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TALKING TACTICS: Mourinho lets Man Utd down; False nine phase pointless; Spurs show up inept Pellegrino;

Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table after narrowly beating Newcastle United at St. James' Park, thanks to Kevin de Bruyne's genius from a deeper role in midfield.

Meanwhile a series of tactical errors by Jose Mourinho saw Manchester United drop points against Burnley on a weekend when false nines made a fleeting return. Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:

1) Second-half tactical reshuffle proves once and for all that Mourinho needs to dramatically recalibrate his vision for Manchester United

As soon as the team sheets were released on Boxing Day it was obvious how the first half was going to pan out at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho's decision to field such powerful players and match Burnley's flat 4-4-2 formation was an odd one, lowering themselves to the visitors' level. That United's performance improved so dramatically after a double substitution and system change was further proof of Mourinho's mistake.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was played up front alongside Romelu Lukaku with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in central midfield. As a four, this meant United were slow in possession and unable to pull the opposition out of their deep shape. It also ensured their only route to goal was via crosses into the two target men, which is precisely what Burnley would have wanted. Dyche's team are superb at out-battling teams, winning the second balls, and coming out on top when matches descend into scraps. It is a mystery, then, as to why Mourinho allowed this to happen.

Jesse Lingard's introduction at half-time gave United greater mobility in the middle and the hosts managed to salvage a draw, but it was too late to rectify Mourinho's earlier mistakes. This was final proof that the Portuguese must dramatically recalibrate his vision for the kind of football United are to play under his management.

2) Striker-less systems are becoming fashionable again – but without much success

Following Eden Hazard's recent deployment as a false nine by Antonio Conte, two more Premier League sides decided to trial a striker-less system on Boxing Day. West Ham United played Marko Arnautovic as the highest attacker and Watford used Richarlison in a similar role; neither performed their tasks particularly well, and both sides were much better once order was restored.

Arnautovic had just 20 touches of the ball in the first hour of West Ham's match against Bournemouth before Andy Carroll came on to replace him up front. Richarlison also had just 20 touches before being hauled off in the 44th minute, with Watford having managed just two shots on goal in that time.

David Moyes was perhaps suffering from over-confidence in his initial team selection after enjoying a successful start to life in Stratford, whereas Marco Silva might simply have been searching desperately for an answer to their poor form. Whatever the reason, it doesn't seem likely either side – or any other in the Premier League – will be trying a striker-less formation any time soon.

3) Southampton's overly-attacking tactics suggest Pellegrino hadn't done his homework

It was all too easy for Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in the early kick-off as Southampton's strangely attack-minded approach allowed the likes of Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli to find space in the final third. Harry Kane's brilliant finishing rightly grabbed the headlines, but he was given a huge help by Mauricio Pellegrino's naïve tactics.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg started at the tip of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the visitors with Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal driving forward at every opportunity along with the young Denmark international. Coupled with Shane Long's attempts to beat the offside trap, this meant half of Southampton's team were flying ahead of the play – something that should never happen when playing Spurs.

Mauricio Pochettino's team are too good at winning the ball back and triggering the counter-counters for such gung-ho breakaways. Saints were torn apart by Alli's and Son's movement into the channels, leaving Pellegrino looking increasingly clueless on the touchline.

Best of the Week – Kevin de Bruyne's crossing from a deeper role

Against Newcastle United, Kevin de Bruyne attempted 11 crosses (up from an average of 6.0), reflecting Pep Guardiola's tactical flexibility when facing ultra-defensive opponents. The "embarrassing" retreat of the Newcastle players, to use Jamie Carragher's description, meant De Bruyne couldn't roam in the number ten space as usual, but allthat did was force the Belgian to rely on one ofhis lesser used skills.

His clipped ball to Raheem Sterling for the winning goal – essentially a cross from a central position – was one of six across the 90 minutes. Newcastle should have marked him a lot more closely.

Worst of the Week – Swansea's defending

Leon Britton couldn't have been handed a trickier first match as caretaker manager of Swansea City than a trip to Anfield under the floodlights. It was no surprise to see Liverpool flourish against a side so low on confidence, but nevertheless Swansea were very disorganised throughout, conceding 22 shots and completing just 35% of their 37 attempted tackles.

The only positive for Swansea fans was their side's early attempts to play possession football. For the first 20 minutes the visitors rarely put the ball in the air, instead attempting short passing triangles that reflected the lost "Swansea way".

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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