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FourFourTwo’s tactical review: Giroud vs Januzaj, blunted Spurs, Klopp’s aerial kings

Olivier Giroud celebrates his goal against Sunderland

Tottenham and Manchester United were the big losers on a weekend where the other title challengers raced two points ahead.

Arsenal beat Sunderland thanks to two substitutions with contrasting effects, while Kevin De Bruyne deputy Ilkay Gundogan helped Manchester City to win 4-0 at West Brom. Liverpool somehow struck twice from corners in a 4-2 success at Crystal Palace, but Spurs endured familiar failings in their 1-1 draw versus Leicester.

1. A tale of two substitutions

At some stage, it looked as if Sunderland could nick their third point in 10 league games after Jermain Defoe had converted a 65th-minute penalty in front of a hopeful Stadium of Light crowd. The Black Cats had hardly been anywhere near the Arsenal goal and scored with their only shot on target thanks to Shkodran Mustafi mistiming a long ball, but they now had a genuine chance of making Arsenal rue missed chances following Alexis Sanchez’s early header.

But then came two key changes. On 69 minutes, Arsene Wenger sent on Olivier Giroud for Alex Iwobi, with Sanchez dropping to the left wing; a minute later, David Moyes took of Steven Pienaar for Adnan Januzaj, the Belgian taking his place on the right flank. Those switches were relevant for all three ensuing goals.

The problem for Moyes was that Januzaj made no efforts to track back, despite his fresh legs. Within a minute, Sanchez duly played in an unmarked Kieran Gibbs, whose cross found the net via Giroud’s first touch of the game. Two minutes later, another Gibbs delivery was nearly converted by Mesut Ozil. Shortly after, Januzaj finally tried to help out near his own box – but his intervention was hardly desirable: he raised a high foot towards Francis Coquelin, gifting away a dangerous free-kick near the box. It was taken by Ozil and deflected for a corner, from which Giroud added his second.

The show wasn’t over. On 78 minutes, Januzaj was nowhere to be seen as Gibbs fired onto the woodwork, before the ball fell to Sanchez for 4-1. “They’re really good at cutting through you,” Moyes later rued. Sadly for him, his own tactics had only appeared to facilitate that process.

2. Gundogan shines in advanced role

There is no playmaker in the Premier League who can match the speed and incisiveness of De Bruyne, but his replacement didn’t do too badly as City ended their six-game winless run. Pep Guardiola reverted to 4-1-4-1 and moved Gundogan into the free midfield role next to David Silva, where De Bruyne usually plays. That enabled the nimble German to operate between the lines against a compact West Brom side.

To say it came off would be an understatement: Gundogan was involved in three goals, having been actively involved in just four at Dortmund last season. His advanced positioning was key. For the first, he found space in behind the midfield to slide a pass to Sergio Aguero, who buried a shot through Ben Foster’s legs. Then another pass nearly assisted Nolito, before the Spaniard got in the way of Gundogan’s own effort in the second half.

At that point there was still time for Gundogan to finish off a through-ball from Aguero and a low cross from De Bruyne, who had come off the bench. In both instances, Gundogan lurked inside the box; an unlikely movement had he started as a holding midfielder. De Bruyne will surely take back his position in upcoming games, but it may well comfort Guardiola that he has another player capable of filling such a key role should new injuries occur.

3. Blunt Spurs rely on full-backs

Mauricio Pochettino had demanded more sharpness in the final third before this fixture, but still endured a third successive league draw. Spurs at least got a point thanks to Robert Huth fouling Vincent Janssen inside the box, the Dutchman dispatching the penalty himself, but may well have nicked a winner had the connections between the lone striker and three advanced midfielders been better.

Much was left to be desired. Though Janssen still awaits a Spurs goal from open play, he hardly got the ball from his own attacking midfielders, who found little space against a compact Leicester side. As noted elsewhere on, Janssen received no passes at all from Son Heung-min and Dele Alli, and of the three he got from Christian Eriksen, one came via a set-piece and another took place inside the Spurs half.

As such, most of what Spurs produced came via Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, who were both among the top three passers to Janssen. They managed to get past wide midfielders Riyad Mahrez and Ahmed Musa on various occasions, and though Claudio Ranieri replaced both his wingers in a bid to stop the duo, Rose still managed to unleash four shots, while Walker set up three attempts. Pochettino may wish that his midfielders had been equally productive.

4. Liverpool prevail in aerial battle

Liverpool have been one of the worst set-piece defenders since Jurgen Klopp arrived in October last year, so it raised eyebrows when Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip rose to head in two corners before half-time. Palace conceded just three corners all game.

With those goals sending Liverpool towards a 4-2 win, it was of little consolation to Alan Pardew that Palace capitalised on aerial power themselves. Christian Benteke didn’t have his most prolific night but was still involved in both goals, flicking on a long ball just before Lovren sliced his clearance, then heading to Wilfried Zaha who chipped in a cross.

On both occasions, James McArthur used all of his 5ft 10in frame to nod past Loris Karius. By the end Benteke had competed in 18 aerial duels and won 11 – but his former club prevailed.

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