Pochettino’s perfect plan to stall Sarriball & the Premier League tactical lessons we learned this weekend

By Monday morning we know all about the brightest stars of the weekend action – who scored the goals, who made the glaring errors – but often the most important tactical plots have failed to cut through.

Here,  Goal  looks beyond the obvious headliners and takes a look at five tactical things you might have missed from the Premier League.

Firmino flips from striker to playmaker

Liverpool’s slow passing and sluggish movement throughout the first hour against Watford could easily have cost them the points at Vicarage Road. If the visitors had played with greater urgency they might have pulled the Hornets out of position, but instead they laboured on and rode their luck before Mohamed Salah finally made the breakthrough.

What was most notable throughout that first hour was the disconnect between Liverpool’s defensive players and the front four. Watford’s layers of boxes (a 4-2-2-2 shape) successfully forced Liverpool to play lethargic passes into the wide areas on Saturday, with strikers Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu blocking off the route from Liverpool centre-back to Liverpool attacker.

In an unusual 4-2-4, Jurgen Klopp did not have anybody coming short to receive the ball on the half turn, connecting like David Silva at Manchester City or Dele Alli at Tottenham Hotspur. You do not need that sort of playmaker when ripping through the middle at breakneck speed, but now Liverpool have become a more prosaic possession side it is essential they find a playmaker.

Roberto Firmino is that man. He (finally) dropped deep to get the ball in the 67th minute, played an incisive pass forward, and then kept moving to again become the catalyst in the final third for Salah’s opener. It was a simple, though intelligent, piece of play that Klopp must encourage in the coming weeks.

Liverpool Watford tactics

Pochettino’s perfect plan to stall Sarriball

Tottenham’s performance in their 3-1 victory against Chelsea was outstanding; rather than focus on one thing we learnt, Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical masterclass deserves a full exploration.

As expected, he followed the blueprint laid down by Everton and instructed Dele Alli to sit on top of Jorginho, limiting his ability to make a forward pass and therefore blunting the visitors. But defensively and offensively it was so much more than that.

Pochettino’s 4-3-1-2 ensured Spurs dominated in every area. By playing three central midfielders and a front three that alternated in dropping deep, he made sure the visitors were constantly swarmed and overwhelmed by at least four bodies. This was made possible by congregating to the left of centre – in the areas around the weaker technician N’Golo Kante – and by pressing aggressively throughout. They raced out of the blocks, highlighting Chelsea’s frailty against brave opposition.

On the flanks, Pochettino instructed his full-backs to get unusually tight to whoever received the ball, be it winger or full-back; he knew that Maurizio Sarri’s possession football meant there would be no runners in behind, and therefore no threat from leaving the defensive line. Spurs could sit ultra-narrow and push right onto the wide men, marking Eden Hazard out of the game.

Moussa Sissoko was utterly brilliant as the engine in midfield, his work-rate and desire symbolic of Spurs’ team performance. But even better was the roaming interplay of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and Alli. They dropped back to help defend; they picked up loose balls in the too-large gap between Willian and Kante; and they made runs on the outside of the two Chelsea centre-backs, with Son in particular setting the tone of the match from the right. It was a perfect plan from the Spurs manager.

Emery finds a new formula for Arsenal

Unai Emery unexpectedly switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation against Bournemouth, possibly because he anticipated Eddie Howe starting with a back three but more likely to offer more protection on the flanks , with Sead Kolasinac having looked vulnerable defensively since his return to the side.

It did not exactly work at first, with Bournemouth creating numerous counterattacking opportunities via slide passes through the gaps in the unfamiliar three-man defence, although offensively Arsenal’s tactics were intriguing. It certainly is not a bad plan B for the future.

Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan tucked inside to play as dual number tens, which sucked Bournemouth inwards; the Cherries’ under-stocked midfield meant David Brooks and Ryan Fraser had no choice but to follow them in. This created space for Hector Bellerin and Kolasinac on the overlap, both men having been freed of defensive responsibilities by the system switch. Iwobi to Kolasinac assisted both goals.

