Tactics & Analysis

Man United need a big game from Alexis Sanchez vs. Man City

Fri, 6 Apr 2018 10:30:00 PDT

The ESPN FC panel question if Jose Mourinho's tactics will result in Alexis Sanchez not fulfilling his potential at Manchester United. Manchester City can clinch the Premier League title against Man United, but Craig Burley explains why Saturday's Manchester derby has lost some of its shine. The critics are already out on Man United's latest big money signing Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled as of yet to make a splash at his new club. Pep Guardiola hints he is ready to rest players against Manchester United, despite the possibility of wrapping up the Premier League title on Saturday. Alexis Sanchez's January transfer to Manchester United was, on paper, among the most dramatic moves in Premier League history. There were three major factors to it. The first was the novelty of a genuine, real-life swap deal between Arsenal and United, two of the Premier League's biggest clubs. It was exciting simply because for all the tabloid rumours, such exchange deals barely ever actually come to fruition. But this time everything went through, and two high-profile footballers suddenly...

Might Raheem Sterling be the key to Man City vs. Liverpool?

Tue, 3 Apr 2018 11:17:00 PDT

ESPN's Jonathan Smith and Glenn Price discuss whether the atmosphere at Anfield can be the decisive factor in who reaches the Champions League semi-finals. The ESPN FC guys look ahead to the Champions League quarterfinal first leg between Liverpool and Manchester City. As much as Pep Guardiola would like to clinch the Premier League title against Manchester United, his main priority is Man City's UCL quarterfinal clash against Liverpool. Ordinarily, for a fixture like this week's clash between Manchester City and Liverpool, you want both sides to have full-strength squads, managers able to play their strongest hand and for the game to be influenced by top-class attacking talents. This time around, however, the absence of Sergio Aguero might prompt a more complex, unpredictable game. Aguero remains an exceptional striker, boasting a mixture of acceleration and clinical finishing that few others in Europe can match. But he's...

Sanchez, Kane, De Bruyne, Salah: Top players must have the ball to lose it

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 02:44:00 PDT

Craig Burley and Alexis Nunes take a look at the European Golden Shoe race and debate whether Mo Salah will win it over Leo Messi. The FC panel answer your tweets on why Alexis Sanchez has been so poor for Manchester United, if Jose Mourinho is the second best manager in the Premier League and more. Football has always been about statistics. The concept of a top scorer, for example, has been established for decades and yet is essentially a statistical irrelevance, given it almost always has no bearing upon the destination of a league title. That example, though, proves the statistics debate is nuanced. It's not about whether or not you use figures, but about what you record and how you interpret the numbers. Even the now-established idea of the assist was only formally defined in the 1990s...

Mourinho not finished at Man United, but not proven, either

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:39:00 PDT

Throughout his first two seasons at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has regularly faced criticism for being too defensive. Although it's an issue that's dogged him throughout his career, it's arguably only been problematic at two clubs, Real Madrid and Manchester United, whose supporters believe their club boasts a proud tradition of playing attack-minded football. At Porto, Chelsea and Inter, Mourinho often played defensive football without much dissent from fans largely because he led them...

Man City chase Premier League record while playing beautiful game

Fri, 2 Mar 2018 12:39:00 PST

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane reflect on their comprehensive win over Arsenal as they go 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Pep Guardiola still sees room for improvement despite Manchester City's 3-0 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates. ESPN FC's Craig Burley compares Arsenal's consecutive 3-0 defeats at the hands of Manchester City to a couple of friendly matches. When looking at the fixture list in August, this weekend's clash between Manchester City and Chelsea -- the title favourites against the title holders -- appeared crucial in determining the destination of the Premier League trophy. Instead, it's anything but a six-pointer: City are way out in front, while Chelsea are merely chasing Champions League qualification after a wretched couple of months. But also in the sights of Pep Guardiola's side is the Premier League all-time points record, the holders...

Chelsea's struggles at both ends largely due to growing pains of Alvaro Morata, Andreas Christensen

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 10:38:00 PST

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley assesses whether Antonio Conte will still be at the helm in mid-March by the end of their brutal run of upcoming fixtures. It's been a peculiar and somewhat unusual week for Chelsea -- two good performances in tricky contests against Barcelona and Manchester United, but little to show for their efforts. Having opened the scoring in both matches, Antonio Conte's men will feel disappointed not to be taking a first-leg lead to the Nou Camp, and underwhelmed at being defeated 2-1 at Old Trafford. It's rare to be speaking about Chelsea in these terms, because this is a club that has spent much of the last 15 years doing...

