width in bigger matches, and here, this appears to be a clear outlet to success.

But limiting Costa and Hazard’s threat will be Mourinho’s main priority against a Chelsea side that’s fairly average in terms of creating chances from open-play. Therefore, Mourinho’s caution and intent to disrupt may lead to another drab encounter involving two sides that will focus on defensive structure, as neither manager can afford to lose another game.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Leicester City

Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off features the two most recent Premier League champions Chelsea and Leicester City. The former failed to defeat the latter on both occasions last year, with Claudio Ranieri coincidentally claiming the title at Stamford Bridge.

Nevertheless, Leicester’s return to Stamford Bridge presents additional pressure towards the reigning champions considering the Foxes have conceded four goals against two of the traditional top four sides away from the King Power Stadium. While Chelsea’s form remains somewhat inconsistent – despite a bounce back away win at Hull – Antonio Conte’s switch to a 3-4-2-1 has been effective following humbling defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.

The main selection issue for Conte rests in who plays behind Diego Costa alongside Eden Hazard. It’s uncertain that Willian will feature following the sudden passing of the Brazilian’s mother, so Conte could turn to Victor Moses direct running or Oscar’s guile and creativity on the right. Conte’s recent system alteration has left Oscar without a place in the current XI, but his dynamism and tireless work-rate could result in a potential recall.

Frankly there shouldn’t be any changes to the current Chelsea midfield bank: N’Golo Kante enjoyed freedom playing slightly ahead of Nemanja Matic, and should feature in that role against his former employers. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso should continue at left-wing back, and the return of John Terry would push Cesar Azpilicueta to right wing-back.

“It’s important for me to see every day the shape, every day the situation,” said the Italian.

“Tomorrow I have four central defenders and I have to take a decision for three, I have to value the situation – one must go on the bench.”

Elsewhere, Conte will be hoping Terry’s potential return will provide stability to a back-four that’s been unconvincing since his injury. With that being said, Gary Cahill will feature on the opposing side of David Luiz, as the Brazilian will be expected to build attacks from the back. The Blues will rely on Luiz’s passing from deep with Cesc Fabregas on the bench and it will be interesting to see whether Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy will step forward to negate the Brazilian’s productivity.

In terms of individual battles, Chelsea’s key men are unsurprisingly their best attacking players in Diego Costa and Hazard. Costa is currently the highest goal-scorer in the league and should relish individual battles with centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, who have been thoroughly exposed against direct attackers since Kante’s departure.

On the other hand, Hazard’s role behind Costa offers the Belgian freedom to drift into pockets of space in central areas if he’s not positioned towards the left flank, but here, he should dominate either way. Daniel Amartey hasn’t performed poorly in midfield, but his partnership with Danny Drinkwater still witnesses the duo concede far too much space in central areas. The possible inclusion of Andy King – a midfielder renowned for making late runs into the box – would leave Drinkwater further isolated in midfield and Hazard shouldn’t encounter difficulties receiving the ball in dangerous areas.

Likewise, one of Leicester’s weaknesses stems down their right flank due to Riyad Mahrez’s reluctance to protect right-back Danny Simpson. Simpson can prove to be a liability in 1v1 situations, and unless protection from midfield or Mahrez is provided, Hazard and Alonso’s overloads could be the decisive factor.

There shouldn’t be any major changes to Leicester’s shape or their personnel, but Ranieri’s attacking quartet could shape the general tempo of the match. Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy are expected to start from the front and the latter’s runs into the channel could trouble Cahill or Terry in exterior centre-back positions. If Kante plays further forward to press Drinkwater and prevent long diagonals towards Vardy, Matic’s positioning will be key in terms of bypassing the duo’s pressing and ensuring Slimani doesn’t isolate David Luiz.

Ranieri could summon Ahmed Musa towards the left to peg back Azpilicueta, but with Chelsea likely to dominate possession he may prefer the diligent Marc Albrighton. If Leicester can quickly facilitate possession into wide areas, Slimani may be instructed to target the struggling Gary Cahill to win aerial duels in the box.

“Conte changed everything, and now it’s important that the [Chelsea] players follow him,” said Ranieri.

“It will be another tough match,” he added. “Conte has changed the shape of Chelsea so we have to fight.

Although Chelsea have been underwhelming in open play when presented the task of breaking down organized opposition, Leicester remains vulnerable defending set-pieces. Conte may opt to designate set-piece duties elsewhere due to Willian’s significant decline in this area, as Chelsea possess ample aerial threats that could exploit Leicester’s deficiencies.

Perhaps Leicester have stumbled against the traditional English elite thus far, but Chelsea’s issue creating chances and inefficient finishing suggests that they won’t be blown out at Stamford Bridge. However, the Foxes’ poor away record and predictable attack should ensure that Chelsea will cope better with their threat this time around due to improved defensive structure under Conte.

