Ex-Chelsea players sold under Mourinho excel while Blues' crisis worsens

After slumping to their 6th defeat in their opening 11 fixtures with a 3-1 loss to Liverpool Saturday, Chelsea's coaching staff met at the center circle of the Stamford Bridge pitch for an impromptu emergency meeting. With their season in disarray and the possibility of a top four finish looking increasingly unlikely,

The crisis has largely been of his own making. His paranoid insistence that there's a league-wide conspiracy against Chelsea was largely viewed in the media as an ingenious means to deflect attention from his players and create an 'us against the world' mentality last season when things were going well. But in a difficult period his bizarre antics do little to bring calm to the club- they provide momentum to a feeling of increasing panic.

Mourinho's behavior and its impact on his squad has been discussed at length in recent weeks. What has been talked about slightly less during Chelsea's tumultuous start to the season are the players that Mourinho has let go since returning to Chelsea in the summer of 2013 who have gone on to enjoy success elsewhere. Chelsea's core of players that won them the league look a shell of themselves this time around and they don't have the depth to really change things up. Mourinho bemoaned the clubs lack of transfer activity over the summer- Pedro was their only really big signing- but he should be criticized for letting some remarkably talented players leave.

After another underwhelming performance yesterday Eden Hazard was replaced in the second half by the talented yet unproven 19 year old Kenedy. Meanwhile Kevin De Bruyne, who Mourinho sold to Wolfsburg in January 2014, has become the second most expensive player in Premier League history after his £54.5m to Manchester City. De Bruyne produced a remarkable 10 goals and 20 assists in the Bundesliga last season and has already contributed 3 goals and 4 assists in just 7 league appearances at City thus far. 

Mohamed Salah was signed by Mourinho in January 2014 after he ripped the Blues apart earlier in the season in a Champions League game for Basel. Mourinho never put any faith in the Egyptian winger however and he made just 13 league appearances for the club before being loaned to Fiorentina for the second half of last season. He was subsequently sold to Roma over the summer. Salah scored 6 goals and added 3 assists during his time at Fiorentina and has already scored 5 at Roma this campaign.

Mourinho allowed the Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku to be sold to Everton in the summer of 2014 after he spent the 2013-2014 season on loan there. At the time the £28m pound fee Chelsea received seemed like an intelligent bit of business as Diego Costa enjoyed a fine first season at Stamford Bridge and Lukaku struggled to match his form from the 2013-14 season. However, Lukaku has been brilliant this season having already netted 6 goals and provided 4 assists. It's easy to forget that he's still just 22. Surely he'd offer far more coming off the bench than Loic Remy or Falcao and although he doesn't ave the same tenacity and physicality Mourinho admires in Costa, he is a more polished and technically gifted footballer. His 1 goal and 2 assist performance in Everton's 6-2 win over Sunderland today showed his range of qualities- his outside of the left foot cross for Arouna Kone's third was simply outstanding.

The Blues have also lacked creativity and a midfielder that can provide penetrating through balls as Cesc Fabregas's form has taken a nosedive. Juan Mata is a player with loads of creativity that moves intelligently into pockets of space and can pick out a pass to unlock defenses. He was of course offloaded to Manchester United because of what Mourinho viewed as his defensive frailties. It's difficult to imagine he could possibly be any worse at defending than Fabregas. Mata currently has 3 goals and 3 assists having started every league match for a side that boasts the Premier League's best defensive record- his defensive frailties clearly haven't hurt United too much.  Meanwhile only Norwich and Sunderland have conceded more than Chelsea.

Mata, De Bruyne, Lukaku and Salah make 4 ex-Chelsea players that have been sold under Mourinho who this season have combined for 17 league goals and 11 league assists. Mata has 3 goals and 3 assists, Lukaku has 6 goals and 4 assists, De Bruyne has 3 goals and 4 assists and Salah has 5 goals. Chelsea don't have a player with more than 2 goals or 2 assists.

De Bruyne, Salah and Lukaku are all 24 years old or younger. At Chelsea Fabregas is 28, Willian is 27, Pedro is 28, Diego Costa is 27, Nemanja Matic is 27, Falcao is 29 and Loic Remy is 28. While none of these Chelsea players are especially old they are all towards the latter years of being at their physical peak. In selling Salah, De Bruyne and Lukaku at such a young age Mourinho has let go of three players that could potentially have 6 to 7 more seasons at their very best.

Mourinho has relied on proven, experienced stars at every club he's managed since his first spell at Chelsea. While it's impossible to argue with his success accumulating trophies his long term planning is questionable. Perhaps he knows he won't stay at one place long and is therefore focused on achieving success immediately at any cost. But in De Bruyne, Mata, Salah and Lukaku he has sold four players that could be making a big difference at Stamford Bridge right now.

Solid transition defending and more controlled approach bode well for Arsenal in title chase

The last two weekends have thrown a pair of tricky fixtures at Arsenal after midweek games that they've navigated with an impressive level of discipline and composure. After a draining Champions League win over Bayern Munich last Tuesday, there was the real possibility that Wenger's side would struggle to find the energy and focus to beat Everton on the Saturday afternoon. However they started well netting twice from headers in the first half before showing good character and riding the excellent performance of Petr Cech to hang on for a 2-1 win.