Alexis Sanchez looks to buck the trend of big-money failures at Man United

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 11:40:00 PST

Steve Nicol explains why Manchester United's purchase of Alexis Sanchez could prove to be a conundrum for Jose Mourinho. ESPN FC's Rob Dawson and Mark Ogden assess what Alexis Sanchez has to offer after sealing his move to Man United. With the Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap confirmed, Craig Burley and Alexis Nunes break down the deal from both sides. Despite their status as the world's richest club, confirmed in the most recent Deloitte figures, successful Manchester United sides throughout the Premier League era have rarely been based around multimillion-pound signings and genuine superstars. In fact, when United have attempted to introduce recognised world-class players, they've often struggled to incorporate them into their tactical system. In 2001, for example, Juan Sebastian Veron was a British record signing, but Sir Alex Ferguson didn't...

Walcott's new start after an Arsenal career that peaked in the middle

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 08:17:00 PST

With Theo Walcott looking set to join Everton, the FC crew examine whether a change of scenery can help the out-of-favour Arsenal forward reach new heights. Arsenal's Arsene Wenger paid an emotional tribute to Theo Walcott after his Everton switch. The careers of many legendary footballers have been effectively defined by World Cup years: Think Pele, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane. Theo Walcott has not attained the status of the aforementioned quartet, but Everton's new signing is another whose career has worked in this manner. The exception is that the 28-year-old never actually played a minute at the World Cup, yet the key watersheds in his career have nevertheless been 2006, 2010, 2014 and, now, 2018. 2006-10 It goes without...

To beat Man City, you need to press them but it's easier said than done

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 11:06:00 PST

Craig Burley examines Manchester City's back line after their loss to Liverpool and weighs in on whether additions are needed in January. Craig Burley examines Manchester City's back line after their loss to Liverpool and weighs in on whether additions are needed in January. Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol describes his wave of emotions and explains what Jurgen Klopp's side did right in their win over Man City. We're 23 games into the 38-game Premier League season and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have finally been defeated. Sunday's wild 4-3 defeat at Anfield was, in truth, a much tighter game than the scoreline suggests, the goals tally boosted by a couple of defensive errors and some excellent finishing. Nevertheless, Liverpool's approach should be commended: they pressed in advanced positions to force those defensive errors at the start of the second half and City's upcoming opponents will consider...

Sterling's improvement owes much to a new-look Man City

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 01:19:00 PST

Ahead of Raheem Sterling's return to his former club, Liverpool, there will be plenty of debate over the difference between Liverpool-era Sterling and City-era Sterling, along with questions about precisely how he's improved so much. But that's a slightly false debate -- or, at least, it's not the most interesting debate. The key is precisely what has changed between last season and this. After all, Sterling was playing under Pep Guardiola last season, yet his performances were entirely unremarkable...

Can Liverpool succeed where everyone else has failed and beat Man City?

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:01:00 PST

With Pep Guardiola continuing to field strong teams in all competitions, the FC guys question if he is putting his star players at risk. It is the dilemma that has confronted every Premier League manager: How do you stop the seemingly unstoppable? Manchester City are unbeaten in 33 games over almost nine months against domestic opponents. They have dropped points against only two teams this season, and on one of those occasions, they played the majority of the match with 10 men. They have scored almost five times as many league goals as they have conceded and could be crowned champions in March. English football's most unsolvable...

Premier League defending isn't worse, as Ferdinand says: it's just evolving

Fri, 5 Jan 2018 08:04:00 PST

ESPN's Mark Ogden believes Virgil van Dijk can have the same impact on Liverpool that Rio Ferdinand had for Manchester United. It's hardly surprising to discover a former professional footballer suggesting that standards have slipped since his day, but there was plenty of truth in Rio Ferdinand's recent suggestion that centre-backs are no longer as defensively solid. It's a common refrain from both former defenders and former attackers: ex-defenders complain that skills simply aren't valued any more, while former forwards boast that they would score a colossal amount of goals in the modern era with such poor defending....

If Swansea avoid relegation it'll be due to new players, not new manager

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:50:10 PST

Swansea City's decision to dismiss Paul Clement felt entirely inevitable simply because sacking the manager has become the go-to solution when a club is struggling, regardless of whether he's actually done anything wrong. Yet they're in a relatively unusual situation because they have a fine defensive record and a very poor attacking record. In this situation, a quick fix is considerably more difficult than when a new manager inherits a leaky defence but a decent attack. So far, 2017-18 has...