Neither side are the defensive giants that claimed the Premier League title in previous seasons so there will be goals, but it’s vital that Leicester score first – they have yet to showcase their ability to turnaround a result on the road this season – if they intend on claiming maximum points.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Published Work

 

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BPL Notebook Matchday 3: Former stars emerge from last season’s misery

49 million pounds is a large sum of money.

The current transfer market may suggest otherwise, but 49 million pounds is not pocket change. Managers and club owners don’t place 49 million pounds on a player without expectations. Pressure is placed on a player to instantly live up to the price valuation given by clubs, and failure to meet expectation results in potential scrutiny.

Today’s society is all about the present. Patience is limited, and we crave instant success. If our high standards aren’t met, we’re quick to criticize, and search for another source of happiness/greatness to fill the void for the disappointment we endured. This isn’t necessarily a bad mentality to instill when evaluating certain aspects of the everyday human life, but when it’s utilized to evaluate a player’s worth, it can be slightly absurd.

When a club decides to invest a large transfer fee on a player many tend to overlook the various factors associated with the move.

Will the player adapt to a new style of play and demands from the new manager?

Will the player and his family settle into their new lifestyle?

How will the player psychologically cope with transfer pressure or potential backlash from ex-supporters?

If he moves to a new country, will the climate affect him?

The aforementioned questions are generic, and certainly other factors come into play, but many tend to forget that players are also human beings with natural feelings. Players don’t necessarily flop because they’re not good enough to play in a specific league – if that was the case, most clubs wouldn’t even risk wasting money on a potential failure.

Raheem Sterling’s move to Manchester City sparked turmoil amongst Liverpool supporters, and the England international subsequently experienced the negative aspects of a big-money transfer move. What’s frankly supposed to be the pinnacle moment of a footballing career can sometimes backfire and trigger a period of regression.

The resentment towards Sterling’s move is slightly similar to Fernando Torres’ transfer to Chelsea: it’s not that Sterling was at the peak of his career, but the belief that he’d improve his chances elsewhere in England was rather insulting. Two years after playing a key role in a near title triumph, Sterling had joined the eventual winners that season.

Luis Suarez’s departure and Daniel Sturridge’s constant injury issues presented Sterling the opportunity to be the key man at Anfield that he had no interest in considering once he caught the attention of several big clubs in Europe. And even with Sterling’s positional versatility and tactical awareness elevated his overall game, a move to the Etihad was too good to decline.

Though the price-tag merited his potential and his homegrown player eligibility – the latter guarantees price inflation – Sterling’s move was always a risk. This wasn’t comparable to Kevin De Bruyne, who a year prior performed at a world-class level, and was arguably a top-five player in the world. Sterling’s valuation was steep based on the legitimate possibility that he could reach world-class levels sooner than expected.

However, Sterling’s debut season was the antithesis of the player many project he’ll develop into. He initially performed well at the start of the campaign when Manuel Pellegrini implemented two wide wingers in a 4-2-3-1, thus enabling David Silva to operate in a no.10 role behind Sergio Aguero.

The system was promising, and City were rolling over teams, but through injuries, and Pellegrini’s limited tactical prowess, a severe decline ensued. Sterling’s confidence dropped significantly, and his presence within the final third was ineffective – his Capital One Cup final misses from point-blank range against Liverpool epitomized the England international’s poor form throughout most of the season.

Nonetheless, the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s hiring offered optimism for Sterling’s career, though he failed to produce a consistent level of quality performances last season, which carried through into Euro 2016, it was evident change in personnel and footballing philosophy was required at City.

Frankly, Sterling entered a dire situation. The core of the team was simply based on individualism, whereas the manager was incapable of evolving their play during his tenure. City had become predictable, feeble in midfield, and vulnerable to swift counter-attacks in transition.

Although we’re only three games into the Premier League season, Guardiola’s shift in culture has already showcased vast improvement, and Sterling is proving to be the main beneficiary. This shouldn’t be a surprise when you assess Guardiola’s track record, turning players such as Sergio Busquets, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng into world-class stars, whilst maximizing the talents of youngsters Pedro Rodriguez and Kingsley Coman in past seasons.

Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 pushes David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in deeper positions, with the full-backs occupying narrow half-spaces, to limit counter-attacking threats, whilst dominating central areas. Meanwhile, the wingers are responsible for stretching the pitch by hugging the touch-line – ultimately, Guardiola prefers to position the wide men into 1v1 isolation scenarios by dominating the centre and quickly moving the ball into wide areas.

The tactical rejig has resulted in Sterling completing the most take-on’s, winning the most fouls, and surprisingly registering a match-high four tackles at Stoke. Sterling’s dribbling and pace led to two penalty kicks in the opening weeks, but now he’s also overcoming his poor finishing in the penalty box.

