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TALKING TACTICS: Moyes revitalised at West Ham; Man City, Guardiola display frightening versatility; Ox justifying Liverpool price;

Manchester City's simple 4-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur was one of their most impressive of the season to date, not because it was a record-breaking 16th in succession, but because they showed a totally different side of themselves. City's counter-attacking football and longer passes were evidence that Pep Guardiola can win in a variety of different ways.

On a weekend of few surprises, Stoke City's 3-0 defeat to West Ham United left Mark Hughes on the brink, and Huddersfield Town scored four away goals at Watford to lift them six points clear of the drop zone.

Here's three tactical lessons we learnt this weekend:

1) Man City can adapt their tactics on the fly to deal with a high press

Tottenham Hotspur decided to press high onto Man City at the Etihad, something Mauricio Pochettino used to find successful at Espanyol when Pep Guardiola was Barcelona manager. In response, the hosts dramatically altered their tactics, playing plenty of long balls forward, counter-attacking with venom, and tackling bravely in midfield.

Ederson played a key role, distributing accurate long balls to take out the high press, but he wasn't the only player to do so; City attempted 57 long balls, up from 33 in their previous match against Swansea City (who held 22% possession compared with Spurs' 47%). Kevin de Bruyne made the most significant individual change, attempting nine tackles against Spurs (nine more than against the Swans), showing a level of aggression we rarely see when the opposition sits deep and looks to absorb pressure.

This wasn't all about being more direct and confrontational, however. Guardiola instructed Leroy Sane to remain very wide on the left to exploit Spurs' narrowness while utilising Fabian Delph as an inverted full-back to add more clout in the middle. He out-thought Pochettino – and once the game kicked off his players out-thought their counterparts.

2) Weaker opposition means West Ham display the other side of David Moyes' 3-4-2-1 formation

A run of tough fixtures had meant West Ham's new three-man defence was more of a flat five, with neither Arthur Masuaku nor Pablo Zabaleta able to get forward for counter-attacks. However, the trip to Stoke City was an opportunity to see how a 3-4-2-1 formation can be successful for the Hammers in an attacking sense.

Both wing-backs poured forward frequently, offering great width and crossing ability, particularly down the left. Moyes's new formation is a clever hybrid, switching between 3-4-2-1 and 4-3-3 via the positional play of Aaron Cresswell and Masuaku. When West Ham have the ball, Cresswell acts like a left-back and Masuaku pushed on as a winger, and when the ball is lost Cresswell shifts across and Masuaku drops back to make a flat five.

The results have been excellent; Cresswell and Masuaku had the most touches of the ball in the West Ham side as Moyes recorded his second victory in a week. With Marko Arnautovic thriving in a free role and Manuel Lanzini re-energised from central midfield, suddenly Moyes looks like a young manager with fresh ideas.

3) Squad rotation is vital during the hectic winter schedule

Remaining fresh – both physically and psychologically - is vital throughout the Premier League season but it becomes particularly important around Christmas, when the high frequency of matches means the fitter team usually wins. Tactical experimentation is rare in December, and in its place we see plenty of ground-out wins that reward character and fitness over subtlety.

Consequently, squad rotation is very important; something we learnt on a weekend of lopsided results. Huddersfield Town were considerably sharper than Watford in their 4-1 win (they attempted 34 tackles compared with the Hornets' 25), testament to the six changes they made from the midweek round of games (Watford made just one).

Southampton looked fit against Chelsea and were unfortunate to lose 1-0 after making seven changes compared with Chelsea's zero, and by contrast Stoke City barely made a change as they lost 3-0 at home to West Ham.

Best of the Week – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Some people have been questioning exactly what it is Oxlade-Chamberlain brings to Liverpool, particularly at £35 million, but his performance at Bournemouth was a reminder of his talents. The England midfielder was strong in the tackle and energetic from central midfield, setting up a goal and allowing the three forwards ahead of him to flourish.

Oxlade-Chamberlain topped the charts for long passes (five), accurate crosses (two), tackles (three) and interceptions (three) in a traditional number eight performance. There is no reason why Jurgen Klopp cannot convert this highly talented footballer into a consistent performer capable of leading Liverpool towards a serious title challenge.

Worst of the Week – Tottenham's sloppiness

Both on the ball and off it Spurs were poor, constantly misplacing simple passes, getting caught in possession, or simply ball-watching as City tore through them. Kieran Trippier didn't appear to understand his role from the right, allowing Sane to dominate the space over and over, and the entire central midfield were sloppy on the ball.

Moussa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, and Harry Winks were dispossessed 15 times between them, while the team only managed an 81% pass accuracy – one of their lowest tallies of the season so far. Tiredness is clearly having an impact on this club, which desperately needs to reinforce in the January window.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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