Premier League & FA Cup Tactical Preview: Chelsea to beat Leicester

Newcastle United v Manchester City
Friday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Newcastle’s 4-2 victory over Leicester last weekend was the starkest example yet of Steve Bruce’s new commitment to expansive attacking football defined by individualism, dribbling, and counter-attacks funnelled through Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson – deployed as the two forwards in a progressive, if chaotic, 5-3-2 formation. In theory, Newcastle won’t be so open against Man City as Bruce looks to reinstate a deep-lying defensive shell to frustrate the visitors.

But, in practice, the leash is off and, playing without pressure, Newcastle are likely to pour bodies forward on the counter-attack. JonJo Shelvey is enjoying his role pinging long balls forward for Wilson and Saint-Maximin from the base of midfield while Miguel Almiron and Joe Willock burst forward on the break to give volume to Newcastle counters.

Man City’s high defensive line means Wilson will be able to make runs into space, while Pep Guardiola’s tendency to leave Rodri alone in midfield means Saint-Maximin will have room to dribble forward. This will stretch the pitch and create an open game – which clearly favours the champions. This could be a thumping result for Pep Guardiola’s side as they bask in the glow of their latest Premier League title win.

Chelsea v Leicester City
Saturday, 17:15
Live on BBC One

The only teams to have beaten Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, FC Porto and West Brom, did so by playing an aggressive and physically confrontational game while focusing their attacks down the flanks, behind the two Chelsea wing-backs. Unfortunately for Leicester fans, Brendan Rodgers doesn’t tend to play like this at all.

Leicester, who look fatigued at the end of a long season, will not be able to break through the structured and controlling possession of a refreshed Chelsea side that rested all of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, and Jorginho for the 2-1 win over Man City last weekend. Their narrow attacking lines in a 3-4-1-2 clash with Chelsea’s compressed and midfield-heavy shape, which should create the sort of claustrophobic contest that favours the rhythms of Tuchel’s football.

Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho may be able to make good runs on the outside of the Chelsea centre-backs, but more likely Leicester’s two-man midfield will be overwhelmed by the box-shape of Chelsea’s. What’s more, without Jonny Evans Leicester were easily to cut through in the 4-2 defeat to Newcastle; if Wilson can get in behind the Foxes’ defence, then Timo Werner should flourish.

Brendan Rodgers, Leicester boss.jpg

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa
Sunday, 12:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Crystal Palace have let their season drift, and as concentration lapses a big flaw is developing on the flanks. Roy Hodgson’s deep-lying 4-4-2 keeps in a narrow shape when out of possession and the opponent is rarely put under any pressure until they reach the final third, which is a problem when players become passive as the season winds down.

Southampton’s defenders found it easy to get their head up and ping a long diagonal out to the left flank where Nathan Redmond had acres of space; Palace were far too narrow, leaving the Saints winger to dominate the game. That is pretty alarming for Palace fans considering Jack Grealish is returning to action for visitors Aston Villa.

Historically, Grealish has not needed long to get back to full match sharpness following an injury. He will enjoy the room he is afforded on that left flank, and with Matt Targett overlapping faster than Jordan Ayew can track, Villa have a simple route to victory at Selhurst Park.

Tottenham v Wolves
Sunday, 14:05
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Ryan Mason has decided to implement some feel-good Pochettino-lite football at Spurs, and without the necessary time spent on the training ground it has made them too open. Their 4-2-3-1 looked more like a 2-2-6 at times against Leeds, with high full-backs and an attacking front four leaving far too much space for Leeds United to counter-attack.

That was particularly true down Gareth Bale’s side of the pitch. He was seemingly unwilling to track back, which should allow Nuno Esperito Santo to play Adama Traore down that side and get huge success. Traore is the best dribbler in the league (4.1 successful take-ons per match) and has four goal contributions in his last six. Up against Serge Aurier, he should shine for Wolves.

And while Tottenham’s attacking mentality should bring them goals against a leaky Wolves defence that is still getting used to the switch from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1, Nuno has all the counter-attacking weapons he needs to take advantage of Mason’s gung-ho approach. Daniel Podence and Morgan Gibbs-White will help create an end-to-end game with plenty of goals.