Match of the Day is a staple of the UK football fan’s diet, as much a part of many people’s weekly routine as going to a game.
But on Saturday, the programme looked very different after presenter Gary Lineker was stood down by the BBC for comments made on social media, with pundits and commentators soon withdrawing from the show in solidarity with the long-serving host.
Match of the Day showed 20 minutes of action, with no punditry, analysis or post-match interviews. To help fill the gap, we asked our experts to analyse the key tactics and talking points from Saturday’s games.
If Liverpool’s historic 7-0 win against Manchester United was Jurgen Klopp’s football at its best, this was anything but. Liverpool’s counter-pressing was nowhere to be seen, and apart from their threat from set pieces they could not really create dangerous chances.
On the other hand, Bournemouth’s solidity without the ball, their intensity in midfield and directness in attack made this an extremely difficult afternoon for Liverpool.
Bournemouth’s 4-4-2 without the ball did not suffer against Liverpool’s right-side rotations as Jaidon Anthony dropped to support Lloyd Kelly and Jefferson Lerma’s awareness on the right side of Liverpool’s attack limited Klopp’s team in open play.
When it came to the other flank, the battle between Andrew Robertson and Dango Ouattara had only one winner. Bournemouth’s right winger constantly dropped into the defence to handle Robertson’s forward runs, allowing Adam Smith to mark the Liverpool player near him, whether that was Cody Gakpo dropping in the half-space…
…Darwin Nunez moving inside…
…or Diogo Jota in the second half.
Then as the game was reaching its end, Bournemouth’s wingers both dropped to form a back six without the ball to limit the threat of Liverpool’s wing play.
Going forward, Bournemouth’s direct approach in possession and on transitions got the better of the Liverpool defence, with Ouattara’s runs behind Robertson causing the most problems. This was helped by their 3-2-4-1 shape on the ball, which allowed Philip Billing to make runs from midfield, with Trent Alexander-Arnold being dragged out wide to face Anthony.
Gary O’Neil’s side put in a performance deserving of the three points but, while it did not cost them on Saturday, their set-piece record should be ringing alarm bells. They have conceded the most goals from set pieces in the Premier League this season (15) and the third most expected goals (xG) from set pieces (10.47) after Crystal Palace and Everton.
If they want to keep their place in the league, they’ll need to improve in this area.
Nottingham Forest have won only one away game all season, scored just four goals (worst in the Premier League) and conceded 32 (second-worst in the league) — on this showing, it is easy to see why.
Given Tottenham Hotspur’s utterly wretched week, with the pressure ramping up on manager Antonio Conte and in front of a crowd that was ready to turn if Spurs fell behind, Forest were far too passive from the outset and allowed Spurs the opportunity to take control of the game.
As Steve Cooper said afterwards, his team did not get the fundamentals right and were punished.
They had a warning sign when Richarlison scored a fractionally offside goal in the third minute from a very simple ball over the top which the centre-backs did not react to. It was basic stuff.
Harry Kane got a free header for the opener when peeling off Joe Worrall and Serge Aurier, then Worrall dived in with a horrendous challenge on Richarlison for the penalty — he was nowhere near the ball.
They also should have dealt with the third better but, despite being set, they allowed Richarlison a second bite at a cross and Son Heung-min beat Aurier to score.
It was exactly the kind of afternoon Antonio Conte was after. Powder-puff opposition, a stress-free 90 minutes and three pretty easy goals. Spurs needed it and Forest gave it to them.
“You have to compete and back yourselves,” Cooper said. “Being more aggressive and on the front foot is where that missed opportunity is.”
Forest’s home form has been good but they can’t keep failing to turn up for away games, otherwise you fear for them.
That’s our analysis, but let’s imagine how it might have played out in the Match of the Day studio…
Gary Lineker: “Right, a fairly straightforward win for Spurs then but it would have been even more comfortable had Richarlison’s early goal stood, Alan, but our old friend VAR intervened…”
Alan Shearer: “Well, this is just ridiculous. I know we end up talking about VAR every week, but this is one of the daftest offsides we’ve had. We can see it here, the ball’s played through over the top.
“It’s a perfect pass for a striker to chase, Richarlison latches on to it and finishes really well. And then we get VAR. I mean just look at this where they’ve drawn the lines.”
Lineker: “The lines are on top of each other!”
Shearer: “Exactly. They took a couple of minutes to decide as well, we were watching it in the studio and couldn’t believe what we were seeing, although Wrighty didn’t seem to mind too much.”
Ian Wright: “You shut your mouth, Al!”
Shearer: “Haha. But yes, I’d have been livid if I’d scored that and it had been ruled out.”
Lineker: “Yeah me too.”
Shearer: “Well I think you’d have been in the six-yard box when that pass was played (looks straight ahead with slight smirk).”
Lineker: “Haha, touche! It’s a shame for Richarlison as remarkably he still hasn’t scored in the Premier League for Spurs. And Antonio Conte had some, shall we say, choice words to say about him in the week. But he played well didn’t he, Ian?”
Wright: “Yeah, he did Gowl and I’m really pleased for him that he got a start today and looked like the player that did so well for Everton last season. Sometimes you just need that break, unfortunately he didn’t score today but he could be a key player for Spurs for the rest of the season.”
Lineker: “Indeed. Just a shame he was on the end of a varcical decision today. Right, moving on.”
