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Speedy Ceballos can define Emery's Arsenal tenure & more tactical lessons from the Premier League weekend

11:30 IST 19/08/2019
Dani Ceballos Arsenal
The on-loan midfielder assisted both goals in a 2-1 win over Burnley on Saturday, illustrating just how important he could become to the Gunners

1) Rodgers narrows wingers to hurt over-stretched Chelsea

Chelsea have already developed a tactical pattern under Frank Lampard: aggressive pressing from the start, commitment to bold attacking football that emphasises midfield runners, and an alarmingly porous off-the-ball shape.

Chelsea badly lack compression between the lines of defence and attack, which is why, after a strong start, their game against Leicester City descended into a frantic end-to-end battle. If your shape is naturally elongated, and if the midfield is not set up to screen during periods of possession, the result will always be chaotic football.

It took a while for Leicester to figure out how to hurt Chelsea, but Brendan Rodgers deserves praise for a smart, though subtle, tactical change at half-time that turned the game.

Above: James Maddison's touches in the first half

Above: James Maddison's touches in the second half

The Foxes began with James Maddison and Ayoze Perez out wide, probably because Rodgers thought a double axis of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante in the Chelsea midfield would only leave space on the wings. Instead, Lampard sprung a surprise by deploying Kante and Mason Mount as dual No.8s, who left huge open patches of grass in midfield when bursting forward.

In the second half, Rodgers told Maddison and Perez to drift infield to collect the ball and combine with Youri Tielemans. The difference was huge, as Leicester capitalised on Chelsea’s tired legs to nick possession and run at the heart of the defence, creating a wild game that probably should have ended in three points for the visitors.

Chelsea cannot afford to be so open. Rodgers will not be the last manager to find a way to dominate the spaces in midfield.

2) Ceballos is exactly what Emery needed to give Arsenal identity

The biggest complaint from Arsenal fans in 2018-19 was that Unai Emery failed to create a coherent tactical identity, instead relying on individual moments of quality to win meandering games.

That would be a fair description of Saturday's 2-1 win over Burnley, too, although the performance of Dani Ceballos provides some optimism that Emery’s tactical philosophy can finally make waves in north London.

Above: All of Dani Ceballos' passes against Burnley

Emery’s Sevilla aimed to draw the opposition out with their passing before suddenly switching gears and playing crisp vertical passes into the final third – essentially to create counter-attack-style scenarios even when holding the majority of the ball.

Implementing this at Arsenal, who grew accustomed to a prosaic style in the final decade of Arsene Wenger’s reign, was always going to be difficult. Playing assertive, tempo-changing football with Mesut Ozil as the fulcrum is basically impossible.

Ceballos's speed on the turn, directness, and quickness of thought make him a tactical upgrade even on Aaron Ramsey. His tackle for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winning goal was an obvious example of how he can help implement the fierce pressing football Emery was renowned for in Spain, but an even more encouraging moment was Ceballos’s role in a first-half counter-attack from which Matteo Guendouzi almost scored.

Guendouzi and Joe Willock exchanged passes to evade a high Burnley press and released Ceballos, whose superb first touch and bursting run ended in a shot just 10 seconds after Arsenal’s new midfielder first received the ball in his own half.

If Emery is a success at Arsenal, it will be moves like that one that define his tenure.

3) Luiz & McGinn give Villa hope despite defeat

Two naive mistakes in the opening 12 minutes left Aston Villa chasing a 2-0 deficit against Bournemouth, but if they can wake up to the ruthlessness of the Premier League and cut out the errors, the newly-promoted side should survive.

They grew into the game on Saturday and Villa were, overall, the better team. Certainly, Douglas Luiz’s performance gives Villa fans grounds for optimism, after he helped to push Bournemouth back and pull them around.

Eddie Howe’s 4-4-2 saw Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing cut off the passing lines to John McGinn and Jack Grealish, both of whom struggled early on as the visitors' nicely compressed formation kept the hosts at arm’s length.

However, once Billing was substituted at half-time after narrowly avoiding a second yellow card for repeated fouling, Villa cranked up the pressure and – thanks mainly to the calm possession recycling of Luiz – forced Bournemouth to concede enough ground so that Grealish and McGinn could get on the ball and dictate the tempo.

Luiz was strong under pressure, holding off challenges before releasing intelligent passes to his team-mates, which gradually began to wear Bournemouth down as Villa held more and more possession.

Bournemouth’s 4-4-2 dropped 20 yards, meaning McGinn and Grealish were suddenly free, in front of Lerma and Drew Surman, rather than blocked by them, in between the Bournemouth midfield and defence.

Unfortunately for Villa, their attacking moves almost always ended with a cross into the box from out wide, highlighting the absence of an agile forward who can make runs in behind for Grealish’s clever through balls.

4) De Bruyne's tweaked role wasn't read by Winks

Kevin De Bruyne has always played to the right of centre under Pep Guardiola but his role does appear to have changed since he returned from injury.

Against West Ham on the opening weekend, and Tottenham on Saturday, the Belgian could be found drifting right out into typical inverted winger positions, rather than operating solely in central attacking areas.

De Bruyne often combined with Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez as a full-back would, given Kyle Walker rarely overlaps these days, instead dropping into midfield.

Above: Kevin De Bruyne assists versus Tottenham

De Bruyne’s movement at London Stadium is what allowed Mahrez to overwhelm the hosts as Michail Antonio failed to track back, and this time it was Harry Winks who struggled to cope.

For the first goal, Winks inexplicably stopped tracking De Bruyne, pointing at the Belgian while holding an unnecessary position in the defensive line, leaving City’s talisman to cross brilliantly for Raheem Sterling.

For the second City goal, De Bruyne made a surprising run into the channel and Winks, again, failed to follow him. Whether taking a wider position than usual or simply running into the right-hand half-space as he did in 2017-18, De Bruyne is dominating matches once more. Opponents have apparently forgotten how important it is to man-mark him at all times.

5) Wilder's famous overlapping centre-backs confound Crystal Palace

Most neutrals tuning in to watch Sheffield United on Sunday afternoon were hoping to catch a glimpse of Chris Wilder’s overlapping centre-backs, and the hosts did not disappoint: they beat Crystal Palace via a complex move involving a centre-half, Jack O’Connell, bombing down the left.

Wilder emphasises the importance of creating overloads down the flanks, with many players taking up unusual positions to give United an even spread of players that have arrived unexpectedly, surprising the opposition into being pulled out of shape.

It isn’t just the wing-backs who do this, and John Lundstram’s winning goal perfectly illustrated that fact.

Striker David McGoldrick dropped back into midfield to collect the ball from a centre-back, and the space he vacated was filled by midfielder Luke Freeman.

As O’Connell overlapped and received the ball, left wing-back Enda Stevens dropped into the No.10 space and Freeman made the traditional overlapping run; the three players combined – overwhelming a flailing, twirling Joel Ward – to set up Lundstram to score.