Leicester City v Liverpool
Live on BT Sport 1
Jamie Vardy and Wilfried Ndidi returned to the starting line-up for Leicester City’s midweek victory over Brighton, which is a major boost before Saturday’s game. Without Ndidi their midfield has lost its bite and forward drive, and the side just hasn’t had the same counter-attacking threat since Vardy stopped scoring. Brendan Rodgers can hope for a strong showing on the break against Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp continues to persist with a narrow 4-3-3, with temporary formation changes never maintained for long enough to yield results, and opponents are increasingly finding ways to counter on the outside of the midfield. They are weakest on their right, where Thiago‘s lack of defensive clout and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s attacking instincts make them vulnerable to direct balls played down that side of the field.
This is where Harvey Barnes is flourishing this season. With Ndidi breaking up play and providing the first pass, Barnes can collect the ball on the half-turn between the lines on Saturday and drive into the open spaces, while Vardy‘s movement should help the English winger make ground down the left.
Man City v Tottenham
Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Manchester City’s total dominance of matches recently comes thanks to Pep Guardiola’s decision to double down on possession football, drawing everything into the centre of the pitch via false nines, hyper-inverted wingers, and positioning Joao Cancelo in central midfield. They are controlling through suffocation, and with Jose Mourinho set to deploy one of his famous low blocks City should have no trouble winning this one.
Spurs’ strong attacking showing in the FA Cup in midweek was as much to do with Everton’s porousness as their own strengths, and there is zero chance Man City will give up space in the defensive transition. Consequently Harry Kane should be severely limited by the strong axis of Rodri and Cancelo at the base of midfield (the space Kane likes to drop into), neutralizing the visitors.
At the other end, the litany of defensive errors plaguing Tottenham at the moment put them on shaky ground at the Etihad. The high-tempo positional interchanges in the final third, coupled with the blistering form of Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan, will pull Mourinho’s back six out of shape and expose the deep defensive line as too hesitant and flat-footed.
West Brom v Man Utd
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
The strangest thing about Sam Allardyce’s tenure as West Brom manager isn’t that they have not improved their defensive record, but that their shape itself in no way reflects what Big Sam has achieved throughout his career. When they sit in those deep and compressed lines they look good, but for some reason they appear to open each half in a more chaotic formation that sees them quickly punished.
The 2-0 defeat to Spurs was just the latest example. In the first ten minutes of both halves West Brom pressed onto the Tottenham centre-backs, almost as if they couldn’t help but get ‘stuck in’ to the battle. In the first half Kane missed two big chances early on, and then he scored at the beginning of the second.
Man Utd will take full advantage. They are good at racing out of the blocks and possess intelligent players in Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and Edinson Cavani who can quickly get to grips with the tactical pattern of a match and expose gaps. Their pace and energy should blow West Brom away – either early in the first half or early in the second.
Arsenal v Leeds
Live on Sky Sports Main Event
This should be a relatively open and entertaining game between two teams at their best when able to capitalise on the attacking transition, and after Arsenal’s consecutive defeats to Wolves and Aston Villa there is one area of the pitch in which this openness puts them at a major disadvantage. Cedric Soares, who continues to deputise for Kieran Tierney, was poor in both matches.
Leeds right winger Rafinha has scored twice and assisted twice in his last four games, cutting in from the flank to superb effect. He can overwhelm Soares: Marcelo Bielsa likes to overload the flanks, often emptying central midfield in order to move players into the wings and create a three-pronged attack against the opposition full-back.
With Nicolas Pepe unlikely to track his runners effectively, there is a serious mismatch on this wing that Leeds can exploit in open play as Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas crowd around Soares to create openings for Bielsa’s in-form Brazilian forward.