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TALKING TACTICS: Naive Mourinho hands Man City title; Giroud emulating Diego Costa; Perez shines for Newcastle;

On Saturday morning this didn't look like a particularly attractive set of Premier League fixtures, and yet Chelsea's comeback victory against Southampton, Arsenal's defeat to Newcastle United, and West Bromwich Albion's 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford provided three of the most exciting results of recent weeks.

Together, they had a telling impact on the 2017/18 season. Manchester City are champions, Newcastle United have improbably beaten the drop, and Southampton are suddenly five points short of 17th.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:



1) Rodriguez's role the key to Darren Moore's tactical victory

Perhaps the biggest impact Moore has had at West Bromwich Albion is psychological; he is a well liked figure who has restored these players' belief in themselves. However, James McClean made it clear the impact has also been tactical, telling BBC Five Live that "it obviously helps when you go out on the pitch knowing what you're doing - as individuals and as a team."

The 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford certainly suggests Moore takes a hands-on tactical approach, marking a significant departure from his predecessor Alan Pardew. The Baggies were much tighter defensively and more organised moving forward, simplifying their game by consistently charging down the left flank and swinging early crosses in towards Salomon Rondon.

But most impressive tactically was the work of Jay Rodriguez, who dropped deep to help break up Man Utd's passing in the defensive midfield zone while also getting close to Rondon for knock downs. In a hybrid midfield/striker role, he allowed West Brom to transition seamlessly between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2. The Englishman completed more tackles (two) and dribbles (two) than any other West Brom player, reflecting his work-rate at both ends of the pitch.



2) Returning Loftus-Cheek helps Zaha & Townsend dominate the left flank

Roy Hodgson's intelligent use of a left-leaning 4-4-2 confused the Brighton defence and reaffirmed (thanks to Ruben Loftus-Cheek's return) that the former England manager does not deserve to be labelled as one of the Premier League's dinosaurs. His formation is among the most complex and original in the division right now.

Wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend again played together up front and again repeatedly dropped off the front line, giving the defenders nobody to mark and thus pulling the Brighton back line into awkward shapes. For some time now Zaha and Townsend have stayed close together, but with Loftus-Cheek back they filtered almost everything down the left; 70 of their combined 88 touches were on this flank.

Loftus-Cheek's strength when running with the ball - he completed the most dribbles (four) and was fouled more time (four) than any other player on the pitch – sucks players towards him, in turn freeing space in pockets nearby. This is why Zaha and Townsend dominated on the flank, and why, with Jose Izquierdo failing to track back, Crystal Palace collected a vital three points.



3) Giroud offers Chelsea a Costa-like presence and should start more games

Olivier Giroud was awarded man-of-the-match at St. Mary's despite playing just 29 minutes of the match, and it wasn't just because he scored two goals. Giroud's brace turned the game on its head but equally important was his physical presence; his ability to win headers, grab loose balls, and thus allow Chelsea to put Southampton under sustained pressure turned the game around.

Alvaro Morata was poor yet again, struggling to hold up the ball with any real purpose. By contrast Giroud offered a Diego Costa-like presence up front, winning some key aerial challenges that prevented Saints from clearing their lines. He bullied the back line, allowing his team-mates to retain possession and keep the pressure on. Southampton eventually crumbled.

It was further evidence that the Frenchman should start Chelsea's remaining Premier League games. If he does, it could signal the end of Morata's difficult time in west London.



Best of the Week – Ayoze Perez

Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez is something of an enigma, but against Arsenal he continued a rich vein of form, linking the play nicely between the midfield and the sole striker to grab a goal and assist as the Magpies won 2-1.

This is not a new position for Perez, but he has never looked better than under the tactical tutelage of Rafa Benitez. For the equaliser the Spaniard attacked the ball from deep (rather than become a second striker as soon as Newcastle were on the counter) which allowed him to steal ahead of the defender at the near post.

His contribution to the winning goal was equally significant. Having made a few poor decisions when countering in the second half, his flick to Matt Ritchie for the winner was outstanding – an intelligent and confident touch of a number ten on the top of his game.



Worst of the Week - Man Utd's tactical naivety

The meekness of Manchester United's performance was absolutely baffling so soon after their victory at the Etihad. That was arguably the most aggressive performance of their season. This was their most timid.

Jose Mourinho's side persistently attacked through the centre of the pitch in predictable ways, even though West Brom were packed in a narrow shell and had left the wings free. Perhaps the Portuguese felt it was no good trying to cross the ball from out wide, but constantly playing the ball into the feet of Alexis Sanchez, only for him to run backwards and recycle possession, was absolutely pointless.

Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia barely ever reached the byline, while Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic had 238 touches of the ball but only six in the Baggies' penalty area. Mourinho should have played quicker wingers and those with that explosive ability to change the pace of the game, instead of Mata and three in central midfield.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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