A remarkable run of weekend results anointed Leicester City as the new Premier League leaders, one point clear of their next opponents Manchester United. Though very much the ‘complete’ performance, Leicester’s resounding win at Newcastle came as little surprise, so Claudio Ranieri adds nothing to his tally on this occasion.
Roberto Martinez also scores ‘nul-points’, even though Everton won by the highest margin of all EPL teams for the second time in three weeks. Victories over relegation-bound Aston Villa are presently a formality for any team, so the points instead go to three managers that defied expectations and delivered a hat-trick of astonishing results.
KLOPP V MAN CITY – 3 Points
Is it Jürgen… or Jekyll? There can be no doubt that a home defeat to Crystal Palace left the reds smarting badly, but few could have expected the reaction that Liverpool produced at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening.
Much can be owed to the unprecedented collapse of Manchester City’s defence, but credit must be given where it is due. City’s goal (on 44 minutes) breathed new life into the match, and a change in tactics from Klopp was required to kill the game and prevent a City comeback.
The inevitable double substitution, which saw the introduction of Fernandinho and Fabian Delph, added some resolute steel to a City midfield that had been bereft of shape and discipline. Despite City’s newfound dominance, Liverpool weathered the storm with tactics that honoured Klopp’s reputation as an unpredictable, but ingenious maverick.
Christian Benteke and Jordan Ibe are two players that would never typically be deployed if the emphasis is on ‘backs-to-the-wall’ defending, but the change proved to be a masterstroke, confusing City and disrupting their game plan once more. Just four minutes after his introduction, Benteke provided an assist for Martin Skrtel to make it 4-1 and end any possibility of a City comeback.
Tip: A sudden change in formation can be a huge gamble, but look out for these as the games elapse, as such changes often destroy the plans of opposition teams.
ALLARDYCE V CRYSTAL PALACE – 2 Points
There is much work to be done on Wearside if Sam Allardyce is to emulate the success of his Bolton days. Just over a decade ago, Allardyce transformed a group of perennial strugglers into one of the hardest teams to break down.
Although Sunderland’s troubles are far from over, the defence honoured that key characteristic of an Allardyce team throughout a testing 90 minutes in South London. Sunderland resisted Palace’s 67% possession and seven shots on target with admirable stoicism, but it was a double substitution on the hour mark that turned one admirable point into three miraculous ones.
The exit of Stephen Fletcher left Jermain Defoe as the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation, forcing Palace to commit further up the field after much exertion from the now-tiring Eagles produced nothing. The inevitable defensive lapse enabled Defoe to pounce in typically opportunistic fashion and seal the points.
Allardyce is back.
Tip: Some strikers simply flourish on their own, so be sure to use historical stats to see how results correlate to the formations played.
HUGHES V SOUTHAMPTON – 1 Point
The damage had been done as early as the tenth minute, with Bojan Krkic netting the only goal in what was arguably the weekend’s quietest game. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman’s decision to leave Sadio Mane on the bench was a bemusing one, with the Senegalese winger only appearing in the 64th minute.
It was at this time that Southampton looked most likely to equalise, but Mark Hughes played his trump card, deploying Geoff Cameron in place of Krkic on 71 minutes. With the extra degree of defensive security, Stoke were immune to Southampton’s subsequent attempts on goal.
Since losing 2-0 at home to Watford, Stoke have now kept three consecutive clean sheets – a record of which even the great Tony Pulis would be proud!
Tip: Although it is admirable that Ronald Koeman’s squad does not pick itself, the absence of key players in Southampton’s starting XI can have devastating consequences for the Saints. Pay attention to Koeman’s starting XI and assess the midfield – if it is under-strength, for any reason, then the inclusion of some opposition players should be seriously considered.