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Talking Tactics: Mkhitaryan difference maker; Chelsea's Hazard backup; Mourinho blues

There were 33 goals this weekend in the Premier League, and it was fitting that Manchester City – moving to the top of the table following Liverpool's draw with Arsenal - scored the most. Their 6-1 thrashing of Southampton was further evidence that Pep Guardiola's team are even better than in 2017/18; it seems increasingly unlikely Liverpool or Chelsea can challenge them for the title.

Elsewhere a confident home win for West Ham suggests Pellegrini's team are only going to get better, while Manchester United's win at Bournemouth was a let-off after another overly cautious performance from Jose Mourinho's side.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:

1) Mkhitaryan's movement helps Emery's tactics click into place

Last weekend Arsenal struggled to break Crystal Palace down because of a lack of movement from Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, who sat side-by-side rather than help Mesut Ozil; it was easy for Roy Hodgson's team to sit deep and suffocate the Gunners. In response, Unai Emery picked Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right, which created considerably more fluid – and less predictable – attacking lines for Arsenal.

The Armenian ghosted into the number ten space, making it very difficult for Fabinho to track his runs. The Brazilian midfielder struggled with the pace of the match, often losing his man and allowing Ozil and Mkhitaryan to combine in central areas. However, Ozil often drifted out to the left flank on Saturday, taking up a position Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang vacated with darting diagonal runs. He would not have moved so freely without Mkhitaryan replacing him in central attacking midfield.

It also meant Hector Bellerin had more space to move forward on the right, as Liverpool's defence were dragged across by Mkhitaryan. Ultimately Jurgen Klopp's back four coped well with the Arenal pressure, but there was an excellent rhythm to the Gunners' quick vertical passing. Mkhitaryan has a big role to play this season.

2) Pedro's movement across the front line gives Chelsea options in Hazard's absence

Pedro had more touches of the ball (93) than any other Chelsea attacker on Sunday, reflecting the Spaniard's dominant display from the right wing at Stamford Bridge. Without Eden Hazard, who ordinarily drifts across the front line to inject unpredictability into Maurizio Sarri's tactics, Pedro was a lively, chaotic figure for the hosts.

The 29-year-old blows hot and cold for Chelsea, although Sarri's expansive tactics appear to suit Pedro's give-and-gos and his elegant playing style. Max Meyer wasn't very effective from left midfield, which certainly helped Pedro get on the ball, and the knock-on effect was N'Golo Kante having an easier game than usual.

The Frenchman has struggled to adapt to his new role, but with Pedro constantly shuttling in-between Palace midfielders Kante could play an easy forward pass – rather than a sideways or backwards one, as he has done throughout the 2018/19 campaign. Sarri may be hesitant to play Pedro and Hazard together (Willian is needed for his defensive work), but on Sunday Pedro proved he is an excellent backup option.

3) Man Utd's low block is the biggest reason why Mourinho isn't suited to the job

Bournemouth should have taken a more commanding lead in the first half against Manchester United on Saturday, with the visitors' low block once again proving disastrous in the opening stages. Here was final proof that Jose Mourinho's deep defensive line and lack of pressing cannot win a league title any more.

First, it gives United a psychological disadvantage as opponents race out of the blocks with confidence. Most big teams swarm with their pressing, creating confusion, but Mourinho's conservatism allows teams to grab a foothold in the match. This often leads to United's defensive line back-pedalling too far, creating the sort of gap between defence and midfield that led to Bournemouth's opener.

Most importantly of all, United's 4-3-3 is stretched too wide across the pitch. High-pressing teams make the pitch smaller by compressing their shape, but by standing off United's midfield have to cover the entire width – which explains the huge gaps either side of Nemanja Matic, struggling badly over the last 12 months. Mourinho's tactics might have worked in the past, but in 2018 a top-six team needs to be pressing aggressively. It is the universal tactical approach that is only increasing in importance as Mourinho stubbornly refuses to adapt.

Best of the Week – Robert Snodgrass's performance

West Ham United have rarely looked so confident or organised at the London Stadium. Thanks to some pretty dreadful Burnley defending they put in the most coherent attacking performance of the Manuel Pellegrini era so far, and while Felipe Anderson took the plaudits Robert Snodgrass was the unsung hero.

The 31-year-old was moved into a box-to-box role here, making late runs into the number ten space to ensure Burnley's highly structured defensive shell could not track him. Snodgrass made several important, though subtle, passes in the final third ahead of West Ham's goals, providing the hosts with the sort of energetic midfield performance they have needed for some time. Pellegrini deserves praise for bringing Snodgrass in from the cold and giving the Scotsman a new role.

Worst of the Week – Southampton's attacking formation

Mark Hughes has been out of ideas for quite a while now, and although Manchester City were always going to win Southampton's team selection didn't exactly help. Hughes played a narrow 4-3-3 formation with Shane Long, Danny Ings, and Nathan Redmond all staying high – which meant huge open spaces on the flanks for City runners.

It was a brave tactical move – but one that wasn't backed up by Southampton's attitude. The visitors immediately sat deep, freezing under the pressure and thus making a mockery of Hughes's attacking formation. All of City's early pressure came from simple underlapping runs by Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, who easily outmanouvred the overworked Southampton full-backs as City raced into a 3-0 lead.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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