Tactical Outlook: Premier League Provides Interesting Opening Weekend
By Alex Fairchild
Premier League clubs have offered up some interesting tactical looks, patterns, and approaches against their opposition. Below is look at some of what we saw on the first weekend of play.
Liverpool Mix It Up, Stoke Struggle:
Without Luis Suarez, the Anfield outfit became reliant on Philippe Coutinho to create for them. The young Brazilian was excellent for the Reds, conjuring five chances from the left center. Though he had difficulty beating Stoke's rough and tough style, Coutinho was strong in defense, winning the ball all over the pitch. As a winger, Coutinho provided the Reds with a bit of flair, while dropping back to the middle multiple times to support his teammates. The No. 10 was pushed to the right of Daniel Sturridge when Raheem Sterling was introduced on 72 minutes.
Iago Aspas, the forward replaced by Sterling, was influential in his Premier League debut. Playing behind Sturridge, Aspas did well to assist his teammate. When Sturridge checked back to receive the ball from Agger, the Spaniard put himself in the position to feed his partner. Looking a couple of passes ahead, Aspas was spotted by Lucas, before he played in Sturridge, thus acting as the penultimate piece in Liverpool's 5 pass buildup to goal.
To thwart Liverpool's movement, Stoke City sought to play a 4-3-3. Many thought this to be impossible, believing Peter Crouch would be the main striker. However, Crouch was joined by Matthew Etherington. Jonathan Walters was supposed to make up the right side of the trio, but he was too occupied with Coutinho to feature as a third attacker. With Walters facing difficulty, Stoke's right was controlled by American right back Geoff Cameron.
Marc Wilson, Steven N'Zonzi, and Glenn Whelan did well in the middle. The center midfield three broke up 22 Liverpool attacks, be it through tackles or interceptions. With compact central midfielders and more effective wing play, it is possible that the Potters can put together a 4-3-3 over the course of this season. The questions is whether or not they will concede more because of it.
Tottenham Handicapped Without Bale, Palace Forced to Respond:
Nacer Chadli was deployed to the left wing, replacing an absent Gareth Bale in Spurs's 1-0 triumph at Selhurst Park. Almost afraid to barge down Chadli's flank, despite the player's intelligence, Andre Villas-Boas used a dangerous combination between Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon. The tandem hooked up 39 times throughout the match, with all but two instances occurring in Palace's half. Tottenham's forays down the right battered Dean Moxey of Crystal Palace. Moxey's handball, which came through a Lennon attack, gave way to Roberto Soldado's success from the spot.
To deal with Tottenham's addiction to the right flank, Palace made an interesting move into what appeared to be a 4-2-4. Stephen Dobbie, who started the match chasing down the likes of Dawson and Walker, was stuck on the left combatting Lennon and the opposition's right back. Owen Garvan played near Dobbie and forced to do the same. Meanwhile, Dwight Gayle, who was listed as the team's striker, dropped a bit further into his own half. Aaron Wilbraham was the most forward of Palace's men, cutting in from the right at times.
Three of the four attackers were axed come minute 66, when Ian Holloway made a daring triple substitution. The experienced Kevin Phillips entered, along with Jonathan Williams, and Marouane Chamakh. Holloway's gutsy move saw Gayle move to the right, while Chamakh came center and Phillips used space on the left. The big Moroccan was the target of multiple long balls. To accompany the strike duo, Williams played just behind the forwards in a creative role. Phillips was the only introduction to have a shot.
Chelsea Fluid, Subs Help Hull:
Bereft of Juan Mata, Kevin De Bruyne got his Chelsea debut, featuring as a right winger. Mourinho's midfield five saw Frank Lampard hold with Ramires, while Oscar played as a creator with assistance from Eden Hazard to his left. To allow space for Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole to get forward on the flanks, De Bruyne and Hazard drifted into the middle, interchanging with Oscar throughout the game. In the opening quarter of an hour, the home side were already 1-0 up and using quick, intricate passing moves to get ahead of the newly promoted team.
Hull were beaten alive by Chelsea and could barely get the ball ahead to its forward, Danny Graham. A fading star after an excellent campaign with Swansea, Graham touched the ball a mere 11 times in the first 54 minutes. Without influence from its striker, Steve Bruce was forced to push Yannick Sagbo and Sone Aluko out of position. Sagbo, who started down the left, came to the right to assist Aluko. To make up for Sagbo's movement, Robbie Brady moved into space down the left. Brady was one of Hull's top players. He was good on the ball when taken to task by Chelsea's pressure and did well as an attacking threat.
After being battered by Mourinho, Steve Bruce introduced Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore. The former was sold to Hull, while the latter is with the Tigers on loan. Upon their simultaneous introduction nearly a quarter of an hour after the break, the two's influence on the match was immediate. Huddlestone and Livermore demanded the ball, each receiving it more than fellow midfielder Robert Koren. In addition, Graham's drag on the team was lifted, allowing the positive Sagbo and Aluko to move forward. This gave Brady more room to create down the left as well. Having put in the proper reinforcements, Hull out shot Chelsea in the final 30 minutes 5-3. Huddlestone and Livermore were just the change Hull needed, making the Premier League returners far more effective against a lethal Chelsea team.
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