This afternoon posed another tricky test. After a heavy defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup -in a game that was more disappointing for the injuries to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain than the actual defeat- it was interesting to see how Arsenal would respond. While Garry Monk's Swansea have had a decidedly average season after going beaten in the month of August, they boast a talented and athletic squad capable of beating anyone on their day.

Arsenal just managed to get to half time level at 0-0 after being outplayed but found the breakthrough in the second half when Olivier Giroud headed home a Mesut Ozil corner. Laurent Koscielny scored for the second consecutive league game after ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Lucask Fabianski made a mess of a high ball into the box before Joel Campbell, getting his first league start because of injuries to Aaron Ramsey, Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain, rounded out the scoring.

It felt like a game the Gunners wouldn't have won in previous seasons. Throughout the last 12 seasons since Arsenal last won the Premier League, Arsene Wenger's teams have consistently been accused of lacking the ability to win when they aren't at their best. Their difficulties in cagier contests have been pinned on both a level of physical and mental softness and tactical naivety.

This season it feels like they may be turning a corner. They've shown the ability to score goals in bunches but have also shown an assuredness in defense they've lacked during recent seasons. Over the last two weeks it hasn't been rare to see them put ten men behind the ball and defend in deeper compact banks of four then pick their chances to break. Arsenal's 8 goals against means they share the league's best defensive record with Manchester United and Tottenham.

Two aspects of Arsenal's performances that have been noticeable thus far and should bode well for them as the season progresses is their defensive compactness and transition defending. Two seasons ago, with Mikel Arteta operating as the deepest midfielder, they left themselves way too open in the center of the pitch and conceded goals through opposition counters. These goals weren't always the fault of Arteta- he's not a particularly athletic player yet was forced to cover vast amounts of space as his center midfield partner Aaron Ramsey often took up positions high up the pitch. 

The Santi Cazorla-Francis Coquelin partnership has provided greater balance. Cazorla offers the same ball retention abilities as Arteta and is better at keeping the ball when pressed while Coquelin has brought needed defensive ability and athleticism to the middle of the pitch. Unlike Ramsey who operates as more of a box to box runner that likes to get into the opposition box when deployed at center midfield, Cazorla prefers to dictate tempo from deeper positions. As a result, when Arsenal lose possession they have both Coquelin and Cazorla behind the ball to slow down opposition counter attacking opportunities. Because Ramsey would often make penetrative attacking runs beyond the ball, his center midfield partner would be left to defend the middle of midfield on his own against the counter when Arsenal lost possession.

Arsenal's transition defending has also been aided by the impressive displays of fullbacks Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin. Rarely do you see opposition counter attacks started by playing balls into space behind the Arsenal fullbacks. Monreal is intelligent positionally. He doesn't possess the same blistering pace as Bellerin on the right side and therefore chooses his opportunities to push forward in attack more cautiously so as not to leave too much space in behind. He's also an impressive 1 v. 1 defender.

Bellerin offers important width in attack down the right as he's usually partnered with Ramsey (when the Welshman is healthy), whose instincts are always to take up extremely narrow positions. Bellerin provides the wide outlet in the final third which can lead space for the opposition to counter into down Arsenal's right side. However, the 23 year old Spaniards remarkable pace and work rate mean he's generally able to make recovery runs to get back into defensive position. He showed his remarkable recovery speed when he ran nearly 60 yards to tack Bafetimbi Gomis before he could tap in despite the French striker's 20 yard head start.

Injuries remain a major concern going forward. Upcoming fixtures at Bayern Munich and home to Spurs in the NLD without Ramsey, Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain will likely force Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud to play in both matches before another international break. Fatigue could therefore become an issue with two incredibly difficult, emotional fixtures in the span of five days. However, Wenger's side are beginning to show they have the game management abilities to navigate difficult stretches of the season.

Why Brendan Rodgers Was an Above Average Manager and Why Jurgen Klopp’s Job Will Be Tough

With these recent trends in mind, it’s important to evaluate a manager based on the contemporaneous resources of a club rather than past circumstances or lofty ambitions. After accounting for the financial resources provided to Brendan Rodgers, he has overall performed about as expected or better than expected. This is not to say that Jurgen Klopp is a bad appointment. Rather, the point is simply that the decision to sack Rodgers seems extremely harsh based on the evidence.

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Juventus's game management key to their Champions League success

One of the more entertaining aspects of the Champions League is the opportunity it provides to see different national tactical styles up against one another. The tactical battles are often more intriguing than ones we see in domestic competition because they often involve formations and approaches to the game that don't often come up against one another in domestic leagues.

