10 months agoTalking Tactics: Solskjaer’s risky Man Utd; Puel Leicester sack; Fernandinho irreplaceable
TagsOpinionAbout the authorAlex Keble FollowShare the loveHave your say Talking Tactics: Solskjaer’s risky Man Utd; Puel Leicester sack; Fernandinho irreplaceableby Alex Keble10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveLiverpool went four points clear at the top of the Premier League table after Crystal Palace’s shock win against Manchester City. Roy Hodgson’s side exposed some emerging issues in the City midfield and defence, tactically outclassing his opponent on Saturday to put Jurgen Klopp’s team firmly in control of the title race.Elsewhere Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emphasised risk-taking as Manchester United found a fluency and tactical coherence that has been lacking all season. They are still eight points off fourth, but after such a dominant performance Champions League qualification is not unthinkable. Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:1) Ranieri-style Leicester win shows Puel isn’t the right fit for the clubIt might seem harsh to highlight Claude Puel’s unsuitability to the Leicester job immediately after a 1-0 win at Chelsea, but the manner of their performance should be a wake-up call to the board. Holding just 28% possession and breaking forward quickly, Leicester were forced to play in the counter-attacking style that has become the ‘Leicester way’ ever since their title win. Puel’s desire to play patient possession football hasn’t sat well with the fans or certain players; after Saturday, it’s easy to see why.Chelsea are becoming increasingly jaded, and at Stamford Bridge they struggled to find any rhythm. Leicester’s narrow, compact shell meant Jorginho was consistently forced to spread the ball out wide (rather than cut incisive balls through the middle) for the wingers to attempt crosses (36 in total, their highest tally of the season). It was classic Leicester: deny space in the middle, force long balls into the box, and – with Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire in defence – head everything clear.On the counter, Jamie Vardy came to life after a difficult season adapting to Puel’s tactics. James Maddison also looked freer, breaking into space behind Jorginho to set up the winner with a neat assist. It’s clear that Leicester have the personnel – and the desire – to play in a very different philosophy to the one their current manager preaches.2) Narrow front three helps United play high-tempo attacking footballOle Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game in charge of Manchester United was easy enough, but nevertheless he deserves credit for unshackling the players; they had clearly been told to get the ball forward quickly, keep it moving at high speed, and take plenty of risks in possession. The sight of Victor Lindelof playing a one-two and galloping deep into the Cardiff half summed up the new attitude.Tactically speaking, the biggest change was in the positional play of United’s front three. Marcus Rashford dropped off the front while Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial moved infield from the wings, with all three players regularly combining in the number ten space. Such narrowness, and positional fluidity, pulled Cardiff’s defence out of position – most notably in the move for United’s third goal.There will be tougher challenges ahead, but Solskjaer clearly understands the club’s history and the players’ desire to play expansive attacking football. That should ensure his tenure is a successful one.3) Fernandinho is irreplaceable as John Stones is exposed by PalaceMan City seemed to have unlimited strength in depth, and yet on Saturday they were beaten primarily because John Stones could not deputise successfully for the injured Fernandinho. The Brazilian is a clever player defensively, but more importantly has a rare agility for a defensive midfielder. This allows City to play in a very wide formation, because Fernandinho can rapidly change direction and recover the ball.Stones clearly isn’t the most mobile of footballers, making him a strange choice to start in central midfield on Saturday. He was turned in the build-up to the first two Palace goals, first by failing to make a strong enough tackle on James McArthur and then losing control of the midfield battle as Palace won a freekick (from which Andros Townsend scored). Fernandinho’s injury could mean he misses the Leicester City match on Boxing Day – which is a major boost for Liverpool. Just like Palace, it is easy to imagine Leicester’s Maddison and Vardy countering around the flat-footed Stones.Best of the Week – Hodgson’s use of SchluppCrystal Palace’s performance in their victory over Man City was fairly typical of Roy Hodgson’s time in charge of the club, although there was one big difference: Jeffrey Schlupp played in central midfield for perhaps the first time in his career. He added pace and directness in the centre, allowing Palace to counter-attack against John Stones rather than out wide. Schlupp’s impact was most obvious in his equalising goal, but Hodgson’s selection also indirectly played a hand in Palace’s second and third. By adding Schlupp into the middle, switching from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, Hodgson had to move Andros Townsend out to the right wing. His cutting inside from the right sucked Man City inwards, helping Aaron Wan-Bissaka isolate Fabian Delph – as he did in the build-up to Palace’s match-winning penalty.Worst of the Week – Everton’s defendingConfusion across the back four defined Everton’s 6-2 defeat to Tottenham on Sunday. They failed to track Spurs’ runs properly, communicating badly and clearly struggling with Marco Silva’s high line.But more important was the lack of pressure on the Spurs midfielders. Mauricio Pochettino instructed his team to play lots of long balls in behind Everton’s high line, and this worked primarily because Everton’s midfield didn’t close down quickly enough. Christian Eriksen was given the freedom of Goodison Park – and that can only end in one team winning.