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@theweekend: Hangeland Stands Tall, Stoke Fall Short, CHE-LIV & Richards Runs Riot

November 21, 2011

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

Norwich 1-2 Arsenal : On-Song Alex Helps Arsenal To Three Points…

In the first half at Carrow Road the standard of passing, in terms of quantity and accuracy, by the two sides was largely equal: Norwich completed 196 of 260 passes (75%) whilst Arsenal completed 209 of 280 passes (also 75%). However, the Gunners were far more efficient and exploitative in their use of the ball during this period, fashioning 11 shooting attempts in the opening 45′ to Norwich’s 2. But for three Russell Martin goal-line clearances – including one block which appeared to defy the laws of physics (not so unthinkable given the recent developments at Cern) – and a Per Mertesacker defensive blunder, Arsenal would have been comfortably clear at the break…

As it was, Norwich were still firmly in the game – but in the second period however, this changed. Alex Song became increasingly influential as he was afforded more freedom to roam forwards, making 19% of his second-half passes in Norwich’s final third, territory he failed to make a single pass in throughout the first period (see below). He also made 30% more passes, including the expertly weighted through-ball assist for van Persie’s deftly-dinked winner. Song’s second-half display suggests there is scope to the argument that he is finally developing into the powerful central-midfielder that Arsenal have been looking for since Patrick Vieira’s 2005 departure…

Crucially, Song’s presence slightly further up the pitch enabled Arsenal to control possession, and therefore the game, to a much greater extent. Fellow central-midfielder Mikel Arteta certainly benefitted – his second-half passing accuracy improved to 93% (42/45) from 69% (22/32) in the first period.

Once we got to 2-1 we controlled the game well and were never really in trouble.

– Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger (via arsenal.com)

Song and Arteta’s improvements meant that as the second period wore on, Arsenal’s quality shone through. The visitors completed twice as many second-half passes as their hosts (264-132), whilst, most importantly, the Gunners’ passing accuracy improved to 80% as Norwich’s fell to 68% (both from 75% in the first half). Heightened possession levels coupled with better ball retention enabled Arsenal to control the second period, with the winning goal arriving just shy of the hour. Indeed the Canaries failed to register a single shot on target after this point.

One final observation. Arsenal’s players showed confidence in their footballing abilities by not just taking on Norwich players twice as often as vice versa (19-9, winning 10-3), but also by taking on and winning all five take-ons in their own half. Some might call this risky, but it highlights a growing confidence in their abilities. Furthermore, the Canaries did not help themselves by losing numerous ground tackle challenges in the vicinity of their own penalty area…

Man City 3-1 Newcastle : Richards Runs Riot As De Jong Dictates…

Micah Richards won many plaudits for his performance against Newcastle at the weekend. The right-back – who continues to be overlooked for England duty by Fabio Capello – was a constant option in attack for City down the right flank, making 61% of his passes in Newcastle’s half. Richards duly scored City’s second goal and won the penalty for their third as he produced a performance that suggests he is at least on a par with current England right-backs Kyle Walker and Glen Johnson as far as attacking talents are concerned.

By contrast his opposite number, Newcastle’s Ryan Taylor, had a proverbial shocker. The left-back conceded a penalty for the hosts’ opener, made a hash of an attempted clearance in his own box to hand Richards City’s second, and failed to make a single successful challenge over the 90 minutes. City’s consequent dominance down their right-flank was a key component in securing a comfortable triumph over a previously unbeaten Newcastle side…

We had a lot of possession, scored three goals and had a lot of chances. I hope we can continue like this.

– Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini (via mcfc.co.uk)

After the game, Roberto Mancini was quick to highlight how comfortable City had made beating Newcastle look, something eleven previous sides had failed to do. Aside from Richards’ productive offensive forays, a key reason for City’s overall dominance was the performance of Nigel de Jong in central midfield. Not only was the tireless Dutchman incredibly adept at securing the ball for City – the ‘lawnmower’ won four of five challenges, made three interceptions, two clearances, and did not concede a foul – but he was remarkably efficient with his use of the ball too. De Jong successfully made 66 of his 70 passes (only Gaël Clichy made more), and completed these passes with an impressive accuracy of 94% (a figure only pipped by Newcastle centre-half Fabricio Coloccini, who attempted barely a third as many passes). De Jong was nothing short of immense for City…

It’s not often you come up against a team like them. They are a very, very good side.

– Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew (via nufc.co.uk)

Finally, a word of praise for Newcastle. Their laudable unbeaten run might have ended, but they did not concede it lightly. They commendably stuck to manager Alan Pardew’s thus-far successful game plan centred on passing football and defensive organisation. His players pressed City’s but only challenged once they were around the Newcastle area, although they were perhaps a tad too deep on occasions. The Magpies even carved out a few good opportunities of their own. However, there should be no shame in coming up short against a side as well-resourced as City, especially with Taylor having such an unfortunately ‘off’ afternoon.

Hatem did brilliantly to create that first chance for Demba. – Pardew

Furthermore, Hatem Ben Arfa showed glimpes of his undoubted talent, offering a delightful through-ball to Demba Ba as well as hitting the post in the 60th minute. Ben Arfa could well be one to watch in coming weeks, especially against less well-resourced opposition…


Stoke City 2-3 QPR : Potters Pass Poorly As Helguson & Mackie Impress…

[The conceded goals were] down to some very poor defending […] We’re making too many individual mistakes […] It’s down to a lack of concentration.

– Stoke City manager, Tony Pulis (via stokecityfc.com)

The Potters suffered a fourth defeat in succession on Saturday when they hosted QPR at the Britannia. Manager Tony Pulis bemoaned his side’s defensive shortcomings (see above), although one of Stoke’s biggest issues as the game progressed was their inability to keep the ball; afterall, their worrying lack of competence when it came to ball usage ultimately led to the situations where these defensive errors arose. The Midlands club completed a paltry 146 out of 250 passes (just 58% accuracy) all afternoon, with centre-back Robert Huth attempting just 3 (yes, three!) passes throughout the ninety minutes…

Further adding to Stoke’s woes was the competent manner in which Neil Warnock’s side went about their defensive duties. In essence the gameplan involved getting men behind the ball when Stoke had a set-piece – QPR managed to make 68 clearances over the ninety minutes. Furthermore, Rory Delap’s renowned throw-ins did not find a teammate until injury time, with the R’s successfully clearing 9 of Delap’s 12 hand-launched touchline deliveries into the penalty area over the 90 minutes…

At the other end of the pitch QPR appear to have solved their finishing issues from earlier in the season. Heiðar Helguson continued his fine run of form in front of goal with two smart finishes – that’s now five goals in his last five league games for the Icelander – with all three of his attempts being on target. Strike partner Jamie Mackie’s efficiency on the ball also impressed as he willingly dropped deep to help link play as well as completing the game with a 94% pass success rate including one assist…

It’s a great result for us and I thought we thoroughly deserved it for the way we played.

– QPR manager, Neil Warnock (via stokecityfc.com)

All-in-all QPR were quietly impressive and deserving of their three goals and three points. Stoke however must improve, both in possession and defensively, if they wish to avoid being drawn into a relegation scrap…

Sunderland 0-0 Fulham : Brede Blunts Bendtner In Sunderland Stalemate…

First time I’ve seen that stat: FFC won 100% of their tackles today (via @EPLIndex)

The Black Cats and the Cottagers played out a largely uninspiring goalless draw at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Mark Schwarzer’s fine glovework and two woodwork interventions certainly helped, but the fact that Fulham earned a clean sheet can mostly be attributed to a stout defensive display, with the Whites successful dealing with 23 of Sunderland’s 31 crosses as well as winning 100% of their 13 attempted ground tackles – a rarely seen statistic…

Fulham’s clean sheet prospects were undoubtedly aided by 6ft 4″ centre-back Brede Hangeland. The Norwegian dominated aerial challenges to the extent that he won an impressive 11 of 12 aerial duels (92%), which on his own was more than the entire Sunderland team managed in the 90 minutes (10/22, 45%). Hangeland had opposing striker Nicklas Bendtner (who won just 1 of 9 aerial duels, 11%) firmly in his proverbial pocket when the ball was off the deck, and with Bendtner nullified Sunderland’s build-up play suffered as a result. The Dane – and Sunderland – are likely to enjoy more success against Wigan next week however…

I can live with today’s result considering we played four centre backs in defence. We actually had four full backs out today. John Arne Riise’s wife gave birth to a son today so he couldn’t travel with us. Grygera of course is a long-term injury, Stephen Kelly was injured and Matthew Briggs was not 100% fit.