Criticising Liverpool for rotation is silly as it arguably makes them great

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 11:42:00 PST

There are certain footballing topics that appear to become a major issue every few years and considering the nature of the word, "rotation" seems a perfect example. It's currently a hot topic in the aftermath of Jurgen Klopp's decision to rotate his side for the recent 1-1 draw against Everton. Liverpool stumbled in typical fashion, outplaying the opposition before one defensive error cost them two points. Yet Klopp's team selection, rather than Liverpool profligacy or defensive errors, was held...

The key to Man City's superb season might be Raheem Sterling's new role

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:11:00 PST

ESPN FC's Mark Ogden and Man City correspondent Jonathan Smith assess City's chances of finishing the Premier League season unbeaten. Craig Burley compares Manchester United to a small club playing a giant in the FA Cup in their loss to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola always springs a tactical surprise in big matches and Manchester United know that more than most. Guardiola underlined his status as a top-class manager back in May 2009, when his Barcelona side defeated Manchester United in the Champions League final thanks, in part, to a tactic involving the positioning of Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. Eto'o, who had played the majority of the season upfront, started wide-right. Messi, who had occupied the right-sided role, started in the centre....

Happier memories of Cazorla show the way for Arsenal to play vs. Man City

Fri, 3 Nov 2017 12:08:00 PDT

Thursday wasn't a particularly enjoyable day for Arsenal supporters. Shortly after sitting through a dull goalless Europa League draw with Red Star Belgrade, many will have scrolled through their social media feeds on the way home and discovered the horrifying extent of Santi Cazorla's ankle and Achilles tendon problems. The graphic pictures of the injury, as well as a moving story in which Cazorla reveals he feared his foot would be amputated, goes far beyond the usual football fitness woe. Yet,...

Jonjo Shelvey's high-risk, high-reward football is quintessentially British

Tue, 3 Oct 2017 10:39:00 PDT

The Exploding Heads take a look at the weekend's Premier League fixtures, including the unveiling of West Brom's new mascot and the tattoo World Cup. Few players in the Premier League influence a game, for better or worse, like Jonjo Shelvey. Every year, Time Magazine names their "Person of the Year." It's a curious award, famously not (as the name might imply) intended to reward someone who has necessarily done something positive, but simply to highlight someone who has, "for better or for worse... done the most to influence the events of the year." It's an interesting variation upon typical award criteria. Good? Bad? It doesn't matter. They've done something major. If football were to follow the same criteria -- man of the match...

Hazard vs. De Bruyne: Dazzling finesse against dominating power

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:18:00 PDT

Jonathan Smith reports from Man City's training ground where Pep Guardiola speaks for the first time since Sergio Aguero was involved in a car crash. Antonio Conte sends well wishes to Man City's Sergio Aguero after he was involved in a car crash in Amsterdam. Until recently, Premier League fans would have struggled to name a famous Belgian. Belgium's contribution to the English top flight was mediocre, with Philippe Albert's legendary chip over Peter Schmeichel in Newcastle's 5-0 victory against Manchester United in 1996 possibly the only standout contribution. It took two decades of Premier League seasons until a Belgian won the title. Now, however, you can't move for Belgians. There are currently 16 Premier League players who have represented Belgium...

Is Mourinho right that the Premier League is more defensive than before?

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:30:00 PDT

Craig Burley scoffs at the idea of the Premier League title being a two-horse race between United and City this season. Regardless of the positional history of pundits, defending is often the first thing to be analysed. It's easier -- and probably makes for better television -- to find fault, rather than highlight the positives and, when analysis contains replays of goals, focusing upon defensive blunders is inevitable. But Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, when quizzed last week about Wayne Rooney's career ahead of his Old Trafford return, implied the opposite. "I think Wayne spent probably 10 years of his...

3-4-3 formations in focus as Chelsea and Arsenal meet again

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 09:29:00 PDT

Stewart Robson and the FC crew discuss Alexis Sanchez's role in the Arsenal squad and why he must be in the XI at Chelsea. For a managerial rivalry that is just a year old, the meetings between Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte have produced a series of fascinating Arsenal vs. Chelsea clashes that essentially tell the story of the Premier League's most significant tactical shift during that time: A shift from clubs being fixated upon four-man defences, to an increasing dominance of the back three. Sunday will mark the fifth meeting between Wenger and Conte since the latter arrived in London. In the league last season,...

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