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@theweekend: Praise for Pardew, Swans at Anfield, City Out-Passed & Classy Klasnić

November 7, 2011

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

Newcastle 2-1 Everton : Pardew & Gosling Tackle Defensive Matters…

Newcastle, it seems, do not know how to lose. All credit to manager Alan Pardew because after eleven games they are still unbeaten and are ahead of Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal in the table. Much of this success can be attributed to a fastidious approach to organising the defence in training, with regular defensive sessions in which Pardew is seen ‘frequently halting play to adjust individual positioning’ and educating his side in defensive matters. Knowing when, and not just how, to tackle is something Pardew has refined, and the benefits were all to clear against Everton at the weekend, with Newcastle winning 18 of 21 attempted ground tackles (86% success rate) compared to Everton’s 13 of 19 (68%). This was also an improvement on last season’s fixture (which Everton won), where Newcastle just 9 of 16 ground tackles – a lowly 56% success rate…

The Magpies were not helped possession-wise by losing influential midfielder Yohan Cabaye to injury in the 38th minute – his replacement Dan Gosling struggled to replicate Cabaye’s comfort on the ball, making just 9 successful passes (from 12) after replacing him (Cabaye had completed 18 of 20 passes prior to his departure). However, Gosling did win a game-high four ground tackles as well as a take-on, adding some bite and providing cover for the back four that was perhaps missing with Cheick Tioté’s absence…

Arsenal 3-0 West Brom : Easy Going For Arsenal…

In all truth, Arsenal found it very easy going against West Brom at the weekend. The comfort with which this victory was attained is reflected in the 3-0 scoreline, but also in that they only had 13 clearances to make all afternoon, compared to West Brom’s 32…

Part of the reason Arsenal had it so easy was Roy Hodgson’s insistence on setting West Brom up in a compact manner, which also meant his side did not press Arsenal high up the pitch. Although it can be a successful ploy, against a quality footballing side like the Gunners it is not always as effective as they usually eventually negotiate your banks of four and unpick your defence. Indeed, West Brom astonishingly did not attempt one ground tackle in Arsenal’s half all afternoon, allowing the opposition’s ball-playing centre-backs Thomas Vermaelen (65/73 passes, 89% accuracy) and Laurent Koscielny (56/61, 92%) far too much time on the ball…

Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta were all superb for Arsenal in central midfield. Indeed, as a trio they completed 225 passes (out of 252, 89%), which was almost as many as the entire West Brom side managed all afternoon (264 successful passes, out of 372). By volume, Arteta was the most prolific with 94 attempted passes, although surprisingly it was a West Brom player who was the most accurate passer on the pitch amongst those who started the game: James Morrison misplaced just 2 of his 48 passes to finish with a game-high 96% pass success rate. Add in 4 interceptions and winning 5 of 7 tackles and Morrison clearly emerges as West Brom’s stand-out performer, which isn’t too shabby considering this was his first start for five matches…

Finally two more brief observations from an Arsenal perspective. Firstly, Robin van Persie remains pretty average in the air – the Dutchman lost all six of the aerial duels he contested at the weekend. Keep the ball on the deck, Arsenal! Secondly, 19-year-old right-back Carl Jenkinson – making just his second start since the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford in August – showed a commendable willingness to run up and down the wing and involve himself in Arsenal’s passing. However, his chalkboard clearly shows that there is room for improvement when it comes to his final-ball, with 7 misplaced crosses (from 8 attempted) when attacking the West Brom area. Luckily he is still young and as such has time to improve…


Blackburn 0-1 Chelsea : Chelsea Keep A Clean Sheet!

On the back of an absurdly-long and entirely un-Chelsea-like run of games without a clean sheet, manager André Villas-Boas finally changed his defence with the selection of the altogether more robust Branislav Ivanović over the attack-happy José Bosingwa at right-back, as well as drafting Alex into central defence. Ivanović’s selection on the right proved inspired, with the Serbian winning 11 challenges (from 14), a vast increase on Bosingwa’s “haul” of 4 (from 5) in that position during Chelsea’s most recent away game (QPR)…

