Weekend Debrief: Impressive Inter can expose Milan’s narrow shape

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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: 16th September 2019

The return from the international break for Europe’s top teams has thrown up a number of tactical talking points ahead of this week’s Champions League and Europa League return, as well as a number of big encounters next weekend.

Here’s a few things that stood out over the weekend.

Toothless Toon lacking attacking inspiration

Newcastle were briefly able to dream after taking another shock lead away at one of the Premier League’s Big Six for the second time this season through Jetro Willem’s stunning strike, however, the Toon weren’t able to hold on as Liverpool upped the anti after their slow start.

The Magpies’ fast start did flatter them, and goals are starting to look as they could be an issue once again for Steve Bruce’s side. Injuries are also taking their toll on Newcastle, with Sean Longstaff this time missing out. This proved decisive, as Jonjo Shelvey wasn’t able to match the same energy in the middle, leading to Joelinton becoming very isolated for large periods of the game.

Christian Atsu was employed more centrally when on the ball to try and provide this link, but the worry will be next weekend against Brighton when the expectation is take initiative at St James’ Park.

Newcastle’s worries may lie deeper than just this weekend, and the bookies have reacted by setting them as 6/4 second favourites for the drop, and a poor result against Brighton on Saturday will intensify the negative atmosphere surrounding the club, and may represent value in the coming weeks.

Liverpool still giving up opportunities

A worry for Liverpool going into two massive games this week at Napoli and Chelsea is that they are still conceding goals. Although Newcastle only achieved an Expected Goals (xG) tally of 0.35, the full-backs were caught out on a number of occasions early on as they pressed forward.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was beaten too easily for the goal, and still needs to improve defensively. Atsu and Miguel Almiron’s positioning caused the Reds’ problems at times as they drifted inside the full-backs who had pushed high, and this could be an area for Chelsea to exploit through the in-form Mason Mount drifting off the wing.

Napoli could also look to do the same with their fluid front four, as their fast forwards play will be able to upset Liverpool’s back four.

Lining up in a 4-4-2 in their 2-0 win over Sampdoria on the weekend, the fluidity of the frontline makes the Partenopei an exciting proposition, and the Italians will look to exploit the issues that Newcastle managed to highlight in Liverpool’s defence, where wingers drifting inside leaves the full backs in questionable positions.

Liverpool’s front three also have a tendency not to track back, and this will once again lead to a very open game.

As a result, it is worth looking at the goal markets in both of Liverpool’s upcoming fixtures, with Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score priced at 9/10 (Bet365) against Napoli and 4/5 (Bet365) against Chelsea, and this could represent a handy double over the week.

Lille suited to exploit Ajax’s open backline

Lille take on Ajax in their Champions League opener, and their game against Angers has thrown up a couple of interesting betting angles for the match.

Playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, they were able to dominate the early stages against Angers, with Boubakary Soumare playing a large part in this with a dominant midfield display. However, against Ajax, I expect to see them adopt a different approach.

Angers set-up in a 5-4-1 and made themselves hard to breakdown forcing Lille onto the front foot. But Lille are best suited to sitting deep and countering, something they will be able to do against the possession- hungry Dutch champions.

Ajax have also conceded in four of five league games, often caught out on the counter in games where they are looking to dominate.

Lille’s front four is gelling well after losing Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal in the summer, with Victor Osimhen impressing with five goals in five. Priced at 11/4 (Bet365) to score anytime on Tuesday, he is the in-form striker, who shouldn’t be underestimated.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Lille’s back four is susceptible to pace on the break themselves, something that Ajax’s fast, attacking football will be able to exploit, in particular through David Neres and Hakam Ziyech.

Once a goal is scored in this one, the game should open up massively, and as a result goals should be on the agenda. As a result 4/5 (Betfair) on Over 2.5 Goals is worth considering, especially when this has landed in all five of the hosts’ Eredivisie encounters this term.

Inter can take derby-day honours this weekend

The first Milan derby of the season takes place on Saturday, and both sides had to break down 10-men in order to record their respective Serie A victories over the weekend.

Both teams struggled to breakdown their opponents with 11 on the pitch, however it was alarming for Milan how they struggled to open up Hellas Verona even after they had a player dismissed. Suso and Lucas Paqueta in particular toiled as they play a 4-3-2-1 system, which appears to be too narrow and a lack of tempo.

Relying upon a penalty to score, Milan were restricted to mostly long shots and could only manage an xG tally of 0.66 when taking away the penalty.

On the other hand, Inter have started extremely well as Antonio Conte looks to implement his style. Playing 3-5-2, the Nerazzuri possess an imperious back line in Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij and Diego Godin, and coming up against Milan’s currently blunt, lost attack, they should fancy a chance to keep a clean sheet.

Furthermore, despite an below-par performance on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku has warmed to life well in Italy, and will relish the opportunity coming up against the Rossoneri’s back four. Stefano Sensi has impressed since his summer move and Inter should be able to utilise both his influence centrally, as well as the space afforded out wide for their wing backs due to AC’s narrow formation.

Priced at 6/5, Inter currently represent good value for a derby day win. It is worth noting that they do take on Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League, but current quotes of 2/5 are unappealing with the Czechs arriving unbeaten in 20.

Best Bets

Napoli v Liverpool – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (9/10 Bet365)

Chelsea v Liverpool – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (4/5 Bet365)

Ajax v Lille – Over 2.5 Goals (4/5 Betfair)

Milan v Inter – Inter to win (6/5 Bet365)

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