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TALKING TACTICS: 5 things to watch in weekend's Premier League - Coutinho's new Liverpool role; Arsenal to miss out on top four?

There may be little to play for on the final day of the Premier League season, but for many managers this is a crucial opportunity to prove to fans – and boardrooms – that progress is being made.

West Ham United, Southampton, Stoke City, and Arsenal could all potentially part with their managers over the summer, while the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool will be keen to test out new tactics ahead of a vital summer for Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

Here are five things to look out for this weekend in the Premier League:


1) Coutinho's new role at Liverpool revitalising optimism at Anfield

Klopp's use of Philippe Coutinho as a false eight last weekend offered an intriguing solution to Liverpool's tactical flaws throughout 2016/17. Despite their excellent top-six record, they have struggled to break down deep-lying opponents thanks to low-tempo build-up play and the predictability of their narrow attacking lines; gegenpressing counter-counters don't work against teams in the bottom half of the table.

Coutinho spent most of last weekend at the base of midfield, picking holes in West Ham United's defence from a markedly deeper position than usual. Liverpool's opening goal came from a piercing through ball that, being so early in an attack, caught the Hammers by surprise. His second-half goal was only possible because he arrived in the final third so late in the move; if playing in his usual wide left position, West Ham would have cut off his route to the edge of the box.

It was a superb tactical tweak from Klopp, who will surely repeat this system for the visit of Middlesbrough on Sunday. The German should now look to sign another Sadio Mane-style winger to fill the gap on the left, creating a slicker, more penetrative Liverpool side for next season's title challenge.


2) Another big scalp for Big Sam at Old Trafford

Crystal Palace's counter-attacking tactics could be very dangerous at Old Trafford largely because Jose Mourinho will rest most of his key players ahead of Wednesday's Europa League final. Young Alex Tuanzebe and out-of-position Matteo Darmian will struggle to contain Andros Towsend and Wilfried Zaha as they burst forward, not least because Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rarely track back.

Christian Benteke should dominate aerially up against Phil Jones or Daley Blind, while Wayne Rooney's immobile midfield performances mean plenty of the second balls will fall to Yohan Cabaye or Jason Puncheon. In short, Palace will be more cohesive and more aggressive than their opponents this weekend.

Sam Allardyce has already won at Anfield and Stamford Bridge this season. Another big win is far from impossible.


3) Arsenal missing out on top four for the first time in 21 years

Arsenal's upturn in form has come just too late for Arsene Wenger. Manchester City should comfortably beat Watford at Vicarage Road on Sunday, making Arsenal's result against Everton irrelevant – and the 2016/17 campaign the worst since Wenger took charge in 1996.

City's renewal of their inverted full-backs 4-1-3-2-1 formation has seen stability restored for Guardiola, whose idealistic tactics have at times been too experimental for his first year in England. Over the past three matches City have begun playing long diagonal balls in-behind the opposition full-backs, marking a deliberate departure from the careful short-passing build-up seen for much of the campaign. Consequently, Guardiola's team are reaching the final third much quicker – and before defensive opponents have time to get into shape.

If Yaya Toure and Kevin de Bruyne are on form at Vicarage Road then Watford – who look totally bereft on a run of five straight league defeats – will be comfortably beaten. Wenger will have a lot of thinking to do come Monday morning.


4) The final chance for Bilic to save his job

West Ham United are currently considering whether or not to allow Slaven Bilic to see out the final year of his contract, and therefore their result at Burnley could be vital. On a run of just one win in five matches, the chances of a West Ham win seem slim; only Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City, and Spurs have come away from Turf Moor with three points since the opening day of the season.

The 4-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend might have already sealed Bilic's fate. The battling spirit of the previous Friday completely dissipated, hammering home the stark truth that West Ham's first season at the London Stadium has been a huge failure. Swaggering performances in Stratford are the most important thing to David Sullivan and David Gold, and it is increasingly clear that Bilic's tactical coaching isn't good enough to transform West Ham into a top-ten club.

Defeat at Burnley on Sunday will see the Clarets finish above them in the table and could - though unlikely - leave West Ham as low as 16th. A sluggish performance might be the straw that breaks the camel's back for Bilic.


5) The perfect send off for Terry

On what could be Antonio Conte's final game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will be keen to put on a show for their supporters despite their upcoming FA Cup final. John Terry could easily get on the scoresheet in a game full of chances for the hosts, particularly from corners and freekicks.

Sunderland's dreadful record from set-pieces means Terry might grab a goal for the second game running; Chelsea have scored the most set-piece goals in the Premier League (21) while Sunderland have conceded the joint-most headed goals (15). Terry could pop up with a fairy-tale goal from a set-piece, and may even be handed the opportunity from a late Chelsea penalty.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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