Bizarrely though, despite returning a clean sheet and being selected to provide increased defensive security, Ivanović actually made more of his passes in the final third (36%) than Bosingwa did in the 5-goal mauling against Arsenal last week (21%) in which it was suggested Chelsea’s full-backs had been a tad too attack-happy. The fact that Chelsea returned the elusive clean sheet – their first since gameweek 1 no less – in spite of this probably speaks more about Blackburn’s limitations however; Liverpool are next up and should (one would assume) provide a sterner test of Chelsea’s new-found defensive “solidity”…


Liverpool 0-0 Swansea : Swans Pass Anfield Test; Liverpool Disappoint…

Strange old game at Anfield. In a nutshell, Liverpool had plenty of chances (25 to be precise) but once more failed to take them and drew a home game they probably could or should have won. That they did not claim three points speaks volumes for the fine glove-work of Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm, the waywardness of Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll’s shooting, and a gutsy defensive showing from the visitors which saw Swansea make 47 clearances across the 90 minutes – an average of one every two minutes! One thing is for sure though, Liverpool cannot afford many more results like this and the Norwich game if they have genuine designs on achieving a top four finish…

Once more, Swansea passed the proverbial pants off the football, and in doing so earned a standing ovation from some of the Anfield faithful. Manager Brendan Rodgers was unsurprisingly delighted by this, but also recognised its significance: ‘I don’t think there are many who will come here and get that reaction. That was a mark of our performance.’

Àngel Rangel, Leon Britton, Mark Gower and Joe Allen all made in excess of 60 passes for the Swans as the visitors chalked up an 83% pass success rate for their 530 passes at Anfield; Liverpool’s 597 passes came at 81%. However, whilst Swansea should earn praise for their intricate passing and for actually securing a point at Anfield, it should also be noted that the vast majority of these passes (68% in fact) came in their own half. Liverpool, by contrast, made just 37% of their passes in their own territory, and as such the majority of Swansea’s passes posed far less of a threat to the Liverpool goal than vice versa…

The difference in ‘ambition’ between the two sides is most apparent when comparing the contrasting contributions of Liverpool striker Luis Suárez with Swansea’s Danny Graham. Whilst Graham attempted just 7 passes in the entire 90 minutes (he did not touch the ball once between 8′ and half-time), Suárez attempted 44 passes over the 90’, every single one of which took place in Swansea’s half. Remarkable…

However, whether the Swans would still have earned a point had they shown more ambition we can only guess – and who knows just how important that point will prove come May…

Man Utd 1-0 Sunderland : United Do Just Enough…

United scraped past Sunderland at the weekend with a narrow 1-0 triumph, although Steve Bruce’s side were limited to just one shot on target and two blocked efforts all afternoon. The Black Cats did fight hard however and made it tricky for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, perhaps epitomised by combative midfielder Lee Cattermole who won as many ground tackles on his own (5) as the entire United team combined…

Wayne Rooney once again performed admirably in central midfield, completing 60 of 74 passes (81% accuracy), with only Patrice Evra completing more passes (65) in the whole game. Just up the pitch from Evra and standing in for the injured Ashley Young was Ji-Sung Park, who contributed a far more influential performance (41 passes, 80% accuracy) against the Black Cats than he managed in the 1-1 draw at Anfield a few weeks ago (just 10 passes, 70% accuracy). Having genuine depth to a squad is a prerequisite for title-challenging teams, and on current form the Korean just about looks like offering that to United…

At the back, United once more benefitted from the presence of the recently-returned Nemanja Vidić – two league games with him in defence have brought two wins and, importantly, two clean sheets. Not only did Vidić make a staggering 15 clearances against Sunderland (a game-high figure), but 12 of them found a United teammate (80% accuracy). By contrast, opposite number Wes Brown – who United sold over the summer – was successful with just 3 of his 10 clearances (30%). Sometimes it is the little things than make the difference, and finding a teammate with your clearances can go a long way to reducing pressure on your goal. Vidić’s return to the United defence has paid instant dividends and should continue to do so in coming weeks…


QPR 2-3 Man City : City Out-Passed But Not Out-Classed…

QPR did something against Manchester City that very few others will achieve this season – they attempted and completed more passes than Roberto Mancini’s side (QPR 386/508, MCT 334/442, both at 76% accuracy). For little old QPR, that is actually quite an achievement, although for the Citizens it will be a source of disappointment that their pass success rate fell as low as 76%. That it did drop so low is testament to QPR, who won 14 of 16 ground tackles (88%) as they pressed, hassled and harried their more affluent opponents into misplacing 108 passes – 23-more than their season average of 95-per-game…

