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TALKING TACTICS: Alexis & Rashford show Man Utd future; Spurs can win without Kane; Moyes risking West Ham relegation;

Victory for Manchester United in the North-West derby has rejuvenated fans inside Old Trafford ahead of their crucial Champions League tie this week, while helping put Chelsea back within four points of the top four. But this was an even more important weekend at the other end of the table, as Newcastle United took a huge stride towards survival.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:

1) Man Utd performance offers glimpse of a counter-attacking future led by Sanchez and Rashford

There was plenty to excite Manchester United fans about their team's performance in the 2-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday. This was peak Mourinho: calmly suffocating in defence, but playing with aggression and genuine attacking intent on the counter, claiming a victory that points to a brighter 2018/19 for the club.

The main reason for their renewed fluidity going forward was deploying Alexis Sanchez in a central role. His tackling back put the Liverpool midfield under pressure and helped create breakaway situations, while he dictated the tempo when United had the ball, helping to release Marcus Rashford down the left. He also indirectly helped Juan Mata by drawing attention away from the Spaniard.

Liverpool were far too narrow and predictable in their attacking patterns, but Mourinho deserves huge credit for marrying defensive organisation with forward-thinking counters. It was the sort of performance that makes United one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season.

2) Striker-less Spurs can work well without Kane

Harry Kane's injury in the 34th minute of Tottenham's game at Bournemouth ultimately revealed a new tactical plan for Mauricio Pochettino. The England striker is likely to be out for at least four weeks, and so the striker-less system will be deployed several more times this season.

Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, and Heung-Min Son frequently swapped positions with one another to confuse the Bournemouth defence, dropping short and making runs on the shoulder alternately to create greater fluidity in the final third.

Christian Eriksen appeared to enjoy his deeper midfield role, using his excellent passing range to feed that interchangeable front three and force Bournemouth onto the back foot. Eddie Howe's team had no answer to the movement of Son and Alli in particular, easing the Spurs fans' concerns regarding Kane's ankle injury.

3) Moyes must abandon 3-4-2-1 or West Ham could go down

For some time now West Ham's 3-4-2-1 formation has looked disorganised and overly stretched, but David Moyes seems determined to use it nevertheless. Amid the chaos at boardroom level and the worsening relationship with the club's fans, Moyes needs to go back to basics to help the players regain confidence on the pitch.

Once again, the formation was simply too soft through the centre; playing with just two central midfielders (Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate) requires constant diligence and work-rate to cover huge spaces through the middle. These two made just three tackles and three interceptions between them as Burnley exploited the open spaces in front of the back four.

Ashley Barnes' opener from a cut back was because West Ham's midfield couldn't track back quickly enough. The second was created by Barnes from a similar space (with Kouyate nowhere to be seen) and the third was a follow-up from Johann Gudmundsson's shot after the Icelandic midfielder had far too much space to strike at goal.

Best of the Week – Newcastle United's tenacity

The relegation battle at the bottom end of the Premier League table will ultimately be decided by the desire and work ethic of those struggling, and on this showing Newcastle have nothing to worry about. Rafa Benitez's team were considerably hungrier than their opponents, winning tackles and arriving first to the second balls over and over again.

The most telling statistic is that Newcastle completed 16 interceptions compared with Southampton's four. Tactically, their 4-4-1-1 formation was solid enough to give Jonjo Shelvey licence to roam forward and ping balls into the left channel for Kenedy. Increasingly Shelvey and Diame looks like a very impressive midfield partnership that will earn the Magpies enough points to avoid the drop.

Worst of the Week – West Brom's defending

In direct contrast to Newcastle, West Brom showed no bravery or aggression against Leicester City, allowing their opponents to overturn a one goal deficit and win comfortably at the Hawthorns. The Baggies didn't press or push themselves up the pitch, instead retreating too readily into a deep shell that invited pressure.

Jamie Vardy's opener was a superb goal, but Riyad Mahrez should not have been afforded so much time in the middle of the park to pick out his pass. Similarly ahead of the second goal both Mahrez and Wilfried Ndidi had all the space they needed to interchange passes; West Brom failed to make a single interception in the central column of the pitch.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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