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@theweekend: Plucky Potters, Super-Vorm, Off-Target Toffees & Vaughaniesta

December 12, 2011

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

Arsenal 1-0 Everton : Off-Target Toffees Vanquished By Van-The-Man’s Volley…

Arsenal came out narrow 1-0 winners over Everton on Saturday, although the next time the Toffees play they’ll hopefully remember to bring their shooting boots – shots on target versus Arsenal: 0. Wojciech Szczęsny [spell checked!] had a grand total of zero saves to make. Meanwhile Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard was not given much chance with Robin van Persie’s delicious volleyed winner, despite it being RvP’s only on-target attempt in the game. Quality players do make the difference…

Everton’s Tim Cahill didn’t exactly help his side’s cause by conceding a whopping nine freekicks for fouls and offsides over the ninety minutes. One player who did help his side however was Arsenal’s Alex Song. Not only did he loft a quite delightful through-ball assist for van Persie’s winner, but with 71 passes (including six successful passes into the Everton area) he was also the second-most prolific passer on the pitch. Add in four interceptions in the middle of the park and Song once again enjoyed another impressive outing in the heart of the Gunners midfield…

Norwich 4-2 Newcastle : Toon’s Slight Men Can’t (Out-)Jump Norwich…

Quite simply, Norwich exploited Newcastle’s lack off fit centre-backs by scoring two goals from corners, a third from a cross, and a fourth from a crossed free-kick. Aerial dominance for Grant Holt & co. over makeshift centre-backs Danny Simpson & James Perch (slightly built and sub-6ft full-backs most weeks) wasn’t always the case however – Newcastle did win seven aerial duels in their own half – although crucially none of them were in their own penalty box. Newcastle lost all three aerial challenges in their own area, including for the fourth goal, a header by Holt…

Swansea 2-0 Fulham : Fulham Leave Wales Un-Jolly After Super-Vorm Show…

Zamora is probably not the player who is the best substitute, so I thought I would wait for next week and the important games.

– Fulham manager, Martin Jol (via soccernet.espn.go.com)

Fulham arrived in Swansea without key central-midfielder Danny Murphy and striker Bobby Zamora, the former out with an injury, the latter absent in rather mysterious circumstances – possibly dropped after another falling out with manager Martin Jol, possibly rested with an important Europa League game on Wednesday in mind. Regardless, both Murphy (in particular for his penalty-taking abilities) and Zamora (for his build-up play) were missed as Swansea triumphed by two goals at the weekend, although it was Zamora whose absence had a greater impact on the overall proceedings. His hold-up play has been first-rate for Fulham in the past couple of seasons, earning him a couple of England call-ups in the process, as he brings the likes of Murphy and attacking midfielders (such as Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz) into play. His replacement at the weekend was Andy Johnson, who by contrast prefers to run the channels and get in behind opposition defences. The difference between the two (see below) was undoubtedly apparent on Saturday, as Fulham took almost an hour to muster a shot on target, having engineered just one attempt inside the Swansea area prior to the 58th-minute…

The Cottager’s were, for the first hour at least, rather disappointing; Swansea, by contrast, were typically efficient and composed. Their superior use of the ball is perhaps best illustrated when comparing their left-back Neil Taylor with Fulham’s John Arne Riise. Taylor completed 66 of his 74 passes (89%), the majority of which were short passes down the flank linking play with his teammates. Riise however completed just 25 of his 34 passes (74%), and – as the chalkboards below clearly show – was far more prone to longer range in-field passes…

Furthermore, the Swans won their tackles in the key central areas on Saturday, which – given how the Cottagers have been one of the narrowest teams in the league this season – helped them to inhibit Fulham’s use of the ball, at least for the first hour. By contrast Fulham won their ground tackles exclusively in wide areas, which was neither too disruptive to Swansea’s style of play, nor particularly beneficial for launching counter-attacks…

A good goalkeeper will get you up to 10 points during the season and we know we’ve got a top keeper on our hands.

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

Indeed, the Swans largely controlled proceedings until, interestingly enough, Dempsey deflected in Scott Sinclair’s 58th minute shot to give the home side the lead. This sparked Fulham into life as the Cottagers began peppering the Swansea goal with eleven shots in the final half-hour (they had just two prior to the opening goal). However, once again Fulham struggled to convert their numerous chances – an all-too-familiar feature of the season it seems – as Swansea ‘keeper Michel Vorm pulled off a string of superb saves, including Dempsey’s late penalty. Vorm is looking every inch one of the season’s bargain buys – kudos to Brendan Rodgers on that!…

Danny Graham went on to make sure of the result with a late strike for Swansea, as he and his teammates celebrated a fourth home win of the season.

