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5 lessons from Prem weekend: Rodgers stuns Klopp; Pep confuses Spurs; Man Utd exposed

Manchester City further strengthened their grip on the Premier League leadership with an emphatic victory over Tottenham as Manchester United dropped more points against West Brom. And at the other end of the table, Fulham produced a shock against Everton.

Here are five tactical things we saw from the weekend games:

1) Rodgers' switch to a diamond changes the game

For the first 70 minutes of the game Leicester City were frustrating to watch. They refused the direct counter-attacking option to Jamie Vardy despite their centre-forward frequently being available for a long ball in behind Liverpool's makeshift defence, instead trying to pass their way out from the back – and inevitably being closed down by the Liverpool press.

But that all changed when Ayoze Perez came on for Marc Albrighton and Brendan Rodgers switched to a diamond 4-4-2. With Harvey Barnes now close to Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Perez drawing defenders towards him from a number ten position, Liverpool's defence fell to pieces. What's more, an extra body in central midfield (James Maddison dropped) meant they now had bite in the middle, winning more tackles and then quickly releasing longer passes towards that front two.

It led directly to all three goals. The first goal came from a freekick won at the end of an attack that had begun with a long ball forward and a Vardy flick-on for Barnes, who drove Leicester into the final third. The second was a catastrophic mix-up caused by the panicked recalibration as Barnes and Vardy worked in tandem. The third was a straight-forward through ball to Barnes who, in a new forward role, just could not be contained.

It was a smart move by Rodgers to shuffle the pack so drastically; a new-look back four was never likely to adapt quickly to a changing game.

2) Another new configuration from Guardiola confuses Spurs

This match was as much about Tottenham's flatness as it was Man City's fluidity, and once Joao Cancelo's deployment in central midfield had - predictably – drowned out Harry Kane there was only going to be one winner. Spurs are hopelessly lacklustre, lacking a clear attacking direction and consequently ripe to be picked apart by confident and well-drilled City attackers.

A big reason for Man City's winning run is Pep Guardiola's unpredictability. He is changing the system every week with little tweaks here and there, and on Saturday this amounted to changes in defence, midfield, and attack. Oleksandar Zinchenko and Cancelo operated between full-back and midfield, with neither dropping into the back line and both occasionally overlapping simultaneously – meaning Guardiola's back three was no more.

Higher up the pitch, though nominally a 4-3-3, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus essentially played as a strike partnership with Bernardo Silva just behind, although each player dropped and span in behind to create a swarming front five (with the wingers) that Tottenham's defence could not track. They didn't know who to mark or when to follow, leading to some chaotic defending as Gundogan again dominated.


3) Arsenal show the route to beating Leeds is direct dribbling

There is a notable theme that links all of Leeds' heavy defeats this season, and Arsenal's 4-2 win on Sunday showed that Mikel Arteta had taken note and prepared accordingly. Marcelo Bielsa's man-to-man marking system during open play means that his team are always in a semi-chaotic shape, and along with their propensity to counter-attack in high numbers that means they are unusually susceptible to dribbles.

Run straight at Leeds, beating your man on a dribble, and you can cut right through half the team. That's the problem with a man-to-man system; there is no zonal, positional safety that prevents the shape from being torn open, and so dribbling past a direct opponent cuts through the whole line. Arteta deserves credit for packing his side with dribblers and instructing them to boldly confront on the ball – as opposed to passing through to team-mates.

Bukayo Saka led the way, bursting forward at every opportunity, but Dani Ceballos, David Luiz, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Emile Smith Rowe also dribbled whenever possible. As in the 6-2 defeat to Man Utd, 4-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, and 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, Leeds were torn apart by direct dribblers.

4) Solskjaer's reliance on individuality exposed again

Manchester United haven't actually played with a clear tactical identity throughout their good run earlier this year, instead relying on individuality; on winning the 'moments' in even games as Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford show their quality in the final third. That is no way to win a title, and leaves United vulnerable to the emotional side of the game. They will continue to go through streaks of wins and streaks of poor form.

They have won just five points from the last five games, thanks to Fernandes' slight downturn in form. West Brom simply held firm on Sunday, defending in a deep and compact shape, as expected, and indeed the game was no different to virtually every other United game this season: vague, meandering football with little obvious attacking structure. The only difference was that, this time, Fernandes and Rashford couldn't quite drag them over the finishing line.

5) Ancelotti's diamond backfires as Fulham dominate the wings

Everton's diamond 4-4-2 did not work at all against Fulham on Sunday evening, and Carlo Ancelotti ought to have reacted sooner than he did to the uneven game that developed. Not only did Everton struggle to string meaningful possession together, putting them on the back foot, but the lack of wingers meant the wide areas were free for Ademola Lookman and Bobby Cordova-Reid to dominate.

Fulham created lots of chances through these two players before eventually scoring the first goal from the left wing. Ancelotti eventually switched to a 4-3-3, but it was too late and the damage was done; the second goal was also built down Fulham's left.

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Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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