Man Utd & Liverpool to lose


Everton v Liverpool
Saturday, 12:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Aston Villa’s 7-2 victory a fortnight ago has broken the psychological stranglehold Liverpool had over the Premier League and has provided a tactical template for others to follow: the way to beat Jurgen Klopp’s side is to spread the ball out to the left wing as quickly as possible and counter-attack in the spaces behind Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Liverpool’s main problem is that their pressing has dropped off in midfield, meaning opponents have time on the ball to pick out a pass behind Klopp’s high defensive line. Presumably they will have improved from the game at Villa Park, but perhaps not enough to avoid another damaging defeat on Saturday. Everton have the perfect tactics to mimic what Villa did.

James Rodriguez has taken to spraying long balls out to the left flank at Everton, either directly targeting Richarlison as he makes diagonal runs off the left or finding Lucas Digne when he arrives late into the spaces the Brazilian has vacated. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin an aerial target in the box, and with Allan also capable of playing long balls into the left channel, this one looks pretty ominous for Liverpool.

Man City v Arsenal
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Manchester City are, like Liverpool, also struggling to press with the same intensity, leading to decompression between the lines of defence and midfield – but whereas Klopp’s team maintain their high line, City’s defenders are backpedalling as the central midfielders fail to close the space. That means the number ten zone is defended poorly, hence Harvey Barnes’ dominance in sliding through balls into the box during Leicester’s 5-2 win.

Arsenal can cause damage by repeating the plan that won the FA Cup semi-final 2-0 in July, namely by pressing high to disrupt City’s passing rhythm and passing out from goal kicks to lure City forward. The latter approach led directly to the first goal at Wembley as City’s first wave of pressure was outmanoeuvred, exposing that huge gap between Pep Guardiola’s defence and midfield.

But it is such a high-risk approach from Mikel Arteta, both in pressing and in possession, that it should create an end-to-end game in this most chaotic of seasons. A lack of organisation in the City press will see Arsenal’s bold approach rewarded at times, but at others their short passing from the back should provide City with the opportunity to create chances. Yet another very high-scoring game is plausible.

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Newcastle v Man Utd
Saturday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Box Office

Manchester United’s 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the last round got buried slightly by the sensational game at Villa Park, but if they drop more points this weekend surely the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will build to unbearable levels. They are fast approaching one of their worst-ever starts to a Premier League season – and this weekend they travel to the scene of a damaging 1-0 defeat last year.

Matty Longstaff’s winner at St. James Park was one of the highlights of the season for Newcastle, who beat Man Utd with a very simple approach. Steve Bruce sat his team in an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 that invited the visitors to pass the ball around aimlessly, waiting for a gap in the brick wall that sat just outside the penalty area.

The biggest issue with Solskjaer’s United is that they are not coached attacking patterns, which means they become completely unstuck when facing a diligent and compact defensive blockade. Consequently they are unlikely to create much on Saturday evening, particularly with Bruno Fernandes struggling for form, while Newcastle can counter-attack at speed behind this newly-vulnerable back line.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson might not be as lethal as Harry Kane and Hueng-Min Son, but they don’t need to win 6-1. Another famous 1-0 win is on the cards.

Leicester City v Aston Villa
Sunday, 19:15
Live on Sky Sports Box Office

Leicester’s 3-0 defeat to West Ham was defined by simple counter-attacks that put a clumsy back three under pressure and a deep defence from David Moyes that neutered the major attacking lines that Brendan Rodgers likes to use. Sudden, explosive bursts of verticality are Leicester’s primary weapon, but when faced with a conservative block the likes of Youri Tielemans cannot play any piercing forward passes.

Aston Villa have retreated into a deeper shape under Dean Smith since Project Restart, which could mean they repeat the West Ham model this weekend. What’s more, Daniel Amartey is the weak link on the right of Leicester’s back three and this is where Villa will mainly attack via Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley. These two already look to have forged a strong partnership dribbling forward on the break.

John McGinn and Douglas Luiz performed very well in tandem against Liverpool a fortnight ago, with McGinn enjoying a slightly deeper role than usual now Barkley is in the side. Given that Leicester are still without Wilfried Ndidi and James Maddison, Villa look stronger in midfield and in attack ahead of this one.