The likes of Jose Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers will be nervously checking their in-tray for P45s, as the recent funk of their respective clubs shows no sign of halting. For three other managers however, this weekend was pure joy…
VAN GAAL v LIVERPOOL – 3 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Ashley Young and Anthony Martial
In this latest clash between the North-West’s two most successful clubs, the first half was a damp squib, but it was Louis van Gaal who showed his superior managerial pedigree by taking the initiative and destroying Liverpool with a tactical masterclass.
With Liverpool setting their stall to defend, while relying on Christian Benteke from breakaways, an extra element of attack was required. The introduction of Ashley Young, to replace Memphis Depay, was a masterstroke. Depay is all pace, compensating for his all-round game which is fine by Eredivisie standards, but well short of the required Premier League standard.
By contrast, Young is a highly-experienced (sometimes underrated) playmaker who does not rely solely on pace to damage the opposition. Liverpool’s defence was unable to adapt to this change in the nature of United’s wing play, and van Gaal evidently sensed this uncertainty from the visitors. Less than three minutes after the switch, United went 1-0 up and dominated proceedings thereafter.
At 1-0 down, the Liverpool team was not short of effort on the pitch, but they failed miserably to account for a young man by the name of Anthony Martial – a player who already appears to understand what it means to wear the red shirt of United. The Red Devils could end up paying as much as £58 million for the young Frenchman, but the impact made by Martial suggests that he could repay that sum in abundance sooner than expected.
In the 86th minute, Louis van Gaal wielded his authority and proved that United can be an uncompromising side. By the time Liverpool had adapted to Ashley Young, visible fatigue had set in, stretching the defence after a monumental effort. This was the opportunity to again confuse a now-tired Liverpool side, with van Gaal subbing Young himself for Martial (the only actual striker to make an appearance) and again disrupting the game plan of the enemy, resulting in a third and decisive goal for United.
Tip: Ensure that you know who the regular starters are, and look for emerging trends from the subs bench. If the ingoing and outgoing players operate a different style, that will disrupt the opposition.
RANIERI v ASTON VILLA – 2 Points
Super Sub/Key Player: Nathan Dyer
With the Foxes now lying second in the table, Claudio Ranieri is quickly becoming the best Leicester City manager since Martin O’ Neill occupied the hotseat in the mid-1990s, bringing them silverware and European nights to remember.
No player is bigger than Leicester City, but midfielder Riyad Mahrez is the consistent standout player who continues to torment all opposition in his wake. This week was no different, and Ranieri was again able to utilise Mahrez’ flexibility on the wing, as Leicester fought back from 2-0 down to clinch a memorable victory over their midland rivals.
The key to this latest victory was the simplicity of the tactics used to overturn the deficit. Villa’s switch to a three-man midfield proved suicidal, with the introduction of Nathan Dyer providing a greater amount of balance across the Leicester midfield. This forced Villa to become stretched, causing the 18-minute collapse that turned three points into zero for Tim Sherwood’s side.
This latest triumph sees Ranieri charge to the top of our Tac-Master table!
Tip: Just include Mahrez every week! Also, be sure to utilise a pacy winger if the opposition’s formation changes with a view to dropping deeper and protecting a lead.
MARTINEZ v CHELSEA – 1 Point
Super Sub/Key Player: Steven Naismith
In the aftermath of Saturday’s lunchtime fixture, much was made of Chelsea’s ongoing crisis, with the spotlight in particular on the ineffective attacking trio of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas. For many media outlets, the focus was on Mourinho’s misery rather than Everton’s industry and teamwork.
Martinez’ side were superior in every department. Forced though the substitution of Mohammed Besic for Steven Naismith was, Martinez showed guile beyond his years. He played to the Scotsman’s variable strengths and utilised his natural workrate to great effect.
Naismith is far from Everton’s best player in terms of ability, but he is an unpredictable man to play against when deployed on the wing. In particular, Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma’s inexperience was magnified to an embarrassing extent as Naismith ran riot. Experience counted for everything, as Naismith exploited the unthinkably large gaps that appeared in Chelsea’s defence.
Tip: Certain players simply thrive against a particular club. Steven Naismith has now scored five goals in three home matches against Chelsea, while Nemanja Matic’s goal was his second strike at Goodison Park in as many visits. The presence of a ‘bogeyman’ for any team can be a psychological bar to victory, which only strengthens with each goalscoring occasion. If you are having trouble making a decision, be sure to observe historical results and look for repeat scorers.