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@theweekend: Wonderful Wigan Maul Magpies, Swansea Tactics, Kevin Davies

April 30, 2012

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

Wigan 4-0 Newcastle : Pass-Masters Wigan See Off Cissé Threat To Maul Magpies…

I am extremely pleased, as you can imagine.

– Wigan Athletic manager, Roberto Martínez (via guardian.co.uk)

Wigan returned to winning ways with an emphatic first-half demolition of Alan Pardew’s Newcastle side. Four goals arrived before the interval as the Latics edged closer to survival, while the Champions League chasing Magpies were left to rue an unexpected opening 45′ where they were thoroughly outclassed. That Wigan were able to negotiate the normally impervious Newcastle defence so frequently at the weekend – Pardew’s side had conceded just one goal in their last six league games (all won) – owed much to their enthusiasm, their passing game, and their flexible 5-4-1 set-up which dovetailed smoothly into an effective 3-4-3 with full-backs Jean Beausejour and Emmerson Boyce acting as wingers and Shaun Maloney and Victor Moses afforded free-roaming attacking positions alongside Franco di Santo up top. The freedom Moses was afforded was reflected in the volume of excellent chances his was able to enjoy, scoring twice from five attempts including an ever so rare header….

At the heart of Wigan’s dominance were midfielders James McArthur, Shaun Maloney and James McCarthy – the trio amassing almost 200 passes combined, misplacing just twelve in the process. McArthur topped the table by volume with 84/87, with Maloney making 54/59 and McCarthy 54/58, although it was perhaps telling that Wigan had the five most prolific passers in the game and seven of the top ten. All credit to Maloney for making the most attacking third passes (12/17) at the weekend, including the assist for di Santo’s strike and a quite brilliant cross-field ball to Boyce who then set up Wigan’s opening goal…

Although the game was effectively over by the interval, Newcastle were by no means content with damage limitation. Papiss Demba Cissé was in many ways unfortunate not to bag at least a goal or two, striking the frame of Ali Al-Habsi’s goal twice as he failed to find the back of the net for the first time in seven games since early March. The Senegal striker fired off five attempts and as such it would not be a surprise to see him back amongst the goals against a depleted Chelsea backline next time out. That Cissé was able to enjoy such chances owed much to the creative talents of Hatem Ben Arfa. The Frenchman was often at the heart of Newcastle’s best play, especially after the interval, with the Observer’s Paul Wilson noting that ‘the visiting goal threat duly subsided’ after Ben Arfa’s substitution with a quarter of an hour to play…

The intensity of the opposition caught us out today. They were really at it […] we were second best.

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

All credit then to the Wigan defence for earning a clean sheet then, especially left-sided centre-back Maynor Figueroa who won all five of his attempted tackles (a game-high), made three interceptions and made five further clearances. The praise must also be extended to Latics front-man Franco di Santo who made four interceptions and won both of his attempted tackles, epitomsing the notion of defending from the front as well as illustrating just how hard working a unit Roberto Martínez has developed at this relegation threatened club (as acknowledged by opposite number Alan Pardew above). With their remaining fixtures against the league’s bottom two sides, the Latics have a fantastic chance of securing another season in the top flight, and on recent evidence you would have to say they deserve it…

Sunderland 2-2 Bolton : Kevin Davies, Martin Petrov, David Wheater, Sessègnon & McClean…

I’ll take the point. But we should probably have had all three. We controlled the game for long periods.

– Bolton manager, Owen Coyle (via guardian.co.uk)

Bolton just about edged this encounter, with Sunderland’s winless run stretching to a sixth game. A point could prove the difference between relegation and survival for Owen Coyle’s side, so for that they will be thankful, although were it not for the reflexes of Black Cats ‘keeper Craig Gordon they might have been two points better off. The fact that Bolton tested Gordon twice as frequently as Sunderland tested Adam Bogdan paints a fair picture of proceedings at the Stadium of Light…

Kevin Davies is a wonderful player and a wonderful person. He’s so conscientious and committed to this club. He’s got a huge role to play for us between now and the end of the season. – Coyle

That Bolton boosted their points tally owed much to the contribution of striker Kevin Davies. The 35-year-old has been used sparingly this campaign, but made just his fourth league start since mid-December on Saturday and duly spent the rest of the afternoon giving the Black Cats defence – in particular Matthew Kilgallon – a torrid time. A brace of goals were a just reward for a fine display, one which saw Davies end the game as the most prolific attacking third passer (18/31 successful) including the creation of three chances for Bolton teammates. Much the same will be needed from Davies in Bolton’s remaining games if the Trotters are to secure survival…

