The Treble: Blades doomed, Solskjaer reality check, Kane v Kante

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The Treble: Blades doomed, Solskjaer reality check, Kane v Kante

Every week we preview three fascinating things to look out for in the big Premier League games (with Kane v Kante getting us giddy), with further analysis from Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast…


Betfair Betting Podcast · Football…Only Bettor Episode 53: Welcome to Hell (Brighton edition)


Crucial moment in Sheffield United’s difficult second season
Prior to Burnley’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Monday night, the Premier League’s bottom four clubs had won just a single point from 26 matches against the top 15. That’s a seriously alarming statistic, highlighting the huge gap in quality between that mini-league and the rest and piling extra pressure on the six-pointers between Burnley, Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United.

Chris Wilder’s side are the odd ones out, having finished in the top half last season, and after Burnley’s win on Monday – which followed a string of improved performances from Sean Dyche’s side – the Blades are now in a desperate position. They simply have to get all three points at the Hawthorns or heads will well and truly drop.

United were never good at scoring goals, and having taken the league by surprise last season it appears as though opponents have since worked out how to limit the effectiveness of their 3-5-2. What’s left is a functional team low on quality – and likely to be outwitted in key moments at both ends.

As for Saturday, Slaven Bilic’s side will take the game to United, and the most likely outcome is Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira out-manoeuvring an increasingly leaky defence.

Back West Brom to win at 6/4 (Betfair)



Southampton ready to show Man Utd what they could have

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted after the 1-0 win over West Brom that his team’s performance wasn’t good enough. Manchester United played without direction, wafting around the pitch in a style typical of the Solskjaer era, betraying a lack of detailed tactical coaching from the dugout. After 18 months of consistent evidence, it is inarguable that the Man Utd manager does not have the tactical acumen to make the club title challengers again.

But maybe Ralph Hasenhuttl does. The Southampton manager is unlikely to make the shortlist and yet perhaps, rather than plump for Mauricio Pochettino, United could cut out the middle man – Tottenham – and just go straight to Southampton for their next manager.

All the things Solskjaer lacks, Hasenhuttl possesses. His Southampton team are sharply choreographed, their structured attacks burnt into the brains of the players, in keeping with the modern Germanic model of fastidious tactical detail. Where United’s players are asked to improvise in each moment – passing, then moving, then thinking, allowing the opposition to keep their shape – Southampton’s players are always thinking three steps ahead, setting pressing traps and exploding into life at preordained moments.

And so Sunday’s game at St. Mary’s is a chance for United to see what life could be like. As Stuart Armstrong, Moussa Djenepo and Che Adams burst forward, and as Southampton’s two-man midfield flits around controlling the game, Man Utd fans may be left dreaming of what Hasenhuttl could do with players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes.

Back Southampton to win at 11/4 (Betfair)



Chelsea’s Kante-inspired defensive improvements tested

They’ve conceded just one goal in their last seven matches, yet there’s a lurking sense Chelsea’s defence might not have actually improved. For starters, Frank Lampard’s side have had an easy run of fixtures in their last five, facing Newcastle, Burnley, Sheffield United, Rennes and FC Krasnodar. The 0-0 draws with Sevilla and Manchester United, though good results, were notable for the conservatism of Chelsea’s defensive set-up.

Chelsea have looked good when playing with humility against bigger clubs, sitting deep and absorbing pressure. It’s when they face a strong counter-attacking side that the problems emerge and Lampard’s tactical coaching begins to look suspect. Time and again their tendency to fan out wildly in search of a goal leaves them decompressed and unprotected in the transition, as seen most recently in the 3-3 draws with West Brom and Southampton.

Tottenham are the first potent counter-attacking team Chelsea have played since they were held by the Baggies, and so Sunday’s game is the first real test of whether Lampard’s team are improving.

And it’s perfectly plausible they are, mainly because N’Golo Kante has been moved to a new midfield role by Lampard in recent weeks. Contrary to popular opinion, Kante has never been a defensive midfielder and has only played alone at the base of midfield four or five times in the last five years. This truly is a new position for the Frenchman, and it could prove transformative.

In normal times, simply plucking a strong tackler from one part of the pitch and plonking him in the Makelele role wouldn’t be enough to solve a systemic issue of decompressed lines and positional indiscipline. But these aren’t normal times, and in the year of Covid – when there’s limited time for tactical coaching, and limited fitness for highly-structured football – an individualistic approach stands every chance of working.

We might have a definitive answer by Sunday evening. Jose Mourinho’s Harry Kane-led counter-attacks are the most incisive in the division, and so Kane’s battle in the number 10 space with N’Golo Kante will be fascinating to watch unfold. Highlighting a man-to-man battle in the centre of the pitch: it’s a fittingly old-school style of preview for these tactically regressive times.

But there’s a twist. In the last two league meetings between the sides Chelsea were far more cautious than expected, forcing Spurs to hold the majority of possession and winning both matches. A lot has changed since their last game in February, mind, and Kane’s relationship with Heung-Min Son ought to define the rhythms of the game. Kante probably won’t keep Kane in check for the whole 90.

Back Spurs to win at 5/2 (Betfair)

From Betfair’s Football…Only Bettor podcast: “I don’t think this will be a goalfest. Tottenham only managed four shots in their win against Man City last weekend. I expect Jose Mourinho to go safety first here. Both sides have been good defensively recently. Chelsea have conceded only two goals in their last eight. I like under 2.75 goals at around 1.9 on the Exchange.”


Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit

Alex Keble hosts a Premier League pre-match tactics show at

Betfair Betting Podcast · Football…Only Bettor Episode 53: Welcome to Hell (Brighton edition)

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