The Premier League is almost back. And thanks to our new partners, Betfair, each week we’ll be looking at a treble of fascinating things to watch out for in the televised games (which is all of them for now) …
How Bielsa copes with not seeing much of the ball
Finally, the mythological Marcelo Bielsa is a Premier League manager. It speaks to the maverick energy of the man that predictions regarding Leeds United range from an assault on the European places to a total collapse in a division that generally punishes non-super-clubs who try to play an aggressive high-pressing game. It could go either way, which is why their baptism of fire at Anfield is clearly the pick of the round.
The most interesting thing about the game is witnessing how Bielsa adapts to seeing so little of the ball. Liverpool will inevitably dominate possession, which means Leeds forced onto the back foot – and a pretty drastic reduction in those helter-skelter positional interchanges that have famously defined Bielsa teams. It would take serious guts to press maniacally, to morph into a 3-3-1-3 and go for the jugular, against this Liverpool.
But if anyone is crazy enough to try it, well, it’s obviously Bielsa. Even if Leeds are happy to sit back they’re still an excellent counter-attacking team – and should be even better this year with Rodrigo leading the line. Leeds could get hammered 5-0. Or they could pull off a tactical master-class and steal a famous win. Either way, there will surely be goals.
Back over 3.5 goals in Liverpool v Leeds at 5/4 (Betfair)
Mourinho’s second season getting underway
This is it, Jose Mourinho’s second season at Tottenham, by historical precedent the only campaign in which he will do any good in north London. That might not be the case, of course, and if his re-branding exercise in Spurs’ Amazon Prime documentary is anything to go by Mourinho knows he needs to change the narrative. A four or five-year stint slowly nurturing Spurs towards the top of the Premier League would fully restore his image as one of the world’s best coaches.
Realistically, that isn’t likely to happen, making 2020/21 make or break time for the Mourinho experiment. Spurs need to win something. Fortunately, an unbeaten final last six games of the season – leaving them fourth in the form table since Jose’s appointment – puts them in a strong position to do just that. Many have already written Mourinho off as a modern irrelevance. But he has made a career out of proving doubters wrong.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the ideal Matic-esque signing to finally solidify the Spurs midfield while Matt Doherty will slot in at right-back to complete the defensive side of things. That should further stabilise a tactical system –compressed mid-block, rapid counter-attacks – that was clearly coming together in June and July. Spurs will only get better this season, and Everton at home is a great place to lay down a marker.
Some excellent new signings mean Everton should be lured into the traps Mourinho sets, greedily hoovering up possession through Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and James Rodriguez as Spurs sit back and wait for their moment to pounce. Carlo Ancelotti’s side is in transition. Spurs are just coming out of theirs.
Back Tottenham to beat Everton at 17/20 (Betfair)
Brighton testing Chelsea’s new gung-ho approach
How do you improve a team that created the second most chances (and had the second most shots) last season, but conceded the ninth most goals? You spend big on three of the best young attackers in the world, of course. That’s Frank Lampard’s answer, anyway, as he tries to stare down the footballing gods with an overwhelmingly lopsided squad. One wonders if Lampard the player ever even noticed what Claude Makelele was doing behind him.
From the first game of Lampard’s reign to the most recent, Chelsea have been repeatedly caught in the attack-to-defence transition, a direct consequence of hurtling forward with all the dexterity of the liberated ant colony on Homer Simpson’s space shuttle: freedom – horrible, horrible freedom.
The big question on Monday, then, is whether an ageing Thiago Silva and some more astute pressers in Kai Havertz and Timo Werner can shut down the wide-open patches through midfield. Their opponents Brighton and Hove Albion are a deceptively difficult early test, given that Graham Potter is a reactive tactician who prepares thoroughly to exploit opposition weaknesses.
Brighton can flip formations in a heartbeat; can counter-attack in precisely the spaces vacated by careless opponents. Perhaps the new-look Brighton defensive partnership of Ben White and Lewis Dunk can hold firm against forwards making their debuts in English football – and, thinking back to their smash-and-grab 3-0 victory over a fumbling Tottenham in October, perhaps Adam Lallana can release Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay in behind Chelsea’s high line.
Back double chance Brighton/draw v Chelsea at 5/4 (Betfair)
Back over 3.5 goals in Liverpool v Leeds, double chance Brighton/draw v Chelsea, and Tottenham to beat Everton at 9.37/1 (Betfair)