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@theweekend: Fab Fellaini, Goalless Gunners, Hazard & co., Michu & Taarabt

August 23, 2012

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

Everton 1-0 Man Utd : Fab Fellaini & Long-Ball Lumpings; Jagielka & Kagawa

The Toffees got off to a bumper start with a hard-earned 1-0 triumph over Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini was pressed into action up front by David Moyes, a tactical masterstroke as the bushy-barnetted Belgian gave United’s defence an evening to forget. Fellaini won nine of fourteen aerial duels and enjoyed six attempts and was comfortably Everton’s most influential player…

Whilst Fellaini excelled in the air, makeshift centre-back Michael Carrick won just two of seven aerial duels. Even the normally-dominant Nemanja Vidić struggled, winning just a shade over half of his eleven battles, although for the most part he was cleverly occupied with the movement of Nikica Jelavić (thus allowing Fellaini to target Carrick, another Moyes masterstroke). Worryingly for United, both Vidić and Carrick failed to win a single aerial duel in their own area (the most important area of the pitch), with Fellaini duly nodding home the winning goal…

They just lumped the ball forward to him [Fellaini]. That’s all they did. They worked from that base all the time and they got a goal from him, so it’s justified.

– Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (via bbc.co.uk)

So was Fergie right? Given that three of Everton’s top four pass combinations involved defensive players passing to the 6ft 4″ Belgian (Baines>Fellaini 12, Fellaini>Pienaar 12 (mostly knock-downs), Hibbert>Fellaini 11, Howard>Fellaini 8) there would be a certain credence to his comments, especially in the context of match statistics that saw United make almost three-times as many passes as their hosts (EVE 196/276, MUT 571/646). However, given that the tactic worked, Everton should not be criticised for playing to their strengths (and United’s weaknesses). This is not, after all, the first time that Carrick has been targeted and tormented as a stand-in centre-half – a 3-0 mauling at the hands of Fulham’s Bobby Zamora in 2009 testifies to as much, and on that occasion the victors were lauded as ‘magnificent’…

Merely focusing on Fellaini and the semantics of ball-lumping does a disservice to Everton’s all-round game. They engineered more chances, many of them better, than United (18-14) and tested United’s David de Gea – and his woodwork – more often than the visitor’s troubled Tim Howard. Indeed, Ferguson’s praise that ‘De Gea did very well for us’ was a part-admittance that Everton enjoyed some very fine opportunities and that the Reds were indebted to the display of their Spanish shot-stopper for keeping them in the game…

Furthermore, Everton were hugely impressive in defense as well. The hosts won tackles all over the pitch as the attempted to prevent United from settling, also making fourteen interceptions to United’s eight as they broke up the visitor’s play. Especially impressive was centre-back Phil Jagielka, with his defensive dashboard below littered with tackles, interceptions, clearance and blocks. A fine display from the England defender…

One positive for Ferguson was summer-signing Shinji Kagawa’s creative influence for United. Afforded the pivotal #10 / in-the-hole role on his league debut, Kagawa made the most attacking third passes (33/37, which was more than both Rooney and Scholes) and created the most chances for United (four), hinting at a bright future for the Japanese star. How much game-time he is afforded given the number of attack-minded players at Ferguson’s disposal remains to be seen, but when on the pitch the former Dortmund player looks likely to be at the heart of United’s best attacking play. Only Everton’s Leighton Baines created more chances (five), which is unsurprising given he had the benefit of set pieces and the target of Fellaini. Baines will be looking to improve on his assist haul this season after a comparatively disappointing 2011/12 campaign that saw him deliver just two assists on the back of eleven and nine in his preceding campaigns…

Wigan 0-2 Chelsea : Hazard & Mata Set To Shine, While Ramis & McCarthy Contrast

He [Eden Hazard] left his mark on the game. In pre-season, he showed that kind of quality in training. Now, in the Premier League, hopefully there’s more to come from him.

– Chelsea manager, Roberto di Matteo (via skysports.com)

A few observations from Chelsea’s two-goal win over Wigan, featuring – predicatably – an eye-catching league debut for c£32million summer signing, Eden Hazard. Two assists in the opening seven minutes were the headline statistics, the second earned through a penalty but the more impressive first coming about from a nifty turn and well-weighted throughball to the onrushing Branislav Ivanović. Visually at least, what impressed the most was his willingness to take on opponents (Hazard won a game-high 5/9 take-ons) – the Belgian starlet’s first instinct is always to attack and to make things happen, as such exciting actions are bound to get the fans on their feet. Indeed, the only other player to come close to his take-on success rate was Victor Moses; the Wigan winger won 4/7 take-ons and, coincidentally, is widely tipped to be moving to Chelsea before the close of this summer’s window…

What could prove an additional benefit of Hazard’s arrival at Chelsea is that Juan Mata will be pushed into a central attacking midfield role where it is highly plausible that his nifty footwork, ability to find time and eye for a pass could well be best utilised. With fellow Spaniard’s David Silva and Santi Cazorla afforded similar roles at City and Arsenal respectively, it will be interesting to see how they fare comparatively as the season progresses. On Sunday, Mata impressively found a Chelsea shirt with 50/54 passes (93%) as he linked midfield and attack and helped give his team a cohesive edge that was sometimes missing last season (especially towards the latter stages of AVB’s tenure). The hope is that this will help to get the best out of Fernando Torres, and although he had just one attempt against Wigan (on-target, blocked) he appeared far more confident on the ball, willing to attack defenders (four take-ons). And a confident Torres fed by Mata and Hazard is one which will be feared by the league…

Two brief observations for Wigan. Firstly, their defence has for a long time been regarded as a weak point, so Iván Ramis’ debut in defence will not have inspired too much confidence that things have changed. A clumsily conceded penalty and an all-too-passive display (just one attempted tackle, one interception and three clearances) suggests he has a lot to learn. On a more positive note, young central-midfielder James McCarthy once again impressed with his eye for a pass (particularly into the final third) and his dependable ball-retention. McCarthy completed 46/49 passes against Chelsea, 16/18 of which were in the attacking third (numbers only bettered by two other players)…

QPR 0-5 Swansea : Magical Michu Trumps Taarabt & Co.

