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@theweekend: Dembélé, Dempsey & Diarra, Spurs Woes At QPR, United Let Lead Slip

April 22, 2012

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

Fulham 2-1 Wigan : Spotlight on Dembélé, Dempsey, Riise, Moses & Figueroa…

They had zero corners, they had zero chances and they scored out of nothing so it would have been harsh if we would have lost this game.

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

Fulham claimed a late winner to end Wigan’s superb run of form and temper the Latics’ survival aspirations. In the absence of Bryan Ruiz the Cottagers have altered their system somewhat, lining up with three central midfielders (Mahamadou Diarra, Danny Murphy & Moussa Dembélé) in a 4-3-3. This helped them control central regions better (Dembélé’s passing was exceptional, completing 67/70 at 96% accuracy), although the area did become rather congested at times, as evinced by the volume of tackles Wigan made in central regions when Fulham attacked. That said, Fulham’s equaliser came about from good play in the middle, firstly after tidy work by Dembélé and then from neat interplay by Clint Dempsey and Pavel Pogrebnyak…

Fulham’s 4-3-3 set-up saw Clint Dempsey (left) and Damien Duff (right) flanking Pogrebnyak up top. As the Player Influence boards below show (average position), Duff held his station well, giving Fulham width and balance down the right. Dempsey however was far more prone to drifting centrally, although as the club’s leading goalscorer this is perhaps unsurprising. The imbalance this caused was clear to see, and aside from adding to central congestion it meant left-back John Arne Riise was Fulham’s sole outlet down the left flank. Although it provides the Norwegian with plenty of scope to get forward, create chances and fire off a few shots, it does leave a lot of open space behind when he does assist with Fulham’s attacking play. The Cottagers had a better balance in the final ten minutes when Kerim Frei joined the fray and stayed wide left (see below right) with Dempsey intentionally pushed centrally. Indeed, the winning goal came from a free-kick won on the left by none other than Mr Frei…

In the first half we kept the ball really well but just couldn’t hurt them which was disappointing.

– Wigan’s Emerson Boyce (via wiganlatics.co.uk)

Despite holding a brief lead, Wigan never really threatened consistently (just four shots inside Fulham’s area, three from wide angles) and the hosts would have been disappointed with a point. Part of the reason for Fulham’s comparatively superior display was an excellent marshalling of Victor Moses’s attacking talents. Moses – who was so influential in parting the red defences of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool recently – was limited to just one successful take-on from nine attempts at the weekend, having won 5/8 against the Gunners last time out. As a consequence of his limited impact, Moses eventually was eventually switched centrally and to the other flank in the hope of having an impact. Kudos to Fulham’s makeshift right-back Aaron Hughes for keeping Mr Moses quiet then …

Despite the defeat, credit must go out to Wigan’s Maynor Figueroa for a defensively solid dislay. The Honduran won 4/5 tackles, made three interceptions, two blocks and four clearances as the Latics came close to securing a point. One source of frustration for manager Roberto Martínez however will be the eleven fouls his side committed in their own half, leaving them vulnerable to set piece free-kicks – the source of Fulham’s winning goal no less…

One final observation from Craven Cottage with regards to their latest acquisition, central-midfielder Mahamdou Diarra. On arrival, Diarra was expected to fulfil largely defensive duties for the Cottagers, reducing the pressure on Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembélé to track back. Diarra has certainly achieved this thus far, with influential defensive displays in the win at Bolton (six interceptions, six clearances, one tackle), the draw against Chelsea (four interceptions, four tackles, two blocks, two clearances) and again this weekend in the win over Wigan (six interceptions, three challenges, one block and one clearance). However, his impressive engine has allowed him to have more of an influence on Fulham’s attacking play than first imagined, with a goal and an assist against Bolton being his most noteworthy contribution to date (his strike came from a typical lung-busting run from midfield). Against Wigan, Diarra was at it again, showing his eye for a pass as he created  three goalscoring chances for Fulham teammates. Given that he was picked up as a free agent by Martin Jol, Diarra looks a shrewd acquisition for the Cottagers…

QPR 1-0 Tottenham : Spurs dominate Stats… but QPR win…

We had all the possession, got in some great positions and had enough opportunities but just couldn’t score.

