Premier League Tactical Preview: Watford to beat Brighton in crucial six-pointer

Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead from the first half of the 26th round of Premier League fixtures, arguing that West Ham will suffer a huge and humiliating defeat at Man City...

Direct Toffees to hurt ageing Palace defence

Everton v Crystal Palace
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1
Palace have now gone seven Premier League games without a win, and their inability to finish chances has now bled into their ability to defend; with confidence low, Roy Hodgson's ageing defence is being pulled around by sprightly opposition attackers. Nathan Redmond (five dribbles, four key passes) ran rings around them in Southampton's recent 2-0 win at Selhurst Park, while Todd Cantwell had a similar impact in Norwich's 1-1 draw and Sheffield United's wing-backs completed seven dribbles in their 1-0 win.
In short, Palace's 4-4-2 is too easily pulled out of shape by direct players - an inevitable consequence of hesitant defending during this bad patch of form. That hands a big advantage to Everton on Saturday, because Carlo Ancelotti has been quick to install direct football. Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean are given the ball as fast as possible in the final third and told to take on defenders.
The result has been improved aggression from the Toffees and greater assertiveness in the one-on-ones. Their piercing counter-attacking winner against Watford was the perfect example of the sort of move that will hurt the visitors. There is an obvious mismatch between full-backs Joel Ward and Patrick van Aanholt and Everton's Richarlison and Walcott.

Doucoure's movement an issue for Brighton

Brighton v Watford
Saturday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 1
Two themes have emerged in Brighton's football in the last two matches, in which Graham Potter's side conceded three goals to both West Ham and Bournemouth. First, they conceded three times from set pieces, and second their opponent consistently found space on the outside of the central midfielders. This latter problem in particular hands Watford an advantage.
Potter's 4-2-2-2 formation, coupled with the desire to play possession football, means the nominal wingers (usually Pascal Gross and Leandro Tossard) are higher than the midfield line and narrower than a normal winger. Given that Watford will sit back and allow Brighton to dominate the ball, that means when Watford win possession they will find open spaces either side of Brighton central midfielders and just in front of the full-backs.
Abdoulaye Doucoure has looked dangerous in his new number ten role, shuttling out to either flank to support either Gerard Deulofeu or Isamaili Sarr (if fit). That should mean Doucoure plays in precisely the pockets Brighton leave open, allowing him to feed those pacey wingers to dribble into the penalty area.

Formation similarities will lead to stalemate

Sheffield United v Bournemouth
Sunday, 14:00
Live on BT Sport 1
When the two sides last met on the opening day of the season Bournemouth deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation to mirror Sheffield United's system, leading to an uneventful 1-1 draw remembered for Billy Sharp's late equaliser. Chris Wilder's side are much improved from then, but Eddie Howe should still manage to repeat the trick and get a draw following morale-boosting back-to-back league wins.
Philip Billing was superb against Aston Villa last weekend and alongside Dan Gosling can match the energy levels in the Sheff Utd midfield, while the threat of the hosts' wing-backs will be limited by Ryan Fraser and Harry Wilson running at them. What's more, Nathan Ake should be able to handle United's attackers (they have only scored five goals in their last eight league games) and a sturdy Blades defence can keep Callum Wilson at arm's length.
Neither side will drop deep, neither will over-commit, and neither side will gain clear advantages in any area of the pitch. A dull draw beckons.

Angry City to thrash overly-defensive Hammers

Manchester City v West Ham
Sunday, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Pep Guardiola's side have comfortably won every game following on from a defeat this season, responding angrily to setbacks as you might expect. But West Ham fans will be more worried by the fact Man City beat them 5-0 on the opening day - and that their late collapse to Brighton last weekend exposed the psychological problem with hiring a defensive manager like David Moyes.

Appoint a fire-fighter and before long the players will be anxiously expecting fires to break out. Against Brighton he brought Arthur Masuaku on for Michail Antonio at 3-1 up, a negative substitution that spread panic through the stadium. We can expect similar damage limitation management at the Etihad - and it certainly won't work.
Despite results, City are playing with fluency, missing chances but still creating them with relative ease. West Ham's hesitant, error-prone defence doesn't stand a chance against Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, both of whom are quietly enjoying purple patches of form amid difficult City results.

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