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TALKING TACTICS: Lukaku would improve Man Utd; Liverpool formation blunder; Guardiola frustrations at Man City

The third set of Premier League fixtures in the space of one week was, unsurprisingly, rather uneventful.

With tiredness creeping into legs and mid-table sides beginning to switch off, there were wins for all six of the top seven clubs who played and none of the bottom six recorded three points.

Manchester United's routine win at Sunderland yet again underlined their dependence on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Everton's Tom Davies lit up their match against Leicester City at Goodison Park.

Meanwhile, Chelsea's fortunate victory at Dean Court kept them seven points clear at the top of the table on a weekend in which Tottenham Hotspur strengthened their case for a genuine title challenge with a commanding win over Watford.

Here are three tactical things we learnt from the action:


1) Klopp's 3-5-2 doesn't make sense with this collection of players

Jurgen Klopp's new formation was, presumably, an attempt to limit the effectiveness of Stoke City's powerful tactical approach; they win the third most headers (21.8 per match) in the Premier League.

But a litany of defensive errors – including their failure to mark Jonathan Walters as he headed in the opener – undermined Liverpool's system.

Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic attempted 15 crosses between them, as Liverpool's wing-backs failed to adequately prevent Stoke's wingers from hurling the ball towards Walters. What's more, careless errors from Georginio Wijnaldum and Dejan Lovren should have handed the hosts all three points.

Klopp's squad is simply too error-prone and indecisive defensively to switch between formations. If he wants to play three at the back next season, the club need to spend big on a defensive leader.


2) Lukaku has the right attributes to play for Man Utd

Everton's Belgian striker will not satisfy his critics until he consistently plays well outside the penalty area, but on Sunday afternoon he submitted a very good audition tape to the Manchester United scouts.

Romelu Lukaku took 71 touches of the ball, and only eight of these (11%) were inside the area.

Both Tom Davies and Ross Barkley like to run beyond the striker and thus need a strong fulcrum to hold up the play until they can make their move. This tactic is particularly important against deep-lying, compact teams such as Leicester City, who were constantly pulled out of position by Davies' clever movement.

The 18-year-old would not have been so influential without Lukaku's tireless work in the middle, which will have impressed a Manchester United side that has struggled to unpick narrow defences this season. Lukaku will surely be back on Jose Mourinho's radar after gritting his teeth and digging in at Goodison Park.


3) Navas' new role highlights Guardiola's frustration with the learning curve of his squad

Pep Guardiola appears increasingly jaded in post-match press conferences.

It is clear that the current Manchester City side does not have the same tactical intelligence of the squads he inherited at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, with only a handful of players adequately adapting to his unusual methods.

That Jesus Navas has played right-back in three consecutive league matches speaks volumes. It is proof he requires his players to possess an all-consuming desire to attack (the Spaniard was uncomfortable defensively once again on Saturday, but attempted eight crosses), and proof that he is struggling to find the solutions to his problems.

The next seven matches will shape the club's summer transfer activity. Expect more rotation and tactical experiments as Guardiola makes some ruthless final decisions; a mass exodus is probable.


Player of the Week – Son Heung-min

Every title-challenging club needs a player like Son. His tireless work-rate makes him the perfect impact player, and his constant desire to drive forward invariably lifts this Tottenham Hotspur side - just when it looks as though a decline is coming.

Son's frantic dribbling on the left flank shocked Watford into submission, providing Spurs with a completely different energy to when Erik Lamela and Harry Kane are in the side.

His chaotic moves and head-down charges are a welcome break from Mauricio Pochettino's carefully choreographed attacking patterns. Without Son, Spurs' title challenge would have been over a long time ago.


Worst of the Week – Watford's midfield

Walter Mazzarri's team made things fairly simple for Spurs, who were allowed to walk through the middle of the pitch unchallenged for most of the first half. The first three goals were the result of long-range shots, and on all three occasions not a single Watford player closed down the shooter.

Their midfield trio of Tom Cleverley, Isaac Success, and Abdoulaye Doucoure made a grand total of two tackles and two interceptions between them all match.

It was another bizarre tactical failure from Watford, who had looked cohesive and interesting in the first third of the campaign but are now crumbling. Perhaps the players - who must know that another managerial change is imminent - have simply stopped caring.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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