An Early Tactical Change That Would Benefit Each Team in the EPL
The English Premier League is in full swing, and already we've seen strengths and weaknesses in each team.
Here are early tactical tweaks for each team to consider, such as Liverpool's full-back conundrum, or how Arsene Wenger can get even more out of Santi Cazorla.
It's important to note that with several teams, it's almost impossible to accurately suggest a tactical change, as they are still finding their feet.
Transfer deadline day threw many plans to the wall, meaning we'll have to wait and see how the last-minute switches affect managers' plans.
Utilise Santi Cazorla in a "false winger" role
Right now, Arsenal's marquee signing is playing in a central midfield role. He is the most advanced of a triple-pivot, but this isn't his strongest role.
Cazorla plays his best football from a wide position and cuts inside to devastating effect. He doesn't stick to the touchline, but floats on the inside shoulder of the full-back—think Eden Hazard in his Lille days.
When Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are back, an established midfield can be formed, and the Spaniard can be pushed even higher up the pitch.
Service to the front man
Most preseason chatter regarding Aston Villa mentioned the importance of a fit Darren Bent. It became common consensus that his goals would keep Villa up.
Well, to score, he needs service. Although the Newcastle game was a significant improvement on the previous two, there is still work to be done.
Against West Ham, the England striker received just 15 passes, and against Everton, 23. The 36 received versus Newcastle represents significant progress, and this must keep improving.
Swap John Obi Mikel for Oriol Romeu
Nigerian defensive midfielder Mikel is asked to do the simplest role in the team. He sits in front of the back four and provides solidarity in defence, a safe option in attack and, above all else, a link between the back line and the front—or so he should.
He's not efficient enough in the short passing game to master his role as an anchor midfielder. Statistics flatter him—according to WhoScored?, he's recorded a 93 percent pass completion rate so far—but if you watch his games, his missed passes are of the simple variety and put his side in a lot of danger.
His positioning is also suspect. Mikel's poor placing of his own body often leaves Chelsea looking like a team divided in half—six at the back, four up front and 15 yards in between.
He is a major reason Chelsea are failing to control games against inferior opposition (Reading, Wigan) for long periods when they really should.
This is the first of a few teams in the English Premier League who don't need to make any changes.
Everton are flexible, and David Moyes is rated as a highly reactive manager—every game is different.
The Scot tailors his game plan to his opposition and dramatically changes player roles (see Marouane Fellaini) for the benefit of the team.
Fulham had everything in place to challenge for Europe—then transfer deadline day happened.
Star players Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele swapped West for North, as London club Tottenham snapped them up to bolster their attacking ranks.
Martin Jol's first game without them was atrocious—a 3-0 loss to West Ham in which the first goal was conceded inside the first minute—but Dimitar Berbatov hadn't been fully integrated yet.
The Bulgarian hitman will likely see the team built to serve him, but how Jol will do that remains to be seen.
Rein in the full-backs
Brendan Rodgers likes his attacking full-backs, but Liverpool aren't ready for Angel Rangel-esque runs just yet.
Glen Johnson is, at times, the furthest man forward, and he is at least partly to blame for both of Arsenal's goals on Sunday.
Without a genuine defensive anchor like Lucas Leiva or Jay Spearing, the Reds are taking huge risks every time one of their full-backs goes forward.
With no one to cover the hole they create, they simply invite trouble. Rein it in a little, Brendan!
Just stick to one formation for a bit
Don't get me wrong, I was perhaps one of the most excited football fans in the world when I learnt that Roberto Mancini was trialing an unorthodox 3-5-2 in preseason.
The ability to play two very different systems with consummate ease is exactly what Manchester City need to stay fresh in the defence of their title, but it's not really working at the moment.
The players look a little confused as their roles have become blurred, and the full-backs in particular don't know when to press, when to track back and when to bomb forward.
If Shinji Kagawa is neutralised, what is Plan B?
Ask most Manchester United fans what they think of their new Japanese superstar, and the large majority will wax lyrical about his talent, potential and performances.
There's no doubt the former Borussia Dortmund playmaker was the Red Devils' best player in the loss to Everton, and there's no question he was heavily influential against Fulham too.
He went missing against Southampton though, didn't he? You can read this to find out why, but the more pressing concern is what the 19-time champions are considering as an alternative for when Kagawa is marked out of the game.
Get the wing-backs hitting Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse
Alan Pardew knows how to organise a side, and he hit the nail on the head last season. As soon as his full-backs crossed the halfway line, they pinged a ball into Ba or Cisse's chest.
Before them, Andy Carroll received excellent service from Joey Barton—a central midfielder moved wide to serve the striker—and Newcastle No. 9's have been prolific thanks to this.
