5 February 2011 went down in history as the “day it rained goals”, with a total of 41 strikes in the Premier League, but 26 September 2015 made an excellent attempt at emulating one of the BPL’s most entertaining days in its 23-year history.
It is perhaps fitting that United are top the table as of Sunday evening when a red moon, not a blue one, could be seen in the skies above Manchester. However, impressive as United were against feeble Sunderland, their 3-0 win was eclipsed by several other clubs. Minimal tactical arrangement was needed from Louis van Gaal, meaning that the tactical credit lies solely with London clubs after another weekend of high drama.
While all the London clubs remained unbeaten, three in particular stood out on the strength of their uncompromising play.
POCHETTINO v MAN CITY – 3 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Erik Lamela
The early kick-off set the standard of excellence for the weekend as the youthful Mauricio Pochettino defeated the highly-seasoned Manuel Pellegrini in a supreme battle of wits.
No changes had been made with the score 1-1 at half time, but the decision by Pochettino to field three midfielders with predatory instincts rather than defensive smarts proved a masterstroke against a depleted City defence. Indeed, a lesser manager than Pochettino may have considered self-preservation over attack, as the City team is always capable of hitting back on the break.
Although credit for Spurs is deserved, the absence of Joe Hart was always going to be a disadvantage for the visitors, and Pochettino (through the inclusion of said midfielders) utilised it to the fullest extent.
Tip: Keep abreast of news relating to the fitness of goalkeepers. Deputy keepers are a huge gamble as the lower level fitness and experience may affect their performance.
WENGER v LEICESTER – 2 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Santi Cazorla
Leicester City 2, Arsenal 5 – the sort of scoreline that conjures endearing images of Dennis Bergkamp netting a sublime hat trick at age-old Filbert Street, but on Saturday it was a team effort that ensured Arsenal ended the Foxes’ unbeaten run in style.
Although there can be no doubt that Alexis Sanchez was man of the match, the real tactical masterstroke was Wenger’s decision to deploy Santi Cazorla in a deeper midfield role. This simple move unified a midfield that did not utilise shooting opportunities with efficiency before Saturday, ultimately playing to Cazorla’s strengths in game reading, ball retention and distribution.
His presence as a tackler and distributor clearly threw Leicester and unsettled their game plan to perfection.
Tip: Employ players which are equally skilled in tackling and distribution for away games when teams are generally more reliant on the counter to gain results.
MOURINHO v NEWCASTLE – 1 Point
Super Sub/Key Players: Ramires
Jose Mourinho may remain winless at St James Park but his charges are now performing more like the champions of lore, coming back from apparently hopeless deficits to gain results.
This was a key component for the success enjoyed by Mourinho during his first stint at Stamford Bridge, and the end fully justified the means as a trademark triple substitution changed the game. While the inclusion of Willian and Falcao on 61 minutes added some much needed flair to the team, the real impact was made by the appearance of Ramires just twelve minutes later.
Chelsea had dominated possession throughout the match, but lacked the ability to retain it effectively. The presence of Ramires changed that, providing a more balanced transition between defence and attack, and the Blues were duly level within just a further twelve minutes of play.
Tip: Jose Mourinho specialises in effective substitutions, with a wider than average array of game plans reserved for losing situations. Against nervy opposition in poor form, consider emulating his substitutions while in play… he isn’t a three-time Premier League winner for nothing!