Premier League managers already looking to the future (Beyond The 90 Minutes)

Steve ClarkeNaturally for this stage of the season a number of Premier League clubs no longer have anything to play for beyond pride. With league position secure some managers may see this as a chance to plan ahead for next season, or the summer transfer window. No doubt the international break would have given clubs the opportunity to assess their goals, their tactical plans and their squads. So as we enter the home straight, here are five managers who may already have one eye on the future… (Read more)

10/03/13 – Liverpool vs Tottenham (Premier League)

Liverpool vs TottenhamDaniel Sturridge’s return from injury gives Brendan Rodgers a dilemma given the potency of Liverpool’s forward line against Wigan. Luis Suarez’s hat-trick strengthens his claim to the central berth, although Rodgers will argue that the Uruguayan has been equally dangerous from deeper, wider positions. Both Philippe Coutinho and Stewart Downing also performed well, and will be difficult to drop. Rodgers is likely to choose between including Sturridge in his usual front three, probably at the expense of Coutinho, or switching to a 4-4-2 variation with Suarez and Sturridge through the middle. However given the threat of Gareth Bale for Tottenham Rodgers is likely to want to keep an extra man in midfield, so a 4-1-2-3 seems the likeliest option.

Tottenham’s impressive victory over Arsenal last weekend will have increased their confidence further and Bale, and his teammates, have adapted well to the Welshman’s new central role. Jermain Defoe’s return after a long absence will be a relief to Andre Villas-Boas, who must be getting worried about Emmanuel Adebayor’s lack of form. Elsewhere Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson will compete for the left midfield role – Sigurdsson was solid against Arsenal and supplied Bale for the first goal, but Villas-Boas probably still identifies Holtby as a longer term solution. Despite the manager rotating his defence throughout the campaign, Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson’s excellent performances against Arsenal may suggest a first choice partnership has been found.

Contrary to popular belief it is Liverpool that come into this game in free-scoring form, having scored three or more goals in 7 of their last 13 league games. In contrast Tottenham haven’t won a league game by more than one goal since the 1st of January… (Read more)

03.03.13 – Tottenham vs Arsenal (Premier League)

Tottenham vs ArsenalTottenham have now been competing on a similar level to their North London rivals for a few years now, but they have yet to secure a convincing victory in a league game. In fact Arsenal have often come into these games as the team under pressure and left with a sizable victory. The last two league meetings, both at the Emirates, are excellent examples – Tottenham taking an early lead and looking exert their authority before capitulating and losing both games 5-2. Ultimately, while performances have led to many declaring Tottenham as having usurped Arsenal as North London’s best, the derby matches often show Arsene Wenger’s side as being better equipped to perform under pressure.

This match is no different to previous encounters. Before the reverse fixture in November Arsenal were being written off whilst Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas were gaining momentum, but an early red card for Emmanuel Adebayor ruined a gameplan and chances of victory. Tottenham, led by the increasingly brilliant Gareth Bale, continue to impress, whilst Arsenal continue to confound, although it is telling that such contrasting fortunes are only separated by four points and two places in the league… (Read more)

22/02/13 – Wenger’s tactical decisions are as responsible for Arsenal’s demise as his transfer policy

Arsene WengerArsenal’s demise from a European force to a club hanging on to European qualification via the Premier League has been well documented. Much of the blame is attributed to the quality of the players and manager Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy. Both are entirely reasonable assessments, but they ignore an important feature of the club’s evolution in recent years. Arsenal’s trophy-winning years seemingly dried up after the departures of stars like Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, but Wenger’s tactical changes have been just as damaging… (Read more)

24/02/13 – Manchester City vs Chelsea (Premier League)

Manchester City vs ChelseaIt isn’t often the reigning Premier League Champions will base their team selection on a routine cup victory over lower-league opposition, but then Manchester City have rarely acted like reigning Champions this season. Jolean Lescott appears to fall further out of favour as Kolo Toure overtakes him in the central defensive pecking order, although Vincent Kompany’s mooted return from injury would see them both dropped to the bench. Elsewhere Roberto Mancini may finally be persuaded to persist with a forward pairing of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry’s poor form may see him dropped in favour of Javi Garcia.