While the increasingly globalized nature of the game has made distinct national styles less pronounced than they once were, sides from the same domestic European leagues do tend to share some unique aspects of how they approach the game. Tonight in Juventus's 2-1 win away to Manchester City, Massimo Allegri's side put in a vintage Italian performance- they were patient, well organized and disciplined. I was so impressed during Juventus's run to the Champions League final last season with how well they managed matches. Even when the opposition enjoyed the bulk of possession, Juve rarely seemed to cede control completely. It was a similar story tonight against City. Despite City dominating the first 45 minutes and opening up the the scoring, you never got the impression Juventus were out of the contest.

Last season, and in the prior three seasons under Allegri's predecessor Antonio Conte, Juventus showed a tactical flexibility that it's difficult imagine an English side being capable of replicating. They cruised to their fourth straight Scudetto operating in a 3-5-2 but would seamlessly switch to a diamond 4-4-2 for Champions League games. Players have very different roles in those two formations. That Juventus could switch between them so easily is testament to their tactical preparation, a stereotypical feature of Italian football.

They again used a diamond 4-4-2 tonight, albeit a slightly lopsided one. Hernanes was employed at the base of midfield while Stefano Sturaro played slightly higher up the pitch at the tip of the diamond. Paul Pogba took up a narrow position just to the left while Juan Cuadrado played wider on the right.

The defensive shape Juve took up was the most interesting feature of their set up. Sturaro dropped alongside Hernanes while Pogba maintained a narrow position on the left so that Juventus wouldn't be overloaded in the central midfield zone. Cuadrado defended wider on the right against Manchester City's very attacking left back Alexander Kolarov.

With Pogba defending the middle of midfield alongside Hernanes and Sturaro, the issue for Juventus was who would mark the left side of their midfield against City's right back Bacary Sagna. They handled the issue by dropping striker Alvaro Morata into the left side of the defensive midfield bank. It meant Juve were defending with a midfield bank of five in front of a defensive bank of four.

It was an intelligent move from Allegri that meant Cuadrado was matched up against the more attacking of City's fullbacks in Kolarov. Cuadrado has a tremendous engine and was used at wing back during his time at Fiorentina and was therefore up to the task of tracking Kolarov's runs into the attacking third and offering cover for his right back Stephan Lichtensteiner. Up against a deep, compact defense, space was tight for City and they struggled to play at the high tempo they've shown in the Premier League up to this point.

The most impressive aspect of Juventus's performance was their patience after going a goal behind. Manchester City's opener probably shouldn't have stood- Kompany climbed the back of Chiellini, preventing him from getting off the ground to head the corner away- but Juventus didn't allow the sense of injustice to overcome them and impact their approach. They remained positionally disciplined and waited for the right moments when the opportunity to attack arose.

In a Premier League match between two top sides, both sides will often enjoy spells where they're on the front foot and it feels as though a goal is coming- they are games defined by shifts in momentum.  Juventus's Champions League performances are different. They control the tempo of the match, stop the opposition from playing the way they want to play, then ruthlessly capitalize on opportunistic moments rather than enjoying sustained spells of attacking pressure in which they are on the front foot. They exploit individual moments rather than dominant extended phases of the 90 minutes. They put in a similarly patient and poised performance as tonight's in the second leg of last year's semifinal at Real Madrid. After going a goal down at the Bernabau and trailing the tie on away goals, they kept their shape, avoided conceding a second and opportunistically took advantage of a set piece in the second half.

Despite a winless start to their domestic campaign brought about by the key departures of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal, Juventus showed they have the tactical aptitude and intelligence to get out of a very difficult group D.

 

Chelsea go with two defensive midfielders but defensive struggles continue

Steven Naismith's perfect hat trick gave Everton a 3-1 win over Chelsea, handing the visitors their third defeat from the opening five fixtures. Chelsea had three defeats all of last season. It is the worst start to a league campaign since 1988.

Afterwards Mourinho said his players deserved to get more out of the game. He was either being sarcastic or it was a shocking misreading of the game. Everton dominated the scoring chances against a poor Chelsea side and were good value for the three points.

Naismith forced introduction changes game

Roberto Martinez opted to start Muhamed Besic in the left attacking midfield role. It was an interesting decision. Besic's main position is holding midfield. You'll often see a traditional central attacking midfielder deployed on the channels but it's much rarer to see a holding midfielder used there. Besic started fairly well- an energetic burst forward led to an Everton corner but he pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury which led to the early introduction of Steven Naismith. It was a substitution that would change the course of the game. Naismith is a menace to play against and his energy and movement off the ball today was excellent. His hat trick was just the fifth by a substitute in the Premier League and the fifth against Chelsea.

Chelsea use two defensive midfielders but still struggle defensively

Chelsea had looked defensively frail in the opening four fixtures- only Sunderland had conceded more than Chelsea's 9 going into match week five. In those first four fixtures Cesc Fabregas partnered Nemanja Matic in the two holding midfield roles. The struggles were pinned largely on that partnership not providing enough protection for the back four. Fabregas is a deep lying creator but is poor defensively and Matic hasn't recovered the form that made him the Premier League's standout holding midfielder in the first half of last season.

