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Talking tactics: Spurs hit new low; Chelsea need Jorginho; Saka exposed Soyuncu

A rather tame midweek round of Premier League games appears to have settled the relegation battle, after Watford's victory put a three-point gap between the bottom three and those above the dotted line, and also ended any hope of a late dash for Champions League spots.

Wolves' 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United gave the current top five a six-point advantage with just four games remaining, and given Manchester City are likely to be suspended from European competition next season that just about settles it.

The only stories left for this year, then, are the troubles brewing in mid-table, where Tottenham Hotspur have reached a new low under Jose Mourinho…


Mourinho deserves a full pre-season and a summer transfer window to sort his squad out, and certainly historically he has always needed this time to build. However, it looks like Spurs fans are already tiring of his antics, while the tactical side of things is closely following what happened at Manchester United. If the general perception is that Mourinho is finished, then he won't be able to instil the belief needed to be a success in north London.

They failed to hit a single shot on target against Bournemouth on Thursday and have created just one clear-cut chance in their last three games. Tottenham had no energy in their possession play, unable to move the ball from their own half into the final third with any conviction, which is entirely the fault of Mourinho's lack of attacking coaching.

He expects his players to improvise, rather than teach in-depth moves like most big clubs in the modern game. That means, when confidence is low or legs are tired, there is nothing to fall back on: being asked to be genuinely creative is leaving these exhausted attackers static at the top of the pitch. Consequently the defensive and midfield players are simply throwing their hands in the air, wondering why they have no passing options.


It looks like Brendan Rodgers' experiment with a 3-4-1-2 is over, having adequately served its purpose. There is a decent chance his usual 4-3-3 will feel fresh again after Leicester had grown stale in their usual system, particularly if James Maddison recovers from injury in time to face Bournemouth this weekend.

Ayoze Perez has struggled in the number ten role, while Maddison is the only creative player Leicester have who can play on the half-turn and drop into spaces between the lines. Given that Rodgers relies on sudden vertical passes through the middle, his team's reliance on Maddison is a cause for concern. However, the issues with the 3-4-1-2 against Arsenal were about more than just building up the pitch.

Caglar Soyuncu struggled as the left-sided centre-back, frequently getting caught out of position by Bukayo Saka's clever movement. Issues at the back then fed into midfield, and for long portions of the game Leicester's formation looked unusually disorganised. Eddie Nketiah's red card let them off the hook.


Crystal Palace were predictably strong on the counter-attack against Chelsea in midweek, with Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew easily bursting through the middle as Christian Benteke caused aerial problems for Frank Lampard's defenders. Having tried N'Golo Kante at the base of midfield, it should be clear to Lampard now that the problems around counter-attacks aren't about individuals, but the system as a whole.

Chelsea are too decompressed when in possession, and one player alone cannot screen effectively. They were considerably better when Jorginho came off the bench for the final ten minutes, with the Italian picking up loose balls and intelligently reading the game to anticipate breakaway points. Lampard ought to start Jorginho at the base of midfield alongside Kante, rather than expect one defensive midfielder to do it all on their own.

Next season, with so many new attacking players coming into the side, Chelsea won't need two number eights flying forward either side of a defensive midfielder. In the absence of better tactical coaching, Lampard should switch to a 4-2-3-1, at least for games against strong counter-attacking teams like Crystal Palace.

BEST OF THE WEEK – Watford's vital win against Norwich

Danny Welbeck's winning goal against Norwich City could be the strike that keeps Watford in the Premier League, and the left winger deserved it for his contribution on Wednesday. He excelled on the left, deputising for Gerard Deulofeu, and helped ensure Watford's counter-attacks remained a threat against this wide-open Norwich system.

It was also a changed role for Will Hughes, who rarely plays so deep in midfield, but his battling energy alongside Etienne Capoue helped keep Emiliano Buendia relatively quiet. With Todd Cantwell out, Buendia is the only real goal threat for Norwich.

WORST OF THE WEEK – Newcastle's lacklustre pressing at Manchester City

Alan Shearer was deeply critical of Newcastle's application in the 5-0 defeat to Man City and his analysis was spot on. Steve Bruce's side didn't work hard enough to close down, fearfully retreating into a defensive shell rather than bravely step out and apply pressure. There is nothing wrong with holding a deep defensive line, but there is no place for passivity in engaging the City players.

That is especially true in central areas, where the likes of David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, and Phil Foden will pull you apart. It is telling that the Newcastle midfielders completed just two tackles in the game – and the whole team completed a single tackle between them in the central column of the pitch.

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Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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