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TALKING TACTICS: Sterling stars for Pep; Dele Alli must be axed; Austin, Hojbjerg forces Southampton rethink

Manchester City and Manchester United both managed to squeeze past their opponents to ensure little changed at the top end of the Premier League. Wins for Watford and Southampton were the most interesting on Saturday, as the likes of Newcastle United and Everton suffered more damaging defeats.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:


1) Austin & Hojbjerg provide Pellegrino with a tactical template for the season

Having scored nine goals in their first 12 league games this season Southampton looked like a team without a tactical plan under Mauricio Pellegrino, but some fine individual performances from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Charlie Austin against Everton on Sunday handed their Argentinean manager a blueprint for the future.

For the remainder of the campaign Southampton should attempt to reinstate Ronald Koeman's tactics from 2014/15: a mixture of short-passing possession football in central midfield and crosses into a target man. Hojbjerg, who completed 96 passes at St. Mary's, controlled the game superbly from the base of midfield to ensure Saints held 67% possession. This forced Everton onto the back foot and sucked them into central areas, opening up space on the flanks for Ryan Bertrand and James Ward-Prowse.

These two attempted 21 crosses between them, each time searching for Austin – who scored two second-half headers that swung the game in Southampton's favour. Pellegrino finally has a vision for his tenure.


2) Another Newcastle defeat shows Benitez must change his formation

Newcastle United have now lost four consecutive Premier League matches, and alarmingly have been using a flat 4-4-2 formation in each game. Rafa Benitez has attempted little else this season despite the waning effectiveness of his tactics, but after a seriously chaotic 3-0 defeat to Watford on Saturday the Spaniard will surely mix things up in midweek.

The back four held some bizarre positions throughout this match, largely because they did not receive enough support from midfield, either from the wingers or from the central midfield pair. Neither Jonjo Shelvey nor Mohamed Diame were close enough to the centre-backs, which led to some sporadic pressing from an overworked defence. Unsurprisingly, Watford's considerably more complex setup overwhelmed the hosts on the left flank in particular.

One solution for Newcastle is to use a three-man defence and wing-backs, adding more cover on the wings and potentially simplifying the positional responsibilities of the centre-backs. But Benitez must also add a third body into central midfield, which is increasingly overrun by more confident opponents. Right now, the rigidity of Newcastle's 4-4-2 is causing flat and stilted performances.


3) Sterling's brilliant movement highlights full extent of Guardiola effect

Both Huddersfield Town and Manchester City appeared to have closely studied the hosts' 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspsur in September, in which David Wagner's high line allowed Spurs to fire long balls over the top. City constantly attempted diagonal passes in behind while Huddersfield dropped very deep to avoid a repeat of the Spurs display.

Consequently Huddersfield were very difficult to break down, keeping a narrow blockade of bodies in front of goal to deny Man City space. It took some magnificent runs from Raheem Sterling, arcing from out to in, to prevent an embarrassing defeat for Pep Guardiola. First the England international was pulled down in the penalty area after ghosting inside Scott Malone, and then he made an almost identical run to score the winner in the 85th minute.

Time and again this season Sterling is popping up in just the right place, shifting late into central areas to score from unnoticed positions. This is a huge improvement in his game; before Guardiola arrived Sterling lacked a final ball or decisive movement in the penalty area. The Catalan's coaching has had a bigger impact on Sterling than any other City player.


Best of the Week – Marvin Zeegelaar

Watford's new left wing-back, signed from Sporting Lisbon on deadline day, was outstanding on his debut against West Ham United last weekend and equally effective against Newcastle on Sunday. Zeegelar completed four key passes (with one assist) and won four tackles in another commanding display on the left; already the Dutchman is forming a good understanding with Richarlison.

He is powerful in possession and aggressive in his attacking approach, which perfectly suits the sort of bold, front-foot tactics that Marco Silva has instigated at Watford.


Worst of the Week – Dele Alli

Dele Alli has not played well throughout the 2017/18 season so far, and as such Mauricio Pochettino should take the blame for West Brom's opener on Saturday. Alli clumsily lost the ball in midfield ahead of Salomon Rondon's goal, but he should not have been on the pitch; Alli needs some time out of the firing line to rediscover his touch.

Too often this season he is floating through matches without making a meaningful contribution, which is why Spurs struggled to play with a high enough tempo against West Brom. Moussa Dembele should have started and Alli, after playing 81 minutes in Dortmund last Tuesday, should have been rested.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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