Two more managers bit the proverbial dust in a fraught and fractured month of Premier League action. It came as no surprise that the two departures were Steve McLaren from Newcastle and Remi Garde from Aston Villa.
Unlike the Villans, Newcastle still possess a fighting chance of avoiding relegation – for the second time in eight seasons – but there can be no denying that new manager Rafael Benitez must work a minor miracle to achieve this.
Meanwhile, having seen his Bournemouth side all but achieve safety, Eddie Howe remains at the summit of the Tactical Masters leaderboard, but Ronald Koeman has made the largest gain this month. After a brief stall, the Dutchman masterminded two winning performances in the second half of March, demonstrating exactly why he has avoided ‘second season syndrome’ at St Mary’s Stadium.
GW28 – Francesco Guidolin v Arsenal
Key Player: Ashley Williams
The first three points of ten (from a possible March total of twelve) came from the unlikeliest of sources, as Guidolin’s battling Swans once again came away from North London with three precious points.
As per his pre-game instructions, the Swans goaded the Gunners into switching their attacking options – a privilege afforded to them by stout defending and a 1-1 scoreline. The deployment of two strikers for Swansea on hostile turf clearly threw Arsenal, especially with Gylfi Sigurdsson replacing Ki Sung-Yong immediately after the break.
It was the classic move of an idiot-savant, working to perfection as Arsenal wilted in front of their own fans – almost certainly destroying their best shot at a first Premier League crown in 12 years.
Tip: A depleted frontline which lacks fitness generally falls away as the match progresses. Consider making defensive switches as appropriate.
GW29 – Jürgen Klopp v Crystal Palace
Key Player: Roberto Firmino
Whether or not James Milner’s dismissal at 1-0 down, rather than Klopp’s enigmatic genius, was the telling factor is a matter of opinion. However, a red card can only ever be considered an adverse situation, and Klopp reacted in the perfect manner, showing exactly why he has emerged as one of European football’s hottest properties in the past three years.
Perhaps more remarkable is the flexibility that Klopp’s Liverpool side showed in re-adapting to a new formation with only a like-for-like substitute (Benteke for Origi) following Milner’s dismissal. With additional attacking duties, Coutinho’s unrivalled creativity troubled a plummeting Crystal Palace.
Tip: When a red card is flashed, maximise your point scoring potential by utilising midfielders if the advantaged team is searching for a win. Generally, they can adapt to the role of support striker in times of crisis.
GW30 – Ronald Koeman v Stoke
Key Player: James Ward-Prowse
Koeman’s charges exploited Stoke’s weakened defence, effectively sealing the game by half time. However, a goal from Marko Arnautovic in the 52nd minute gave the Potters a lifeline, and the perfect incentive to test the Saints’ physical and mental agility.
Tried and tested tactics ultimately won the day for Southampton, with James Ward-Prowse again providing the calming influence that a team defending a one-goal lead always requires, replacing Jordie Clasie in the 69th minute to ensure that a possession-based game could be employed.
Tip: When a team is holding on to a one-goal lead, base your selection around players with a high pass completion rate, as they will be heavily involved. It is easy to identify such players by reviewing the FLIP Sports stats.
GW31 – Ronald Koeman v Liverpool
Key Player: Sadio Mane
Koeman overcame an entirely different scenario in this classic ‘game of two halves’. Two unanswered goals from Liverpool provoked a reaction, but Koeman’s natural tactical ability enabled him to react in a pragmatic and effective way.
With a more direct approach required, Sadio Mane replaced Dusan Tadic immediately after the break. The deployment of Victor Wanyama (for Jordie Clasie) also bolstered the physical presence of Southampton as a midfield unit – a trait which had been sadly lacking in the first half.
Mane’s missed penalty heightened Southampton’s anguish, but with Koeman’s choice words in mind, the entire Southampton XI began to re-assert dominance. James Ward-Prowse again proved to be a positive influence from the bench, and his presence coincided with the completion of Southampton’s riveting comeback.
Tip: Spend some time considering players that are competing for the same position and compare their playing styles and strengths. If that team is in a losing position in the real world, be prepared for a quick-fire change.