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@theweekend: Agustien, Ireland, Torres, Ramires, Romeu & Fulham v Arsenal

January 3, 2012

Our weekly dose of chalkboard analysis from the Premier League…

Aston Villa 0-2 Swansea : How Swans Beat Villa, & Agustien and Ireland…

My players were brilliant, they scored two goals and could have had a couple more.

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

Aston Villa returned to earth from the high of their unexpected Stamford Bridge triumph with a tame 0-2 reverse at home to Swansea on Monday. Villa’s own limitations under Alex McLeish are best expressed by the following stark statistic: they mustered just one attempt on target all afternoon; the rest were either off-target (seven) or blocked (three). Even the return of England striker Darren Bent to the starting XI didn’t help – he failed to have a single shot of any description all afternoon. Swansea, by contrast, scored twice through Nathan Dyer (#12) and Wayne Routledge (#15), hit the woodwork once, and had three further on-target attempts…

Swansea helped ease their way to victory by sitting deeper in defence before attempting to break up play; Villa, by contrast, pressed higher and earlier. This is clearly illustrated by how much deeper Swansea made their interceptions than Aston Villa – the Swans made ten interceptions in their own final third to Villa’s two, seventeen in their own half to Villa’s seven, and just two in the opposition’s territory compared to Villa’s ten…

Although sometimes a risky policy, it paid dividends on Monday. It forced Villa to try and go around Swansea and resort to crosses which Swansea managed to deal with incredibly well. The stark statistic (for Villa fans) is that they were unsuccessful with 33 of 37 attempted crosses on Monday; room for improvement indeed. With hindsight, the hosts might well have benefitted from Emile Heskey’s presence on the pitch. And there aren’t many times you can say that! For Swansea fans, praise should be heaped on their side for making an astonishing 49 clearances from their area over the ninety minutes. Essentially they forced Villa wide and then dealt with their crosses – it is a simple game at times!…

Goals are something I’ve been working on in training.

– Swansea winger Nathan Dyer explains his secret (via swanseacity.net)

Personnel-wise, Nathan Dyer’s probing runs were a constant menace down Swansea’s right flank, whilst centrally Kemy Agustien has quietly usurped Joe Allen alongside Leon Britton at the base of their midfield. Agustien was the most prolific passer on Monday with 76 attempted passes (59 successful, 77% accuracy) as he kept Swans ticking over when in possession. Furthermore, he also displayed a willingness to play more expansive (and thus risky, but potentially more damaging) passes than Allen, who has thus far been more of a tiki-taka style player. Swansea look like benefitting from Agustien’s comparitively increased urgency and directness on the ball; this was, in fact, their first away win of the season.

For Villa, Stephen Ireland’s substitution on 69′ brought boos from the Villa Park faithful, unsurprising given his performance against Chelsea at the weekend and Monday’s energetic display that saw him make passes all over the pitch, including four successful passes in Swansea’s area. Although Villa have other areas that require work under McLeish, if Ireland continues to show such enthusiasm and endeavour in coming weeks then they may at least find goalscoring chances more forthcoming…

Wolves 1-2 Chelsea : Wolves’ Woes, Torres’ Troubles, Ramires & Romeu…

Yes he gets to the byeline but Frank Lampard shouldn’t be allowed to put it into an empty net – we should be defending  that better.

– Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy (via wolves.co.uk)

The Blues survived a late scare at Molineux to triumph 2-1 with Frank Lampard producing a customary well-timed run into the box to score the 89th-minute winner. Such runs have been a hallmark of his career, although his 33-year-old legs might dictate that they occur with less frequency as the season progresses. Mick McCarthy refused to dwell on whether Lampard should even have been on the pitch following a dangeorus first-half tackle on Adam Hammill and instead focused on his own sides defensive failings that resulted in the defeat. ‘If we had defended the cross [for the Lampard’s goal] we would have been okay,’ commented McCarthy afterwards, and he has a point. Wolves were successful with just three of fifteen clearances (20%) from inside their own area over the ninety minutes, in comparison to Chelsea’s figure of 60% (3/5). Furthermore, the Blues managed to get most of their defending done before the ball entered their box, as evinced by the twenty-one clearances made outside of Chelsea’s area; for Wolves, the comparative figure stood at just two…

With Didier Drogba about to depart either on international duty or, potentially, on a more permanent deal elsewhere, Fernando Torres will be leading the Chelsea line over the coming month or so. However, the £50m-man continued to flounder in front of goal against Wolves on Monday, struggling to just three shots over the ninety minutes, one of which was blocked and the other two off-target. Although he did play a number of incisive through-balls for teammates, signs of Torres’s frustrations in front of goal perhaps included the speculative pot-shot from half-way and the three fouls he committed in the second half as the game drew to a close and his goal drought continued. On current form, the Spaniard does not look much of a threat…

Six goals [by Ramires] halfway through the campaign is a more than decent return.

