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Talking Tactics: Chelsea aimless; Liverpool nervous; Ole's slow reaction

One a weekend that saw three different teams come back from two goals behind to win, the Premier League and FA Cup results were defined by super-subs – who came on to score crucial goals in wins for West Ham, Brighton, and Manchester City.

The proactive tactics of Manuel Pellegrini, Chris Hughton, and Pep Guardiola served to highlight the inertia of others, particularly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who failed to affect the games at Wolves on Saturday evening. Similarly Jurgen Klopp's substitutions served to panic his players, rather than help them, while Maurizio Sarri's changes were wearyingly familiar – in their substance and their lack of impact.

Here are three things we learnt from the Premier League and FA Cup matches:



1) Pellegrini's substitutions highlight his reactive tactical skills

West Ham United were playing poorly against Huddersfield Town before manager Manuel Pellegrini turned the match on its head by switching to a 4-4-2 and making three important substitutions. Marko Arnautovic had laboured horribly up front, making the hosts look flat and lifeless in the final third, but that all changed after they shifted approach.

Javier Hernandez and Lucas Perez came on, and together they alternated dropping off the front line to inject some energy into the team. What's more, both players ran the channels – something Arnautovic conspicuously failed to do – leading directly to West Ham's second goal as Perez's cross was blocked for the corner from which Angelo Ogbonna scored.

Samir Nasri, the third substitute, dominated the match after his introduction, setting up Hernandez's equaliser before the game's most prominent super-sub grabbed his second to complete the comeback. Pellegrini got every reactive decision right, once again proving his doubters wrong with sharp reactions from the dugout.



2) Solskjaer is slow to react to Wolves' frustration tactics

Wolves were typically resilient on Saturday, their narrow and compact 3-5-2 shape making it predictably difficult to pass between the lines or find space in the final third. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ought to have seen this coming, and picked his more energetic players, rather than field three men who were just recovering from injury – Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, and Ander Herrera.

This ensured Man Utd were too slow in their build-up play, and although Solskjaer's initial error can be forgiven it was strange that he didn't attempt to change the pattern of the match even as it clearly began to slip away from United. They played the same narrow 4-3-1-2 throughout the 90 minutes, despite the spaces clearly being out wide.

Joao Moutinho was the game's best performer, completing five tackles and seven key passes, and the Portuguese highlighted the flaws of his opposite number Nemanja Matic. United's once reliable defensive midfielder looks old and flat-footed these days; Solskjaer needs to look for a replacement this summer.



3) Liverpool's strategy undermined by Klopp's nervous substitution

Initially Liverpool's approach to the match at Fulham was a good one. Adam Lallana again performed well from left central midfield, his directness on that side badly hurting Fulham as Sadio Mane dominated down the left for the first 45 minutes (thanks in part to right winger Floyd Ayite's complete lack of defensive responsibility).

The visitors also played plenty of long diagonal passes to stretch Fulham wide, getting their full-backs on the ball as frequently as possible to whip dangerous crosses into the box. However, as the game wore on at 1-0 Liverpool began to get jittery and their tactics became desperate. Mohamed Salah started to play selfishly as the team's attacking decision-making worsened, but more importantly Jurgen Klopp showed a nervousness that seeped through the rest of the team.

By substituting Lallana for James Milner in the 72nd minute Klopp increased the tension, attempting to close out a 1-0 lead when Liverpool should have tried to relax and score the second goal. Within ten minutes a panicky touch by Milner led to a dreadful defensive error and Liverpool were lucky to escape with three points. Klopp must be braver and calmer next time out.



Best of the Week – Counter-attacking football comes to the fore

A growing number of Premier League teams are relying on counter-attacking tactics these days, primarily because the financial disparity between the big clubs and the rest makes it the most pragmatic option. Possession is just too risky in the modern game. The weekend's matches provided several examples of this, most notably as Bournemouth and Newcastle United battled to avoid holding the ball. Three of the four goals, and basically every single attack, was a breakaway.

At Burnley, Leicester's early red card accidentally helped them to victory. Having had 84% possession in the first four minutes it looked as though Brendan Rodgers' desire to play possession football would allow Burnley to frustrate them and win on the break, but Harry Maguire's red card forced the visitors to sit deep and counter; they had 35% possession after his dismissal and deservedly won the game.



Worst of the Week – Chelsea's aimless second half

Everton didn't have to do too much to beat Chelsea 2-0 at Goodison Park on Sunday, with Marco Silva only slightly tweaking his tactics at half-time to hurt the visitors. Silva's full-backs pushed up the pitch to confront Eden Hazard and Pedro, snapping into challenges as the hosts' confidence grew, neutering Chelsea in the process.

Maurizio Sarri's team are just too predictable, overly reliant on Hazard and incapable of offering adequate support from the full-backs. Once Everton realised this, they simply switched to playing on the front foot and made Chelsea look totally directionless. The crisis at Chelsea is a long way from being fixed.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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