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Talking Tactics: Man Utd positives for Ole; Adama awesome; Spurs warming to Jose

As Alisson ran the length of the pitch to celebrate his assist with Mohamed Salah in the final minutes of the North-West derby on Sunday it felt as though we were witnessing one of the most iconic moments in Liverpool's soon-to-be title-winning season.

Even the fans have started to sing about finally ending the 30-year wait. The release of tension in the 92nd minute - following 15 nervy minutes at 1-0 - has made Sunday's game a definitive moment.

Elsewhere, it was a particularly dull weekend of action with only 22 goals and five draws on Saturday. Poor performances from numerous teams in the top half taught us a lot about the lack of tactical coherence and attacking creativity in the Premier League in 2019/20.

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


1) Mourinho's tactics fall short against physical Watford

There were some brief glimpses of interesting tactics from Tottenham in the early kick-off on Saturday in another sign that Jose Mourinho's new assistant, Joao Sacramento, is having an influence. Harry Winks started at the base of midfield with Dele Alli and Giovani Lo Celso in tandem moving in the half-spaces, and with Lucas dropping very deep as a false nine and Erik Lamela cutting inside from the right Spurs initially played well in the right-centre channel.

Lucas, Lamela, an Lo Celso linked neatly, but without a physical presence up front they quickly wilted as Watford pushed them back. Troy Deeney (20 aerial duels won) bullied the Spurs centre-backs, bringing the Watford wingers into the game and ultimately forcing Tottenham into deeper positions, ending the early pressure that had looked promising in Mourinho's unusual 4-1-2-3-0.

Mourinho needs a lot more time to get Spurs playing the way he would like, and indeed there are more signs of progress than some Tottenham fans are noticing.


2) Arteta's tactical model falls down as Arsenal attack as individuals

Sheffield United's resilience in midfield – they remained compressed in a solid 3-5-2 shape, refusing to drop – stopped Arsenal from being able to build attacks with any fluency on Saturday. Instead, the hosts relied on very good individual performances from Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe, and Gabriel Martinelli, who lurched down the wings to mild success once United began to fall into a deeper shape.

Granit Xhaka appeared hesitant alongside Lucas Torreira, and with Mesut Ozil inevitably going missing for long stretches that meant Arsenal couldn't link together with the same automatisms apparently on show in the game at Crystal Palace a week earlier. Arsenal desperately need a creative winger who can cut inside and play subtler passes.

United were excellent and certainly deserved their point, thanks to a focus on long balls into the forwards that ruffled the feathers of the Arsenal centre-backs. Chris Wilder also deserves credit for twice switching formation in the second half – eventually to a diamond 4-4-2 – that allowed them to exert pressure through the middle of the park.


3) Man Utd's 5-2-1-2 formation allows Firmino to run the game

There were definitely some good things about the formation Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used at Anfield, which was roughly the same as the 3-5-2 deployed in the reverse fixture. Anthony Martial and Daniel James picked up the ball in smart positions either side of Jordan Henderson – having starter deeper and narrower than expected – while Fred was immense in midfield, giving the visitors a fighting chance.

Then again, overall they were completely outplayed and on another day this would have been five or six nil. Fred and Nemanja Matic did as well as could be expected, but to play with just two midfielders against such a complexly interacting Liverpool midfield was never going to work for 90 minutes. Roberto Firmino ran the game by dropping off a flat-footed Harry Maguire into that zone, picking up the ball and helping Liverpool drive towards the Man Utd goal in numbers.

The knock-on effect of Man Utd having an empty midfield was confusion in the back five; as Liverpool turned up the pressure the visiting defence became increasingly disorganised. On the flip side, Liverpool's full-backs were fairly quiet throughout – confirming that a five-man defence is the best system against Jurgen Klopp's team.


Best of the Week – Adama Traore-inspired Wolves comeback

The Wolves winger was kept quiet for the first 20 minutes of the game at Southampton, struggling to have an impact from the left flank. Credit to Nuno Esperito Santo for quickly swapping him over to the right, where suddenly the league's best dribbler was up against two players who over-commit to attack. Ryan Bertrand is tasked with frequent overlaps and Nathan Redmond rarely tracks back.

Only Crystal Palace, with Wilfried Zaha leading them, attack down the left with more frequency than Southampton (43%). Consequently Traore had space on the counter, and the 23-year-old duly bagged two assists at St. Mary's as well as play a big hand in winning a penalty. There is no doubt he has developed into a mature footballer over the last six months, finding an end product to match his weaving runs.


Worst of the Week – John Stones' defensive errors

Cenk Tosun had an immediate impact at Crystal Palace by giving Roy Hodgson the target man he was long needed to play a more direct game. His team attempted 73 long balls at Man City on Saturday, up from a season average of 56, and Tosun's aerial presence contributed to the nervous defensive performance of John Stones.

He was out-jumped by Gary Cahill ahead of Tosun's opener, and then was beaten in the air by Conor Wickham in the final minute of the game – before failing to get close enough to Zaha as he set up Fernandinho's own goal. Man City have now dropped ten points at home this season, the same amount as their last two seasons combined. Failing to replace Vincent Kompany is the only reason they are out of the title race.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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