Today Mourinho opted to employ two truly defensive midfielders in front of the back four, partnering Matic with John Obi Mikel. Fabregas played higher up the pitch in a #10 role. Mourinho used the same strategy in this fixture early last season when Fabregas played in front of Matic and Ramires. That contest was a wild 6-3 Chelsea win, a scoreline few would have predictedgiven Chelsea were using their more defensively structured lineup. 

They conceded three again today but this time didn't have the offensive firepower to overcome poor defending. Matic and Mikel have size and strength in abundance but looked slow and lumbering today against the considerable pace of Naismith, Barkley and Kone in Everton's attacking midfield positions. Naismith tucked inside from the left in space between Chelsea right back Ivanovic and Mikel. Both of his first two goals came from collecting possession in this space.

For the first his movement inside opened up space down the left channel for left back Jordan Galloway. He collected possession in midfield, played it wide to Galloway then continued his run and headed home Galloway's cross. For the second Everton quickly swung the ball from right to left. Lukaku picked up possession on the right side of midfield and played Barkley breaking forward through the middle of the pitch. Naismith again moved into a position just to the left of Mikel. Barkley spotted him and before Ivanovic could close down Naismith fired in a left footed effort that beat Begovic at his back post.

The Mikel-Matic partnership makes Chelsea more suited to playing on the counter. However, Everton gave the visitors few opportunities to play on the break. They dropped quickly into a solid defensive shape when they conceded possession and forced Chelsea to try to patiently break them down. Neither Matic nor Mikel are particularly expansive passers at the base of midfield and as a result Chelsea struggled to link play into the three goal scorers Hazard, Costa and Pedro. They had plenty of possession in midfield but struggled to penetrate Everton's midfield bank of four and were therefore left to try speculative shots from distance. Matic had a brilliant strike for Chelsea's goal but the home side were happy to take their chances that Chelsea wouldn't score many 25 yard pile drivers. Chelsea finished with 62% possession but had just 2 shots on target to Everton's 9.

With Chelsea struggling to get into space between Everton's defensive and midfield lines, Fabregas began dropping into deeper positions to get onto the ball. However, when he collected it he had 8 Everton outfield players in front of him. Fabregas is a gifted passer but isn't particularly clever with his movement when playing in the #10 role. It's no surprise he prefers playing in a deeper role- he is more comfortable getting on the ball in space deep in midfield and picking out forward passes than he is finding tight pockets of space in between the lines. Taking up clever positions between the lines was a skill Juan Mata was particularly good at. At times Chelsea miss his intelligent movement.

Monk proves tactical intelligence as Swansea beat Manchester United again

Garry Monk's change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to a diamond 4-4-2 following Manchester United's opening goal today inspired a brilliant comeback from Swansea. The wins means Monk is the first manager in Premier League history to lead his side to three successive wins over Manchester United. The 36 year old Swans manager has proved during his year and a half at the Welsh club to be an intelligent tactician, evidenced by the fact they did the double over Manchester United and Arsenal last season.

This was a victory of stability, long term planning and a coherent tactical approach over big money spending and continued tactical tinkering by Van Gaal during his time at Manchester United.

After being appointed player-manager following the sacking of Michael Laudrup in February 2014, Monk helped the Swans avoid relegation. Last season, Monk's first full season as a professional manager, a number of pundits questioned whether he was too inexperienced to lead a top flight side. He went on to lead the club to a record top flight points total despite losing star striker Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in the January transfer window.

Swansea currently sit 4th in the table, level on points and goal difference with third place Leicester, and have gotten a draw away to Chelsea and a win over Manchester United while playing some magnificent, free flowing football.

Monk is known for his tireless work rate and extreme attention to detail. In a Guardian piece this summer on Swansea's preseason training regimen it was revealed he wears a microphone to training sessions so he can listen back to himself and make sure he's making his points clearly enough.

That commitment to improvement he demands of everyone at the club combined with the club's outstanding business organization and community-focused outlook have created one of the Premier League's more objectively likable sides.

Monk proved his managerial proficiency today, outfoxing one of the game's most celebrated managers.

Manchester United opened the scoring three minutes into the second half through Juan Mata. Swansea had been the more dangerous side in the first half- Gylfi Sigurdsson put a shot just wide of Sergio Romero's right post before Bafetimbi Gomis struck that same post in the opening half.

United's goal came when left back Luke Shaw collected possession on the left channel, got the better of Kyle Naughton's weak attempted 50/50 challenge and provided a chip across the face of goal for Mata to smash home.

Ten minutes after that opener Monk made a substitution and tactical change that would ultimately turn the game on its head. He brought on Ki Sung-Yueng for Wayne Routledge and changed shape froma 4-2-3-1 to more of a diamond 4-4-2. Jack Cork played at the base of midfield with Jonjo Shelvey to his right and Ki to his left. Sigurdsson played higher up the pitch in the tip of the diamond, Jordan Ayew joined Gomis up front.

In the 4-2-3-1 Swansea had started the game with they defended with a midfield bank of four, leaving the striker Gomis and Sigurdsson higher up the pitch. After the change to diamond 4-4-2 they defended with only a narrow midfield three of Ki, Cork and Shelvey, leaving Sigurdsson, Gomis and Ayew in attacking areas.