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

A strange old result from Loftus Road given how statistically dominant Tottenham were on Saturday. Spurs had almost twice as many chances as QPR (12-20), three-times as many shots inside the area (3-9), made over double the amount of passes (194/265-503/585), completed their passes at a higher accuracy (73%-86%), enjoyed more possession (31%-69%) and territory (47.8%-52.2%) and made over three-times as many final third passes as their hosts (55/90-159/205). A comparison of chance creation in the graphic below illustrates how much clearer cut the opportunities the visitors created were, although ultimately the one statistic that matters most (as with Chelsea-Barcelona) read QPR 1, Tottenham 0…

I don’t want to dwell on the [Taarabt’s] red card. […] I thought Adel was excellent today. Aside from his goal, which was a terrific strike, his whole performance was excellent. His discipline was spot on. He had a job to do and he did it very well.

– QPR manager, Mark Hughes (via qpr.co.uk)

The mercurial gem that is Adel Taarabt – a player renowned for his penchant for the spectacular – popped off four shots from outside of the Tottenham area, including the free-kick which ultimately seperated the two sides. Taarabt duly delivered QPR’s now-customary red card (the eighth of their campaign) and will miss their trip to Chelsea, where he will obviously be unable to produce a moment of genius that might secure QPR an unexpected point (or more) – with a point potentially being the difference between relegation and survival this season. For Spurs, they started with Jermain Defoe up top (instead of absentees Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha), and although the England striker is usually an excellent finisher, he failed to hit the target with two attempts from just outside the six-yard box. Harry Redknapp’s side will be hoping for better in their next two games against relegation candidates Blackburn and Bolton, especially as goal difference might well seperate his side from Chelsea and Newcastle in the race for fourth place…

Tottenham’s top four aspirations are slowly fading however, after a string of disappointing results and lacklustre displays at the business end of the season. Saturday’s team selection saw Harry Redknapp line-up with Sandro, Scott Parker and Luka Modrić in central-midfield, with Rafael van der Vaart on the right and Gareth Bale on the left. Unfortunately for Spurs, van der Vaart’s predominant instinct is to drift centrally, whilst Bale – tired of being man-marked and doubled-up on while out wide – likewise now spends far too much time seeking central regions. The result: Spurs playing with five men in the middle (see average positions in the first half, below left) against QPR’s five-man midfield, giving a convoluted approach and an unbalanced side. Spurs had a better balance after a half-time re-jig with Aaron Lennon introduced for Sandro – he helped free up space in the middle and linked well with van der Vaart in particular, the Dutchman creating six second-half chances for teammates…

He plays on the left, he plays on the left; that Gareth Bale, he plays on the left…

– Spurs fans make their tactical observations known regarding Bale in the middle

Gareth Bale’s penchant for drifting centrally is distorting the fine balance that Spurs enjoyed over the first half of the campaign, especially with Lennon’s pace on the opposite flank. Against QPR on Saturday, the Welshman seldom received the ball in advanced attacking positions down the right-flank, as can clearly be seen in his passes received graphic for the the first-half below. Bale, with eleven assists for the season, created just two chances over the ninety minutes (both on the fringes of QPR’s area), in direct contrast to the display he turned in when Spurs put three past QPR in October – full of running, charging down the left and flashing crosses across the box. With Spurs extending their disappointing run to just one win in nine games, perhaps Redknapp would be wise to get his side back to basics and what worked so well earlier in the season (injuries permitting, of course)…

All credit to QPR however, this was their fourth home win in a row, and with a three-point buffer and superior goal difference working in their favour, they have given themselves a good chance of staying up. They were especially impressive in defence down the right at the weekend, with right-back Nedum Onuoha making five interceptions and winning 3/3 tackles, whilst right-midfielder Jamie Mackie ended the game as top-tackler (4/4). With their final three games against teams whose biggest threat (arguably) is stationed on the left (for instance, Stoke’s Matthew Etherington and Manchester City’s David Silva), manager Mark Hughes will be hoping for much of the same from Onuoha and Mackie as Rangers try to secure another season in the top flight…

Manchester United 4-4 Everton : Slack Reds Let Lead Slip To Blues…

It was a throwaway, an absolute giveaway. […] To give away four goals at Old Trafford in a home game like that which was so important to us is unbelievable. I can’t believe it.

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

A dramatic second-half featuring six goals was enough to rejuvinate the 2011-12 title race as Manchester United conceded two late goals and dropped two points to Everton on Sunday. That United conceded four goals at home owed as much as to their own defensive shortcomings as it did to Everton’s superb never-say-die attitude. Rafael da Silva was culpable of ball-watching for Everton’s first (1), there was slack marking by Jonny Evans on Marouane Fellaini for Everton’s second (2), whilst there was poor communication as Evans and Rio Ferdinand challenged (unsuccessfully) for the same ball which Fellaini duly nodded down to set up Everton’s third (3). Expect Sergio Agüero & co. to take full advantage in the title decider next time out should the same mistakes occur…

I thought it was a great performance from the players. I thought they were brilliant and showed they really wanted to win here today. We are criticised often because we can’t beat them here but not many do. It is a difficult place to come and we had a real go at them.