For Davies to excel, however, he requires decent supply from the flanks, something Bolton are heavily indebted to Martin Petrov for. The Bulgarian’s sweet left-peg just keeps on creating chances for the Trotters – four on Saturday, including one assist – and will play a big part in their battle against relegation (especially as Petrov is often afforded set piece duties). Finally for Bolton, a word of praise for centre-back David Wheater, whose fifteen clearances, two tackles, two blocks and one interception went a long way to ensuring that Sunderland didn’t outscore his Bolton side…

There shouldn’t be any thoughts of the season ending. We have two big games to come as far as I’m concerned.

– Sunderland manager, Martin O’Neill (via safc.com)

For the Black Cats, things are not going quite so smoothly. Six games without a win will frustrate manager Martin O’Neill, and with tricky games to come (Fulham away, Manchester United at home) there is a good chance that run might extend to eight. That they have faded of late owes a lot to the gradual decline in performance standard from creative lynchpin Stéphane Sessègnon. The Beninese footballer, who so excelled over the first six months of the season with six goals and nine assists in 24 appearances, had returned just one further goal and two assists in Sunderland’s most recent eleven matches. Against Bolton on Saturday, Sessègnon failed to have one attempt on Bolton’s goal, his pass accuracy sank to a lowly 64% (23/36) and he also failed to create a scoring chance for a teammate (although he was the fouled party for the free-kick from which James McClean scored). Having been repeatedly linked with a summer move to the likes of Tottenham, Sunderland fans might be fearing that their star player’s mind might already drifting away from matters at hand. By contrast, one Black Cats player who would appear to be focused on making an impression in the current is full-back John O’Shea. The Ireland international had three attempts on Saturday and looks keen to bag his first league goal in the red and white stripes of Sunderland before the season is out…

Scoring goals is nice but first and foremost my job is to supply them. I want to chip in with a few more goals and set a few more up before the end of the season, which would really help the team.

– Sunderland’s James McClean (via safc.com)

Finally from the Stadium of Light, a word or two on youngster James McClean, who after a stellar breakthrough season is surely in with a chance of going to the Euros with Ireland this summer. There were fears the 23-year-old had started to suffer burnout having scored or assisted in just one of Sunderland’s last eleven games (for perspective, he bagged three goals and two assists in his first seven starts), but he was back to his best against Bolton on Saturday with a lively display, capped by a quite brilliant curled thirty-yard free-kick that gave the hosts a 2-1 lead. As his passes received graphic below shows, McClean constantly hugs the touchline when waiting for and receiving passes, helping to stretch defences and provide space in central regions for the likes of Bendtner and Sessègnon to operate. Like Gareth Bale, McClean loves to attack full-backs, and is happy either flying around the outside and crossing or cutting infield and linking up, as evinced by the nature of the joint game-high four chances he created for teammates at the weekend…

Swansea 4-4 Wolves : Defensive Blunders and Tactical Changes at the Liberty…

A remarkable comeback by already-relegated Wolves at Swansea on Saturday, recovering from 3-0 and 4-1 to take a point from the Welsh club. Poor defending has been the story of Wolves’ season and was perhaps epitomised by Swansea’s third goal (1.), with Nathan Dyer – one of three Swansea players goalside of their markers in this instance – being left free to nod home Andrea Orlandi’s cross despite being the shortest player on the pitch.

Swansea, who by contrast have been so impressive defensively this season (especially at the Liberty Stadium), took a leaf out Wolves’ book when giving the visitors a lifeline (2.); Steven Fletcher given an absurb amount of time and room to nod home Kevin Doyle’s cross…

Obviously I’m a bit disappointed, for the first 30 minutes of the game we were sensational… we lost our concentration before half-time and then second half we just didn’t defend well as a team.