The threat of Iwobi in the number ten space and Kolasinac on the overlap made Howe change his approach. He switched to a 3-4-2-1 for the start of the second half so that a spare centre-back could push up and confront Iwobi. However, when this happened in the 67th minute, Simon Francis was turned and makeshift right wing-back Ryan Fraser lost Kolasinac – who crossed for the winning goal. Howe felt forced into a change that backfired. Emery deserves the credit for this.

Bournemouth Arsenal tactics

Billing the perfect foil for magnificent Mooy

Injury restricted Philip Billing to only eight Premier League starts in 2017-18, but now the 22-year-old Huddersfield Town midfielder is back to his best, linking superbly with Aaron Mooy to control midfield against Wolves on Sunday.

Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves might have been expected to dictate the play, but once again Nuno Esperito Santo’s two-man midfield was simply overwhelmed by the opposition numbers; Huddersfield held 55 per cent possession in a 2-0 win at Molineaux.

Billing was brilliant, using the space created by the presence of Alex Pritchard and Jonathan Hogg (at times, the Terriers had a four-v-two in the middle) to drive forward on the ball. It was his through-ball that set Erik Durm away to cross for Mooy’s opener, while Billing ended the game having completed two key passes, two dribbles, and four interceptions – all season highs.

Mooy’s double should help the Australia international rediscover his brilliant first touch and long-ball distribution, although here it was his tackling (five in total) and crossing that really stood out.

In Mooy and Billing, David Wagner has the midfield partnership he needs to restore a composed possession game after months of gradually sinking into a defensive shell.

Ranieri goes direct in bid to get Fulham firing

It was not a vintage display from the hosts, but Fulham’s 3-2 victory against Southampton nevertheless contained a hint of what is to come under new manager Claudio Ranieri.

The Italian is a considerably more direct, assertive coach than his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic, and it showed at Craven Cottage as Fulham ruthlessly took their chances.

Their Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first goal might have looked like the sort of slick passing move of the Jokanovic era, but in fact Fulham would never have scored like that a fortnight ago. They got from their own half to the opposition goal line in just six passes, and four of those were not just forward but completely vertical; Ranieri teams do not mess about.

The second strike was courtesy of two long balls, the first a hoof up to Ryan Sessegnon (who ran straight at his defender) and the second a sweeping cross to the back post for Andre Schurrle to score.

There is plenty of hard work ahead, but Fulham are already showing the sort of urgency and directness the new boss will preach in the coming months.

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‘He caused unbearable Clasico tension’ – Iniesta says Mourinho had a negative impact on Spanish football

Former Barcelona midfielder Andreas Iniesta has claimed Jose Mourinho created an unbearable atmosphere between Barca and Real Madrid players when he was in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Iniesta called time on a glittering career with the Catalan giants at the end of last season and now plays for Japanese side Vissel Kobe.

Mourinho developed a fierce rivalry with Barca boss Pep Guardiola while he held the hot seat at Real from 2010-13. Meanwhile, the Spain international team started to decline after their victory at the 2012 European Championships, crashing out of the 2014 World Cup in the group stages.

Speaking about the animosity between the two Clasico teams, Iniesta told  La Sexta :  “You don’t have to be for Barcelona or Real Madrid to know that the situation was unpleasant.

“And the key component in that story was Mourinho. Whoever doesn’t want to see that, is radical.

“You didn’t see the rivalry that always existed before, it went beyond that, you saw hate. That atmosphere developed and it was unbearable.

“The Barca-Madrid tension caused by Mourinho did much damage to the national team [Spain] and the teammates.”

Mourinho has since reignited his rivalry with Guardiola in England, the two managers taking over at Manchester United and Manchester City respectively in 2016.

Their war of words has continued, with the Red Devils boss often referring to the amount of money his opposite number has had to spend, saying in August, “You cannot buy class.”

Mourinho has also drawn criticism for creating a negative mentality among his own players, Rio Ferdinand most recently criticising his comments about Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Speaking in the build-up to his team’s goalless draw with Crystal Palace, Mourinho said the quartet lack maturity. His handling of other players has also been questioned, with particular scrutiny being aimed at the fallout he had with former vice-captain Paul Pogba.

