Everton v Aston Villa
Liv on BT Sport 1
Duncan Ferguson will remain in temporary charge of Everton until they find a new manager and although he won five points from three games last time that happened, against three ‘Big Six’ clubs no less, the tactical landscape of the Premier League is very different this time. His biggest achievement was beating a ropey, free-form Frank Lampard Chelsea at Goodison Park using a direct and old-fashioned 4-4-2.
The game was all about long punts forward, winning the second balls, flying into tackles, and hurtling down the flanks after sitting back in two banks of four for long periods. He did the same thing in draws against Manchester United and Arsenal, both of which were vulnerable with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Freddie Ljungberg at the helm respectively. Aston Villa will be more alert to the threat of retro football.
Steven Gerrard’s 4-3-2-1 formation should have the compression and composure to prevent Everton from overwhelming them psychologically, while Villa’s use of dual number tens – with eights advancing aggressively alongside them – can pierce through Ferguson’s two-man midfield. With Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne combining on the left, the visitors should be favourites.
Back Villa to win at 2.6313/8
Man Utd v West Ham
Manchester United have barely improved since moving from a 4-2-2-2 to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Bruno Fernandes has given brief sparks of creativity but the system remains very sloppy, the United players refusing to press and generally finding it difficult to build attacks carefully through the lines. That should mean they are open to being hit by David Moyes’ West Ham on the break.
The visitors will be happy to sit in a low block and absorb pressure, forcing Man Utd to become stagnant in possession as the game slows right down. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek can cover the spaces in which Fernandes operates, once again causing Ralf Rangnick’s team to pass harmlessly out to the flanks.
From their low base, West Ham can then spring forward on the counter, paying particular attention to their right wing where the in-form Jarrod Bowen is up against Alex Telles. The Man Utd left-back is not very secure defensively and is unlikely to receive adequate defensive support from young left winger Anthony Elanga. Brentford’s early pressure should have led to goals in midweek. Moyes’s team won’t be so wasteful.
Back the draw at 3.7511/4
Southampton v Man City
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
When Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side drew 0-0 at the Etihad in September it looked like the start of familiar issues for Manchester City – who looked sluggish on the ball and open through midfield to quick opposition counter-attacks, struggling to show any real urgency in possession to open up such a well-drilled defence.
There is a chance this is repeated on Saturday. Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2 formation surrounds the Man City midfield very well, forming a four-man circle around those at the base of midfield to ensure Man City are denied the opportunity to explore the more dangerous central areas. However, the recent form of Kevin de Bruyne – who only made a substitute cameo in the reverse fixture – throws that into doubt.
De Bruyne’s intelligence in slowly uncovering the space in a game means that, eventually, he will shuttle out wide to double up with a Man City winger, combining to take advantage of Southampton’s difficulty covering the width with only two central midfielders on the pitch. De Bruyne will react quicker than James Ward-Prowse, getting on the ball in the half-spaces to give Man City a narrow win.
Back Man City to win and under 2.5 goals at 4.216/5
Chelsea v Tottenham
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Thomas Tuchel has recently introduced a hybrid 4-2-2-2/3-5-2 formation, in which a nominal back four swings across to become more like the old shape as Hakim Ziyech, starting as one of the narrow tens, becomes the right wing-back. This has made Chelsea less predictable when they attack – particularly in how Ziyech’s position shifts through the pitch – and has allowed Cesar Azpilicueta to get forward more.
Another plus side is that Romelu Lukaku ends up playing less like a target man, with another striker to bounce off, although in the 1-1 draw with Brighton Callum Hudson-Odoi was an inadequte partner. Nevertheless Tottenham should be worried; they were beaten twice in the EFL Cup against Chelsea’s 4-2-2-2/3-5-2 as Mason Mount and Ziyech dominated the midfield.
Their new hard-to-track positions badly outnumbered Antonio Conte’s two – and it should do again. With Kai Havertz dropping to link with Mount and Ziyech, Spurs won’t have the bodies to cope, and without Eric Dier spreading long balls into the wing-backs the visitors aren’t going to be as effective on the counter.
Back Chelsea to win at 1.625/8