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TALKING TACTICS: Guardiola teaches Man City new trick? Calleri and Lanzini key for West Ham? Ox on fire for Arsenal?

Tottenham Hotspur's 1-0 defeat at the London Stadium on Friday night has finally ended this season's Premier League title race, but far from "bottling it" Spurs were simply out-fought by a West Ham United team finally pleasing the fans at their new home.

Hull City's frustrating afternoon against Sunderland saw them lose 2-0 despite dominating the game and recorded 10 shots on target, while Swansea City's 1-0 tactical victory against Everton moved them above the Tigers and into 17th on a big weekend at the bottom.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:

1) Guardiola has learned how to carve open deep-lying teams: play long diagonals in behind the full-backs

Crystal Palace were always unlikely to put up much of a fight at the Etihad, but nevertheless Manchester City deserve credit for their well-choreographed attacking lines on Saturday. Pep Guardiola has struggled to break down defensive opponents this season but appears to have finally cracked it; with Kevin de Bruyne sewing things together in deeper areas, he instructed his players to play longer passes in-behind the full-backs.

It was unusual to see a Pep team play so many direct balls, indicating the Catalan has accepted English football is too frantic to insist upon 15-pass build-ups and careful movement into the final third. De Bruyne and David Silva, working together as half-eights, shuttled deep to receive the first pass and spread the play, which consistently created room for their fellow midfielders to look for a longer pass.

In a notable departure from previous matches, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane immediately began to make runs on the outside of the opposition full-backs in expectation of a long diagonal pass being swept into that zone. This caused Palace to retreat and turn to face goal quicker than anticipated, causing panic in the defence and raising the tempo of City's game. The opening goal came from this move, setting the tone for the afternoon.

The tactic was a concession to the untameable nature of the Premier League – and one Guardiola must start using more often.

2) West Ham's Calleri and Lanzini discover how to open up Spurs' defence

This was arguably the first time in 2016/17 that Tottenham's defence looked disorganised, after Jonathan Calleri and Manuel Lanzini found space down the left on numerous occasions; Slaven Bilic deserves a lot of credit for sticking with a 3-4-2-1 despite poor recent performances against Everton and Stoke City.

Mauricio Pochettino should have used a 3-4-2-1 formation for this one – and certainly should have made a last-minute switch after discovering the Hammers were to use the same system. Spurs' 4-2-3-1 usually sees Eric Dier drop back to make a flat three as the full-backs push on, but he was unable to do so here due to the speed of the hosts' counters. West Ham consistently launched long balls into the channels for Calleri to chase - leaving Dier behind the play - and Lanzini's bursting runs forward stretched the two Spurs centre-backs out of position.

The early chances created via this strategy clearly unsettled Tottenham while restoring some of the battling spirit witnessed so frequently at the Boleyn Ground last season. Other clubs should copy West Ham's model next year, although Pochettino might just permanently abandon the 4-2-3-1 after Friday's performance.

3) Paul Clement's in-depth tactical preparation shows he is one of the league's smartest managers

Swansea' narrow 4-3-1-2 formation was only a minor tweak of their usual 4-3-3, but the difference was a significant one. Clement packed the middle with four central midfielders, instructing his team to remain narrow but hit quickly on the counter-attacks via their full-backs Martin Olsson and Kyle Naughton.

His strategy was designed specifically to counter Everton's model, which has been too narrow ever since Yannick Bolasie's injury in December forced Ronald Koeman to rethink things. His Everton side rarely attempted to go around Swansea's narrow shape on Saturday, leading to a frustrating afternoon for the visitors; right-winger Kevin Miralles is incapable of sticking to the touchline while left-winger Dominic Calvert-Lewis is perhaps too inexperienced to adapt his role mid-match.

Everton's shape also made it easy for Olsson and Naughton to drive into space, and both were considerably more attack-minded than usual. Clement told his full-backs to push on largely because he knew that the Toffees would not attack down the flanks, leaving them free to play a bold style of wing-heavy football.

It was a deserved win for Swansea, and more proof that Clement's tactical homework makes him one of the country's most intelligent coaches.

Best of the Week – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Arsenal barely deserved their victory over Manchester United in a dull, low-quality game at the Emirates, but once again Chamberlain's individual skill flattered their 3-4-2-1 formation. The England international delivered a brilliant cross to put the Gunners 2-0 up, effectively killing the game before Jose Mourinho could get Marcus Rashford onto the pitch.

Chamberlain is excelling in a right wing-back role, largely because it allows him to build up speed before hitting the first line of opposition defence. What's more, having three centre-backs makes up for Chamberlain's occasional defensive lapses. He made three tackles on Sunday but committed five fouls.

Worst of the Week – Wayne Rooney

Manchester United's performance was predictably flat, but that doesn't excuse Rooney's anonymous individual display; lacking speed and creativity, he has a huge liability in this team and surely cannot play at this level beyond the current season.

Rooney missed all six of his attempted tackles, once again highlighting that he is too slow on the turn and has the mental bluntness of a man five years his senior. The England captain also failed to complete a pass into the opposition penalty area and did not record a single interception. For the most advanced player in a three-man midfield, these statistics are unforgivable.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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