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Mac to the future: Returning McCarthy can bring glory days back to Ireland

For the first time in months, there was a sense of excitement around the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday. But unlike previous times where there was a buzz around the home of Irish football, this time there were no supporters, just a lot of media members clamouring to get a snappy soundbite from the new man in charge of the Republic of Ireland national team, Mick McCarthy.

It was a stark contrast to the press conferences under his predecessor Martin O’Neill, who was surly and defensive as results, journalists and supporters all turned against him.

After his pragmatic approach to both football and answering questions, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) decided to look back to the future and re-appoint one of only two managers who have ever guided the Boys in Green to a World Cup.

McCarthy is a master of the media game, injecting his answers with his trademark Yorkshire wit, even dropping in an accidental swear word, and asking the questioner for their name in an effort to ingratiate himself with the people who are positioned to call for a manager’s head when results are poor.

Unlike his last spell as Ireland manager from 1996 to 2002, McCarthy won’t be hounded out of the job after a poor run, as the FAI have already put a succession plan in place, with Stephen Kenny having been persuaded to part company with Dundalk – whom he turned into Ireland’s most dominant club team – and take charge of the nation’s Under-21 squad before assuming control of the senior squad in 2020.

Consequently, there is no risk of McCarthy overstaying his welcome, having previously conceded that he should have left on a high after the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where Ireland reached the knockout round before being beaten by Spain on penalties.

A poor start to Euro 2004 qualifying as well as the shadow of Saipan – the venue for the infamous bust-up that prompted McCarthy’s captain, Roy Keane, to quit the national team – led to a huge amount of fan pressure that ultimately forced the FAI to part company with McCarthy.

Mick McCarthy 2002 World Cup

Back in 1996, McCarthy replaced Jack Charlton to take over an Ireland in transition. The squad he inherits is not as good this time around, but the 59-year-old is well aware that he would never have been appointed if the team was in rude health.

“It was the same situation,” McCarthy told reporters. “You don’t get the job if you haven’t qualified [for a tournament]. You don’t get the job if you haven’t been relegated in the Nations League. If you’ve won, you don’t get the job. You always seem to get it on a bit of a low. The first job is to turn that around.”

McCarthy’s first game back will be the country’s opening 2020 European Championship qualifier in March, with the FAI charging him with the responsibility of reaching a tournament at which Dublin will play host to four matches.

With 24 spots available, McCarthy has a great chance of achieving something he never managed during his previous spell at the helm. It would be an even bigger feat too, as McCarthy cannot call upon players of the quality of Roy and Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Steve Finnan, Jason McAteer or Steve Staunton.

McCarthy’s previous successor, Brian Kerr, believes that although the Ireland squad is weaker now, qualification should be easier.

“He did a good job last time around but he’ll find two big things when he comes back,” Kerr told the Irish Examiner. “The players aren’t as good as the last group he had but it’s a lot easier to qualify for finals tournaments.”

Rather than boasting a squad of Premier League players, Ireland are now mostly working with Championship-level talent, but this is the level at which McCarthy has previously flourished, having previously won England’s second division twice.

He has improved each of the clubs he has managed (Sunderland, Wolves and Ipswich), but perhaps stayed too long in each job. There is no danger of that happening with Ireland, though, with Kenny taking over in 2020.

GFX Ray Houghton Mick McCarthy

Additionally, unlike O’Neill, McCarthy is not firm in that belief that Ireland no longer have the players to compete at international level. Sure, there are no Keanes or Duffs, but recent successes at underage level indicate that the well is not dry, while qualification for Euro 2020 is the sole aim rather than anything grander. Nobody expects Ireland to be a challenger.

Still, McCarthy’s arrival has already raised expectations and now that the fans know there is a successor in place for two years’ time, they are thinking the previously unthinkable: What do Ireland do if McCarthy is hugely successful?

“It was explained when I took it. It’s two years to qualify for the European Championship,” he admitted.