One final observation, the ball retention of both Swansea’s Leon Britton and Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé – two players who have been earning praise in recent months – was excellent at the weekend. Although on opposing teams, the duo completed a combined total of 98/101 passes, having misplaced just three passes between them over the ninety minutes. Hats off, chaps…

Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn : Vaughan v Cattermole & Beleaguered Blackburn…

Sunderland kicked-off life under Martin O’Neill with a narrow and late 2-1 triumph over fellow-strugglers Blackburn. Rovers didn’t help themselves however – not only did they make 26 unsuccessful clearances (including the one which led to David Vaughan’s wonderful equalising goal on 84′), but Mauro Formica (#10) gave away a silly free-kick for hand-ball in injury time which Sebastian Larsson brilliantly converted to send the Sunderland players, O’Neill, and the Stadium of Light wild with delight…

David Vaughan was immense in central-midfield for the Black Cats as he relentlessly broke up Blackburn’s play in the middle of the park. The former Blackpool man won an astonishing twelve of thirteen challenges on Sunday – including all seven of his ground challenges – as he replaced Lee Cattermole in Sunderland’s midfield. In the previous week’s defeat to Wolves (which O’Neill watched from the stands), Cattermole lost all four of his attempted challenges. No prizes for guessing who has probably made a better impression on their new manager then…

Sebastian Larsson also stood out, not just for his match-winning goal, but for the sheer volume of crosses he put into the Blackburn box. There were thirteen in total, although only two found a Sunderland head, meaning a whopping eleven unsuccessful crosses for the Swede (see below left) – however, if he keeps putting such balls into the box, eventually he will get his rewards. Perhaps Nicklas Bendtner might profit when he returns from injury? However, Blackburn’s Grant Hanley, on as a 51st-minute replacement for Míchel Salgado, could do with working on his distribution – he completed an embarrassing one pass from twelve in the forty minutes he was on the pitch…

In truth however, it was a victory richly deserved for a Sunderland side that showed more ambition than their beleagured opponents. That Blackburn made just 4% of their lowly 181 successful passes in the final third (ie, just 7 passes) reveals just how unambitious they were. The fact that the shot count stood at ‘Sunderland 23, Blackburn 3’ is rather indicative of how things went at the Stadium of Light. Rovers need to buck their ideas up…

Stoke City 2-1 Tottenham : Plucky Potters End Harry’s Winning Run…

You need a bit of luck when you play a top, top team and if one or two decisions have gone our way today, then so be it. The players have earned it for their efforts.

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

Stoke seized on several slices of luck (penalties, offsides, red cards, etc) as they beat Spurs on Sunday. Refereeing decisions-aside, the Potters were actually the more productive side through the opening 45 minutes – they enjoyed nine attempts on the Tottenham goal (five on-target, two goals), an impressive eight of which were from inside the area. By contrast Spurs were restricted to just one attempt inside the Stoke area in the opening ’45 (an off-target header from Younès Kaboul at a corner), and resorted to pot-shots from range (six in total) in the hope of finding a goal…

We thoroughly deserved to go in at half time in front. – Pulis

Stoke’s tactics, which worked rather well in the first half, generally revolved around goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen kicking the ball long towards Peter Crouch (#25) or Jon Walters (#19) but notably always down their right flank. Flick-ons and passes by this duo brought Ryan Shotton (#30) into the game, as he sent six crosses into the Spurs area. This right-sided focus allowed left-winger Matthew Etherington (#26) the freedom to drift centrally, and the former Spurs winger duly unleashed four attempts on the Spurs net, two of which gave the Potters a 2-0 advantage at half-time…

I thought we were poor in the first half and Stoke deserved to be in front at half time, but we changed things round and we battered them in the second half.

– Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp (via stokecityfc.com)

After a disappointing opening 45′, Spurs boss Harry Redknapp made a tactical change at half time, switching from a 4-4-1-1 to a 3-4-1-2 with Jermain Defoe joining Emmanuel Adebayor up front, Sébastien Bassong completing a three-man defence, and Kyle Walker and Gareth Bale shifting to wing-back positions. The tables were well a truly turned with Spurs enjoying twelve second-half attempts on Stoke’s goal compared to just four attempts by their hosts. But for a wrongly disallowed Adebayor strike (for offside) and a number of justified penalty appeals (fouls and hand-ball on the line), Spurs would almost certainly have taken at least one point from their trip to the Britannia…

That Spurs did not capitalise on their dominance can also be attributed to the fact that eighteen of their nineteen second-half crosses failed to find a Tottenham shirt. Wide-men Bale (#3) and Walker (#28) were unsuccessful with eight and five crosses respectively as Stoke repeatedly managed to clear their lines and prevent further attempts on Sørensen’s goal, with centre-back Ryan Shawcross (#17) particularly adept at clearing the ball, making eight second-half clearances for the Potters…

One For The Road : Off-Target…

In recent weeks it has become especially apparent just how amusingly bad off-target shots can look on chalkboards. Emile Heskey (no surprises) and John Terry (cue mass chortles), look away now…

MORE CHALKBOARD ANALYSIS FROM THE WEEKEND TO FOLLOW…

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

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