ANALYSIS: City cleave Chelsea’s work-in-progress press

Alan O’Brien 

By his own admission, Maurizio Sarri’s methods can take time to bed in. The exacting coach took just seven points from his first 10 games in charge of Empoli. And his prior posting at Sorrento, where he expected his players to memorise just the 38 set-piece drills, lasted all of six months. But the Neapolitan hit the ground running at his hometown club, and Chelsea fans will be hopeful that this abject Community Shield showing is not a harbinger of early-season pain to come. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Spectre of Villas-Boas hangs over Sarri

Alan O’Brien 

A little over six years ago, Chelsea’s André Villas-Boas experiment ended in tears. Seduced by Pep Guardiola’s tiki taka, Roman Abramovich had replaced the dependable Carlo Ancelotti with one of the Catalan’s young imitators. But Villas-Boas’s high-pressing game proved anathema to a squad long accustomed to defending in their own half. And player power unseated the then-34-year-old after only 27 league games, seven of which ended in defeat. The nadir, a 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal, saw centre-backs John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic brutally exposed to Arsene Wenger’s pacey front three. Continue reading

Guardiola and self-doubt: the Klopp effect

Alan O’Brien 

When ideology meets pressure there is usually only one winner. History is littered with raging socialists whose left-wing zeal quickly moderated upon assuming any significant responsibility. In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party stands as the most recent high-profile example. Anti-establishmentarianism quickly morphed into fiscal rectitude when the time came to stick or twist. Continue reading

Premier League: Three tactical talking points from Matchday 16

Alan O’Brien 

1) Hard-running Hammers consign sluggish Slaven days to memory

If Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United had greeted the champions in this manner, claret (and blue) would surely have spilled. Continue reading

Premier League: Three tactical talking points from Matchday 13

Alan O’Brien 

1) Sorry Swans’ goalless run is no surprise

Pity poor Paul Clement. Try as he might, this well-traveled coach cannot salvage his employers’ disastrous transfer policy. And boy has he tried. Continue reading

Premier League: Three tactical talking points from Matchday 12

Alan O’Brien 

1) Set-pieces may keep Manchester United in the hunt

Two seasons have passed since Manchester United last racked up a respectable goal-tally from set-pieces. The total of 12 amassed during Louis Van Gaal’s debut season was middling. What followed — two consecutive sevens, twice placing United second-last — was not. Continue reading

Premier League: Two tactical talking points from Matchday 10

Alan O’Brien 

1) 5-3-2, the counter-attacking formation-du-jour

Ever the tactical trendsetter, Chelsea’s Antonio Conte has done it again. Last season’s switch to 3-4-2-1, that inspired a title-grabbing 13-game winning run, was shamelessly copycatted across the Premier Division; most notably by London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Continue reading

Premier League: Five tactical talking points from Matchweek 9

Alan O’Brien 

1) Klopp suffers the fate of his former employers

Wembley has witnessed Mauricio Pochettino’s counter-attacking 5-3-1-1 system before. On September 13 of this year, Tottenham Hotspur, configured in that very shape, absolutely destroyed Peter Bosz’s gung-ho Borussia Dortmund in the channels. On Sunday, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, once of the Dortmund parish, met the very same fate. Continue reading

Analysis: Conte change unclutters the centre for City

Alan O’Brien 

Surely even Pep Guardiola did not imagine the success Fabian Delph’s unusual instructions would engender. Designed, presumably, to copper-fasten Manchester City’s customary possession-dominance, Delph’s turn as an inside-left-back also tempted Antonio Conte into the tactical call that cost Chelsea this game. Continue reading