That narrow midfield three meant United's fullbacks no longer had a direct opponent marking them and were therefore given space in the channels. It was a risky move from Monk- it meant giving Shaw, the provider of United's goal, free reign on United's left channel and forced Ki, Shelvey and Cork to do an immense amount of defensive work in midfield. Almost immediately after making the change, Mata nearly doubled United's lead.

However the change in shape would prove to be a touch of brilliant tactical understanding from Monk. By encouraging Shaw to take the space he was being afforded on the left channel, Swansea's shape opened up space down that sideline to counter into in the area vacated by Shaw's forays forward. With Sigurdsson, Gomis and Ayew all high up the pitch they had the numbers to exploit the space. One player could float into the channels behind United's advanced fullbacks, collect an outlet pass and have two attacking players to aim crosses at into the box.

For Ayew's equalizer, Shaw was high up the pitch down United's left channel when they conceded possession. Sigurdsson floated into the free space behind Shaw and provided the well weighted cross for Ayew to finish. The second goal was similar. Shelvey provided a brilliant outlet pass to Sigurdsson after Swansea won the ball back in midfield. Sigurdsson touched it to the right channel for Ayew who provided a curling outside of the foot ball in behind the United defense for Gomis to run onto and slip in.

The goals were a result of Monk's calculated gamble. He risked sacrificing one midfielder in defense so that his side would have an extra attacker up the pitch when they countered. The diamond shape invited United's fullbacks to take the space they were given, but in doing so left the visitors shorthanded at the back when possession was turned over.

It was the move of a clever manager with real tactical nous. Van Gaal rarely misses a chance to pat himself on the back when he makes a formation change that impacts a match. Today he should tip his hat to his opposite number. Monk was the better manager, his side more prepared and more determined. Swansea are in good hands with him at the helm.

Match Analysis: Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool

Arsenal and Liverpool played out an entertaining goalless draw at the Emirates this evening. Arsenal had an early Aaron Ramsey goal wrongly disallowed for offsides but the visitors were by far the better side in the first half.

Brendan Rodgers said prior to the game that he had studied Arsenal's most recent defeats and realized Arsene Wenger's side bossed possession in them but struggled to break down compact defenses. Arsenal also control possession in the overwhelming majority of home wins as well so I'm not sure how much can be learned by simply comparing possession figures and results. However, it's easy to understand what Rodgers was getting at- Arsenal are a technical and slick passing side and if you try to beat them at their own game in their own stadium it likely won't end well for you.

With that in mind Rodgers set his side out in a 4-3-3 with three center midfielders adept at the defensive side of the game. Lucas Leiva, who had failed to even make the matchday squad in Liverpool's first two games, sat just in front of the back four with Emre Can to his left and James Milner to his right.

Liverpool defended in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Leiva sitting in between the defensive and midfield banks of four. Leiva tracked the movement of Mesut Ozil between the lines. Can picked up Francis Coquelin, who was the right sided holding midfielder, Milner picked up Cazorla, the left sided holding midfielder.

In the first half Liverpool would look for opportunities to press Arsenal high up the pitch. The home side were forced into employing a makeshift center back partnership of Gabriel and Calum Chambers (Laurent Koscielny had a back injury, Per Mertesacker was ill) and Liverpool looked to take advantage of a nervous Arsenal back four. Coutinho rattled the crossbar inside of 4 minutes with the Arsenal defense at sixes and sevens.

Chambers in particular endured a torrid first half. Twice he gave away possession deep in Arsenal's defensive third, leading to Liverpool chances. Arsenal fans were holding their collective breath every time he got on the ball. On a separate occasion he tried to dribble out of defense but was dispossessed at the halfway line, leaving him hopelessly out of position and forcing the much better Gabriel to bail out his partner. The left side of the graphic below shows Gabriel's successful tackles during the 90 minutes. He was the left-sided center back- the two tackles he made in the box occurred when he was forced to provide cover for Chambers. In fact Gabriel made more tackles in Chambers' zone than Chambers made all game.

Arsenal improved in the second half. Liverpool sat deeper and deeper and attacked with fewer numbers. Because Liverpool were getting fewer numbers forward when they were in possession, they didn't have the opportunities to press high up the pitch they had in the first half and therefore forced fewer of the bad giveaways Arsenal were guilty of in the opening 45 minutes.

Arsenal kept sustained pressure on the visitors but there was very little space for them to operate in the final third. Liverpool set up their defensive lines at the edge of their own penalty area and challenged Wenger's side unlock them. Arsenal provided a few of their vintage quick passing combinations to open up the defense and had two good opportunities to open the score, the first Sanchez put into the side netting after being put through on goal, on the second Giroud couldn't get enough contact to beat Mignolet as he reached to get a shot away.

Liverpool were simply too deep and too compact for Arsenal to break down. All of Arsenal's possession was happening in front of the Liverpool back four. Liverpool were rarely made to turn around and face their own goal. Against a side defending that deep, you're not going to be able to get in behind them through the middle of the pitch- there simply isn't enough space between the center backs and goalkeeper. Theo Walcott's introduction for Giroud was therefore never likely to have a huge impact; he's at his most effective in the striker role when he has the space to run behind the center backs.