– Pat Nevin (via chelseafc.com)

Brazilian midfielder Ramires continues to catch the eye with his lung-busting and turf-burning runs, perhaps typified by the four excellent shooting opportunities he enjoyed against Wolves, albeit achieved whilst he was stationed predominantly in an advanced right-sided midfield position on Monday. Ramires had a goal to show for his endeavours at Molineux (his sixth of the campaign – a fine return), although his final ball to teammates in the opposition area again left a lot to be desired – the Brazilian misplaced ten of eleven attempted passes into the Wolves box. If he can add improved levels of productivity to his game – as, for instance, Theo Walcott has started to do this season – then Chelsea will have quite some player on their hands…

An undoubtedly talented player they do have on their hands is 20-year-old defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu. We have mentioned the former Barcelona youngster’s efficient displays before, and Monday’s encounter with Wolves proved no different. Romeu was successful with 59 of his 70 passes (84%), calmly sweeping play across the base of Chelsea’s midfield, as well as winning 100% of his five attempted challenges (two ground, three aerial) and also making two headed clearances. The future certainly looks bright for this one…

Fulham 2-1 Arsenal : How Fulham Engineered The Craven Cottage Turnaround…

We know that we could have done better in the first-half and Arsenal will argue that they should have taken more.

– Fulham’s Stephen Kelly (via fulhamfc.com)

Fulham secured an important win over Arsenal at Craven Cottage, although they didn’t have things all their own way. If Arsenal had taken their first-half chances better, they would have been clear at the break and probably good for the win. As it was, Gervinho once again dallied, Theo Walcott once again failed to deliver the desired end product, and, with Robin van Persie failing to find the net, Arsenal duly failed to claim all three points. The Gunners had sixteen attempts on David Stockdale’s goal in the opening 45′ (eight on-target), but just one goal to show for their dominance – and even that was an unmarked header from defender Laurent Koscielny. Given that Arsenal engineered just three second-half attempts on Fulham’s goal (not one on target), if anything it highlights the importance of taking chances when you are on top…

Part of the reason for Arsenal’s first half dominance was how easily Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Alex Song won the central midfield battle against Fulham’s Steve Sidwell and Danny Murphy. Enjoying an obvious numerical advantage, Arsenal’s trio were afforded just enough time and space to dictate the pace of the game, with Fulham’s more attack-minded midfielders (Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembélé) not eliciting enough defensive support for the most part. Arsenal’s midfield trio consequently made 96 successful first-half passes to Murphy & Sidwell’s 53, a ratio more akin to 2:1 rather than 3:2 as might have been expected. Ramsey was the most prolific (and arguably most impressive) with 35 first-half successes (at 85% accuracy), although it was the combined total of zero interceptions and just three attempted ground tackles (two successful) from the supporting midfielders of Dempsey, Ruiz and Dembélé which helps to explain why Arsenal’s midfield enjoyed such freedom. Simply, Murphy and Sidwell were all too often isolated and thus easily negotiated – they needed more support…

It was amazing… we played ever so well in the second-half.

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

If ever there was a match that could be called a game of two halves, this was it. The second period was entirely Fulham’s, even prior to Johan Djourou’s 78th-minute dismissal. Evidence of their second half dominance can be found in the passing statistics – the Whites out-passed Arsenal (yes, out-passed Arsenal!) in the second 45′ in terms of volume (FUL: 245/299, ARS: 184/228), and also in terms of accuracy (82% to 81%). This translated into chance-creation, with Fulham consequently engineering fourteen attempts on Arsenal’s goal, with the Gunners shooting just three times in reply; indeed, serial goal-getter Robin van Persie failed to have a single shot of any description. Unlike the visitors in the first-half, Fulham crucially took enough of their chances to claim all three points…

That Fulham controlled the second period so convincingly can be attributed to a canny change in approach from central midfielders Murphy and Sidwell. Recognising that the central-midfield tussle with Ramsey, Arteta and Song in its then-current guise was eminently unwinnable, and that asking Dempsey & co. to drop deeper to help win it was impractical given the need to “go after the game” in order to score and get back into it, Murphy and Sidwell instead opted to bypass this central region when in possession and thus removed Arsenal’s previously-dominant trio from the equation. It was achieved simply by Murphy regularly passing directly through or dinking it over Arsenal’s trio, and by Sidwell frequently spreading the ball wide, as can clearly be seen by the direction of their passes on their chalkboards below…

This enabled the Cottagers to maintain possession better, brought the full-backs John Arne Riise and Stephen Kelly into the game (Kelly’s cross led to Bobby Zamora’s winning strike), and gave the likes of Ruiz and Dembélé more time on the ball in more dangerous places, with the chances and goals eventually following (as shown earlier). Furthermore, the likes of Ramsey and Arteta (key protagonists in Arsenal’s first-half dominance) were forced deeper to assist their side in defence, and consequently when they received the ball, it was further from Fulham’s goal and therefore less dangerous; Walcott and Gervinho were almost passengers as a result. Ramsey, for instance, made almost 50% of his passes in the first half in Fulham’s final third, a figure which fell to just 19% as Fulham controlled the second period and completed a remarkable turnaround…

Two final notes from Craven Cottage. Firstly, John Arne Riise – who has come in for some criticism this season – put in one of his most impressive displays yet, winning six of the seven challenges he contested as well as offering himself as a constant outlet and providing much-needed width in attack. Secondly, a word of caution to Fulham fans. Once again, their finishing left a lot to be desired (although on this occasion it was just enough to claim all three points). Just five of their twenty-two attempts were on-target, and – as with their victory over Liverpool last month – their goals only arrived once the opposition were a man short. Not normally one for raining on parades and all that, but chance-taking (or, rather, a lack of) has been a significant limiting factor for the Whites this season. Zamora’s build-up play is valuable, but the purchase of a ruthless striker in January is surely needed if Martin Jol has designs on cementing Fulham as a top ten club…

MORE CHALKBOARD ANALYSIS TO FOLLOW…

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

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