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Talking Tactics: Liverpool need variety; Solskjaer Man Utd growth; Rice excellent

The title race is no long longer in Liverpool's hands after they drew yet another away game, their lack of creativity in midfield once more proving the difference as Everton held firm in the Merseyside derby. Manchester City still have to travel to Old Trafford, but with Pep Guardiola's side showing few signs of nerves, momentum has clearly swung back in City's favour.

Elsewhere Tottenham's place in next season's Champions League is under threat after their draw with Arsenal as Manchester United and Chelsea moved to within touching distance of Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:

1) Klopp is too risk-averse as pressure cranks up on Liverpool's title challenge

Liverpool's forwards might not be firing right now, but their hesitancy in front of goal is related to their manager's increasing caution as we approach the most important period of the season. Five draws from their last seven matches in all competitions highlights Jurgen Klopp's cautiousness of late – just at the time when Liverpool need to be brave and bring back some of the risk-taking attacking football of 2017/18.

Everton are hardly the most inspiring counter-attacking team, so Klopp could have started in a 4-2-3-1 with Xherdan Shaqiri or Adam Lallana in place of one of his three more defensive midfielders. The Liverpool manager certainly could have switched to this system in the game to take advantage of Everton's defensive sloppiness under Marco Silva. Morgan Schneiderlin struggled with the pace of the game throughout, and yet Liverpool did not capitalise on this by fielding an out-and-out number ten.

Instead, Klopp made three like-for-like substitutions that allowed Everton to keep defending in the same pattern. What's more, Liverpool should have allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold to play higher up the pitch and instructed him to put crosses into the box more regularly. Variety is the key to Liverpool rediscovering their best form.

2) Pochettino forced into bizarre tactics thanks to Emery's deep defending

It's unlikely we'll get to see Danny Rose in central midfield again anytime soon. The England left-back looked understandably confused in the role - passing straight to the opposition and lurching erratically out of position – for the final 10 minutes of the North London derby. During this period Mauricio Pochettino was deploying a 4-2-4 formation with Rose and Moussa Sissoko holding down the entire midfield. It was a strange decision to say the least.

Had Arsenal scored their late penalty Pochettino's tactical switch would have been to blame; Henrikh Mkhitaryan created the penalty by dribbling past Jan Vertonghen and finding the Spurs half practically empty of players. To Unai Emery's credit, it was his defensive tactics that led to Pochettino making ever bolder decisions of his own.

Arsenal sat both full-backs in line with the centre-backs throughout the match, ensuring Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier had no room to charge into. Stunted on the flanks, Spurs were unable to create anything through the middle thanks to the deep-lying, narrow 4-2-3-1 deployed by the Arsenal manager. Tottenham lacked a midfielder who could weave through the centre of the pitch and, to be fair, Rose managed to do this on several occasions late on.

3) Solskjaer adds 3-5-2 to his tactical repertoire

Manchester United were 1-0 down when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer changed from a 4-4-2 diamond to a 3-5-2 that turned the game on its head. Their interim manager is seemingly incapable of making a mistake (in the Premier League at least), and now he can add 3-5-2 to the list of formations that suit a squad whose individual quality appears to be improving with each week.

Impressively, Solskjaer instructed Andreas Pereira – not Paul Pogba – to play highest up the pitch in the 3-5-2, and within ten minutes Pereira had scored one and assisted another from that space. Ashley Young's redeployment as a right sided centre-back gave the United midfield licence to attack in greater numbers, leading directly to the three goals that won the game.

It is now only a matter of time before Solskjaer is announced as the permanent Man Utd manager – and rightly so. The sheer variety of his tactical plans makes United an unpredictable and exciting force under the Norwegian's leadership.

Best of the Week – Declan Rice nullifying Miguel Almiron

Miguel Almiron had taken to Premier League life very quickly, but Newcastle's new signing was brought back down to earth by another superb Declan Rice performance on Saturday evening. Not only did Rice score the opener, he once again controlled the opposition counter-attacks with eight tackles across the 90 minutes – taking his tally up to 21 tackles in his last three home games.

Almiron was quiet as a direct result and West Ham comfortable 2-0 winners. Rice has been imperious all season, and once he becomes an England regular the Hammers may struggle to hold onto him.

Worst of the Week – Bournemouth's cowering defensive performance

For the first time since Opta records began a Premier League side failed to record a single shot on goal in a match. Not even one wild, long-range effort immediately blocked by a defender. Bournemouth may have been expected to sit deep and absorb pressure, but where was the counter-attacking speed that could have caused Fernandinho-less City serious problems?

This game was a big opportunity for Bournemouth to provide one of the season's biggest shocks, and yet Eddie Howe masterminded arguably the most extreme defensive performance in Premier League history. Nobody – not Bournemouth fans or neutrals – wants to see football played like that.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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