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Talking tactics: Leicester 24hr double-blow; Chelsea fail to adapt; Mourinho perfect

Leicester City's dramatic collapse at Bournemouth on Sunday night has retrospectively become one of the most important results of the season after Manchester City's two-year ban from the Champions League was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday.

Brendan Rodgers' side are unlikely to make the top four after yet another damaging result.

More surprisingly, four of the bottom five clubs recorded victories to ensure the relegation battle will go down to the wire, while at the top end Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Burnley makes it unlikely they will break Man City's points record.

Here are three tactical talking points from the weekend action:


Frank Lampard never seems to adequately change his tactical plan based on the opposition, which represents a pretty serious flaw if he is planning on winning the league title with Chelsea in the next couple of years. What was most damning about their 3-0 defeat was the fact Sheffield United scored three classic Sheffield United goals. Lampard should have had a plan to deal with Chris Wilder's tactics.

United attack down the flanks by creating overloads in the wide areas, relying on simple one-twos that work around the opposition winger and full-back. With a centre-forward and a central midfielder coming wide to give the wing-back two options (plus, on occasion, a centre-back) this gives them a 3-2 against under-prepared teams like Chelsea. On Saturday, Enda Stevens, Ben Osborn, and Ollie McBurnie easily outmanoeuvred Willian and Reece James to give the Blades a 2-0 lead.

As the season goes on, managers are getting better at shutting down Sheffield United's width by instructing a central midfielder to move out wide in support. Chelsea, by contrast, simply played their usual game, complete with overly-attacking full-backs flying forward to leave them open to counter-attacks – such as the one from which United scored their third goal.


Leicester City went into half-time 1-0 up and in complete control of the game, heading safely towards their second win since the restart thanks to the good work of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez in attacking midfield. These two, working just behind Jamie Vardy, were dropping to help overwhelm Bournemouth's typically soft two-man midfield, providing passing outlets that got Leicester quickly into the final third.

Why, then, did Rodgers substitute Iheanacho for Dennis Praet at half-time? Leicester moves to a flatter 3-5-2 formation and suddenly their creativity vanished, allowing Bournemouth to gradually grow back into the game. In fact, it was the lack of options centrally – their main outlet first half – that caused the nervous sideways passing among the centre-backs which led directly to a series of dreadful errors.

By the final whistle, the number of mistakes suggested Leicester's confidence had been shattered by something; perhaps it was the lack of faith the manager had shown by moving to a more defensive setup, betraying his nervousness and infecting his players.


It might appear lucky that Tottenham Hotspur were the beneficiaries of some poor defensive errors from the Arsenal defence, but in fact this is precisely what Jose Mourinho had planned. His big-game tactical strategy is to create a sluggish game, using defensive football to drain the opposition and trigger sloppy mistakes as the game wears on.

Spurs lined up in a deep 4-4-2 shape that aimed to limit the effectiveness of the Arsenal wing-backs, and although it wasn't pretty to watch it was certainly effective. The only times Arsenal successfully built through Mourinho's shell was when Hector Bellerin found space on the right flank, a rare occurrence that was testament to the defensive coaching Mourinho has focused on in recent months.

But Arsenal were also at fault for this, with the front three unwilling to drop deep and provide their two central midfielders with direct passing options into the final third. Bukayo Saka usually drops neatly in between the lines, and without him the front three of Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emeirck Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette were too static, making life easy for the Spurs defenders.

BEST OF THE WEEK – Wins at the bottom show the power of motivation

Of the wins for Aston Villa, Watford, West Ham, and Bournemouth this weekend, only Villa made tactical changes that played a notable role in their surprise success. Douglas Luiz was exceptional controlling from the base of midfield and he was supported by a rejuvenated John McGinn, while Matt Targett and Ahmed Elmohamady improved Villa's ability to work the ball out wide and win set-piece opportunities.

In most instances, however, it was the usual system and usual players, and the key ingredient was motivation. At this time of year mid-table clubs find themselves slowing down, an issue exacerbated by the heat, hence late goals for Watford and Bournemouth. After such a disappointing first few rounds of the restart, it looks like the bottom clubs will win plenty of points in the final few rounds.

WORST OF THE WEEK – Ancelotti's 5-3-1-1 backfires badly against Wolves

Everton's 5-3-1-1 formation was completely the wrong shape to deal with the unique challenges of Wolves' 3-4-3, and Carlo Ancelotti deserves the blame for their poor performance on Sunday. His narrow three-man midfield left big pockets of space on either side, an issue exacerbated by the fact Everton's wing-backs sat deep to make a flat back five.

Consequently Wolves' inside forwards had too much freedom in the key areas they wanted to play, with Daniel Podence in particular flourishing. He pulled Everton all over the place on the left, before switching to the right after half an hour and dragging Lucas Digne out of his unfamiliar position, winning the crucial penalty.

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Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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