“If you do really well and get to the final and win it, and you want me to stay, there might be a push for me to stay, there might be a job in the Premier League as well and they’ll want me there.”

A week ago, an already-relegated Ireland were floundering in the Nations League with O’Neill at the helm. Now, there is a buzz around the team once again and fans are starting to believe.

In less than 24 hours, McCarthy has rolled back the years. A return of the glory days might not be far behind.

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Son targets Spurs century after Chelsea wonder strike

Son Heung-Min says he hopes to score a century of goals at Tottenham after his wonder strike against Chelsea at the weekend.

The South Korea international ran the Blues ragged as Mauricio Pochettino’s men won 3-1 at Wembley, ending the unbeaten start of their fierce rivals.

Son capped his performance with a fantastic solo goal, as he ran from the halfway line, beat both Jorginho and David Luiz, and fired past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

The goal was a fitting way for Son to mark his 50th goal as a Spurs player, and he is already thinking of the next half-century.

“Many people at Spurs congratulated me for it,” he told reporters.

“I’m very grateful for that and now I’ll try to score my 100th goal and more.”

Son has played just eight Premier League games this season, missing encounters with Fulham, Manchester United and Watford due to his international commitments with South Korea.

The winger captained his side to Asian Games glory, thus earning himself exemption from military service in his homeland.

He has been eased back into action by manager Pochettino, and has completed 90 minutes just once this term.

And he remains tough on himself, insisting that he should have scored more than once against the Blues.

“Of course scoring goals is always great,” he said. “But I feel sorry to my team-mates.

“I feel sorry because in the first half I should score more. My team-mates played really well. It was a very good game.”

Spurs’ victory over the Blues has taken them to third in the Premier League, five points behind leaders Manchester City.

They are three points ahead of north London rivals Arsenal as they prepare to take on the Gunners on Sunday, though Pochettino’s side first face Inter in the Champions League on Wednesday.

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Bayern Munich v Benfica Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

Bayern Munich can book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League against Benfica on Tuesday night.

A draw will be enough to send the Bavarians through to the next round and almost five years have passed since a side other than Real Madrid beat Bayern on their own patch in this competition.

As such, Nico Kovac’s charges will want to preserve that proud record and, in the process, take a significant step towards winning Group E.

Latest odds

Bayern were comfortable winners when these teams met in Portugal in the opening game of the group and SportPesa make the German champions their 20/67 (1.30) favourites to do the double against Rui Vitoria’s team.

Benfica Champions League

Anything less than a victory will knock Benfica out of the competition and SportPesa offer 9/2 (5.50) that Benfica can only earn a point in Bavaria, while the 19/2 (10.50) quote for the Portuguese side to claim a famous victory is, perhaps, indicative of the scale of the task.

Team news

Bayern have a number of injury worries, with Thiago, James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso all out, but Arjen Robben is pushing for a return from injury after coming off the bench on Saturday.

Eduardo Salvio is expected to miss out for the visitors, while veteran Brazilian striker Jonas has scored four goals in four games and will likely lead the line for Vitoria’s team.

Easy for Bayern?

The Bavarians have kept a clean sheet in four of their last five home victories in this competition, while Benfica have drawn a blank in six of their last seven Champions League defeats away from home.

Bayern Munich Benfica graphic

SportPesa go 21/20 (2.05) that Kovac’s charges keep Benfica at bay on Tuesday.

Furthermore, eight of Bayern’s last nine home wins in this competition have been by, at least, a two-goal margin and the 5/6 (1.83) quote from SportPesa for the German champions (-1) to beat the handicap mark could well prove popular with punters.


Bayern were far too strong for Benfica when these teams met in Lisbon in September and Kovac’s charges can claim another comfortable win on this occasion.

The 23/20 (2.15) quote, then, from SportPesa for Bayern to win without conceding could well prove popular ahead of Tuesday’s tie.

Betting Banner - Best BetBayern to win to nil at 23/20 (2.15) for a 2pt stake with SportPesa SportPesa footer

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