Premier League Tactical Preview: Wolves to beat Manchester United in weekend clash
Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the 25th round of Premier League fixtures and also predicts a suprise win for Leicester when they face Chelsea.
Praet and Perez can capitalise on Chelsea's problems
Leicester v Chelsea Saturday, 12:45 Live on BT Sport 1
Chelsea continue struggle with two major tactical issues: they aren't moving with fluency in the final third to create chances, and their in-possession shape doesn't protect against opponents counter-attacking straight through the middle of the pitch after they win the ball. Both appear to be coaching issues, and both make them vulnerable to Brendan Rodgers' tactics on Saturday.
N'Golo Kante has been in for some criticism of late but he is given far too much to do in the current system; Gabriel Martinelli's solo goal last weekend wasn't about Kante's slip but rather the amount of space left open at the initial Chelsea set-piece. Leicester have just the players to capitalise on this. Jamie Vardy and James Maddison is obviously a partnership that will look to pierce through the centre in the transitions, and yet it is Dennis Praet and Ayoze Perez who should most concern the visitors.
Perez and Maddison started the midweek loss at Villa Park as dual tens, dropping cleverly into the spaces either side of Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nkamba to put Villa under significant early pressure. It is precisely this positional play - ghosting into gaps - that will catch Chelsea on the break. Meanwhile Praet has looked sharp and assertive in possession recently and should be rotated into the line-up on Saturday. His crisp passing towards Perez and Maddison might just leave Kante flailing again.
Respective formations suggests Villa hold the advantage
Bournemouth v Aston Villa Saturday, 15:00
Eddie Howe's 4-4-2 focuses predominantly on counter-attacking down both flanks, with the wide men getting on the ball via forwards Dominic Solanke and Callum Wilson dropping off the front line to link with the midfielders. Aston Villa's 3-4-3 should be able to stifle the hosts' attacking patterns in this six-pointer, particularly after their morale-boosting League Cup win on Tuesday.
Villa's three-man defence allows one of the centre-backs to rush out and get tight to any forwards dropping into the number ten space; wing-backs Matt Targett and Frederic Gilbert can close down Ryan Fraser and Harry Wilson; and the weakest part of Villa's defensive setup (a two-man midfield) won't be outnumbered in this area.
At the other end, Jack Grealish and Targett have become a potent duo on the left flank recently, their combination for the opener against Leicester typical of a burgeoning relationship since moving to a 3-4-3 that suits Targett's attacking instincts. Right-back Adam Smith seems unlikely to receive adequate support from Harry Wilson in defending these two.
Traore versus Williams to settle a tight game
Manchester United v Wolves Saturday, 17:30 Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Like United's 1-0 win against Wolves in the FA Cup earlier this month, it should be a tight game at Old Trafford defined by the visitors' resolute midblock and some aimless United possession. Chances will be minimal, and two sets of powerful centre-backs will - for the most part - keep the forwards quiet in a tense, tactical battle on Saturday evening.
But there is one key battle that should ultimately made the difference. Adama Traore is in outstanding form at the moment, working well with Raul Jimenez as he adds an end product to his dribbling game. In the occasional moment when United are caught too high and Traore is fed early on the counter, he can run directly at Brandon Williams and get the better of the young left-back.
Williams has performed well, but his youth and naivety - not to mention inadequate support from Daniel James - gives Traore the clear advantage. The speed of Wolves' movement on the break (in sharp contrast to United's lack of detailed coaching) points to the away side learning from their errors in the FA Cup and emerging with at least a point.
Spurs' lack of pressing to give City the upper hand
Tottenham v Manchester City Sunday, 16:30 Live on Sky Sports Premier League
What should worry Tottenham fans most about the first months under Jose Mourinho is the lack of pressing that takes place in all areas of the pitch. Whereas under Mauricio Pochettino the decline seemed accidental, Mourinho appears to want his players to fall back into shape rather than compress the space with a high line. Consequently Spurs struggle to control the rhythm of games or sustain attacks.
Norwich City were allowed to pass and move far too easily in Spurs' last league game, building possession up the pitch as Mourinho's teams shuffled along, losing the psychological battle. A similar approach when Man City visit north London on Sunday can only end one way, particularly given Spurs still look weak on the flanks.
Once City - under no pressure - have built their attacks with their first-choice passing options, they will eventually manage to get the ball out to the right flank for Kevin de Bruyne to weave his magic with Riyad Mahrez. It is here that Spurs are weakest, even though Japhet Tanganga filled in admirably at left-back in the 1-1 draw with Southampton. Should he perform well, City have myriad other ways to beat Spurs - especially if you let them glide into your half unchallenged.