Tactical Outlook: Premier League Gameweek 3 Review
By Alex Fairchild
Premier League clubs have offered up some interesting tactical looks, patterns, and approaches against their opposition. Below is a look at some of what we saw on the third weekend of play.
Liverpool Clear Manchester United's Crosses:
The Red Devils saw more of the ball than Liverpool and got the ball down the flanks. But their success on the wings led to disappointment in the center of the park, as Liverpool shattered the visitor's attack. With moves flowing on each side, United mustered 32 crosses, but only six proved successful. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel jammed the area surrounding the six yard box and successfully cleared the ball 22 times. Skrtel was aggressive on his way to the ball and paired up with Agger to keep Robin van Persie at bay.
Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard were superb in breaking up their opposition's bursts forward. Combining for 10 interceptions, the two were pivotal in breaking up moves orchestrated by Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick. The Anfield outfit's midfield pairing tacked on 9 successful tackles, dwarfing the amount of turnovers caused by their United counterparts.
The formation put out by Brendan Rodgers was a mix between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-1-1. Iago Aspas played behind Daniel Sturridge, while Coutinho headed up the left and Jordan Henderson the right. The Englishman's play was superb, as he worked tirelessly to chase down the ball throughout the match. Henderson has been versatile for the Reds during their first three games. He has been a part of the central midfield, in addition to featuring in a more attacking role down the right. His ability to create and shoot will take Liverpool far this year, as their front six have an exciting mixture. Lucas is excellent at tackling and protecting the center back pairing. The quintessential central player is Steven Gerrard, and though he lacks tactical discipline, he is the heart and soul of the squad's midfield and generates attacks. In Henderson, Rodgers has a cross between Gerrard and Coutinho. The youngster can drop back if need be, as he did against Stoke, or he may settle into the far right of midfield, which he did against United. Coutinho is the team's talisman. His sublime ability to generate chances for those in front of him were key to the side's success near the end of its previous campaign. Aspas must hit the weight room or learn to use his stature in a better manner. Things may get dicey for the supporting forward once Luis Suarez returns to the squad. Suarez is an excellent all around threat that can create chances for himself and his teammates. Having a finisher in Daniel Sturridge will bolster the attack further and give them the extra edge they have gone without in past seasons. With so many different options in midfield and up front, Liverpool have a decent tactical combination that could see them launch a stronger challenge for a Champions League spot.
Tottenham, Townsend Lose Out to Arsenal:
Santi Cazorla started the match threatening for Arsenal, and the Gunners finally edged ahead through Olivier Giroud, who put away the match's lone goal. Giroud's movement was similar to that of his opening day strike against Aston Villa. The Frenchman split Andre Villas-Boas's back four before tucking the ball home from close range.
Spurs looked to counter through Andros Townsend, who has been a lovely addition to the first team. After dribbling by five Swansea challenges last week, Townsend one-upped himself this week, beating six.
The course of the match saw Townsend's team win the possession battle, but Arsenal blocked Spurs from exploiting its defense by packing the center of the field. Spurs looked to load up the right side, but their attacks were jammed by the Gunners. When Spurs did get forward it was primarily down the wings. Kyle Walker, whose marauding runs from right back have been a trademark of Spurs the past two seasons, put in eight of those balls.
AVB's midfield three, which saw Etienne Capoue drop behind Mousa Dembele and Paulinho, is now subject to change, along with the team's tactics, due to the signing of Christian Eriksen. The former Ajax man was a creative force at the Dutch club. In his first four Eredivisie matches last month, the Dane created three goals, in addition to netting two of his own.
In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Spurs manager wants to base his side on attack or balance. Paulinho combines both features of the game well and should be a mainstay, so either Capoue or Dembele must be replaced to allow the signing into the starting XI. Dropping Dembele from the side may be more comfortable for the Brazilian piece, who became accustomed to playing as the attacking threat in a holding midfield two at the Confederations Cup. Capoue is a player similar to Luiz Gustavo. Perhaps creating that pairing at White Hart Lane will help Paulinho shine even more in North London. Without Dembele, Eriksen would be able to play behind Roberto Soldado. This would mean a 4-2-3-1 for Spurs, who can stick Townsend and Chadli on the wings while no longer worrying about where to play Gareth Bale when he comes back, because - quite simply - he will not be returning. Removing Capoue's deep-lying presence may be dangerous for AVB, who needs that type of player in the team. Playing with three attack-minded midfielders could leave the team open at the back, in addition to removing the squad's link between defense and midfield.
Hull's Midfield Does Well, City Struggle:
Premier League newcomers have given Manchester City a rough go of it in the season's first three weeks. Coming off a shock loss to Cardiff City, the Citizens looked to rebound with a seemingly easy fixture against Hull. But they learned early on that the Tigers would be no Newcastle. Hull had opportunities when the game was young via Danny Graham and Sone Aluko, though the former was offside, and the latter failed to convert. The distribution of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore spurred Hull in the possession battle. Even though the sky blue shirts saw more of the ball, the Hull duo were more effective in the first half than City's midfielders.
Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are still looking to forge what could become one for the world's most dangerous center midfield tandems. To start the match, the two dropped together, giving options to their defending teammates, who looked to play the ball out of the back. However, the Ivorian and Brazilian struggled to get on the ball. In the match's first 21 minutes, the pair combined for a mere 16 receptions. In order to open up the pitch a bit more, Fernandinho moved forward, allowing Toure to run between Hull's pressing strikers. The tactic worked, as Toure saw far more of the ball and was able to generate a smoother attack for City. Once Toure began to create, Sergio Aguero did too. The Argentine's quick cuts were elusive on the 18 yard box's right side, as he nicked the ball by defenders to get City closer to taking the lead.
A halftime substitution from Manuel Pellegrini saw Negredo replace a lackluster Edin Dzeko. The Spaniard's introduction featured immediately as he maneuvered his way through Hull's defense to get an open header on which he should have scored. Negredo would do better moments later, when a City foray down the right led to a delicious cross from Pablo Zabaleta that the striker would thump home.
Yaya Toure's stunning free kick moments from time sealed the deal for City.
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