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@theweekend: Kenny Canes Fergie, City Comforts, Coy Woy & Ledley King

October 17, 2011

Our weekly dose of chalkboard analysis from the Premier League at the weekend…

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United : Kenny Canes Fergie…

As Kenny Dalglish suggested, it is a measure of how far Liverpool have come that his players were ‘sitting in the dressing room disappointed’ to only take a point against United at the weekend. Indeed, Kenny deserves a big pat on the back for this as he got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson in a number of departments. In the battle of the three-man central midfield regions, Dalglish returned talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard to his starting XI whilst Fergie opted for Phil Jones – his first league start for United in this position. Gerrard had a far greater impact on proceedings, not just scoring but attempting almost three-times as many passes (60) as Jones (22) and attempting 7 tackles to Jones’s 4…

In the battle of the ‘work-horse wingers’, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt – picked over Jordan Henderson – comfortably outshone United’s Ji-Sung Park. Park played instead of Nani on the right flank, and was second best by some margin to opposite number Kuyt, being substituted in the 69th minute having completed just 7 passes (from 10) to that point, versus Kuyt’s 44 from 56…

And finally, Dalglish instructed his forward players to mark and press United’s defenders when goalkeeper David de Gea was in possession of the ball. Deprived of short options for the effective quick and close distribution that has characterised his early career in the United goal, de Gea was instead forced to kick long – an ineffective tactic that regularly surrendered possession. The young Spaniard completed only 11 of 35 passes at the weekend, compared to 44 of 57 in the 5-0 win at Bolton a few weeks ago…

Alas, these three tactical victories helped Liverpool put in a decent performance, restricting United to just two shots on target all afternoon. One point for Kenny’s charges could easily have been three, and Ferguson was indebted to a number of fine reaction saves from de Gea to spare his blushes…

Manchester City 4-1 Aston Villa : City Comforts…

Manchester City saw so much of the ball at the weekend, completing 620 of 713 passes (87%), that opposition striker Darren Bent completed just three passes in the final third all afternoon. A key reason for City’s control was holding-midfielder Nigel de Jong, who returned from injury with an impressive display that saw him successfully make 87 of 92 passes (at 95%) – albeit they were mostly lateral – as well as making four interceptions and two tackles. Adam Johnson ensured that a rested David Silva was not missed; the England winger scored one goal, assisted another, and made seven key passes into the Aston Villa area. All in all it was rather comfortable for City, who were even able to afford Owen Hargreaves a 13-minute cameo which he completed with 100% passing accuracy (15 from 15)…

Norwich City 3-1 Swansea City : Canaries Tackle Swans…

Two of the newly-promoted clubs went head-to-head at Carrow Road over the weekend, with the Canaries emerging victorious. A significant factor in enabling this important win was Norwich’s comparative willingness to tackle Swansea when they entered their half and their effectiveness when doing so.  Norwich’s pressing game saw them win 25 of 29 tackles (86%) when Swansea entered their territory, whilst Swansea – far happier to allow Norwich possession – only attempted 16 tackles, winning 10 at a success rate of just 62%, in their own half throughout the ninety minutes…

Wigan Athletic 1-3 Bolton Wanderers : Bolton Defend, Wigan Don’t…

Wigan commendably stuck to their guns at the weekend and tried to keep the ball on the deck against Bolton. Unfortunately this backfired, with all three Bolton goals arising from Wigan defenders – twice Antolín Alcaraz, once Steve Gohouri – being tackled near their area when trying to play the ball, rather than just clearing their lines. As Wigan manager Roberto Martínez admitted afterwards: ‘Every goal was a let-down, we didn’t sense the danger, we weren’t solid enough and we had a few errors of judgement.’

