Talking Tactics

Key battles of Sunday's matches

By Adrian Clarke 28 Apr 2023

Adrian Clarke looks at what could be defining duels in three of Sunday's Premier League fixtures

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Adrian Clarke picks out three key battles between players and teams going head-to-head on Sunday.

Player analysis - Dominic Solanke v Patrick Bamford

When Leeds United last faced AFC Bournemouth back in November, they came back from 3-1 down to claim a memorable 4-3 win in one of the matches of the season.

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The two teams meet again this Sunday, in what could be a season-defining afternoon for both clubs in their quest for Premier League safety.

Two former Chelsea team-mates, neither of whom made a single top-flight appearance at Stamford Bridge, will be key figures; Solanke and Bamford.

Solanke has enjoyed a good campaign, scoring five times and providing seven assists for AFC Bournemouth.

Five of those crucial direct goal contributions have come in the last six matches, where his two goals and three assists have helped add seven points to the Cherries’ total.

He was instrumental in their stunning 3-2 success at Tottenham Hotspur, sliding a clever pass into the box for Matias Vina’s goal, before scoring himself with a tidy left-foot finish, and then holding the ball up superbly in the build-up to Dango Ouattara’s winner.

Solanke's assist v Spurs

The 25-year-old is thriving under head coach Gary O’Neil.

Part of a side who are now playing attacking football, Solanke’s Expected Goals (xG) average has doubled since the start of 2023.

Solanke stats comparison 22/23
  Aug-Dec Jan onwards 
Total shots 29 40
Shots/90 2.1 3.1
Total xG 2.8 5.6
xG/90 0.2 0.4

Bamford will be pleased to have made 24 appearances for Leeds this term, having missed the majority of 2021/22 through injury.

However, the 29-year-old will be ruing a huge missed opportunity from close range in their 1-1 midweek draw at home to Leicester City.

Two of his three Premier League goals have arrived in his last five starts, so the form book suggest he is capable of being a match-winner.

But in contrast to Solanke’s xG rise, the chances have slowed down for Bamford in 2023, a period where Leeds have won just three of 17 matches.

Bamford stats comparison 22/23
  Aug-Dec Jan onwards
Total shots 17 24
Shots/90 3.6 2.6
Total xG 4.1 2.9
xG/90 0.86 0.31

Bamford's pedigree at the highest level was proven during a prolific 2020/21 season, when he scored 17 goals.

He will now be desperate to make a difference in this six-pointer at the Vitality Stadium.

Team analysis - Aston Villa

Across the last 12 matches, Manchester City are the only Premier League side to have collected more points than Aston Villa's 26.

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Their away record under head coach Unai Emery will also provide additional confidence ahead of Sunday's trip to Manchester United.

Winning six out of nine matches on the road, having failed to win any away from home prior to Emery's arrival, the turnaround has been outstanding.

During those nine matches, Villa have conceded only seven goals.

Villa's away form before/with Emery
  Before Emery With Emery
Away matches 7 9
Wins 0 6
Draws 2 2
Losses 5 1
Win ratio 0% 67%
Points 2 20

Emery has long been regarded as a smart tactician and at the core of his principles right now is a narrow 4-4-2 formation.

In that shape, he uses a double pivot of defensive midfielders at the base of his midfield, flanked by two inverted wide men, usually John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey.

Both have shone brightly in those roles, providing energy and quality in possession, as well as diligent defensive play.

Up against Man Utd's classy midfield trio of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes, they will clog up space and provide valuable support to their team-mates on the inside.

In attack, Emery likes to pair in-form striker Ollie Watkins with Emiliano Buendia, and both will pose a problem to the hosts' depleted defence.

Having beaten Chelsea, Brighton & Hove Albion, Leicester City, Everton, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur away from home, Emery’s formula will give Villa a chance of upsetting the odds at Old Trafford.

Despite this, Man Utd may be encouraged by some of the numbers below.

This data suggests that Emery’s side are facing as many shots and Expected Goals Against as they did under Steven Gerrard.

The numbers indicate that this outstanding away defensive record may not be sustainable.

Away defensive record before/with Emery
  Before Emery With Emery
Matches 7 9
Goals conceded/match 2.1 0.8
xG Against/match 1.7 1.6
Shots faced/match 13.7 13.6
Shots inside box faced/match 10.1 9.7
Player analysis - Trent Alexander-Arnold

With five assists in his last four top-flight appearances, Alexander-Arnold is one of the most in-form players in the Premier League.

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This run of contributions has coincided with a new role for him within Liverpool’s starting XI.

While he is still playing at right-back, when the Reds build up play in deeper areas he is now floating infield to act as an extra central midfielder in possession.

This has created overloads which allow Liverpool to move the ball through the thirds better and gets Alexander-Arnold on to the ball in different areas.

From a central position, his fabulous, progressive distribution created two fine goals for Cody Gakpo against West Ham United and Darwin Nunez versus Leeds.

Alexander-Arnold assist
Alexander-Arnold (left of the picture) picks out Nunez (in between two defenders) against Leeds
Alexander-Arnold assist
Alexander-Arnold (middle of the picture) finds Gakpo (receiving end of the line) with another pass through the middle

Across the last four matches Liverpool’s right-back has averaged 112 touches and 87 passes per match.

Making 12 key passes overall, and six telling through balls, it is fair to say Alexander-Arnold has adapted quickly and superbly to these new instructions.

His touch map from the 6-1 win at Elland Road, where he enjoyed an astonishing 153 touches, paints a very clear picture of this tactical shift.

Alexander-Arnold v Leeds
Alexander-Arnold had his most impactful performance of the season against Leeds with the dots showing how many touches he had

This weekend’s opponents, Tottenham Hotspur, usually operate with a two-man central midfield in their 3-4-2-1 shape.

This could present real issues for Spurs when Alexander-Arnold drifts inside to add a fourth player to the Reds midfield.

Harry Kane will need to drop in to lend support, and wide forwards Son Heung-min and Richarlison (or Dejan Kulusevski) will also be asked to tuck in and help too.

Alexander-Arnold is still producing telling crosses for Liverpool from the wings, but from central positions he is also exuding class.

His incisive passes aimed towards Mohamed Salah, Gakpo, Luis Diaz or Nunez have potential to inflict major damage against an out-of-sorts Spurs defence.

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