ANALYSIS: Spurs diamond sparkles as Silva dogma shatters

Alan O’Brien 

This was Tottenham Hotspur’s ninth win in 11 away games. In any normal season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side would be runaway favourites to claim their maiden Premier League crown. But this is no normal season, and neither Manchester City nor Liverpool represent run-of-the-mill competition. Once again, Pochettino’s uncanny ability to conjure magic from comparatively puny financial resources may go unrewarded. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate outsmarts Dalic to avenge semi-final sorrow

Alan O’Brien 

What a shame this England didn’t show up in Russia last summer. Firmly wedded to their fatally flawed 3-3-2-2 system, Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland threw away their country’s best chance of winning a World Cup in decades. Blessed with acres of space, Croatia’s free full-backs eventually decided June’s semi-final at England’s expense. And, in September, Spain’s Dani Carvajal and Marcos Alonso ran riot throughout the Three Lions’ opening day Nations League reverse. For Southgate, that deflating Wembley defeat finally heralded a long-overdue tactical change-of-heart — and not a moment too soon either. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Over-elaborate Eagles miss their chance again

Alan O’Brien 

As soon as news of Wilfried Zaha’s absence filtered through, this result had fait accompli written all over it. Crystal Palace have lost the last 11 Premier League games Zaha has missed, after all. But Tottenham Hotspur were anything but fluent in victory here; again. And Palace, if they were not so insistent upon playing into their visitors’ hands, could well have made them pay.

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PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate kryptonite stalls super Swedes

Alan O’Brien 

Four decades on from falling for the humble English 4-4-2, Sweden have yet to lose that loving feeling. Popularised in the late-seventies by emigrés Roy Hodgson and Bob Houghton, the quintessentially English system is still very much Swedish football’s go-to. How ironic, then, that the most English blueprint of all would falter at its originators’ hands. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pekerman spoiling tactics pay off until the penalties

Alan O’Brien 

José Pekerman’s plan-of-defence turned this second-round match into one long mutual nullification exercise. And, while Colombia’s safety-first system produced a penalty lottery they ultimately lost, it also exposed the South Americans’ longstanding over-reliance on one creative fulcrum. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Panama pasting papers over the cracks in Southgate’s system

Alan O’Brien 

Even the most facile of victories can harbour harbingers of future failure. So it proved for England, who coughed up four quality chances to tactically inept Panama. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate resolves England’s set-piece woes

Alan O’Brien 

Perhaps the hand-wringing over the lack of adventure shown by North African sides will cease now. Nabil Maaloul’s Tunisia had a go here. And quite how they survived an absolute caning is anyone’s guess. Continue reading