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Talking tactics: Pep fails at Chelsea; Pogba & Bruno mark new Man Utd; Klopp deserves it

Liverpool are the champions of England. It has been 30 years since the last time anyone could say that, making the excruciating wait since March even harder to bear.

There were times when it looked like the Premier League title could be cruelly snatched away from them, or at least come with an asterisk, but on Thursday evening a tearful Jurgen Klopp was finally able to celebrate not just a Premier League title win, but an extraordinarily emphatic one.

They have become the first team to win the Premier League with seven matches remaining, and it seems likely that is the first of many records that will fall over the coming weeks. Win five of the last seven, and Liverpool will break Manchester City's 100 point record. It would be a fitting way to celebrate what might just be the greatest club side in the history of English football.

Here are three tactical talking points from the midweek action:


Pep Guardiola deployed Bernardo Silva up front in a strikerless formation similar to the one that beat Real Madrid in the Champions League earlier this season, but it was nullified by Chelsea's low block and defensive steeliness – another sign that Frank Lampard's tactical nous is improving as the season wears on.

With Rodri and Ilkgay Gundogan slowing down central midfield and Kevin de Bruyne in an oddly harmless left-centre position (sandwiched between Ross Barkley and Andreas Christensen, seemingly perpetually 20 yards away from the ball), Man City were overly stuffed in the middle. A lack of runners in behind meant Chelsea could simply sit and watch the game being played in front of them.

City improved after switching back to their usual 4-3-3 on the hour mark, but Lampard reacted by bringing on Tammy Abraham and instructing Christian Pulisic to join the striker in making runs behind the City defence. Chelsea successfully stretched the game by launching long counters, besting their opponents in both phases of the match.


Manchester United recorded their highest xG (2.7) against a top ten side for three years in their 3-0 victory over Sheffield United, and the reason why is pretty obvious. This was the most complete possession-based performance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign to date, a direct result of playing Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba together in midfield.

With two creative players probing in the final third, one energetically searching for short one-twos and the other causally spraying riskier long balls, Man Utd were transformed. The main tactical feature of the game saw Marcus Rashford tuck inside from the left and Anthony Martial drop off the front line, creating a square shape with Pogba and Fernandes that overwhelmed the visitors.

Chris Wilder's 3-5-2 quickly became a 5-3-2 as Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka pinned the wing-backs, in turn opening space on either side of the three-man midfield for Man Utd to dominate. Their first and third goals were created in that zone, while Martial's and Rashford's runs were consistently found by the brilliant distribution of Solskjaer's new-look midfield.


Arsenal might have only attempted five shots on goal against Southampton, and only took the lead after a goalkeeping howler, but Mikel Arteta was clearly focusing on improving the team's defensive solidity at St. Mary's – and in that sense this was a success story. Non-descript 2-0 wins are precisely the kind of result this emotional and volatile Arsenal team craves.

In a new 3-4-3, Rob Holding made headlines at centre-back but it was the hard work of wing-backs Bukayo Saka and Hector Bellerin that made the difference. Their ability to move forward to support the front three, while also getting back to limit Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond, provided the basis for the win.

Arsenal's attack improved after Nicolas Pepe was substituted for Joe Willock and Arteta shifted to a 3-5-2, mainly because they could now build possession through the middle and push Southampton further back. It wasn't spectacular from Arsenal, but the manager seems to have discovered the right system for 'Big Six' matches at least.


Thankfully, after an extended break saw their achievements fade from memory, Liverpool were at the top of their game on Wednesday night to remind everyone just why they are 23 points clear in the table. Aside from their incredible tenacity in winning the ball back (Crystal Palace failed to take a single touch in the Liverpool penalty area), it is the variety in the Liverpool attack that has made them such a relentless force.

Palace conceded from a direct freekick, a long shot, and a high through ball over the top of the defence, and yet these types of goals wouldn't even feature in a compilation of the archetypal ways Klopp's side can hurt you.

With the front three exchanging clever one-twos, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane running straight at the full-backs, and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson crossing from out wide, there is no defensive strategy that will stifle every Liverpool goalscoring method at once.


Once again the Premier League games got off to a slow start, with plenty of 0-0s at half-time. This is partly because fitness and sharpness are still being built by the players, plus the drinks break in the middle of the first half tends to kill momentum, resetting the match to its beginning.

But it is time we start seeing this as a tactical choice, too. For most clubs, the psychological impact of losing heavily in these first few matches is too great a risk, and it makes more sense –whether chasing Europe or looking to avoid the drop - to grind out draws. Not knowing quite how fit the players will be, cautious managers are using a 'wait and see' approach during the first 45 minutes. That is unlikely to change between now and the end of the season.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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