Rafael Benitez has struggled to settle on a favoured system let alone a preferred starting XI during his few months at Chelsea. Initial attempts to withdraw the wide forwards into a 4-4-1-1 appear to have been abandoned, but Benitez will still need to decide between fielding Chelsea’s ‘three amigos’ of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar behind a lone striker or selecting Victor Moses as a natural wide option. Alternatively the Spaniard could opt for caution and deploy either Ramires or Ryan Bertrand in a wide midfield role as he has done on previous occasions. Defensively Benitez still seems unsure of his best back four, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic in contention for the right back slot, and Gary Cahill, David Luiz and John Terry options at centre back. In attack the Demba Ba/Fernando Torres debate continues… (Read more)

10/02/13 – Manchester United vs Everton (Premier League)

Man Utd vs EvertonConsidering how Manchester United were outmuscled in midfield by Everton earlier in the season and the poor form of his natural wingers, Sir Alex Ferguson could reintroduce his diamond midfield against Everton with Wayne Rooney behind two forwards. However, given that the league leaders are at home and are unbeaten in 13 league games Ferguson will probably keep faith with his customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape. Everton came back from 3-1 down to Aston Villa last weekend after switching to two forwards in a 4-4-2 but David Moyes is likely to start with Marouane Fellaini behind a lone striker – assuming he passes a late fitness test – from where the Belgian scored the winner against United in August. United and Everton have played out some incredible games in recent years, largely owing to the use of similar systems but with vastly opposing styles… (Read more)

09/02/13 – Tottenham vs Newcastle (Premier League)

Tottenham vs NewcastleTwo teams looking to build around a new central midfielder for the remainder of the season. Tottenham’s decision to sign Lewis Holtby six months ahead of schedule was influenced by the loss of Sandro to injury, but in reality he will offer a more natural fit as a central playmaker than either Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson. Newcastle also signed Moussa Sissoko before his contract expired in the summer and his two games in an advanced midfield position have inspired Alan Pardew’s side to two victories. Both teams play a 4-2-3-1 variation, although the ambition of the managers and the identity of the players involved makes Tottenham’s shape closer to a 4-2-1-3 compared to Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1. The difference may seem trivial but it creates an interesting tactical match up… (Read more)

07/02/13 – Sturridge opens up tactical possibilities for Rodgers

Daniel SturridgeThat Liverpool signed Daniel Sturridge in the January transfer window was no great surprise. Following the loaning out of Andy Carroll in August and the failed attempt to sign Clint Dempsey as a replacement, Brendan Rodgers endured the first half-season of his Liverpool reign with only two senior forwards. In theory Sturridge seemed well suited to Rodgers style of playing, being quick, comfortable on the ball and capable of playing wide or through the middle. Yet there were issues with the forward that still made the move a little curious, and questions were raised about how exactly he would fit into the Liverpool side… (Read more)

How has the January transfer window affected teams’ tactical approach? (Beyond The 90 Minutes)

Demba BaTransfer activity is often a fascinating way to identify a teams’ tactical ambition as a club’s transfer policy is dependent on the manager’s approach. A systemic manager’s priority is to sign players that are better adapted to their style of play, and thus improves the strength of the team not necessarily by signing better quality players, but by signing better fitting players. An adaptable manager is less focused on tactical suitability as they are happier modifying their game-plan to suit the players at their disposal, and therefore can use the transfer market solely to improve the quality of the squad. In reality few managers are strictly one or the other and tend to be a mixture of the two, but the contrasts were still evident in the January transfer window… (Read more)

03/02/13 – Manchester City vs Liverpool (Premier League)

Man City vs LiverpoolWhen the reverse of this fixture was played back in August, Manchester City were adopting a 3-5-2 system led by Mario Balotelli, and Fabio Borini and Andy Carroll constituted Liverpool’s only back up to Luis Suarez. Two uncertain sides drew 2-2 that day, although Liverpool began to show glimpses of what they might achieve once the squad had adapted to new manager Brendan Rodgers’ tactics. Roberto Mancini has since seemingly abandoned his 3-5-2 experiment, and the current City side should offer a far more imposing challenge… (Read more)