It is the BBC, not Gary Lineker, who have scored the spectacular own goal
This was not the easiest of three points for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
For a big part of the game, it felt like a 0-0 at Selhurst Park was inevitable. Albert Sambi Lokonga and Jeffrey Schlupp’s man-marking duties on Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva stifled City’s No 10s in the first half, while Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi won header after header inside their penalty area.
Erling Haaland’s missed chance in the 28th minute from a Nathan Ake overload on the left side would have had Guardiola fuming had City not won the game. Ultimately, it was Haaland who scored City’s penalty and only goal in the second half.
This was City’s solution against Palace’s defensive block. As Guardiola’s No 10s were tightly marked, the 3-2-4-1 shape on the ball needed other options. John Stones and Rodri made forward runs from midfield and the latter tried carrying the ball forward multiple times.
With no result, Guardiola moved Bernardo to the double pivot in midfield after he had put him out wide on the right when Julian Alvarez replaced Phil Foden. This allowed City better combinations in the centre of the pitch, which helped Rodri’s carries and eventually got them the win.
In an open game, finishing in the boxes mattered the most. Leicester City will rue their missed chances once again after it cost them against Southampton last weekend. Daniel Amartey’s early header, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s near miss in the second half, Jamie Vardy’s header and Harry Souttar’s cleared chance off the line are additions to the long list of Leicester’s missed opportunities in recent games.
For Graham Potter, a third win on the trot and three goals is just what this Chelsea side needed. Despite Leicester’s chances, Marc Cucurella, Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana showed how important they are for Chelsea. Their aggressive nature made it harder for Leicester’s combinations between the lines, and Potter’s second-half switch to a 5-3-2, introducing Conor Gallagher in place of Joao Felix, made sure James Maddisson could not roam freely. He then moved to a back four in the 73rd minute to match Leicester.
In search of the equaliser, Leicester left spaces behind and this suited Kai Havertz and Mykhailo Mudryk, whose offside goal was followed by the Ukrainian’s first assist in the Premier League to make it 3-1 and practically end the game.
Ultimately, it was Chelsea’s finishing that won them this game. It wasn’t as controlled a performance as the one against Borussia Dortmund in midweek — and on another day the scoreline could have been different — but the expected goals (xG) gods owe Chelsea.
Over the past few months, Brentford’s defence has been impenetrable. Before their match against Everton, they had not lost in the top flight since October.
However, it only took Dwight McNeil 35 seconds to open the scoring at Goodison Park. Despite a late surge of pressure from Brentford, Everton held on to earn a crucial three points.
Mikkel Damsgaard was exceptional in central midfield for Brentford in their 3-2 victory over Fulham on Monday, but he struggled to make an impact on Saturday. The 22-year-old was part of a box midfield as he pushed up with Vitaly Janelt, while Christian Norgaard and Mathias Jensen dropped deep. The gap between them was huge at times in the first half, which allowed Onana, Gueye and Doucoure to dominate and consistently win the ball in dangerous areas.
Thomas Frank regularly switches formations and Brentford lined up in a slightly awkward 4-4-2. Damsgaard was technically playing on the left wing, but it was Rico Henry’s responsibility to provide a threat down that flank and he needed more support. Frank recognised this and attempted to switch things up by bringing on Kevin Schade and Josh Dasilva in the second half.
Bryan Mbeumo moved to the left wing and Schade popped up on the right. Brentford started to control possession more, but Everton remained compact. James Tarkowski and Michael Keane kept doubling up on Ivan Toney too, which limited the striker’s influence.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed the game through injury but, instead of replacing him with a more natural centre-forward in Neal Maupay, Dyche cleverly used Demarai Gray’s pace to good effect. The 26-year-old’s task was to run off Ben Mee’s shoulder and then press him when Brentford had the ball. Gray repeatedly got into good positions on the counter, but was unable to extend Everton’s lead.
Frank bemoaned Brentford’s lack of quality on the ball to reporters, but it was all about Dyche winning the tactical battle.
Leeds 2-2 Brighton: The dilemma of how to stop a De Zerbi side
The dilemma with Brighton, given Roberto De Zerbi’s fairly unique approach to tactics, is how hard to press them and how hard to chase as they knock the ball around outside their own box. Leeds United’s answer was to keep their distance and avoid the increasingly obvious trap of harrying in a way which let Brighton cut through them.
This was Elland Road’s first taste of De Zerbi’s football and the experience was confusing. As Brighton dwelt in possession and Leeds stood off them, on the orders of Javi Gracia, the crowd were caught between wanting Leeds to go after Albion but sensing what the consequences would be if they did. But when Brighton, having bided their time, opened the scoring through Alexis MacAllister, caution from Leeds looked more like passive submission.
These have been hard months in Yorkshire and Elland Road was threatening to turn when Patrick Bamford, out of nothing, smacked in a deflected shot off the crossbar before half-time. It might have turned the match but Brighton’s confidence oozed and as time went on they were able to chip away with passes through the lines, giving Kaoru Mitoma the run of the left flank.
After a classic goalmouth scramble, it was his ball which Jack Harrison turned into his own net in unflattering style in the 61st minute. At that moment, the measure of De Zerbi’s approach seemed perfect.
Football, though, is nothing if not a simple sport, for all the complexity of the Italian’s thinking. Danny Welbeck walked through Leeds’ defence and then skewed an easy finish wide, the second time in two seasons he has cost Brighton by missing a sitter. Harrison redeemed himself 12 minutes from the end by curling in beautifully from just inside Brighton’s box, again out of very little.
One fluffed line, one hit from distance and the points were shared — a result which does nothing great for either side but rewarded a second-best Leeds far more.