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Talking Tactics: Lo Celso shines for Spurs; Arsenal respond to Arteta; Howe gaffe

Leicester City's surprise defeat to Southampton, who exacted their revenge with a performance that highlighted the advantages of sticking by a manager, has allowed Liverpool to open a 14-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. They ran out deserved 1-0 winners at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, although on balance Jose Mourinho more or less got his tactics right.

In the early kick-off Arsenal showed yet more signs of progress despite failing to beat Crystal Palace, while Aston Villa's alarming collapse on Sunday afternoon plunged them back into the bottom three.

Here are three tactical things we learnt from the weekend action:


1) Contrast between Eriksen & Lo Celso performances instructs Mourinho to sell

Jose Mourinho largely got his tactics right in the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool. He deployed Serge Aurier in a deep right midfield position that allowed Spurs to shift fluidly between a 4-4-1-1 and 5-4-1 when defending, a hybrid formation that kept the Liverpool full-backs relatively quiet; Aurier dropped in alongside Japhet Tanganga when appropriate as Spurs sat back and looked to absorb pressure.

Spurs were unable to counter-attack via Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son – and the forwards looked isolated – chiefly because Christian Eriksen was so poor in central midfield, rather than because Mourinho had been too negative. Against a near perfect Liverpool team it makes sense to defend for the majority of the match but switch to a more attacking system for the final 20 minutes. That's just what Mourinho did, bringing on Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela.

Lo Celso transformed the game with his assertive presence, both showing for the ball constantly and playing quick vertical passes into the forwards. He raised the energy of those around him, chiefly Harry Winks, to get Spurs on the front foot and elongate the pitch. Had Lo Celso not missed a sitter at the end pundits would be praising a typical Mourinho performance in a 1-1 draw. Instead, we are left questioning why Eriksen played at all.

His heart does not look in it anymore. The difference Lo Celso made should instruct Mourinho to sell Eriksen this month.


2) Arsenal show brief glimpses of new automatisms under Arteta

What marks Pep Guardiola out as a top coach is his detailed tactical coaching of attacking moves. The way Manchester City shift the ball in the final third may look creative, but they are in truth well-practiced moves rather than improvisation. This allows the players to play at great speed, pulling the opposition out of shape by thinking several steps ahead. It looks like Mikel Arteta is beginning to teach Arsenal how to play this way.

These automatisms, as they are known, were briefly on show in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, although ultimately Roy Hodgson's side were able to grab a point when Roy Hodgson moved the defensive line 20 yards higher midway through the first half and ruffled Arsenal's feathers (when crowded, Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka struggle to remain composed). Arsenal's goal was an 18-pass move that seemed to have come straight off the training ground.

Mesut Ozil received the ball in the number ten space and instantly flicked it around to Alexandre Lacazette, anticipating the French forward would drop off. He then poked it through to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, anticipating he was already making a diagonal run to replace Lacazette up front.

Tellingly, later in the half Sead Kolasinac played a blind pass into the channel but no-one was there to receive it. Rather than berate the left-back, as Arsenal might have done under Unai Emery, Aubameyang apologised for not being where Kolasinac had assumed. There is a long, long way to go, but there were more signs at Selhurst Park of intricate tactics being introduced by Arteta.


3) Howe punished for deploying Ake in an attacking left-back role

Watford's revival under Nigel Pearson has seen the Hornets attack almost exclusively down the flanks via the pace and direct dribbling of Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaili Sarr. With Abdoulaye Doucoure playing in a new attacking midfield role as a strong pivot for the wingers to bounce off, it makes sense for opponents to focus on making sure their full-backs are up to the task.

Eddie Howe's decision to play Nathan Ake at left-back looked logical. However, the problems began when it became apparent Ake had been given licence to roam forward in attack, therefore allowing in-form Sarr to get the run on him. Ake was caught ahead of Sarr for the opener, when Mark Travers' poor kick landed straight at the winger's feet. He forgot to track Sarr ahead of the second, and then was again caught too high when Roberto Pereyra broke down the same side late on to score a third.

Bournemouth's narrow 4-4-2 was always likely to be too weak in the wide areas for this one. It was a particularly egregious error from Howe to ask Ake to play an advanced role on the left.


Best of the Week – Man Utd punish Norwich's repeated mistakes

It is becoming easier to see why the Man Utd board are placing trust in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, even if it is still a huge mistake to do so. Assuming they understand very little about tactics (and it is safe to do so), then no wonder they are drawn in by exhilarating football in games like this one – when the huge open spaces left by Norwich allowed United's emphasis on pace out wide to succeed.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood all excelled at Old Trafford in a way that – squinting – looked like a proper United performance from the 90s. The reality, of course, is that Norwich simply played into Solskjaer's hands. They clearly learnt nothing from a 3-1 defeat at Carrow Road in the reverse fixture, when exactly the same thing happened.


Worst of the Week – Villa's passive defending from the front

Danny Drinkwater's nightmare debut understandably grabbed the headlines after Aston Villa lost 6-1 to Manchester City on home turf, but the main reason for the collapse was the passive defensive work of Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi. They were deployed as strikers in Dean Smith's 3-5-2, tasked with holding up the ball and dragging Villa up the pitch.

What they clearly hadn't been told to do, but should have, was cut off the passing lanes into midfield when City had possession. Both players stood idly by as the visitors moved the ball into Rodri, who controlled the game comfortably from the base of midfield, in turn forcing Villa deeper until they backed off Riyad Mahrez pathetically for that crucial opening goal. Defensive forwards need to man-mark the metronome at the base of midfield for deep-lying frustration tactics to work.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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