The one way to get in behind a side defending that deep is in wider areas. If you can channel the ball wide and get the opposition fullback in a position where he has to defend 1 v. 1, opportunities open up to get to the endline and cut it back across the face of goal if you have a player capable of beating the opposition fullback off the dribble. Ramsey is a very gifted player and had a good game but almost always takes up an extremely narrow position when he plays on the right. His positioning therefore can pose difficulties tactically for the opposing fullback but he rarely picks up the ball in wide areas and asks questions of their 1 v. 1 defending ability by running at them. The graphic below shows Ramsey's average position- quite narrow. Ramsey's interior positioning can often overload the opposition center midfielders but that wasn't likely to happen today with Liverpool employing three deeper center mids in their 4-1-4-1 set up. Normally those overloads will occur when the opposition is defending in banks of four and leaving two further up the pitch. Liverpool had ample numbers in the center of the pitch to deal with Ramsey moving into narrow zones.

It's easy to say in hindsight but I thought Wenger should have perhaps introduced Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right earlier. His directness and raw pace may have provided an outlet for Arsenal when they couldn't find the little gaps of space to play their quick combinations. In Joe Gomez he'd have been up against a left back making just his third Premier League appearance. Gomez has been excellent thus far, a far more focused and poised option than Alberto Moreno, but his direct opponents in his first two starts were Stoke's John Walters and Bournemouth's Matt Ritchie. Both are decent enough players but neither have the same ability to run past defenders that Oxlade-Chamberlain possesses. His introduction would have presented Gomez with a challenge he hasn't faced yet in his young career. If he could have beaten Gomez to the endline once or twice and provided cutbacks it would have forced the likes of Skrtel and Lovren to perform the difficult task of clearing the danger while facing their own goal.

Match Analysis: Leicester 1-1 Tottenham

Riyad Mahrez continued his terrific run of form as he provided a brilliant curling effort to the back post in the 82nd minute to equalize for Leicester just a minute after Dele Alli put Tottenham ahead. This was a cagey contest that really came to life in the final 10 minutes.

Claudio Ranieri opted for the same 4-4-2 lineup that beat Sunderland 4-2 on opening day and won 2-1 at West Ham last weekend.

Mauricio Pochettino gave Eric Lamela his first start of the season for Spurs with Christian Eriksen missing through injury. Spurs played their usual 4-2-3-1. The attacking midfield three rotated often but it was mainly Lamela through the middle, Chadli on the left and Dembele on the right.

The obvious tactical feature of this one was Leicester's deep, organized defending in banks of four. They put all ten men behind the ball, challenging Tottenham to come up with enough creativity to unlock them.

Okazaki and Vardy dropped inside their own half, usually picking up Tottenham's two holding midfielders. Higher up the pitch Chadli and Dembele tucked inside and took up extremely narrow positions. With Leicester defending with a compact midfield bank of four, the middle of the pitch was extremely crowded. Tottenham's midfielders struggled to find pockets of space between the lines to create a forward passing option and as a result they ended up playing a lot of sideways passes deeper in midfield.

With space between the Leicester defensive and midfield lines limited, Spurs' attacking midfielders would drop in front of Leicester's midfield four to pick up possession from Mason and Dier. This meant Leicester still had 8 men behind the ball. Tottenham simply couldn't break down the Leicester lines. Eriksen's injury was important. He's clever with his movement, capable of moving into tight pockets of space to receive passes and creative enough and tactically gifted enough to then pick out a penetrating pass. Lamela, Dembele and Chadli didn't offer enough creativity on the ball. Spurs dominated first half possession with 72% but the tempo was quite slow and Leicester were comfortable.

The absence of creativity meant Spurs were unable to link play forward into Kane. He had to work the channels, as he always willingly does, or drop into positions deep in midfield in order to get any sort of touches. The left side of the graphic below shows all of the passes Kane received in the first half. There's a noticeable lack of passes received in the middle of the pitch around the penalty box, where you typically want your best goalscorer to be collecting possession. There was an improvement in the second half. As the abnormal heat (the referee stopped play for water breaks in both halves) led to a fall in Leicester's pressing in midfield, more space opened up for Kane in the middle of the pitch. For Tottenham's goal he was able to collect possession in between the lines and drew in three Leicester defenders. This allowed Chadli to go unmarked down the left channel where the Belgian floated a ball towards the back post for Alli to nod home. After playing the ball wide Kane did well to continue his run into the box which forced Leicester center back Wes Morgan to slide over and check Kane's run, leaving Alli free at the back post.

The difference in attacking styles between the two sides was pronounced. While Spurs were patient and, more often than not, ponderous, Leicester's attacks were direct and vertical and therefore didn't involve many passes. Spurs completed a total of 437 passes to Leicester's 183.