– Fulham manager, Martin Jol (via fulhamfc.com)

In fairness to Sunderland, they were always going to have a tough job breaking Fulham down. Not only were the Black Cats missing key creative force Sebastian Larsson, but their visitors lined up with Dickson Etuhu in a deep-lying holding midfield role (as evinced by the five interceptions he made in his own half) and, importantly, with a quadrumvirate of centre-backs in their back-four (see above). Already the narrowest team in the league, the Whites noticeably struggled for width especially down the left with right-footed makeshift LB Chris Baird regularly passing in-field and left-midfielder Clint Dempsey again continually drifting centrally; consequently Fulham made just 3% of their passes – a meagre 15 – down the left flank in Sunderland’s half…

All of the above resulted in a congested central area that was to the home side’s disadvantage, with the Black Cats struggling to negotiate a mass of on-form Fulham defenders and the match drifting to an inglorious and largely forgettable stalemate. Steve Bruce admitted ‘a draw was a fair result,’ Martin Jol suggested Fulham could ‘be happy with a draw,’ whilst the BBC match report perhaps put it best: ‘neither side deserved to win’…

West Brom 2-1 Bolton : Shane Shines Brightest As Full-Backs Catch The Eye…

Shane [Long] was declared fit because he is a good player and when he doesn’t play we miss him. He adds a dimension to the way we play.

– WBA manager, Roy Hodgson (via wba.co.uk)

Roy Hodgson was in no doubt as to the importance of Shane Long’s selection after the Irishman helped the Baggies record an important victory over Bolton at the weekend. Long put in what is fast becoming a typically energetic and combative display for West Brom, winning five of eight challenges (all in Bolton’s half), before nodding home what turned out to be the winning goal in the 56th minute. His interplay with the midfielders and, on this occasion, Zoltán Gera up front particularly caught the eye, and there is no doubt that Long is turning out to be a key player for Hodgson’s side this season…

Elsewhere on the pitch, two full-backs stood out – one from each side. West Brom’s Nicky Shorey was restored to the starting XI and duly completed a game-high 59 passes (out of 72 attempted, 82% success) including the crossed assist for Long’s winner. The left-back acknowledged that the break had done him good, and a key part of his impressive performance on Saturday was his willingness to join in with attacking duties. Consequently Shorey made almost 70% of his passes in Bolton’s half, including almost 50% of them in the final third, as well as also producing a game-high 5 key passes. One might expect further assists for Shorey in coming weeks.

Sometimes, you obviously need a kick up the backside and the gaffer has been urging me to get forward, so I was particularly happy with my performance today.

– WBA left-back, Nicky Shorey (via wba.co.uk)

Meanwhile Bolton’s young right-back Joe Riley also impressed when it came to defensive matters – the 20-year-old was successful with seven of his nine challenges. However he could use the ball better – Riley misplaced 25 of his 55 passes, a success rate of just 55%…

Swansea 0-1 Man Utd : Àngel’s Error and Carrick v Britton…

If anyone should be blamed it should be me, because I ask the players to play. We look to pass the ball and Àngel [Rangel] was slightly off balance when he tried to make the pass and we were punished.

– Swansea manager, Brendan Rodgers (via swanseacity.net)

The deciding factor in Swansea’s narrow 0-1 defeat to Manchester United was a misplaced pass in the 11th minute by right-back Àngel Rangel on the edge of his area which directly led to the game’s only goal. That manager Brendan Rodgers has instilled an ethos of passing the ball no matter what the situation or where on the pitch is highly commendable (and we certainly would not want them to change it), but unfortunately in this instance it cost them the game. Ryan Giggs intercepted, Javier Hernández finished, simple…

Michael Carrick was outstanding. I thought he did really well – it was a big performance from him.

– Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (via manutd.com)

In the middle of the pitch United’s Michael Carrick and Swansea’s Leon Britton were engaged in an enthralling passing competition. Ball retention has been Britton’s forte this season – going into the weekend fourfourtwo.com pointed out Britton had the highest pass completion rate in the league at 93.6% – and was once again prominent as he completed 63 of 64 attempted passes (98%), remarkably not misplacing a single pass until the 87th minute. Carrick was equally impressive on the ball, finishing with a 96% success rate with 92 of his mammoth 96 passes finding a teammate. Hats off to both…

However, the crucial difference between the two was the direction of the passes and the intended recipients. As illustrated in the sample 10-minute period below (20′ to 30′) and replicated throughout the game, Britton’s passes were more conservative and often either sideways or between him and a defender, whilst Carrick was more willing to interplay with forwards and midfielders giving United a superior offensive impetus when in possession compared to Swansea. Consequently the Reds were able to fashion the better chances, engineering five shots on target to Swansea’s one…

Returning from injury, Carrick gave United a better balance in central midfield (certainly compared to previous weeks), especially as it allowed Wayne Rooney to return to a more familiar striking role – both changes should benefit United in coming weeks. It should also be noted that United have produced three clean sheets in the three league games since Nemanja Vidić’s return to the side. The Reds are quietly and efficiently getting their title challenge back on track…

Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool : ‘Pool Press High As Chelsea’s Blues Continues…

We played really well in the first half, they got into it a bit in the second, equalised and put us under a bit of pressure, but the players hung on in there and the result matched their ambitions.

– Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish (via liverpoolfc.tv)

Liverpool repeatedly made life tricky for Chelsea at the weekend, particularly in the first-half, with forward-minded players such as Craig Bellamy, Luis Suárez, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodríguez constantly harrying Blues players both high and early. Not only did Liverpool win six of the nine ground tackles that they attempted in Chelsea’s half (all bar two of which occured in the opening 45′), but the policy paid off when Charlie Adam (#26) joined in the high pressing and dispossed John Obi Mikel which directly led to the Merseyside club’s opening goal (see below right)…

The fact Charlie won it set us off. – Dalglish

Indeed it was a fine all-round display from summer-signing Adam, who seems to be growing into his role at Liverpool nicely. The former Blackpool man had an impressive afternoon, winning five of eight challenges (including the one on Mikel for the opening goal), attempting 53 passes, making two clearances, two interceptions, as well as displaying his customary vision, touch and execution in his fine play-spreading assist for Glen Johnson’s winning goal…

Whilst Liverpool had the better of the first half – their hosts failed to muster a single attempt on target during this period – Dalglish noted that Chelsea came into the game in the second 45′. Blues boss André Villas-Boas changed things around at the interval, bringing on striker Daniel Sturridge for midfielder Mikel. Sturridge – who scored the equaliser – took Juan Mata’s place on the right whilst Ramires and Frank Lampard sat deeper, enabling Mata to enjoy a free-roaming central-attacking-midfield role which he excelled in. The Spaniard – Chelsea’s best creative footballer – saw far more of the ball as a result of his new-found freedom: 32 second-half passes compared to 20, including 7 (4 successful) into Liverpool’s area compared to 0 in the first 45′. With Lucas Leiva struggling to pick him up, Mata helped to link Chelsea’s attack and defence far better than they managed in the first half and an equaliser duly arriving just shy of the hour mark…

Despite Chelsea’s second-half resurgence however, Liverpool still went on to win the game. With three defeats from their last four league game, these are potentially worrying times for the Blues, especially having already leaked more goals this season than in the whole of José Mourinho’s first campaign.

The amount of goals that we are conceding is something that worries of course.

– Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas (via chelseafc.com)

Defensively, Petr Čech went into the game with the worst saves-to-shots percentage (46%) in the 2011-12 Premier League and duly conceded two goals from three shots-on-target; centre-back David Luiz continues to make poor decisions (both positionally and in terms of when and when not to challenge), and fellow CB John Terry continues to suffer as a result. Further up the pitch, £50m-striker Fernando Torres was benched, 33-year-old Didier Drogba was ineffective (his pass completion was a lowly 59%), and the Blues are suffering from a chronic lack of talented and on-form wide players – Mata and Sturridge are the exceptions, although one feels they are better off playing centrally. If Chelsea are serious about maintaining a title challenge, they need to make immediate improvements, especially in defence…

Tottenham 2-0 Aston Villa : Spurs Down Villa With A Near Perfect Performance…

Luka was fantastic. He was instrumental. He keeps getting on the ball and him and Scott Parker have been outstanding together in the middle of the park.

– Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp (via goal.com)

Tottenham waltzed passed Villa on Monday night, with Emmanuel Adebayor bagging a brace in a comfortable 2-0 victory. Spurs passed the proverbial pants off a disappointing Villa outfit, with Luka Modrić (89/100, chalkboard below), Scott Parker (82/88) and Benoît Assou-Ekotto (81/96) amongst their most prolific contributors as Spurs racked up an impressive 584 passes (from 686 attempted, 85% completion) in comparison to Villa’s mediocre 203/305 (67%). Control of possession consequently helped Spurs to engineer 22 attempts on Shay Given’s goal, two of which were scored, and were it not for some sloppily wayward finishing (Spurs had 11 shots off target) the margin of victory would have been far more emphatic…

[Tottenham] were a different class in terms of their players, their speed; their athleticism was too much for us tonight.

– Aston Villa manager, Alex McLeish (via goal.com)

Spurs did not simply dominate through knocking the ball around however – wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ran the pants off Villa’s full-backs and between them won 10 of 15 attempted take-ons (see below). With Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart posing a threat centrally, Bale and Walker doing likewise down the wings, and the rest of the Spurs side efficient and comfortable on the ball, this really was a complete footballing performance in offence by the hosts…

Aston Villa mustered just three shots against Spurs tonight, their fewest in a Premier League match in the last six seasons (via @OptaJoe)

At the back, Spurs impressively won 12 of 13 attempted ground tackles (92%) as they demonstrated they have the defensive skills to complement their attacking game – Villa barely got a sniff in Tottenham’s half. Furthermore, when the visitors resorted to knocking the ball long (which was far too frequently), centre-backs Younès Kaboul (#4) and Ledley King (#26) proved more than adept at dealing with any aerial threats posed – Kaboul won an impressive 9 of 12 aerial challenges, whilst King won 4 from 4. Consequently Villa found themselves unable to breach Tottenham’s defence either on the ground or in the air, giving former-Villains ‘keeper Brad Friedel a decidedly quiet evening in net for the hosts…

Both goals were a calamity, calamitous, […] we have to defend better. – McLeish

For Alex McLeish’s side it was an evening to forget, especially as both goals could have possibly been prevented by more intuitive and effective defending. However their problems were not simply limited to defensive matters. Emile Heskey struggled on the left of their midfield, finding teammates with just 19 of his 33 passes (an accuracy of just 58%, the second-lowest on the pitch); as a side note, surely Charles N’Zogbia would be a better option in that position. Darren Bent was largely isolated up front, attempting just 14 passes (10 successful) in the ninety minutes, as the Villains struggled to secure, let alone maintain, any meaningful possession. They registered just three shots as a consequence – a figure surpassed by Spurs in opening fourteen minutes alone. A game to forget for McLeish’s side – significant improvements will have to be made over the coming weeks…

One For The Road : Contrasting Fortunes For Loanees At Bolton…

After Christmas last season, Daniel Sturridge went on loan to Bolton Wanderers in order to get game-time he had struggled for at parent-club Chelsea. The loan spell paid off spectacularly for the young English striker, with Sturridge bagging eight goals in his twelve appearances, and returning to Chelsea where this season he is currently their joint-leading goal scorer.

Being able to play regular first-team football was all I wanted.

– Daniel Sturridge (via independent.co.uk)

This season, Chelsea’s young French winger Gaël Kakuta is currently on loan at Bolton where he undoubtedly hoped to enjoy success à la Sturridge. It would appear, however, that is not exactly going to plan. Game-time has been limited (just three league appearances in twelve games), and during his nine-minute cameo against West Brom at the weekend he failed to touch the ball once – no passes, no shots, no challenges, no interceptions, no blocks. The polar opposite of Sturridge’s time on loan at Bolton, as evinced in his showing against West Ham last season…

Next week league leaders Manchester City travel to Liverpool, Steve Bruce’s Sunderland host his old club Wigan, whilst new-boys Norwich and QPR do battle at Carrow Road…

Visit guardian.co.uk/football/chalkboards to make your own chalkboards…

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