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Talking Tactics: Bizarre Mourinho; Kamikaze Arsenal; Moura's Spurs best

We are only three weeks into the new Premier League season and already talk of crisis at Manchester United has been the headline story twice.

Back-to-back defeats for Jose Mourinho means United's worst start 1992, and after angrily storming out of a press conference the Portuguese's time at Old Trafford could be coming to an end.

Elsewhere Manchester City dropped their first points of the season thanks to Wolverhampton Wanderers aggressive and brave performance, proving that confrontation is the best way to counteract Pep Guardiola's tactics.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:


1) Arsenal's kamikaze full-backs require some cover

Despite beating West Ham United 3-1 at the Emirates on Saturday, Unai Emery will know his team must significantly improve if they are to challenge for the top four this season; despite all the tactical changes over the summer, right now Arsenal are just as flaky defensively as they were under Arsene Wenger. The chief concern is the constant attacking from the full-backs, or rather the absence of a structural pattern that covers for Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal.

Emery has instructed the pair to play like wingers, both looking to stretch the game by sitting virtually along the West Ham defensive line and making runs in behind. This certainly helped the hosts open up Manuel Pellegrini's team but left space for Marko Arnautovic, Felipe Anderson, and Michail Antonio to counter-attack into.

West Ham should have scored a couple more. Emery needs to find a balance, either by instructing only one full-back to go forward at a time (leaving a back three) or ensuring there is a screen in front of the defence. Lucas Torreira could help solve the issue, although it might not be possible to prevent counters should Arsenal's lazier players – such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi – continue to get game time.


2) Lucas Moura provides a new dimension to the Spurs attack

Manchester United matched Tottenham Hotspur for long periods of this scrappy game by pressing higher than usual and keeping up the tempo, albeit in a wild way that made the contest resemble the first five minutes of a Premier League match stretched to fill an hour. When it eventually settled, Spurs wrestled control thanks to their more stable tactical system – and the running of Lucas Moura.

For several years now Spurs have lacked an unpredictable forward who can run past a player, breaking the lines in un-Pochettino ways. Tottenham's attacking patterns are sometimes too obvious, carefully put together as they are by the Argentinian, and so the addition of a chaotic footballer causes panic, while indirectly creating more space for the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.

Lucas played up front in a 3-5-2 formation at Old Trafford, making excellent runs throughout the match to unsettle Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. He was by far the best player on the pitch and should, after a summer bedding in at the club, be one of the best players in the division moving forward.


3) Fulham's counter-attacks show Europa League is taking its toll on Burnley

Fulham launched numerous counter-attacks against Burnley during their 4-2 win at Craven Cottage, tackling a visiting player on the halfway line before bursting forward into huge open spaces. This is very rarely seen during Burnley games, or at least it was until they began playing in the Europa League this season.

Some pundits have suggested Sean Dyche has opened up this year and attempted to play a more progressive style of football, leading to their issues at the back (seven goals conceded in three games), but their tactics have not changed. Burnley always played some decent football and were prepared to open up: what's new is the poor passing in midfield and sluggish movement that allows the opposition to win the ball in dangerous areas.

The most likely explanation for this is their Europa League campaign, which looks set to come to an end next week after they lost the first leg of their playoff 3-1 at Olympiakos. Burnley have played in Europe three days before all three of their Premier League games so far and they look tired. In such a high-tempo division losing that five percent energy is enough to hand the other team an advantage. Poor decision-making under pressure is a clear sign of fatigue.


Best of the Week – Wolves' formation against Man City

The main reason Wolves took a point from Man City was bravery. They didn't drop too deep, staying in a narrow 3-4-2-1 shape that ensured protection against attacks through the middle and quick link-up with the striker should an opportunity to counter-attack arise. Diogo Jota and Helder Costa were the key men, cutting off the passing lines to the City midfielders while staying close to Raul Jimenez for the breakaways.

Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho were superb as a central midfield partnership, but a lot of the work was being done ahead of the Portuguese pair. City struggled to find their rhythm passing through the centre. Wolves have shown that taking risks and confronting City is the best way to stop them, suggesting that after a fearful few months of defensive tactics the champions' opponents may begin having a go again.


Worst of the Week - Mourinho's bizarre tactics

Mourinho might be convinced his tactics did not have a negative impact on the game, but it is telling that an even contest eventually settled in Spurs' favour during the final half hour after mistakes by United players playing out of position and/or getting their first minutes of the season. The hosts looked rusty and directionless, reflecting their bizarre new formation and the six changes made by the manager.

Phil Jones made an error for the first goal, Ander Herrera made two mistakes for the second, and Chris Smalling was at fault for the third: all three were making their first appearances of the campaign. United were very much in the game until Lucas scored his first of the night, and that was thanks to Herrera's poor positional play – which was understandable given he was playing in an entirely unfamiliar right centre-back position.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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