After scoring an average of 4.5/10 in my first week and 2.33/10 in the second, I need some better predictions. Sadly, they probably won’t radically improve this week (well, they’ll probably improve on the 2.33). Watching lots of football is actually hard sometimes, so there’ll only be two predictions this week. As always, I’ll give them a confidence rating out of 5 based on these criteria:
1 – Guess. This is a hunch that I have. If I’m giving a 1 for a prediction though it probably means that it’s either very speculative but based on what I feel like is a good gut feeling, or it’s a filler.
2 – Hunch. A hunch I have based on a little more knowledge than a 1. Unlikely to just be a filler prediction, but may still be a little speculative.
3 – Waver. This means I’m wavering about whether I’m confident or not, I’m probably about 50/50 on whether I think it’ll happen.
4 – Confident. Quietly confident. Anything could happen, of course, but I certainly think this is more likely than not to happen.
5 – Bet. Not *dead* certain, nothing’s really a dead cert, but as close to one as I would be willing to say. I’m not a better, but I’d bet on this.
Prediction 1: Arsenal, unless they play a stupidly high line, won’t look anywhere near as vulnerable against Leicester as they did against Liverpool
Confidence rating: 4
Arsenal struggled against Liverpool in large part because of the relative midfield strengths. Liverpool, without Sturridge, have essentially taken to playing a strikerless system (in the old-fashioned sense of the term ‘striker’), instead employing 6 midfielders, with several of these rotating around the attacking midfield/striker area. While Arsenal had 2 very inexperienced central defenders, it was what was in front of them that was the problem.
Defensive midfield, as we all know, has been a perpetual problem for Arsenal, and it showed again against Liverpool. Where one team has such troubles in defensive midfield and another has such strength and variety in the attacking midfield area, Arsenal’s vulnerability (with a good degree of hindsight) wasn’t that surprising.
Leicester play completely differently. We saw against Hull that a noticeable change from their main ‘play it long to Vardy’ tactic last season probably isn’t going to come (right away at least), and against Arsenal one would certainly think that they’d be looking to exploit space in behind rather than trying to dominate the midfield. For Leicester, Arsenal are a much better fit for them in terms of an opponent they can beat with this tactic than Hull are.
Unless Wenger really is past it, one would hope that Arsenal’s back-line will drop off a little more than usual in order to counter this. It may even be a help that the tortoise-like Mertesacker is out injured. There’s a possibility that Leicester may use Okazaki or Mahrez in a second striker role, to drop into the hole between opposition midfield and defence, but the match against Hull suggests that they may struggle to break down teams when they are forced to attack more like other top sides. There’s also the worry that their defensive side of the game doesn’t look as firm as it was last season, which could give Arsenal an advantage too.
Prediction 2: Southampton will be a worthy test for United, but won’t seriously threaten them.
Confidence rating: 3
Southampton seem set-up to be defensively sound, with a fairly conservative central midfield 3, as written about by Alex Stewart here. This was how they set up in a home game too, where teams generally feel they have more of a license to attack. Away from home, against Manchester United, a focus on defensive solidity is a dead cert.
This could be a good thing for a United side still ‘recovering’ from the defensive focus and attacking bluntness of Louis van Gaal’s reign. Understandably given it’s early into Mourinho’s reign, they didn’t look like they had fully clicked against Bournemouth, with both Zlatan and Rooney dropping very deep (it’s probably also worth remembering that their goals came from a mistake and lucky bounce, a random shanked shot, and a very accurate strike from distance).
It’ll be a good test like a difficult lock to pick is for a professional lock-picker, but United are unlikely to concede many good chances. Probably.