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Talking Tactics: Torreira improves Arsenal; Mourinho's monsters; Spurs' Grealish regret

The final weekend of Premier League football before the September international break is always crucial: clubs now have two weeks to stew over their start to the campaign and take stock.

Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Watford will be delighted with the current league table, but defeat for Tottenham Hotspur this weekend suddenly leaves them worried, while Manchester United's victory over Burnley doesn't quite salvage a troubling start.

West Ham United, Burnley, and Newcastle all continued their poor opening to the 2018/19 Premier League season as the table began to take shape at both ends.

Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:


1) Torreira can sew things together in the Arsenal midfield

A 20 minute cameo appearance from new signing Lucas Torreira was enough to show the Uruguay international should be starting matches in central midfield for Arsenal. The middle of the pitch has been a problem area for many years at the Emirates, but it has become an even more acute concern now that Unai Emery is attempting such a complex high-pressing game.

For the fourth consecutive match Arsenal were far too decompressed as the defence backpedal and the forwards press forward, while Emery's use of ultra-high full-backs means their central midfielders need to shield the entire width of the pitch – stretching them out even further. Unsurprisingly, Granit Xhaka isn't good enough to start in this system.

By contrast Torreira read the game superbly in Wales, cutting off the Cardiff counter effortlessly and biting into tackles. Equally important was his composure in possession, helping Arsenal look less chaotic by sweeping up behind the forwards before casually recycling the ball. Matteo Guendouzi, a pure defensive player, cannot offer as much on the ball.


2) Classic Mourinho reactive line-up shows he may yet recover

Burnley once again looked exhausted at the weekend after playing in the Europa League in midweek, failing to confront Man Utd and instead giving them all the time in the world to calmly pick their passes into the penalty area. They looked like a completely different team to the compact and sharply in-tune Burnley of last season, a problem worsened by Sean Dyche's decision to leave Ashley Barnes out of the starting lineup. Chris Wood just couldn't hold the ball up.

However, United and Jose Mourinho still deserve credit for the professionalism of their performance as the Portuguese picked a team to perfectly expose Burnley's problems. Rather than attempt to dominate the ball, and therefore allow Burnley to retreat into a comfortable shell, Mourinho picked a tall, powerful 11 and instructed his players to launch long passes forward. Their directness, implemented largely via Paul Pogba sweeping the ball out to Alexis Sanchez, meant Burnley were stretched out of position.

Jesse Lingard once again revelled in a free role behind Romelu Lukaku, something he appears to do more frequently away from the glare of Old Trafford. Here was Mourinho at his best, devising a tactical plan designed to puncture his opponents no matter the playing style. Perhaps he isn't quite finished just yet.


3) Spurs feel the value of Dier – and the pain of missing out on Grealish

A chaotic and strangely directionless Tottenham Hotspur performance at Vicarage Road deservedly ended in defeat for Mauricio Pochettino's side, and while Javi Gracia's tactics are finally getting some attention it is worth pouring over Spurs' specific failures on Sunday. They seemed incapable of controlling the game without Eric Dier, and as the game slipped away from them they could have used a player like Jack Grealish to come off the bench.

Not unlike Marco Silva, Gracia plays in a narrow formation that presses boldly forward in the expectation of winning plenty of 50-50s and out-battling the opposition. Spurs couldn't deal with the pace of the game in the second half, looking generally tired but also unable to get to grips with the hard work of Will Hughes and Etienne Capoue. The defensive work of Dier, often dismissed as an unnecessary component of the Spurs midfield, was badly missed.

What Spurs also needed was a swaggering midfielder unlikely to be fazed by Watford's aggression who could wrestle control of the game and thread a pass through the eye of a needle. These are the exact qualities Grealish would have brought to the club had Daniel Levy not stalled on making a bid before Aston Villa were eventually bought out.


Best of the Week – Joe Gomez

Liverpool go into the international break top of the Premier League table thanks to a superb defensive start to the season. After Virgil van Dijk received praise during the club's run of clean sheets, Joe Gomez has deservedly begun to win plaudits over the last week, culminating in an England call-up and an outstanding performance against Leicester City.

Gomez completed more interceptions (three) than any other Liverpool player, but more importantly consistently swept up when Leicester launched balls over the top of the defence. His speed is a huge asset to the Liverpool team, most obviously exemplified in his goal-saving block from James Maddison's shot.


Worst of the Week – Puel & Pellegrini failing to change

Both Leicester City and West Ham United are failing to patch up their flaws this season, a sign that the managers are unable to take their respective clubs much further. Manuel Pellegrini continues to play a brand of attacking football that leaves the central midfield over-exposed, while Claude Puel hasn't done anything to fix the problems at right-back.

The Hammers lost to an injury-time Wolverhampton Wanderers goal on Saturday after Carlos Sanchez lost the ball in midfield. That he had no options is bad enough, but Sanchez should not have been signed in the first place to fix West Ham's longstanding issues. Leicester's defeat was once again defined by mistakes at right-back as Liverpool inevitably targeted that flank. Neither manager is likely to last until Christmas.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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