Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard salutes Chelsea fans
Jose Mourinho was right to reference Antonio Conte in describing Chelsea’s tactics on Sunday, and yet the manner of how they executed the 3-4-2-1 was textbook Mourinho.
Frank Lampard is no disciple of the Portuguese, and yet here was a coming-of-age tactical victory that had all the hallmarks of a great Mourinho performance: nullifying opposition attackers and targeting one major flaw.
Chelsea’s back five stunted Tottenham’s front five, a simple man-for-man approach that made Mourinho’s 3-2-5 in possession suddenly look unimpressive.
Usually Heung-Min Son provides an out-ball in space on the left, but here the width of a back five meant Cesar Azpilicueta was on top of him. Usually Lucas Moura or Dele Alli can drop off the front line to pick up the ball, but here there was always a spare centre-back to get tight to them. Usually Spurs can build through central midfield, but Chelsea’s inside forwards blocked off the lanes.
In attack, aside from their swarming energy in the first half blowing away a still-timid Tottenham defence, Lampard targeted those vulnerable full-backs with raking long diagonals.
The first four or five were heartily applauded by the manager, and by the 12th minute one led to a corner from which Willian scored.
  • Man City return to form thanks to De Bruyne & Mahrez
  • Man City celebrate Riyad Mahrez's goal against Leicester at the Etihad
Man City celebrate Riyad Mahrez's goal against Leicester at the Etihad
Man City celebrate Riyad Mahrez's goal against Leicester at the Etihad
Pep Guardiola has come under fire for his side’s performances this season but here was Manchester City at their very best, an unstoppable force courtesy of excellent individual performances from Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez – and a recent formation change that City have needed for some time.
Too often limited in numbers in central midfield this season, on Saturday Guardiola sat Bernardo Silva deep alongside Ilkay Gundogan, which meant these two could create high-tempo passing from within their own half - setting the tone for a display defined by sharp switches of play, pulling Leicester one side before suddenly giving the ball to Mahrez in space on the right.
Brendan Rodgers should have reacted sooner to this threat by positioning Harvey Barnes deeper, but nevertheless Man City deserve credit for a renewed display of self-assurance.
De Bruyne’s genius grabbed the headlines, and yet it was Mahrez who played a role in all three goals; scoring the first, assisting the penalty win for the second, and then taking a fearful Ben Chilwell out of the game to allow De Bruyne to drive down the right for the third.
  • Southampton & Watford are on the up
  • Harry Maguire in shock as Manchester United lose at Watford
Harry Maguire in shock as Manchester United lose at Watford
Harry Maguire in shock as Manchester United lose at Watford
Victories for two of the bottom three has seen the Premier League relegation battle heat up just before Christmas.
Now just seven points separate 14th and 20th and, with Nigel Pearson inspiring a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, it is clear any of these seven clubs could go down.
Watford were impressively resolute defensively, countering well down both flanks to heap further pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Southampton’s tactical approach was similar, with Aston Villa even more vulnerable to counters than Man United at the moment. Dean Smith’s naively open tactics (both full-backs push on, as do two of the three midfielders) make Villa among .
Their match against Norwich City on Boxing Day looks decisive.

Worst

  • Racist abuse in English football is a societal issue but FA must do more
To argue that the perpetrator of the racist abuse at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium is just one person, a rogue operator, is to misunderstand the systemic nature of racism in football and the UK as a whole - as Gary Neville so eloquently put it on Sky Sports.
Dave Jones’ response perfectly exemplifies that racism is a societal disease perpetuated by an apathetic media and openly racist political class.
This was by no means an isolated incident. Racists have clearly been emboldened by the referendum result of 2016 and subsequent rhetoric and policy; Sky distancing themselves in the interest of ‘balance’ was indicative of how these views are now tolerated.
The three-step protocol introduced by FIFA increasingly looks like a get-out clause for the FA and Premier League, when in fact they do not have to follow its painfully lenient approach. Stop the games. Dock points. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Apathy and hand-wringing appeasement has allowed vile hate speech to re-emerge in football. The protocol in its current state is an unforgivable failure to protect both players and supporters.
  • De Gea makes two more nightmare mistakes
  • Manchester United keeper David De Gea lets in a Watford goal
Manchester United keeper David De Gea lets in a Watford goal
Manchester United keeper David De Gea lets in a Watford goal
David de Gea has now made three unforced errors leading to goals in the space of two matches, albeit one of them kindly chalked off for a foul. All three were an inability to catch a simple ball.
The timing could hardly be worse for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is surely now back under pressure following an abject defeat to the league’s bottom club.
The pattern is consistent. United have now won 36% of the games in which they held the majority of possession and won 73% of the games they have held the minority. Sit deep against them and those pacy forwards have nowhere to run.
Up until last week Solskjaer has at least been able to rely on a sturdy defence, but now De Gea’s errors threaten to make his side more nervous. Things may get worse before they get better.
If only there was a proven Premier League manager available who could sort this mess out…
  • Diabolical game shows how difficult the task is for Arteta & Ancelotti
Everton new boss Carlo Ancelotti, right, with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright
Everton new boss Carlo Ancelotti, right, with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright
The weekend kicked off with surely the most diabolical game of the season so far and a late contender for the worst of the decade.
Both teams were incapable of stringing a pass together, static in attack, and hesitant in defence – nervously dropping deep as if happy to settle for a 0-0 draw. Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta will know, if they didn’t already, that they have almighty tasks ahead of them.
Both clubs lack tactical direction after waning influences from high-pressing managers, which means the forwards tend to push on and the defenders backpedal, leaving huge gaps in central midfield.
Consequently both Ancelotti and Arteta will need to focus on compressing the overall shapes while re-establishing a bolder attacking approach. Judging on Saturday’s game, it will take at least six months for things to change.

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