Perhaps Sterling’s finishing against West Ham weren’t necessarily difficult, but it highlights the contrast between last year’s confidence and the faith Guardiola has instilled in the youngster. Sterling may have skied his opener over the net under Pellegrini, whereas his ability to round the keeper and coolly slot the ball into an open net is a heavily underrated trait that is solely displayed by the top players.

Leroy Sane’s eventual debut definitely puts Sterling’s starting spot in jeopardy, but at the moment, he represents a rejuvenated tricky wide player under Guardiola. Often unsure of his duties in his debut season, Sterling appears well aware of his role at the Etihad, and if he can continue to torment opposing defences around the final third, whilst adding goals to his game, he may eventually join the list of aforementioned world-beaters.

49 million pounds is undoubtedly an astronomical fee for a 20-year-old, but if you nurture his growth, and provide an ideal tactical platform to maximize his strengths, with time, the player’s value slowly becomes priceless.

Pressing battle exploits weaknesses of Spurs and Liverpool

A showdown between two of the top pressing sides in the league vividly exposed Liverpool and Spurs deficiencies this weekend.

Spurs were behind the Liverpool defence within the opening minute through a mental/defensive lapse that enabled Dele Alli to break forward via a thrown-in, which left many to believe the Reds’ mental lapses would surface again. Yet minutes later, Spurs succumbed to Liverpool’s pressing, and Christian Eriksen’s giveaway saw Liverpool break swiftly into the box, but Philippe Coutinho’s tame effort was saved by Spurs goalkeeper, Michael Vorm.

Klopp’s Liverpool have been impressive against the top-sides in the division, and here, their pressing was once again vital. More importantly, the German’s major decision to drop Daniel Sturridge for Sadio Mane on the right proved wise. Mane was the key man throughout the first half by constantly bypassing Danny Rose, and cleverly charging behind the defence only to be denied by Vorm’s efficient sweeper-keeping.

When Mane wasn’t bamboozling the Spurs defence, he was tracking back to ensure Rose didn’t pose a threat from left-back. Spurs were simply stifled going forward. Apart from Toby Alderweireld’s distribution from centre-back, they encountered difficulties bypassing Liverpool’s press.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were fortunate not to be trailing by a few goals at the hour mark: a combination of Vorm’s goalkeeping, several last-ditch defensive blocks, and a fortuitous offside call following a slick Liverpool break – stemming from a poor Erik Dier pass – kept the hosts in the game. But as the pressing levels decreased in the second half, both sides improved from open play.

Adam Lallana began to locate space between the lines to receive the ball and ignite forward moves. Spurs, on the other hand, found space through Dier’s advanced positioning at right-back as Liverpool dropped into a 4-5-1 out of possession. To no surprise, it was Alderweireld’s diagonal ball over makeshift left-back James Milner that bypassed the Liverpool press and Dier’s cross led to Rose’s equalizer. Kyle Walker’s departure due to injury, thus resulting in Vincent Janssen’s arrival upfront may have encouraged Spurs to deliver more crosses into the box, but they clearly need increase their productivity in wide areas throughout a match.

Conte’s Chelsea inspired by rejuvenated Hazard

Eden Hazard has a point to prove. The Belgian’s fall from grace last season was surreal, and similar to Sterling, he’s performing at an extremely high-level under a newly appointed manager.

Hazard, however, ended last season on high, and carried his form into Euro 2016 where the Belgian captain dazzled despite exiting the tournament prematurely. Likewise, Hazard is one of many Chelsea players that displayed signs of progress in what has been the most comfortable triumph of the Conte era thus far.

The early lead settled nerves as Hazard went on one of his trademark runs, but opposed to passing to a teammate, he coolly slotted his shot into the far corner. It’s the type of selflessness that’s been disrupting Hazard’s growth: The Chelsea player always gets into good areas with his dribbling, but is reluctant to shoot around the box.

Another key take from Chelsea’s win was the constant switches of play during lengthy spells of possession, and Oscar’s late diagonal runs into half space and the channels to create 3v2 situations on the right flank. Defensively, Chelsea were rarely tested due to their counter-pressing in midfield when they lost possession, and Gray’s failure to hold up the play and link with his teammates.

Chelsea’s profligacy in the final third – mainly through Hazard and Diego Costa – prevented a potential onslaught at Stamford Bridge, despite the noticeable limitations throughout the squad as Conte’s philosophy is quickly settling into the players’ mindset. N’Golo Kante’s work-rate is protecting the back four, and enabling Nemanja Matic and Oscar to harry opponents when they pass half, while Hazard and Diego Costa are show signs of the form that proved decisive in Blues 2014-2015 triumph.

