As featured on NewsNow: Football news

Talking Tactics: Emery rewarded; Liverpool missing piece; Spurs jaded

Arsenal moved into the top four with victory over Manchester United on Sunday over a weekend that proved the race for a place in next season's Champions League still has many twists and turns ahead; three of the Big Six failed to win this weekend.

The relegation battle could be just as tight, although Newcastle United's comeback victory over Everton left them six points clear of the drop despite Cardiff City's win against West Ham. Neil Warnock's side are unlucky to find themselves in an unusually competitive fight to avoid the drop.

Here are three tactical lessons we learnt this weekend:

1) Emery's bold tactics win Arsenal points after early Solskjaer error

Arsenal and Man Utd were evenly matched for most of the game at the Emirates on Sunday, but the hosts won the contest in the opening 20 minutes thanks to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tactical mistake – and then held onto their lead thanks to Unai Emery's bold attacking strategy for the remainder of the match.

United lined up in a 4-4-2 from kick off, a system that was too flat to build momentum. Paul Pogba was lost in a harmless left wing role and the strikers Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku totally disconnected from a two-man central midfield. United simply couldn't build attacks, while Arsenal – in a 3-5-2 – outnumbered them all over the pitch. Their spare man in midfield meant Mesut Ozil saw plenty of the ball in the opening 20 minutes as Nemanja Matic and Fred were preoccupied by Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey. Xhaka's goal was the result of this extra man as United failed to close down his strike.

After switching to 3-5-2 United were much improved, although they were never able to put Arsenal under sustained pressure because of the hosts' constant threat on the counter-attack; where other teams might have nervously retreated, Arsenal left three players up front throughout the contest. Emery showed an attacking bravery that kept his side in control.

2) Rodgers' Leicester will embrace Vardy-led counter-attacks

Brendan Rodgers is a tactically flexible coach who will no doubt change his approach depending on the opposition, which partially explains why Leicester sat back at Fulham and waited for chances to counter-attack. Fulham are easily caught on the ball, their expansive possession football making them highly vulnerable to teams that allow them to play their game.

But Leicester's tactical model at the King Power on Saturday should also form the foundation of Rodgers' project. James Maddison's frequent through balls for Jamie Vardy highlighted why the new manager should embrace Leicester's title-winning approach, particularly with Youri Tielemans distributing from midfield.

Leicester also set pressing traps in this match, allowing Fulham's defenders to hold the ball before suddenly engaging when central midfielders Calum Chambers and Kevin McDonald received possession. This strategy led directly to the first two goals, showing how Rodgers' detailed tactical instructions will be embraced by his new players.

3) Adam Lallana could be a key player in the run in

Liverpool's search for a playmaker who can link the midfield to the front three will surely end in a high-profile new signing in the summer (Jack Grealish would be perfect), but until then Adam Lallana is the man to start games against bottom-half clubs. Opponents that sit deep and invite Liverpool onto them tend to limit space for Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah, which is why the England midfielder was so important in the 4-2 victory over Burnley on Sunday.

Lallana's runs down the left and intricate passing in the final third helped keep the pressure on Burnley, but more importantly his mere presence took attention away from the front three. Lallana's crossfield pass for Salah, who suddenly had space for a one-two to create Liverpool's equaliser, was a case in point: Burnley were distracted by Lallana's creative energy.

Best of the Week – Newcastle's comeback

Ayoze Perez was the hero as Newcastle came back from 2-0 down to beat Everton and move six points clear of the drop zone, but Rafael Benitez was the real mastermind behind their success. He switched from 3-4-3 to 4-4-2 at half-time, pushing Perez up alongside Salomon Rondon to take advantage of the disorganisation between Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma.

Rondon easily pulled Zouma out of position throughout the first 45, which is why for the second period Benitez instructed Perez to make runs into the spaces behind Zouma when Rondon came short for the ball. This led directly to two of the Magpies' goals, dramatically shifting momentum in the hosts' favour before Perez's controversial late winner.

Worst of the Week – Spurs' jaded performance at Southampton

Having picked up just one point from their last four Premier League matches, Tottenham's place in the top four is now under serious threat and this bad patch could continue given the difficulty of their remaining fixtures and Spurs' presence in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Tiredness, both physically and mentally, has become a big problem for the club.

Tottenham are desperate for new faces in the dressing room and need the boost of finally moving into their new stadium, because at the moment Mauricio Pochettino's tactical decisions are not being enacted by his weary players. Josh Sims' energy all-too easily turned the game in Southampton's favour on Saturday, while Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier struggled to give Spurs meaningful possession.

Alex Keble
About the author

Alex Keble

Have your say

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free