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TALKING TACTICS: Chelsea loanee Loftus-Cheek proving England worth; Man City winger Sterling maturity; Moyes & Puel lose dressing room;

Southampton's 2-1 win over Bournemouth has reignited the Premier League relegation battle, plunging Swansea City and Huddersfield Town back into trouble; 19th to 15th are now separated by just five points.

It's a good job, too, since there isn't much else left to play for over the next two weeks. Burnley's draw against Brighton has guaranteed them Europa League football next season and Tottenham Hotspur's win on Monday night ended Chelsea's hopes of a top four finish.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:



1) Hughes' minor tweak gives Tadic a new lease of life

Southampton finally held on to three points after so many near misses under Mark Hughes, kick-starting a fight against the drop that suddenly looks achievable; just one win, against Swansea City, will probably be enough to finish above Huddersfield Town and the Swans.

Although the 3-4-2-1 formation used against Bournemouth wasn't new, this was the first time Dusan Tadic played as a right-sided number ten, rather than on the left, and it made a huge difference. He dominated the spaces around Dan Gosling and found room on the right flank behind Charlie Daniels.

Tadic's two goals were largely the result of naïve Bournemouth defending – Eddie Howe played an attacking 3-4-3 that made it easy for Southampton to catch them on the break – but nevertheless Hughes deserves praise for his subtle tactical change.



2) Loftus-Cheek has the attributes to be an England starter in Russia

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury leaves England seriously light on quality in midfield, particularly with regards to powerful footballers capable of weaving away from the press. These are exactly the qualities of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has started each of the last four Crystal Palace matches after recovering from an ankle injury.

Roy Hodgson plays him on the left, but, cutting inside, Loftus-Cheek tends to shrug off the opposition midfielders and help jolt a counter-attack into action. England could really use someone with his strength, composure and intelligence to counter-balance Jack Wilshere.

The on-loan Chelsea man has completed 14 dribbles in his last three games, scoring his second goal of the season in the 5-0 victory over Leicester City on Saturday. Loftus-Cheek would be particularly useful in the latter stages of the World Cup when England revert to their new counter-attacking system.



3) Tactical chaos suggests both Moyes and Puel have lost the dressing room

There were plenty of parallels in the performances of Leicester City and West Ham United at the weekend. Players were frequently walking around the pitch and pressing sporadically, which created huge gaps between the defensive and midfield lines. Their effort levels and general disorganisation are not characteristics normally associated with the teams of either David Moyes or Claude Puel, suggesting the players are waiting for their managers to be sacked.

For Leicester, Demarai Gray was arguably the biggest offender, not bothering to track back time and again, leading directly to two Palace goals. Javier Hernandez was rightly slammed by Alan Shearer on Match of the Day for his lethargy, which was indicative of the Hammers' pitiful performance. It seems unlikely that Moyes will be in charge next season, while Puel is already reportedly on the brink following an all-too-typical Leicester revolt.



Best of the Week – Raheem Sterling

Manchester City's 23-year-old winger got three assists in the 4-1 win at West Ham, epitomising his transformation under Pep Guardiola; Sterling's work rate, composure, and final ball have improved dramatically over the last 12 months.

No longer does he run with his head down, blindly cutting crosses into the box or simply looking to beat his man and get a shot away. His second assist of the evening, a clever threaded pass when surrounded by players in the box, typified a new selfless swagger to Sterling's game.



Worst of the Week - Watford's tactics

Tottenham Hotspur didn't have to get out of second gear at Wembley on Monday night, which is just as well given their vulnerability after last weekend's deflating FA Cup semi-final defeat. Watford should have been assertive, pressing high and ruffling feathers in order to capitalise on the hangover. But instead they sat in a deep and narrow formation, unable to react to events.

Spurs consistently attacked through Kieran Trippier down the right, and yet Watford didn't become wider to close off the space for the England right-back. Dele Alli consistently dropped off to receive the ball and spread it out wide, and yet not a single Watford player took it upon themselves to track his movement. It was a subdued, rigid display from the Hornets that suggests Javier Gracia won't be around for much longer.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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