Conte still requires reinforcements if Chelsea intend on challenging the Manchester clubs until May, but if that fails, maximizing the talent of Hazard and Costa without the burden of European competitions could be an effective plan B.

Mourinho’s United save it for late

Manchester United may have dropped points at Hull, had this been the Louis van Gaal or David Moyes era. A match United thoroughly dominated from start to finish required a stoppage time winner from Marcus Rashford to preserve United’s unbeaten start to the season.

Unlike Mourinho’s predecessors, the Portuguese manager’s side are finding ways to win when they don’t play well. Southampton’s trip to Old Trafford required brilliance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and here, despite United’s territorial dominance, the away side produced a flat first half performance.

The intent to move the ball forward quicker and penetrate in advanced areas is vivid, but their best chances in the first half stemmed through hopeful crosses into Ibrahimovic from wide players. United, however, experienced a few issues with their overall shape in both phases once again – while the back four remains solid, the midfield and attack are still somewhat unconvincing.

Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba offer a combination of power and drive in a midfield duo, but did a poor job of protecting space between the lines, which Adama Diomande consistently exploited in transition. Luckily for United, Hull’s counter-attacking threat was scarce, and Erik Bailly comfortably negated Abel Hernandez’s hold up play throughout the second.

The other issue persists upfront where United lack dynamism around the final third.

Pogba’s willingness to go forward is positive, and though his combinations with Juan Mata and Ibrahimovic are promising, everything appears improvised. There were moments in the match where Ibrahimovic dropped deeper to pick up the ball, and no runners charged beyond the defence – a key element to PSG’s attack during the Swede’s time in Paris. Anthony Martial has shown glimpses of the threat he posed last year, whereas for all of Mata’s ball retention skills and occasional nifty passes, the Spaniard is still lacking an x-factor around the box.

However, Mourinho’s second half alterations offered a direct element to United’s game that improved the away side’s performance. The hosts couldn’t cope with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s direct running from deep positions: the former forced a good save and delivered a sensational cross that Ibrahimovic should have scored, whereas the latter won free-kicks in dangerous positions when he broke away in transition.

United’s winner caught Hull out of position, as great work from Wayne Rooney led to a Rashford tap-in, which was quite deserving considering the youngster’s impact off the bench. Rashford and Mkhitaryan will now place pressure on Mourinho to make alterations to his XI, and with the derby approaching, a tactical rejig wouldn’t be farfetched.

Arsenal’s passing dynamos overwhelm Watford

Arsenal’s efficient first half display was enough to decrease the pressure surrounding the club, following a poor start to the current campaign. Olivier Giroud was still unavailable to start, but the return of Mesut Ozil and a second consecutive start for Granit Xhaka in midfield proved too much for Walter Mazzarri’s men.

Watford’s success last season derived via the combination of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo upfront, but the duo has yet to combine consistently under Mazzarri. Wing-backs Nordin Amrabat and Jose Holebas offered the Gunner’s back-line a few scares, but the hosts didn’t harm Petr Cech in the first half.

With central areas congested, Arsenal also found joy in wide areas: Alexis constantly charged into the left channel to pester Younes Kaboul, and the Chilean’s combinations with Ozil were breathtaking. Arsenal’s marquee signings combined on several occasions including the build up to Arsenal’s opener – an Ozil clipped pass that resulted in Alexis suffering a foul in the box – and the third goal which saw Ozil nod Alexis’ cross past Heurelho Gomes.

Xhaka’s influence from deep was also pivotal towards Arsenal’s success: the midfielder received time and space to play a combination of short and long forward passes, but his ability to break up play thwarted Watford’s attack on a few occasions. Wenger has desperately lacked a player capable of being effective in both roles simultaneously, and Xhaka should restore order in Arsenal’s midfield.

Watford’s attempt to rescue the match witnessed a shift to a 4-4-2 diamond, and although substitute Roberto Pereyra narrowed Arsenal’s lead, Xhaka was still free to string passes together from deeper, and Ozil was drifting into space between the lines to combine with advanced runners.

Arsenal’s passing and swift transitions unraveled the hosts, but majority of their work out of possession was positive, and Wenger’s men must identify some consistency in this area. With new signings arriving and key players expected to return from injury, the mini-crisis Arsenal endured should be an afterthought sooner rather than later.

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

Weekend Stats

  • Raheem Sterling has directly contributed to five goals in his last three appearances for Manchester City (2 goals, 3 assists).
  • Marcus Rashford is the first teenager to score a Premier League goal under a side managed by Jose Mourinho.
  • Chelsea have won consecutive home league games for the first time since May 2015.
  • Both Manchester clubs have won their first three league games in the same season for only the second time in their history (also in 2011/2012)
  • Claudio Ranieri has won his 100th Premier League game as a manager & is the fifth non British/Irish boss to reach the landmark.
 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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