– Everton manager, David Moyes (via evertonfc.com)

All credit to Everton however – their tireless running and self-belief saw them score four at Old Trafford and earn a point, something very few teams achieve. That they did owes much to a Nikica Jelavić double – their Croatian striker is now Everton’s leading goalscorer despite having only joined in January. Jelavić’s first, albeit aided by Rafael’s lapse in concentration, was a delightfully weighted header that looped back across David de Gea and into the far top corner of United’s goal, whilst his second was a typical poacher’s finish, firing home from eight yards out after Fellaini’s cushioned header. The former-Rangers front man enjoyed a game-high six chances against United – itself a notable statistic given the venue and opposition – and on such form (four goals in his last two games, six in eleven in total) will be expected to add to his tally in a kind run-in that features weary-travellers Fulham and already-relegated Wolves. Wayne Rooney was the only other player to hit the target more than twice at Old Trafford this weekend, with a two-goal haul taking him to twenty-six league goals for the season, just one behind Robin van Persie in the race for the golden boot…

David Moyes astutely opted for a three-man central midfield at the weekend, with Fellaini and former United players Phil Neville and Darron Gibson doing much to limit the recently-impressive Paul Scholes-Michael Carrick double act. Neville and Gibson won seven of eight tackles between them, with both Neville (65/72) and Gibson (58/70) out-passing Carrick (58/73) and Scholes (51/56) – a surprising and rare achievement for which they deserve praise.

Paul Scholes – Like Carrick, struggled under heavy pressure from an Everton midfield naturally inclined to cluster centrally. (manutd.com Player Review)

Marouane Fellaini’s role was slightly more offensive, with the Toffees utilising his stature as a platform upon which to build attacks; the wildly-haired impressively Belgian won seven of eight aerial duels, numbers that compare favourably with Paul Scholes (none contested) and Jonny Evans (0/6) in particular. Whether such statistics prompt Roberto Mancini to alter Yaya Touré’s role or, potentially, consider starting with the physical presence of Edin Džeko in next Monday’s “title decider” remains to be seen…

Fellaini’s physicality directly resulted in Everton’s third goal, out-muscling both United centre-backs to nod down to Jelavić to fire home. Although United clearly struggled against the physical aspect of his game, there was more to Fellaini’s performance than simply stature and strength. His volleyed finish was as technically accomplished a strike as you are likely to see in the league this season, whilst he also impressively created five chances (one assist) for Everton players on Sunday. Steven Pienaar also created five chances for his teammates in another fine display of nifty running and excellent vision from the South African winger. Containing these two will be key to Fulham’s chances against Everton next time out…

For United, Luís Nani replaced Ashley Young on United’s left-wing and was clearly eager to make an impression, firing off three speculative shots from outside of Everton’s area in the first half alone. His cross from the left just shy of half-time was met by the head of Wayne Rooney as United went into the interval on level terms, and in the second half Nani went on to impress further, setting up Danny Welbeck for United’s second before scoring his team’s third with a well-taken dinked finish. In all, Nani created a game-high six chances for teammates (two assists), thoroughly justifying his first league start since early March, from an attacking perspective at least. Should United lose to City next time out, they will need to improve their goal difference by at least seven goals relative to City’s in their final two fixtures. Such attacking creativity as displayed by Nani on Sunday will be crucial in achieving that…

Rooney and Welbeck were a real threat to Everton today, their combination play and understanding of each other was terrific. – Ferguson

Danny Welbeck might have scored a peach of a goal for the hosts but he let two other good chances go to waste from no more that ten yards out. A saving grace for Welbeck, who continues to simultaneously delight and frustrate, was some lovely interplay with his fellow United attackers, not least in creating three chances (resulting in two assists) for teammates; in particular, his rolled pass to Luís Nani for United’s third goal was mightily impressive and oozed touch, vision and finesse – exactly the attributes the Old Trafford faithful want him to produce on a more consistent basis…

Further Premier League analysis to follow…

@theweekend analysis archive: https://sportingblogs.wordpress.com/theweekend/

Source: fourfourtwo.com/statszone/ & the ESPN Goals app…

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