Burnley v Watford
Live on BT Sport 1
The only Premier League game this weekend is a golden opportunity for renewal for the division’s two bottom clubs. Watford, without a clean sheet in any of their last 30 games, are hoping for a new-manager bounce under Roy Hodgson while Burnley are expected to start new £12 million signing Wout Weghorst. The
It will be a very low quality game, largely because Hodgson’s first task will have been to make Watford into a sturdy, deep-lying defensive unit. They will sit right back in a 4-4-2 and compress space between the lines, looking to nullify the hosts and – with Emmanuel Dennis suspended – there is little hope of creativity at the other end.
Burnley are generally reduced to tedious football if forced to hold possession, as they will here, although Watford’s vulnerability in the air and from set-pieces provides the opportunity for a dream debut. Sean Dyche’s side will launch long balls into the box constantly, happily avoiding driving into the hunched Watford shape with an early punt. Against a Watford team that has conceded the sixth most goals from set-pieces this season (eight), Weghorst can rise highest.
Everton v Brentford
This is a difficult debut for Frank Lampard. His Chelsea team were under-coached, playing in a highly adventurous system with players flying forward and pressing high – but in a sporadic and vague style that left them very open to being counter-attacked. This seems likely to happen at Everton as well.
The players’ keeness to impress the new manager should cause a dramatic shift up the pitch, while Donny van der Beek starting is likely to leave huge amounts of space in central midfield (especially with Abdoulaye Doucoure out injured). Thomas Frank’s 3-5-2 is well organised at sitting behind the ball and, likely to out-battle Everton for loose balls, can launch quick attacks that expose Lampard’s overly-expansive shape.
One important feature of Brentford’s play is the speed with which they launch long passes forward for Ivan Toney and Brian Mbuemo, who dove-tail up front to play quick one-touch flicks around the corner for each other. It is easy to imagine these two being slid in behind Everton’s high line, especially with the error-prone Michael Keane in the starting line-up.
Tottenham v Brighton
Live on ITV 4
Graham Potter’s Brighton are increasingly difficult to beat, drawing each of their last three games 1-1 in performances that, as usual, saw them hold their own with intelligent possession football that screened against opposition counters but failed to create too many opportunities. Tottenham, however, should be able to poke holes.
Brighton’s new diamond 4-4-2 formation can leave too much space in the wide areas, which hands Tottenham an opportunity to get their wing-backs on the ball from within Antonio Conte’s 3-4-2-1 formation. One of the Italian’s most important strategies is to get Eric Dier to play sweeping diagonals into the advancing wing-back, and these should find their target given the narrowness of Potter’s system.
Emerson Royal has struggled to do anything with the space he is finding on the right, but the signing of Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus may mean Conte is planning to convert Lucas Moura into a right wing-back. An FA Cup tie would be the perfect place to trial it, and Brighton are just the side to show vulnerability here.
Wolves v Norwich
This one won’t be a classic and the TV companies are right to have left it in the 3pm slot. Wolves are a very smart side tactically but Bruno Lage’s desire to build up slowly from the back, as well as only press the ball in the middle third of the pitch, means they do not score or concede many goals – just 1.7 per league game this season.
Norwich City have taken a sudden turn towards defensive football under Dean Smith, winning consecutive Premier League matches with a possession average of just 35% – and that’s despite playing against Watford and a Rafael Benitez side. It would appear that, having seen Norwich don’t have the defensive qualities to be expansive, Smith has gone on the retreat.
This is exactly what he did at Aston Villa for the final few matches of the 2019/20 season, when they pulled off an unexpected escape by dramatically altering their play, sitting every player behind the ball and camping in their own third. Should Norwich do that against this sluggish Wolves side, then a 0-0 and extra time is on the cards.