– Swansea manager, Brendan Rodgers (via bbc.co.uk)

That Swansea were so unorganised at the back might be attributed to a new Barcelona-esque 3-4-3 formation introduced by manager Brendan Rodgers. With survival all but mathematically secured pre-kick off, a home tie against the league’s worst side was undoubtedly the right opportunity to develop alternative strategies and game-plans. For sure, four goals in thirty-one first-half minutes suggests the formation has its plusses, but shipping four goals to a side that had drawn a blank in six of their last nine league games illustrates the risks of such a strategy. Foor for thought, Brendan. Regardless, at half-time he reverted to the four-man defence (albeit more of a 2-3-2-2-1) that has served his side so well this season, and a quick peek at the Player Influence boards for the first and second half shows just how much better balanced Swansea were as a result in the second period. Ultimately, however, Wolves had their tales up by this point and still came back to claim an unlikely point, but it was certainly interesting to watch a manager experiment with a new formation in the very public eye of Premier League football…

Wolves clearly decided that the aerial arena was one area they could hurt their hosts, as evinced by the volume (37) of crosses they sent into the Swansea area. What is also apparent is just how early (ie how near to the half-way line) some of these crosses were hit, as the visitors explicitly targeted getting the ball into Steven Fletcher & co. as early and as frequently as possible. It clearly worked as well, with two of the visitors’ goals coming directly from cross assists (yellow arrows), but was also obviously needed too, with Swansea’s initial three defenders winning all six of their attempted ground tackles (Ashley Williams 1/1, Steven Caulker 1/1 and Garry Monk 4/4) when the visitors did attempt to attack their goal with the ball on the deck…

Lastly, some praise for Wolves’ Michael Kightly, an undoubtedly talented attacking midfielder who has been unfortunately injury-plagued throughout his club’s three-year stay in the top flight. Against Swansea he offered the sort of incisive attacking display that fans will have been frustrated not to have seen more of – he attempted and completed the most passes in the attacking third (18/25), created the joint most chances (four, one assist), and had the most attempted take-ons (six, two successful). On such form he will be a key player next season if Wolves are to return to the top flight, although such displays in a side low-on-confidence might well result in his club having to deal with a few offers for his services over the summer break…

Everton 4-0 Fulham : Jelavić & Pienaar Take Advantage Of Sloppy Cottagers…

Fulham suffered their nineteenth consecutive league defeat at Goodison Park, although unfortunately for the visitors they were at least partly culpable for their own downfall. Pavel Pogrebnyak gave away a needless penalty for handball for Everton’s first, 6ft 4″ Marouane Fellaini was gifted a free header for the Toffees’ second, and Nikica Jelavić was somehow allowed to beat Mark Schwarzer and defender on line from a tight angle that really should have been impossible. Fair play to Jelavić however – he completed his third consecutive brace and is in superb form currently – David Moyes has made yet another incredibly shrewd acquisition…

Steven Pienaar continued his fine run of form with a triumvirate of assists – he created a game-high four chances at the weekend – against the notoriously poor-travelling Cottagers; the South African winger has been directly involved (scored or assisted) in eight Everton goals in their last five games – a truly impressive return. Whilst Pienaar flourished on Everton’s left, the same cannot quite be said for Fulham’s young left winger, Kerim Frei. Although the youngster has impressed on numerous occasions this term, he endured a mixed afternoon at Goodison Park, failing with all five of his attempted take-ons, but also creating two chances. Consistency is key in football, but thankfully for Frei he has time on his side…

Where Everton really impressed was in defence, with Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembélé and Pavel Pogrebnyak struggling to make a meaningful impact on proceedings. Much of this can be attributed to Everton’s centre-back duo Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga – the Englishman winning four of five tackles, making one interception and four clearances, and the Dutchman making four interceptions, eight clearances, two blocks and winning 2/2 tackles. Such defensive solidity will be needed in abundance for their tricky midweek trip to Stoke…

Tottenham 2-0 Blackburn : Modrić & Sandro Combine To Down Shot-Shy Rovers…

A couple of simple observations from White Hart Lane at the weekend. Firstly, if you don’t shoot – you don’t score. Steve Kean would be well advised to instruct at least one of his players to have a shot next time out – they need to win games to stay up and you need to score goals to do so. A frankly pathetic tally of 0 shots (yes, zero!) tells its own story…

As for Spurs, Sandro and Luka Modrić combined beautifully to ease Tottenham to three points. Modrić was back to his tiki-taka best in central-midfield, completing a weekend-high 103/114 passes as he relentlessly pulled the strings in the Spurs midfield. He and Rafael van der Vaart created five-chances apiece as they repeatedly took Blackurn apart – Bolton will be fearful of the same on Wednesday. Modrić was perfectly supported by Sandro, who won a weekend-high eleven tackles – a Scott Parker-esque display by the Brazilian…

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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