Mourinho's appalling management as Solskjaer shines - Tactical lessons from the Premier League weekend

Jose Mourinho Tottenham 2019-20
The Spurs boss is beginning to blame his players for poor performances, but he may have to look in the mirror soon enough

1) Mourinho’s 5-2-3 allows McNeil & Rodriguez to revel at Turf Moor

Jose Mourinho’s criticism of his players’ attitude and performance levels was fair, if unwise, but nevertheless he should take most of the blame for an unusual and ill-fitting 5-2-3 formation in Tottenham's 1-1 draw at Burnley.

Spurs improved after the break once Mourinho made a double substitution and switched to a 4-2-3-1, but the damage was done and the tone of the match set.

In possession, Spurs locked themselves into their own half. Using five centre-backs meant there was no out-ball on the flanks (neither wing-back could turn in possession and build forward), while the use of a narrow front three – sat some 25 yards ahead of the rest of the team – left Oliver Skipp and Tanguy Ndombele completely isolated in the middle.

It is no wonder both players went missing; they had no way to receive the ball without immediately losing it.

The 5-2-3 also meant Spurs were vulnerable to Burnley’s system, which as usual meant long balls forward for a header, collecting the second ball, working it out wide, waiting for the overlap, then crossing into the box. Three centre-backs was a waste of bodies against just one forward, Chris Wood, and meant Spurs were too flat defensively. Without a third central midfielder, Jay Rodriguez consistently picked up the second ball as it fell around Wood.

To top it off, the narrowness of Burnley’s 4-4-2 means their wingers tucked infield to create four-on-twos in the centre, while Dwight McNeil and Charlie Taylor continued their excellent partnership on the left because Spurs only had one player on that side, Japhet Tanganga.

It was appalling management from Mourinho.

2) Gilmour & Giroud’s roles rekindle Chelsea’s early-season form

Chelsea’s brilliant performance in the 4-0 victory over Everton saw the return of the style that defined the club in the first few months of Frank Lampard’s tenure, when the main tactical weapon was to swarm the No.1 space with bodies and play quick vertical passes from back to front.

Lampard has Olivier Giroud and Billy Gilmour to thank for that. Gilmour's distribution from the base of midfield played a big role in the first goal and in several chances prior to it, although he was certainly helped by how predictably lightweight the Everton midfield was.

Lampard probably only played two creative midfielders, Ross Barkley and Mason Mount, out of necessity, but it turned out to be the perfect way to expose the sluggishness and positional indiscipline of both Tom Davies and Andre Gomes.

With Barkley and Mount covering the half-spaces and Gilmour constantly looking for the line-breaking pass towards them, Chelsea could play with a much higher tempo.

They were further assisted by Giroud neatly dropping off the front line to add yet another body to the No.10 zone. Everton just couldn’t cope with the one-touch combinations, the zig-zagging passes, and the spinning runs in behind.

Olivier Giroud Chelsea 2019-20

3) Man Utd’s hard-working front three key to derby win

The main difference between Sunday’s 2-0 win and the 3-1 defeat in the League Cup to Manchester City was that Manchester United were happy to concede possession this time, playing to their strengths – and playing like the away side.

Daniel James and Anthony Martial made intelligent runs in the channels, while Bruno Fernandes was typically impressive in adding structure in the final third, but it was the defensive work of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s front three that defined this game.

In a 3-4-1-2, whenever City had the ball Martial and James split to leave Fernandes looking like a false nine in between them. All three worked tirelessly to shut down the easy out-ball, regularly going man for man with Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho to prevent the visitors from playing with any real tempo.

As a consequence, a frustrated Bernardo Silva dropped deeper, leaving Phil Foden isolated as Raheem Sterling continued to struggle.

Pep Guardiola’s side were stronger in the second half when Riyad Mahrez began to terrorise Brandon Williams, only for Solskjaer’s substitutions to successfully close the game out. He brought on Scott McTominay and Eric Bailly and, shuffling things around, gave Luke Shaw the task of shutting Mahrez down while adding support to central midfield.

It was another tactical masterclass from Solskjaer against ‘Big Six’ opposition.

4) West Ham’s organised counterattacks highlight Arsenal’s flaws

Arsenal just about deserved their victory at the Emirates, another brilliant driving performance from Dani Ceballos providing the hosts with enough energy to pick the lock via a 78th-minute Alexandre Lacazette goal.

The shape of Mikel Arteta’s side looks very impressive when in possession – the positional switches and synchronicity on both flanks is testament to the detailed tactical work in training – and yet Arsenal remain vulnerable to breakaways.

West Ham were impressive themselves, David Moyes’ 4-4-2 working a highly organised counterattacking system. As soon as the ball was won, Sebastien Haller dropped deep to act as a fulcrum, Michail Antonio made a run down the right, Pablo Fornals dipped infield from the left, and Mark Noble made himself available for the first pass.

On numerous occasions Antonio was set away, either directly by Noble or by the freed Fornals, arriving on the blind side behind Haller.

The biggest takeaway for Arsenal is the need for an upgrade in central defence in order to step out and help shut down the counters, rather than backpedal, while also show greater strength in the 50- 50s, the majority of which West Ham won at set-pieces.

We all know Arsenal need centre-backs who are less error prone, but they also need ones who are more assertive, powerful, and quick. They won’t challenge for anything until they spend big in this area.

Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal 2019-20

5) Wilson’s movement emphasises Liverpool’s one weakness

Bournemouth completed six dribbles at Anfield, all of them on their left flank. They also played four through balls, again all on that side, and won 10 attacking headers, nine on the left.

Article continues below

After Watford’s 3-0 win last weekend exposed the errors to be found around Trent Alexander-Arnold and the right centre-back, Liverpool’s opponents now know exactly what area to target.

Callum Wilson outmuscled Joe Gomez in the build-up to the opening goal on Saturday, before Gomez then lost Wilson as he tapped in at the far post. Alexander-Arnold has always been a little guilty of losing concentration at the back, and with Gomez now looking shaky there is little doubt teams will continue to launch long balls into that channel.

Everton at Goodison Park was never going to be easy, but after another soft goal was conceded this weekend, Richarlison will certainly be looking forward to the Merseyside derby. 

Close