Premier League Tactical Preview: Watford can beat Spurs and Man Utd may hold Liverpool

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 23rd round of Premier League fixtures and predicts Watford will beat Tottenham at Vicarage Road to extend a tricky period for Jose Mourinho...

Organised Hornets to successfully target the flanks

Watford v Tottenham
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1
Nigel Pearson has got Watford winning matches by simplifying their attacking strategy. They sit relatively deep and work hard for each other to win the ball back, at which point they look to spread it out wide as quickly as possible for either Gerard Deulofeu or Ismaili Sarr - who promptly run straight at the opposition full-back. It is old-fashioned football helped by the presence of a secondary target man behind Troy Deeney in Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Jose Mourinho has not managed to raise the tempo or change the attitude of the Spurs players, which is why they continue to look so passive off the ball and clumsy on it, failing to build with any momentum or fluency. That should make it easy enough for Watford to carry out the first part of their plan, frustrating a Harry Kane-less Tottenham in the final third.
At the other end, Doucoure and his supporting midfielders should be able to ping long balls out wide; many others have done against Mourinho's team, who don't close down the launching of a counter and who leave huge spaces behind their under-performing full-backs. Deulofeu against Serge Aurier is a clear mismatch - although Japhet Tanganga has impressed this week and could replace the Ivorian at right-back - and Sarr against Danny Rose isn't much better. This has banana skin written all over it.

High-tempo bursts enough for Arsenal to squeeze past Sheff Utd

Arsenal v Sheffield United
Saturday, 15:00
In a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace last weekend Arsenal showed signs that Mikel Arteta is coaching specific attacking moves in order for high-tempo automations to take the place of improvisation. However, a mixture of fitness issues and brittle confidence means this newly high-pressing team can only maintain tempo going forward for short bursts. That should, on home soil, be enough to win a tight game.
Sheffield United are superbly organised in their 3-5-2 shape, but since this tends to become a 5-3-2 against Big Six opposition Chris Wilder's side struggle to move up the pitch. They average less than 30% possession in each of their recent away games against Man City and Liverpool, amassing a total of four shots on target across successive 2-0 defeats.

They will be compact, mostly holding Arsenal at arm's length, but if unable to attack themselves should eventually cave to Arteta's side when - in sudden intervals - they string quick passes together via Mesut Ozil in the number ten role.

Barkley & Mount can break down stubborn Newcastle

Newcastle v Chelsea
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Before the Burnley game last weekend Chelsea had scored just three goals in their last five league games, but a 3-0 win against Sean Dyche's side suggests Frank Lampard has found a temporary solution: field two playmakers together in central midfield. Ross Barkley and Mason Mount attacked in tandem, piercing lines through the middle of the pitch.
Their presence high up the pitch made Burnley drop deeper and narrower, opening up huge amounts of space on the flanks - where Chelsea created all three goals. Newcastle United are similarly guilty of playing too narrowly when faced with dangerous playmakers, hence an aggregate 8-0 defeat to a Leicester City side with Youri Tielemans and James Maddison roaming forward like Barkley and Mount.
This match won't be easy for Chelsea, but nevertheless they have the quality here to pin Newcastle into their own half and then score via Reece James's deliveries. There is a good reason why bigger teams are walking over smaller ones in recent weeks; the gruelling winter schedule has put smaller clubs with thinner squads at a disadvantage. Newcastle's injury list makes them distant second favourites here.

United's counter-attack danger should mean few goals

Liverpool v Man Utd
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
As in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, Jurgen Klopp will be fearful of the quality Man Utd possess on the counter-attack. His marauding full-backs tend to leave a lot of space in behind and although very few clubs have taken advantage of it this season Liverpool should fear the derby effect. This fixture brings with it a gravitas and energy that could see their unbeaten record come to an end.
Fabinho's absence gives further hope for United, because the Brazilian's screening job tends to cover the wide positions where Anthony Martial, Daniel James, and Marcus Rashford will look to get the advantage. However, Liverpool's confidence in controlling a contest means they should simply sit deeper and play at a lower tempo, leading to a dull contest at Anfield.
Going forward, Sadio Mane may struggle to get ahead of the league's best tackler Aaron wan-Bissaka, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are likely to be shepherded well by Harry Maguire; when United are allowed to sit back, they close out space in their own third very effectively. Another 0-0 is definitely on the cards.

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