That City were still able to win came down to two factors. Firstly, and more obviously, they took their chances: City scored 3 goals from 18 attempts (6 shots per goal) to QPR’s 2 from 21 (10.5 shots per goal). Secondly, and more importantly perhaps, they stuck to Mancini’s instructions even when things were not quite going their way. The winning goal is testament to their manager’s ethos of patient passing and possession football with that added dash of quality to make the difference – a 23-pass move which £16m left-back Aleksandar Kolarov then crossed for £24m Yaya Touré to nod home…


Bolton 5-0 Stoke City : Trotters Trounce Shoddy Stoke…

Congratulations to Bolton on such an emphatic victory, although Tony Pulis will be bemoaning the contribution of big money summer signing Peter Crouch to their downfall. 6ft 7″ Crouch (surprisingly) lost 8 of 12 aerial duels, and finished the game with a frankly appalling pass success rate of just 42% having misplaced 14 of his 24 passes. Stoke consequently struggled to secure a foothold in Bolton territory and thus regularly invited pressure back on to their goal…

Whilst talk of Stoke’s post-Euro woes will no doubt dominate the thoughts of many when it comes to this scoreline, Bolton undoubtedly deserve credit for their part in the thrashing. Ivan Klasnić returned to Bolton’s starting line-up for the first time since being sent off against Norwich seven league games ago and duly returned two goals and two assists to steal the headlines, although the willing running and efficient passing of veteran left-back Paul Robinson (plus an assist) should not go without note…

Finally, Owen Coyle deserves praise for getting his troops to press Stoke early and high, resulting in numerous misplaced passes (Stoke’s pass success rate was barely 60%) as well as 20 interceptions spread all across the pitch. Stoke, by contrast, were far more willing to allow Bolton time on the ball before breaking up play, with all-bar 4 of Stoke’s 16 interceptions coming in the vicinity of their own area. Pressing the opposition high and early does not always work, but in this instance Coyle got Bolton’s tactics spot on, with their performance ‘of high intensity’ helping them to stroll to three points…


Fulham 1-3 Tottenham : Wasteful Whites’ Weaknesses Exploited By Spurs…

Last week Fulham took their chances and won. This week they didn’t and they lost. The Cottagers had only an own goal to show for a game which they should have emerged victorious, having had a remarkable 32 attempts on the Tottenham goal; Opta pointed out that ‘Fulham are the first side since 2006/07 to have 13 shots on target in a PL match and still lose.’ Spurs meanwhile took three of their few chances and, with a helping hand from referee Peter Walton, took all the points on offer. Winning when things are not all going your way is certainly a good sign for their top four ambitions…

Fulham have been the narrowest team in the Premier League so far this season, perhaps a consequence of playing right-footed Clint Dempsey on the left, and left-footers (Damien Duff or Moussa Dembélé) on the right. Accordingly they rely on their full-backs for width, with John Arne Riise and Zdeněk Grygera making regular forays into opposition territory. By illustration, in the first half against Spurs, Riise made 77% of his passes in Tottenham’s half, whilst his opposite number Kyle Walker – an attacking full-back! – made just 23% of his passes in Fulham territory…

A consequence of this high position is a that Fulham are more vulnerable at the back, particularly to fast breaks – a weakness ruthlessly exploited for Tottenham’s two first-half goals. Firstly, Walker comfortably out-paced an out-of-position Riise down the right to help create the opening goal, and then just shy of half-time Aaron Lennon got in behind Grygera and sped away for the second.

Fulham have traditionally had one of the better home records in the league, but with just one win from six at the Cottage this season, perhaps Martin Jol should be considering the wisdom of these tactics. If he persists then perhaps the youthful and energetic England U21 left-back Matthew Briggs should be given the nod over Riise, whose (lack of) conditioning is of increasing concern to the Fulham faithful…

Next time out Chelsea host Liverpool in the weekend’s stand-out clash, whilst newly promoted sides Norwich and Swansea will be hoping for memorable afternoons as they entertain Arsenal and Manchester United respectively…

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