Premier League & FA Cup quarter-final Tactical Preview

Everton v Man City (FA Cup QF)
Saturday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Carlo Ancelotti has used six different formations across the last seven games in all competitions, and yet the most important tactical variable is the share of possession they record; no matter the system, Everton struggle if they hold the lion’s share but tend to win if they are put on to the back foot. That’s because, without Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan playing together, Everton lack the necessary bite in midfield to play in an expansive shape.

Manchester City will naturally force Everton into a deeper and more compressed formation, which will solidify midfield to some extent, and yet it is hard to see Glyfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies, or Andre Gomes really having the defensive abilities to deal with the onslaught of City bodies through the central column of the pitch. Joao Cancelo’s forwards run into this zone will likely cause panic, leading to another alarmingly easy win for Pep Guardiola’s side.

However, Allan’s return has reinstated an intelligent first pass of the Everton counter-attack. That should mean they can bypass City’s press and get Richarlison and Lucas Digne darting down the left, potentially into pockets left open by Joao Cancelo as he shifts from right-back to central midfield. Everton should get on the score sheet in defeat.

West Ham v Arsenal
Sunday, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Mikel Arteta’s tactics have changed considerably over the course of the season as the Spaniard adapts to the talent at his disposal. The line-breaking, direct, on-the-half-turn style of both Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka demands verticality, while the addition of Martin Odegaard in January only adds to the sense Arteta is not currently interested in patient possession football.

These methods are unlikely to work against such a powerful West Ham midfield. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are superb at preventing opponents from playing through them, which should lead to a stale performance from Arsenal as West Ham hold a deep block and keep them at arms’ length. But that does not mean David Moyes will be purely defensive.

Unlike Tottenham, who sat so far back they became passive, West Ham will confront Arsenal high up the pitch, pressing from goal kicks in order to force more errors in Arteta’s defence. Moyes’ mixed approach can unsettle the Gunners, creating the chance for quick breaks through Jesse Lingard and Michail Antonio.

Leicester City v Manchester United (FA Cup QF)
Sunday, 17:00
Live on BBC One

Leicester haven’t beaten Manchester United since that famous 5-3 in 2014, and recently Brendan Rodgers has got his tactics wrong against them. Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final is the perfect opportunity to change all that, thanks to the Leicester manager’s new 3-5-2 formation.

This match will probably drift in a territorially-even and largely unexciting contest typical of United games this term. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side tend to win in the ‘moments’ with a sudden burst of quality, but with Leicester packing three central defenders and three central midfielders into the side it seems likely Bruno Fernandes will be kept quiet (his individual battle with Wilfried Ndidi is crucial).

At the other end, split strikers Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho can find joy. They combined for two goals in the 5-0 defeat of Sheffield United last weekend, making tandem runs on the outside of the centre-backs to allow Leicester to play a more direct game – a necessary tinker given James Maddison and Harvey Barnes are both injured. On Victor Lindelof’s side in particular, Vardy can get in behind and set up the in-form Iheanacho.

Aston Villa v Tottenham
Sunday, 19:30
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Dean Smith consistently shows a desire to play on the front foot, even though all evidence shows Aston Villa are better when playing cautiously. Their excellent defence and quick forwards can create a superb low-bock with counter-attacking football, but Smith would rather take the game to the opposition. When they are allowed to do this, they are invariably too porous to win.

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur are expected to attack more regularly now that Gareth Bale is in the side, and yet even throughout the winning streak prior to the loss at Arsenal Spurs weren’t actually pressing high up the pitch. Villa’s attempts to push them back will succeed, in turn creating massive amounts of space between the lines for Harry Kane and Bale to break.

Smith just cannot find the right combination of midfielders at the moment. None of them are in form, and therefore none feel confident enough to play progressive passes or take the necessary risks to prevent giving the ball away sloppily. When Tottenham out-battle Villa in the middle, they will be presented with wide-open patches of grass in which to counter.