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Talking Tactics: Sarri arrogance; Spurs flexibility; Man Utd easy

Manchester City' 6-0 demolition of Chelsea has heaped pressure onto Maurizio Sarri, who after claiming he is unable to motivate his players looks to be in a very precarious position at the club. Responding positively to this humiliation seems unlikely given the predictability of their tactics this season and, as Sarri points out, his players' inability to understand his instructions.

Like City, Liverpool showed no sign of pressure in a confident 3-0 win against Bournemouth while Manchester United moved into the top four with a straightforward victory over Fulham. There were no real shocks this weekend, just a continuation of some emerging themes: Marco Silva is in trouble, Cardiff City don't know when they're beaten, and Tottenham are relentless in their quiet title challenge.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:



1) Aguero's movement shows you cannot take a high press to the Etihad

The most important tactical lesson from Man City's win against Chelsea on Sunday is to avoid pressing high when visiting the Etihad; not only did Sarri's side encourage City to up their tempo (rather than slow the game down by digging in), they also didn't have the right shape to succeed. N'Golo Kante had a dreadful game, failing to keep up with the pace in a box-to-box role as Jorginho was left isolated against the City attack.

The most important City player was Sergio Aguero, and not because of his three goals. The Argentine dropped off the front line superbly, ghosting into the left-centre pocket of space that consistently opened up between the Chelsea lines of midfield and defence (the midfield pushed high while the defence had to hold on the halfway line). Aguero does not get enough credit for his dramatic transformation under Pep Guardiola over the last 12-18 months.

Sarri will rightly be criticised today for his stubbornness, refusing to adapt his approach to the opposition. Kante cannot continue to play so high up the pitch and Chelsea cannot continue to be so predictable. Pressing City relentlessly is a remarkable arrogant thing to do in Manchester: they will simply pass you off the park, evading the first wave to then burst forward in behind the majority of the team – as they did for the first, second, and third goals on Sunday.



2) Pochettino builds on Newcastle game with a more direct, narrow tactical approach

Last weekend Mauricio Pochettino switched to a 3-4-3 for the final ten minutes against Newcastle, placing Erik Lamela and Heung-Min Son close to Fernando Llorente and instructing his players to hit it long towards the big striker in the hope one of the inside forwards will collect the second balls. After Llorente's knock down to Son handed Spurs the winner, Pochettino decided to build on this tactic for the visit of Leicester City.

Perhaps anticipating the Foxes' strength in midfield now Youri Tielemans is in the side, Spurs played a diamond 4-4-2 formation that had Christian Eriksen at the tip and Son up front. Consequently Pochettino had two men close to Llorente, as against Newcastle, and the team had clearly been instructed to look for Llorente with longer passes.

What has defined Spurs this campaign is Pochettino's flexibility, a big change from the last couple of seasons in which Tottenham's single-mindedness in their possession football had led to a considerable number of draws.



3) Solskjaer's straightforward tactics make football look easy

A lot of analysis after Man City's 3-1 victory over Arsenal last weekend focused on Guardiola's odd tactics, accusing him of overthinking things when Arsenal are pretty easy to beat. If Pep is an idealist, then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the antidote – a simpler, old-fashioned manager whose tactical decisions are making football seem like a straightforward game.

Fulham's right flank has been weak all season, partly because Andre Schurrle doesn't track back effectively, but it is particularly vulnerable of late due to a series of injuries. Denis Odoi was forced to play at right-back on Saturday, so Solskjaer did the obvious thing by sticking Anthony Martial on that side.

Martial was clearly under instructions to remain high and wide while the rest of the United players looked to distribute the ball to him as often as possible, leading directly to the first two goals. Fulham have a weakness on that side, so stick a quick player out there and give him the ball: it seems obvious, and yet it feels like a very Solskjaer – a very Ferguson – thing to do.



Best of the Week – Tom Heaton's goalkeeping

Burnley extended their unbeaten run to seven matches in the league thanks to a brace from Chris Wood, but Burnley could have easily been 3-0 down before their first goal if it hadn't been for Tom Heaton's heroics. His goalkeeping has flipped Burnley's season on its head, but it isn't just shot-stopping. Heaton brings a calm organisation to the defence where Joe Hart's shouting betrayed a nervousness that badly affected his team-mates.

Burnley have conceded an average of 11.3 shots per game since Heaton's introduction, down from 20.4 per game with Hart in goal. All that screaming and bellowing had destabilised Burnley, but with Heaton back they should comfortably avoid the drop.



Worst of the Week – Everton's narrow formation

Watford are arguably the Premier League's most narrow team, at least from a defensive standpoint. Javi Gracia's 4-2-2-2 packs the midfield with bodies in order to suffocate opponents who look to build through the centre of the pitch, which is why Everton's system at Vicarage Road was so predictably unsuccessful.

Marco Silva picked Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left (although he mostly drifted into the middle) and Richarlison on the right, the Brazilian naturally wanting to cut inside into a congested area of the pitch. The Toffees were easily nullified by the hosts, whose defence was only threatened when Lucas Digne crossed from the left. Silva should have known better.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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