With the entire side defending deep, Leicester looked to spring quick counter attacks when they won the ball back by hitting balls behind the Tottenham fullbacks into the channel for Vardy. The graphic below shows the number of passes Vardy received in the channels. Mahrez and Albrighton would break forward to join in the attacks. However, the home side weren't particularly incisive in the final third.

In the end the draw was a fair result and one both managers were probably content enough with, though Leicester nearly got a late winner through Morgan after he got on to a brilliantly whipped in ball from Mahrez. A 0-0 draw seemed probable until the final ten minutes- neither side had been all that threatening up until that point. Mahrez was once again the standout player. He now has four goals and has been the league's best player up to this point. A whole slew of pundits mocked Leicester for appointing Ranieri and pegged them to be relegated. Having guided the Foxes to 7 points from their opening three, the unfairly derided "Tinker Man" looks good value to keep his side up.

Preview: Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Key tactic: Both sides have played 4-2-3-1 formations in their opening two fixtures. I think the key tactic here might just be how the two sets of holding midfielders cope with their defensive responsibilities. From the sounds of things Jordan Henderson will be out for Liverpool with a foot injury. This could be a good thing for Brendan Rodgers' side. It likely means Emre Can will partner James Milner at the base of midfield. I'm not convinced the Henderson-Milner partnership is a great one. They are similar players in that both are more all-action box-to-box types than calming, assured figures in the middle of midfield. Double pivots tend to work better when there's an obvious deeper lying midfielder partnered with one that performs the box to box role (in other words there's not much actual pivoting between the two). I think Can will offer tactical discipline in front of the back four and provide a platform for Milner to drive forward and help in the attack. Arsenal tend to overload the middle of the pitch in attack so Milner and Can will have to remain disciplined.

 For Arsenal, Francis Coquelin could be given a decent test by Adam Lallana and Coutinho. The two have consistently rotated between the #10 and a slighter wider role in Liverpool's opening two matches with Jordan Ibe maintaining a wider position on the opposite flank. Lallana and Coutinho will look to combine in the spaces between Arsenal's defensive and midfield lines. Coquelin will have to be conscious of their movement. He played well overall last week but committed a couple of fouls after already being booked and was perhaps lucky to not get sent off. (He committed 4 fouls which is a lot but how often do we see Fernandinho commit 4 fouls over the course of a game to cynically break up opposition counter attacks without anyone calling for him to be sent off?)

It's also probably worth pointing that Arsenal need to do a better job of closing down the opposition when they get into shooting positions around the 18 yard box. In both of the Gunner's opening fixtures they were guilty of not committing themselves to get blocks on opposition shots that resulted in goals. In Coutinho, Liverpool have a player that has proven he's capable of scoring magical goals from outside the area. He won't hesitate to have a go if he isn't closed down.

Key stat: I'm not sure how "key" this stat is to Monday's game but it highlights the difficulties Liverpool have had in their visits to the Emirates: the Reds have won just once at the Emirates since it opened in 2006. That win came after Emanuel Frimpong was sent off in the second half, followed shortly after by an Aaron Ramsey own goal. Luis Suarez sealed the points late on.

Liverpool were battered 4-1 at the Emirates last season in a match where they had a golden chance to go ahead early but failed to convert. They'll need to take advantage of any opportunities that come their way Monday evening to take anything from this one.

See our match week 3 Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our match week 3 Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Everton vs. Manchester City

Key Tactic: I think a key tactic in this one will involve how well Everton can execute counter attacking opportunities. They were brilliant playing on the break in their 3-0 win last weekend at Southampton, the opening two goals coming from textbook counter attacks. Although they'll be the home side Sunday, Manchester City don't tend to take a more conservative approach on their travels.

Yaya Toure has had a magnificent start to the season but his lack of urgency in making defensive recovery runs still leaves his midfield partner Fernandinho doing an immense amount of defensive work. Towards the middle of the second half of their convincing 3-0 win over Chelsea, Toure's unwillingness to make defensive recovery runs began to leave City remarkably open and Chelsea created a couple of decent chances on the counter. The best of those chances fell to Eden Hazard with the score at 1-0 but the Belgian missed his opportunity to equalize, putting his shot straight at Joe Hart.

Recognizing his side were too open, Manuel Pellegrini brought in Martin Demichelis to play at the base of midfield alongside Fernandinho and moved Toure forward into the #10 role. This gave City far more solidity defensively and they went on to score two additional goals. It was an astute move from Pellegrini, one that Mourinho acknowledged (while managing to compliment himself in the process as he tends to do), but one I thought he nearly waited too long to make. While Mourinho's claim the 3-0 result was "fake" is asburd- Chelsea could well have conceded three or four in the first half- it is true that they had opportunities to get back into it in the second half and had Hazard finished his chance it may have been a different result. An Everton side firing on all cylinders as they were last weekend, led by a central attacking partnership of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukuka, will be far more lethal on the counter than the ineffective Costa and surprisingly tame Hazard. The Everton duo were brilliant last weekend- Lukaku scored a brace and Barkley scored the third and provided an assist. City will have to be mindful of the Toffees on the counter.