It’s not a surprise to us at all because we know what Michu is about. He is someone capable of scoring a lot of goals. He scored 15 in La Liga last season for Rayo Vallecano, and those goals played a big part in them staying up. So we hope he can get a lot more for us this season.

– Swansea’s Àngel Rangel (via swanseacity.net)

Swansea grabbed the headlines with an opening day trouncing of QPR to send the Welsh club joint-top with Fulham. That the Swans engineered a five-goal triumph owes much to two factors: firstly, the magic of summer signing Michu, and secondly, the hapless nature of QPR’s defending (although calling it defending is actually rather generous). The Sigurdsson-replacing Michu was the hero with two goals and an assist (his second strike was a delightful finish), whilst Nathan Dyer also caught the eye with two goals in an energetic display (his nifty and speedy footwork also saw him win five fouls)…

As far as the scoreline goes, QPR fans (and, no doubt, Mark Hughes) will bemoan a lacklustre defensive display where runs weren’t tracked, where attackers given far too much room, and – certainly for the first goal – where their ‘keeper, Rob Green, could have done better. With Hughes seemingly set to strengthen his defence before the close of the window (deals for Michael Dawson, Ricardo Carvalho and Júlio César are currently being mooted) the hope for R’s fans is that abhorent defensive displays such as this will become a distant memory, giving their attacking players a platform upon which they can build some decent results. In all truth, QPR were nowhere near as bad as the scoreline suggests (defensive frailties aside, obviously). The hosts had more shots (21-13) and enjoyed more territory (62%-38%) than their visitors, but ultimately failed to convert any of these chances…

I feel when we turn we are looking for a through ball, that run, penetration in behind – that allows us to create more chances.

– Swansea’s Nathan Dyer (via swanseacity.net)

This was in stark contrast to Swansea’s players who clinically converted five of their chances, starting in the eighth minute. This meant the hosts were always chasing the game (helping further gaps to emerge), but also meant that Swansea could play more conservatively, sitting back before breaking through the pace of Dyer & co. This much can be evinced from Swansea’s defensive dashboards which show that almost the entirety of their defensive work was done in their own half…

However, QPR’s disappointment was best illustrated by the frustrating afternoon endured by mercurial talent Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan created a joint game-high five chances for teammates but none resulted in an assist, and had eight shots on Swansea’s goal of which six were blocked (although given that all-bar two of the eight were from outside of the area, he might have been better served seeking a pass instead). Similar displays in future games by Taarabt are unlikely to go unrewarded, so the Moroccan just has to hope that Sparky can work his magic on the Rangers defence…

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland : Post-RvP Arsenal Draw Blank As Cazorla/Arteta Catch Eye

We had complete control of the match but that final step just eluded us.

– Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla (via arsenal.com)

Given that Sunderland failed to score in four of their six pre-season games and that Arsenal sold talismanic goal-machine Robin van Persie to Manchester United this summer, the goalless draw that transpired at the Emirates on Saturday should not have come as a surprise to anyone. In truth, the Gunners were dominant, engineering twenty-three chances to Sunderland’s four. Tellingly however, just three of these chances were on target; RvP sorely missed, it would seem. For the Black Cats, Stéphane Sessègnon featured up front but was largely isolated for the most part (he had just one shot), whilst Sebastian Larsson struggled to impress himself on the game from his new central position – his sparsely populated dashboard (0 shots, 14/21 passes, 0 chances created) testifying to as much…

He [Cazorla] played very well and looks like he could be one of the buys of the season. He has everything you want in the game. He can play short, he can play long, on the right or left, he can play the final ball and works hard as well. He is a fighter so it is very positive for us.

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

Mikel Arteta took little time getting back into the swing of things, making a whopping 114/119 passes against Sunderland at an impressive accuracy of 96%. With fellow-midfielder Alex Song having departed to sunnier climbs, the onus will be on Arteta to keep the Gunners ticking over in central midfield. Luckily for Arsenal fans, summer purchase Santiago Cazorla would appear tailor-made for Arteta and Arsène Wenger’s side. Not only did he and fellow Spaniard Arteta strike up an immediate rapport (Arteta>Cazorla (29) was the game-leading pass combination), but Cazorla would appear exactly the sort of defence-unlocking attacking-midfielder that Arsenal have missed since the 2011 departures of Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. The diminutive Spaniard – a player in the mould of David Silva and Juan Mata – repeatedly disected the Sunderland defence and created a game-high seven chances for teammates, the sort of figure that would have had van Persie licking his lips. No assists to show for his creativity on Saturday however, but on such form it surely won’t be long until he starts paying off his price tag…

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

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

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