Weekend Debrief: A top-four tilt from the Foxes?

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IN a brand new column, tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks. 

Weekend Debrief: 30th September 2019

A top-four tilt from the Foxes?

Sunday represented arguably Leicester’s biggest test of the season so far.

Missing influential midfielder James Maddison, who has topped the assists and key pass charts for the Foxes this season, Brendan Rodgers’ boys had to find a way of breaking down a Newcastle side that have frustrated top teams away with their tendency to defend deep and narrow.

However, Rodgers’ side ran out comprehensive winners at the King Power Stadium. This will go some way to alleviating doubts as to whether they can cope without Maddison, and if they can breakdown teams fighting relegation, which was their Achilles heel last season. In doing so, they are well positioned for a European push.

Full backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira impressed, offering an overlap out wide throughout, and their energy and drive on the ball gave the Newcastle defence problems, constantly getting in behind to the byline.

When Newcastle dropped off to cover off this avenue, they created crossing opportunities from deep, which led to Jamie Vardy’s second of the afternoon. This flexibility allowed the Foxes to utilise both options, and stop them becoming one-dimensional.

How they adapted to Maddison’s absence was also noteworthy, with the incoming Dennis Praet starring alongside the excellent Youri Tielemans, who relished the opportunity to play further forward. Tielemans pressed high and stopped Vardy from being isolated, as well as drifting wide to give his wide midfielders support on the flanks.

Praet linked the midfield from deep to attack, completing 57 of 64 passes, and was helped by the presence of Wilfried Ndidi alongside him. The Nigerian’s excellent form continued, completing 12 ball recoveries, 9/10 tackles and five interceptions, and represents a very balanced midfield capable of causing opponents issues.

Against Liverpool next weekend, expect to see a slightly different midfield with Hamza Choudhury to add steel, and this depth will only further strengthen their European credentials.

A favourable EFL Cup draw at Burton and the lack of European football this season makes them a tempting prospect to either finish in the Top 6 or have a tilt at a domestic cup. Priced at 11/10 (William Hill) to finish in the Top 6, they are the best of the rest when it comes to challenging for the European place.

The 9/1 (Unibet) on an EFL Cup triumph also represents value, with five all-Premier League ties in the next round reducing the competition significantly.

Eintracht Frankfurt’s eye-catching rebuild

Having reached the Europa League semi-finals and narrowly missing out on Champions League football last season, it was no surprise to see a handful of big money departures from Eintracht Frankfurt this summer.

Luka Jovic (Real Madrid), Ante Rebic (AC Milan) and Sebastien Haller (West Ham) moved on for significant fees, leaving a gaping hole in Die Adler’s attack.

Eintracht have had a steady start to the new campaign, but Friday’s win over Union Berlin showed exciting signs going forward as summer signings Bas Dost and Andre Silva appear to be linking up well. Throw into the mix creative winger Filip Kostic, and they have an attack capable of creating chances against most sides.

Signs suggest they can only improve. Dost and Silva’s partnership looks particularly promising, as the more physical Dost allows Silva to drop off and utilised the space in behind. After a torrid time at Milan, the Portuguese forward looks to be finding his feet once again, impressing in games against Union and Arsenal.

Silva constantly found himself in the right positions, and it appears to be a matter of confidence for him to consistently find the back of the net, suggesting it is only a matter of time before things falls into place.

Robert Lewandowski is as short as 1/6 in places to be Bundesliga Top Goalscorer, which is no surprise given his 10 goals in six games. Silva is 100/1 (Bet365), but unfortunately there is no option to go each-way.

However, he is worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks as an Anytime Goalscorer option, in a side which is generating an average Expected Goals (xG) output of 1.50 per-game this season.

Zidane finally finding the balance in Madrid?

PSG’s 3-0 thrashing of Real Madrid sent shockwaves through Los Blancos’ camp, with the media quickly jumping on Zinedine Zidane’s (lack of) tactics at the Parc de Princes. It was an understandable reaction.
Overrun in midfield by the excellent Idrissa Gueye and Marco Veratti, Toni Kroos struggled alongside Casemiro as they were constantly bypassed, whilst James Rodriguez was anonymous throughout.

The fact PSG were missing Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani further reinforced the defensive issues, however Real had their own injury problems, and Zidane has gone a long way to resolving them since.

The return of Sergio Ramos has been key, as they have subsequently kept clean sheets in their last three games. A hard-fought victory at Sevilla, before a routine 2-0 over Mallorca gave them the confidence boost they needed heading into the Madrid derby, where they were excellent in defence.

The introduction of Federico Valverde alongside Casemiro was key in this game, and represented a lesson learnt from Zidane from the rampant defeat in Paris. Offering excellent defensive cover and linking midfield and attack in a box-to-box role, Valverde is a much more solid option to that of James.

Ramos and Raphael Varane dealt comfortably with wonderkid Joao Felix, and restricted Atletico Madrid to an xG of 0.94, building on the 0.65 they kept Sevilla to the previous weekend.

It is worth noting that although they have been able to stem the flow of opposition chances, they have sacrificed an element of cutting edge up front, as new signing Eden Hazard struggles to adapt to life at Madrid.

An xG of 0.38 against Atletico reinforces this, and Zidane will need to look at how he can get the best out of his attackers whilst keeping the midfield solid. Returning midfielder Luka Modric will only help, and despite the worries they have had, they still sit top of the league and look like they will only get better.

Up against a Barcelona side struggling without Lionel Messi, they are still available at 7/4 (Unibet) to win La Liga, and this represents value if Zidane can get his attack to click. The response over the past weeks to the PSG defeat has been excellent, and his tactical adaptations, particularly in central midfield, shows that they can grind out results against tougher opposition when needed.

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