This kind of service has been somewhat absent this season. Danny Simpson has been a little subdued, while the right-footed Davide Santon playing left-back doesn't aid this particular tactic.
The jury is still out on Chris Hughton, but the former Birmingham City manager has done well to recover from a 5-0 opening-day defeat to Fulham.
The result prompted the Canaries to bring some players in, and the team have looked far more solid since.
The emphasis is on defence right now, but that might be a byproduct of the opening-day rout. We need to see a few more games before Hughton's methods come fully into play.
Queens Park Rangers
Play with a flatter back four
Mark Hughes has been shopping this summer, can you tell? But a million new players and QPR still look fragile to say the least.
Rangers have picked up attacking full-backs in Jose Bosingwa and Fabio da Silva, but these two need to be leashed much like Glen Johnson of Liverpool.
QPR's attempts to secure central defensive reinforcements were unsuccessful, leaving the club with the cringe-worthy pairing of Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill.
The last thing QPR need right now is two full-backs running off into the distance, leaving two unreliable centre-backs to deal with everything on their own.
Brian McDermott clearly hasn't settled on a preferred system or set of players, and the two games Reading have played so far have seen the tactician try different formations with different personnel.
Two games isn't enough to gauge what McDermott is thinking, but it's clear from early experimentation that Garath McCleary is a much more viable option than Hal Robson-Kanu.
Adam Le Fondre, too, is a born finisher, and in home games, I'd like to see him alongside Pavel Pogrebnyak in a classic big man-small man combination.
Play Rickie Lambert all the time
"Lambert for England"—the chant rings around St. Mary's Stadium as the journeyman striker puts Southampton 1-0 up against Manchester United.
He came off the bench against Manchester City to score, and when he was substituted against United, Nigel Adkins' team lost their edge.
The Saints boss is reactive and bold which is good, but some players are untouchable. Lambert needs to be on the pitch whenever possible.
Pass the ball, lads
OK, Tony Pulis has no excuses now. The recruitment of Charlie Adam—a signing which suits Stoke down to the ground—will not only enhance the aerial game, but improve the Potters' ground game too.
Last season, Stoke scored the highest amount of goals from set pieces, but the lowest amount of goals overall. While Adam improves set-piece delivery, he could settle nicely with Wilson Palacios and Maurice Edu, meaning Pulis' side add an extra edge to their attacking game.
Sunderland opened their season with a grinding 0-0 draw at Arsenal, prompting further questions as to the quality of Martin O'Neill's striking corps.
The Ulsterman always uses the first game as a litmus test to see how his team fare, and he often recruits heavily straight afterward.
Louis Saha and Steven Fletcher have come in, and the latter got a debut goal against Swansea.
We need to see more of the Black Cats with recognised strikers before we draw tactical conclusions.
The brilliant thing about Michael Laudrup's Swansea is that they've stayed true to their Brendan Rodgers roots—they're still passing with fluency and freedom, but they've added a little more cutting edge.
This will help them on their away days, which was a cause for concern despite a successful campaign last time out.
Time will tell how long Laudrup can keep this up.
Stick to one formation!
Andre Villas-Boas is such a tinkerer. He can't stop playing with his team's shape and tendencies during games, and it's killing Tottenham right now.
Spurs have thrown away two 1-0 leads against inferior opposition at White Hart Lane recently as a direct result of AVB switching things around frantically.
There's nothing wrong with being reactive (a la Paul Lambert), but the Portuguese tactician is close to messing things up. Again.
Steve Clarke has had a wonderful start to life as a manager, and West Brom are riding high on the new manager vibe.
He's instilled a more passing-centric philosophy than his predecessor Roy Hodgson did, and it's working for the Albion, showing both a dominant and resurgent side.
No changes for Clarke, just keep it up.
Pass the ball a bit
Sam Allardyce football is effective, but far from pretty to watch.
It's not just the football snobbery in me that wants to see West Ham pass the ball, it's the fact that they have technically proficient players.
For West Ham to manage less than half the passes Aston Villa did in their season-opening clash was pitiful, even if the scoreline ruled in the the Irons' favour.
Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te can pass the ball. Let them, or else the Hammers will face uncomfortable moments when holding on to leads later in the season.
Improve the crosses
Wigan Athletic, to be fair, have been excellent. Roberto Martinez has got his team performing exactly how they were toward the end of last season, and they're the first Premier League club to hit optimum level.
The 3-5-2 employed by the Spaniard is intriguing to say the least, and it has been fantastic to watch so far.
It's tough to find a way for Wigan to improve. They outplayed Chelsea, beat Southampton away from home and drew with sturdy Stoke.
The wing-backs get forward well and find decent crossing positions, but their deliveries aren't always that consistent. Improve that? I'm clutching at straws here—well done, Martinez.
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