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As featured on NewsNow: Football news

​Talking Tactics: Spurs open door for Chelsea; Arsenal impress prospective manager

After several weeks without much action at either end of the Premier League table, all of a sudden we have two interesting races heading into the final week of the season. Tottenham Hotspur's defeat at West Brom hands Chelsea a decent chance of making the Champions League while Manchester City's draw with Huddersfield Town leaves the relegation battle in the balance.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:


1) Huddersfield have a new template for their tricky final two games

David Wagner has very rarely used a three-man defence in the Premier League but its introduction at the Etihad on Sunday was hugely successful. Manchester City might have been lethargic, but nevertheless the visitors were organised, aggressive, and full of energy; the 3-5-1-1 might just earn them crucial points against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The most important feature was the back three. This additional protection allowed Huddersfield's three central midfielders to press high, putting City under pressure in all areas of the pitch to disrupt their flow. The Terriers constantly won the ball in the opposition half, or forced a long clearance that conceded possession, almost scoring twice in the first period as a direct result of their high pressing.

Alex Pritchard enjoyed playing as a number ten, too. He was excellent in possession, strong and quick to release the wing-backs into space, and clearly benefitted from having three centre-mids behind in support. The 3-5-1-1 was narrow and packed with bodies, preventing City from playing their natural game. Both Arsenal and Chelsea might be nullified by Wagner's new system.



2) Carvalhal's tactical switch might have cost them a Premier League place

Swansea City's 3-4-3 formation was an odd choice at Dean Court. Bournemouth's use of a similar formation meant the midfield zone was under-stocked in this game while three-on-threes kept happening at both ends in a wild contest on the south coast. However, Eddie Howe's team are more experienced in this system while Carlos Carvalhal didn't appear to have organised his side efficiently.

The Swans' back three was far too wide, with big gaps between each player allowing the hosts to get in behind over and over again, but the biggest problem was the distance between the attack and defence. Nathan Dyer was anonymous and the Ayew brothers hung up top, meaning two Swansea central midfielders had a huge area of the pitch to hold down.

Tom Carroll was caught in possession numerous times because he had nobody to pass to, which meant Bournemouth could stream forward and dominate in the final third. This was no time to experiment; Carvalhal's formation change might just have cost them their Premier League status.



3) Sporadic pressing symbolises Stoke City's disjointed campaign

A lack of leadership on the pitch perhaps explains why Stoke City have been so consistently underwhelming this season. They lost to Crystal Palace on Saturday because of communication issues between the lines of defence, midfield, and attack, representing an issue that dates back to the very beginning of the campaign.

When Palace had the ball the forwards would press, only for the defence to back off, stretching the pitch lengthways and thus giving the likes of Wilfried Zaha far too much time and space on the ball. They didn't sit in a deep compressed formation or press high, but instead did a bit of both – which is unacceptable at this level.



Best of the Week – Arsene Wenger's send off

Arsenal's incisive 5-0 victory over Burnley was a the perfect way to say goodbye to Arsene Wenger, but intriguingly it also pointed to a new direction the club can take. Alex Iwobi was particularly impressive from central midfield, piercing the lines and creating numerous chances for a fluid front three.

What we learnt from this game was that Arsenal's abundance of attacking talent can, in theory, be squeezed onto the same pitch – but to do so will require a more direct, energetic style of football. It was a performance that makes Luis Enrique look like a very interesting option.



Worst of the Week – Tottenham's lack of urgency

The most disappointing thing about Tottenham's performance at West Brom was their overall lethargy. Spurs didn't get the ball forward quickly enough or play with the urgency that their situation requires; Chelsea will pip them to fourth place unless Harry Kane and company wake up.

Mauricio Pochettino is also to blame for an overly defensive formation. He should not have played three at the back against such negative opponents, while the likes of Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min – quick and direct – should always start matches against teams that sit back and invite pressure.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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