These goals might have seperated the sides, but were not the whole story. Bolton were by far the better side when it came to defensive duties, making more interceptions (24-9), successful clearances (20-8), blocks (7-4) and successful tackles (49-42) than their hosts (the tackles and clearances were also at a higher % success rate)…

Bolton were ‘terrific from the first whistle to the last,’ according to manager Owen Coyle, and as a result of their superior defensive display, the Trotters limited Wigan to just two shots on target all game, whilst themselves enjoy ten shots on target in the ninety minutes; the goals, and the end of their six-match losing run, were to follow for Bolton…

Chelsea 3-1 Everton : Pass & Break (and pass some more)…

Chelsea saw off Everton – a team they have struggled to beat in previous seasons – with a comfortable 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge. The (London) Blues attempted a staggering 831 passes (733 successful, 88% accuracy), with John Obi Mikel – in much the same manner as Nigel de Jong [see above] – being amongst the most prolific and accurate of their passers, misplacing just 3 of 97 over the ninety minutes; top passing indeed.

André Villas-Boas admitted it had been ‘decisive to get the second goal just before half time,’ with the resultant breathing space enabling them to sit deep in the second period and hit Everton on the break. This much was epitomised by their third goal, a tap-in for Ramires – whose engine continues to catch the eye – following a fast break involving Ashley Cole (3), Juan Mata (10) and Didier Drogba (11) that was started by a Mikel (12) interception on the edge of Chelsea’s area.

Villas-Boas will be delighted by another impressive Blues performance – and with Daniel Sturridge amongst the goals, Mata pulling the attacking-strings, and serious competition for the central midfield births, it would be a foolish man to assume this year’s title race to be a strictly Manchester-only affair…

West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Wolves : Coy Roy…

The Baggies recorded a first home win of the season against a Wolves team that is now on a worrying five-match losing run in the league. It was a victory built on the trademark set-up of a Roy Hodgson team – a pair of willing runners up front and two banks of four in the defence and midfield. The conservative and disciplined nature of the Hodgson’s WBA midfield is perhaps best illustrated through comparing the passing heatmaps of left-winger Jerome Thomas (23/28 passes) with his opposite number, Wolves’s Matt Jarvis (24/39). Thomas made just 22% of his passes in the final third, a far lower figure than Jarvis who made 78% of his in the final third, and was also afforded the freedom to drift across the pitch more…

Credit must go to central-midfielder Paul Scharner for being one pass shy of 100% accuracy, as well as his neat backheeled assist for WBA’s second goal. However it was the willing running of Shane Long up-front that really caught the eye, not just in offence but in defence too. A menace with and without the ball, his constant harrying of Wolves saw him win six of eight attempted tackles in a fine all-round display…

Newcastle United 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur : King-Sized Problems…

Two of the league’s form sides met at the weekend when Spurs travelled up to Newcastle. Much has been made of Ledley King’s injury record over the years – were it not for persistent niggles relating to his chronic knee troubles, he could well have been a regular for England. His return to the Tottenham XI coincided with a run of four straight victories with just two goals conceded, and prior to ‘an adductor muscle’ injury-enforced substitution in the first half it looked like this good form might continue. Indeed, in the thirty minutes King was on the pitch Spurs restricted Newcastle to a miserly one attempt on their goal; however in the sixty minutes without King, they were to concede twelve attempts and two goals. Tottenham fans, and Harry, will be hoping Ledley returns sooner rather than later…

On For The Road : Home & Away, Fulham…

If ever a Premier League team has epitomised the difference between home and away form then surely it is Fulham. A meagre three victories in their last forty-one away games (yes, 41!) sits awkwardly next to regularly strong home performances that sees Craven Cottage frequently referred to as something approaching a fortress. Last time out at home the Whites put six past QPR, enjoying nine shots on target in the process. Away to the Potters on Saturday, they mustered a pitiful one accurate attempt on the Stoke goal. To be considered a genuine top-ten regular side, this away form must improve…

Next weekend we see the new ‘big one’, a table-topping clash between the two Manchester clubs. There is a local derby for Aston Villa and West Brom, whilst Wolves will look to get back to winning ways when they entertain travel-weary Swansea…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 4:16 pm

    This is a great site.

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