10 months agoTalking Tactics: Pogba Man Utd masterclass; Arsenal vulnerability; Zaha lazy
TagsOpinionAbout the authorAlex Keble FollowShare the loveHave your say Talking Tactics: Pogba Man Utd masterclass; Arsenal vulnerability; Zaha lazyby Alex Keble10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveLiverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points thanks to a 5-1 victory against a weary, disorganised Arsenal outfit struggling with injuries. Unai Emery chose the wrong formation for his side’s trip to Anfield, which became something of a theme for the weekend.Ralph Hasenhuttl made the same error (selecting a back four rather than a back five) as his Southampon team lost to Manchester City, while Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur looked clueless in the second half of their game against Wolves. Any suggestion of a Spurs title challenge has been quickly shouted down.Here are three things we learnt from the weekend action:1) Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation leaves Arsenal weak on the flanks and in the middleThere are numerous reasons why Arsenal’s defence was unable to prevent a Liverpool rout on Saturday evening, but the blame lies largely with manager Unai Emery; his move to a back four confused the centre-backs, isolated the full-backs, and left them looking light in midfield. Ainsley Maitland-Niles seemed unsure of his role throughout the first half, loitering high up the pitch to leave the struggling Stephan Lichtsteiner with too much to do. The Swiss was directly at fault for the first and third Liverpool goals, his performance characterised by an anxiety and hastiness caused by a lack of support down his side of the pitch. On the other flank, Alex Iwobi was equally poor at tracking back, which is why the two Liverpool full-backs so frequently received long diagonal passes into the attacking third. Jurgen Klopp’s strategy allowed the hosts to grind Arsenal down in the first half.But it wasn’t just out wide that Emery got it wrong. By instructing Aaron Ramsey to say high alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (who doesn’t work hard enough for games as intense as these), Lucas Torreira was often left without a passing option in the middle of the park. Ordinarily he would have wing-backs in line with him as an outlet, and instead there was nobody – explaining why he was caught in possession moments before Liverpool’s crucial second goal.A return to 3-4-3 – more secure at centre-back and more balanced out wide – will almost certainly happen in midweek.2) Hasenhuttl’s initial tactical mistake proves costly for high-pressing SaintsSouthampton could have beaten Man City, and not just because they should have had a penalty moments before James Ward-Prowse’s own goal. Hasenhuttl’s unexpected shift to a 4-3-3 formation proved to be a costly mistake – even though it only lasted 15 minutes before he switched – with their subsequent performance offering encouragement for Saints fans and for those hoping to take points from Man City this season.Hasenhuttl’s 4-3-3 took narrowness to the extreme. Three forwards practically holding hands were unable to prevent City from passing out from the back, and their three midfield players were too preoccupied with David Silva to cover the width. City glided, unchallenged, down the flanks over and over in the first 15, eventually leading to the opener as Bernardo Silva repeated a familiar trick of joining Riyad Mahrez to make dual right wingers. It was a threat Southampton should have seen coming, and yet their narrow 4-3-3 suggested Hasenhuttl had not anticipated City’s strength out wide.He quickly changed back to the 3-4-2-1 to successfully shut down the flanks (in this system, wing-backs can get tight to the winger safe in the knowledge that a third centre-back and shuffle across to act as an auxiliary full-back). From this point on, Southampton’s high press unsettled the visitors, while Mario Lemina’s interesting position to the left of the front three (he kept dropping deeper to become a backup centre-mid) blunted both Silvas.If only Hasenhuttl had played 3-4-2-1 from the start, City’s dreadful run might have continued.3) Zaha’s failure to track Jorginho let Crystal Palace downIt was no surprise to see Crystal Palace sit in an ultra-deep defensive shell and invite Chelsea pressure; that’s the standard Roy Hodgson solution when playing the top six, and it almost worked perfectly at Selhurst Park. However, Wilfried Zaha badly let them down by failing to defend properly, explaining, in the process, why he isn’t trusted as a winger against the big clubs. Everyone knows that man-marking Jorginho is the best way to blunt Chelsea. It means they cannot funnel possession through their metronome and must instead dramatically reshuffle, often unsuccessfully. But as the other nine players dropped into a formation ten yards in front of Jorginho, Zaha let the Brazilian do whatever he wanted.In the end it was David Luiz’s killer ball over the top that led to N’Golo Kante’s winning goal, but the clipped pass came from exactly the defensive midfield position that Zaha should have been covering. Had Zaha tracked Jorginho throughout the match, he would also have been in the right place to stop Luiz – who instead was afforded all the time in the world to pick out his man. It’s pretty clear why Hodgson rarely gives Zaha a wide role in big matches; he cannot be trusted to do the dirty work.Best of the Week – Paul PogbaAnother masterclass from Paul Pogba on Sunday showed why the Frenchman needs a team to be built around him; he won’t perform well when tamed, and yet given the freedom to roam can dominate a match like few other players in the world. He was everywhere at Old Trafford, linking superbly with Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford.Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has admitted that he hasn’t done much tactical training yet, suggesting that United are riding a wave of optimism through the Christmas period. The hard work will begin when the fixture list calms down in January – at which point we will see just how much effort Pogba is willing to make for the new Man Utd manager.Worst of the Week – Spurs’ second half performanceTottenham failed to record a single shot on goal in the second half of their 3-1 defeat to Wolves, highlighting the perils of Mauricio Pochettino’s refusal to rotate effectively during the winter schedule. However, the problem also lies in a lack of creativity and doggedness in central midfield (they need to sign a Moussa Dembele replacement) and the increasingly poor performances of Kieran Trippier. Kyle Walker-Peters deserved to start again on Saturday.