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TALKING TACTICS: Chelsea need midfield reinforcements; Salah shines for Liverpool; Adam lets down Stoke;

A quiet weekend of Premier League action was mostly overshadowed by the FA Cup quarter-finals, although with all four favourites progressing to Wembley it was the league football that ultimately proved more interesting. Defeats for West Brom, Stoke City, and Huddersfield Town plunged all three into deep trouble.

Elsewhere, wins for Southampton and Chelsea in the FA Cup were far from convincing, giving both managers plenty to think about in the weeks ahead, while Mohamed Salah's four-goal haul against Watford put him on track to break Premier League goalscoring records.

Here are three things we learnt from the Premier League & FA Cup action:

1) Chelsea need midfield reinforcements this summer

Chelsea were fortunate to beat Leicester City in the FA Cup on Sunday after the Foxes failed to capitalise on their first-half pressure, and so, more than anything, this match was proof Antonio Conte's team need to strengthen in central midfield when the season ends.

Tiemoue Bakayoko will become a top level box-to-box player with time, but it was another dreadful performance from the Frenchman at Leicester; he only made one tackle (and no other defensive actions) while constantly misplacing simple passes.

Chelsea dramatically improved in the second half when Cesc Fabregas was introduced, with the Spaniard grabbing control of midfield and pushing Leicester back.

But Fabregas himself isn't particularly powerful defensively, and given Chelsea have tended to play with just two central midfielders under Conte it is time they add greater numbers in this area. The likes of Emre Can, Adrien Rabiot, and Fabinho could all be available this summer to bolster the club's options in the middle of the park.

2) Mark Hughes's 4-4-2 puts pressure on Hojbjerg and Lemina

The new Southampton manager may not use the 4-4-2 formation deployed at Wigan again, but given the Latics play good football and are known to apply high pressure on home soil Mark Hughes's team selection suggests he thinks Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Mario Lemina can patrol midfield without additional support. If Saints are to stay up this season there is no doubt these two players will play a crucial role.

Southampton only have three home games left and two of these are against Chelsea and Manchester City; Hughes must prioritise cautious defensive football or else his side will struggle to pick up ten points from a very tricky run-in. As such, a 4-4-2 formation is probably a mistake.

Composure in possession from Hojbjerg and Lemina will ultimately define their Premier League status. These two must be able to sit deep and control the tempo (something they have struggled to do this season but achieved confidently at Wigan), particularly in winnable away games at Swansea City, West Ham, and Everton.

3) Javier Gracia's 3-4-2-1 needs lots of work

Watford's new Spanish manager has done OK so far, but his side's impressive 4-1 home win over Chelsea increasingly looks like an anomaly both in terms of the result and the efficacy of the formation used.

His 3-4-2-1, deployed again last weekend in the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool, has only been successful against Conte's team – when it mirrored their opponent's system.

Garcia switches regularly between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1, but it is time the latter is either dropped altogether or worked on in training throughout the next fortnight.

The main issue being that the three centre-backs seemingly don't understand how to close off space on the outside (when the wing-backs have pushed on), which was a key feature of Liverpool's win on Saturday.

Mohamed Salah was consistently afforded space on the outside of the left centre-back, as Liverpool easily fed the ball into wide areas without any pressure from the back three.

With survival already assured, it's probably best if Gracia simply gets rid of the formation until the summer.

Best of the Week – Mohamed Salah

Comparisons with Leo Messi are clearly cover the top (although Salah does have a similar gait), but nevertheless Liverpool's Egyptian winger is having an extraordinary season; he is on course to finish the season with 35 league goals, more than any other player in English football for 50 years.

The key to Salah's goalscoring form is his comfort dribbling on the inside or outside of a player.

Most wingers have a clear preference, which allows defenders to set themselves, but Salah can weave either way – which causes opposition players to back off and fall over as they try to predict Salah's next move.

Worst of the Week – Charlie Adam

Stoke City are still 19th in the table and favourites to be relegated, which is why Charlie Adam's dreadful tackle after half an hour of his side's game at home to Everton was unforgivable. Paul Lambert will have earmarked this match as one of their most winnable; Adam, one of the more senior players in the team, has badly let his team down.

Possession was split 50-50 up until the red card, at which point Stoke were forced to retreat somewhat, giving Everton 60% of the ball for the remaining hour. Eventually the pressure told with two scrappy goals from Cenk Tosun extended Stoke's winless run to seven.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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