Key stat: They key state here comes courtesy of whoscored.com. Manchester City have been leading at halftime and full time of their last 8 Premier League matches. I think it's important Everton don't allow City to go ahead. Although the Toffees showed decent fight in coming from behind twice at home to Watford on opening day to secure a draw, coming from behind against a side that has finished second and first in the last two seasons and boasts the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Toure is a different prospect than doing so against a newly promoted side that hadn't played a top flight match since 2007. If Everton manage to take the lead they'll need to retain their focus as they did last week. They lost more points from a winning position last season than any side so going ahead is no sign they'll actually emerge with any points.

See our match week 3 Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our match week 3 Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Leicester City vs. Tottenham

Key tactic: One key tactic will likely be how Tottenham cope with Leicester's nominally wider midfielders Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton. Mahrez is the Premier League's leading goalscorer with 3, Albrighton leads the league in assists with 3 and also has scored a goal of his own. Both tuck inside and take up narrow positions as shown in the player influence graphic below. This means Tottenham's fullbacks- likely Kyle Walker and Ben Davies- will have to communicate with the two holding midfielders- two of Eric Dier, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb- when Albrighton and Mahrez tuck into the middle of midfield. If Walker and Davies follow them inside it could open up space in the channel for Leicester's fullbacks to bomb into, if they instead pass them off to the holding midfielders, the holding midfielders could become overloaded in the middle of the pitch. Leicester are one of the sides I haven't watched yet so I'm really looking forward to this one.

Key stat: My key stat for this one relates to Tottenham's pronounced drop in performance in the second half of their 2-2 draw at home to Stoke. In the opening 45 minutes of that contest Tottenham completely controlled the game and took a deserved 2-0 lead into halftime. Stoke looked overwhelmed, evidenced by the fact Tottenham completelED more than twice the amount of first half passes as the visitors, 263 to Stoke's 131. That all changed in the second half. Stoke introduced a motivated Stephen Ireland, Tottenham's energy level fell and the game was turned on its head. In the second half Stoke outpassed Tottenham 220 to 144. In other words Tottenham's net passing (Tottenham completed passes- Stoke completed passes) fell from +132 to -76. They'll likely have to put together a complete 90 minute performance to get anything from an in form Leicester side.

See our match week 3 Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our match week 3 Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Manchester United vs. Newcastle

I'm going to try to do a new weekly feature in which I briefly preview the 3 or 4 most intriguing Premier League fixtures over the coming weekend. Then as the weekend progresses and the matches are played I'll try to do match analyses for as many as possible. The format of these previews will be fairly simple: I'm going to offer up what I think will be one key tactical feature of each contest and one important statistic that I think may provide some insight into how a match will play out.

I spent a few hours last night trying to do this feature as a video blog. I should have thrown in the towel sooner than I did. Spouting a 10 minute monologue is difficult stuff so big ups to the YouTubers that are able to wax poetic about the game sitting in front of a camera- I have a new respect for just how difficult that is. I'm not sure if it was an attempt at being more expressive than I typically am but for whatever reason I did a lot of talking out of one side of my mouth, Xhedran Shaqiri style (yes, I'm missing all my top teeth in half of my mouth). Anyway, that idea has been closeted for the foreseeable future.

This weekend I'll be watching Newcastle at Manchester United (7:45 am ET Saturday), Tottenham at Leicester City (10 am ET Saturday), Manchester City at Everton (11 am ET Sunday), and Liverpool at Arsenal (Monday 2:45 pm ET).

Here's the Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview. I'll post the other three shortly. Woop woop!

Newcastle at Manchester United

Key tactic: One potentially key tactic here could be the battle down Manchester United's left channel. United's Memphis Depay is coming off an excellent performance down the left wing in Manchester United's 3-1 Champions League qualifying win over Club Brugge Wednesday. He scored two fantastic goals cutting in from the left and provided the assist to Marouane Fellaini for United's third with a perfectly weighted cross to the back post.

Memphis is a dynamic player. He's quick and athletic, able to beat the opposition fullback with the dribble, a prolific finisher when cutting inside onto his right foot and is capable of providing good crosses into the penalty area from the channels. He also scored more goals from free kicks than any player in Europe last season.

His presence will be a particular concern for Newcastle given they'll will be without first choice right back Daryl Janmaat who was foolishly sent off for two bookable first half offenses in their 2-1 defeat to Swansea. Steve McClaren may elect to slide Massadio Haidara across from his normal left back position to fill in for Janmaat, then drop Jack Colback to left back from the midfield. Haidara has had a solid enough start to the season- he's Newcastle's highest rated player according to whoscored.com's statistical model- but is prone to the occasional lapse in concentration. Whoever plays right back for Newcastle will have to be dialed in on Memphis to contain the electric Dutchmen.

Key stat: The key stat here is the difference in goal difference between the two sides. Newcastle have conceded twice in both of their opening fixtures. Manchester United have yet to concede in the league. A solid defensive effort is going to be the most likely way to get a result at Old Trafford. I can't see Newcastle getting anything out of this if they concede two. United under Van Gaal haven't always been the most exciting side but they are capable of methodically controlling a game when they take the lead.

See our Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.