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Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool

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Courtesy of: Football.ua

Liverpool produced a scintillating performance at White Hart Lane, which sees them climb to second in the table.

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Andre Villas-Boas made two changes to his side, introducing Roberto Soldado and Sandro to the starting line up.

Brendan Rodgers was forced to make one change to the side that defeated West Ham last week, as Lucas was placed in midfield for the injured Steven Gerrard.

Rodgers’ men were exceptional – they attacked and defended well as a unit, but most importantly they exposed Spurs’ highline.

Pressing

A key component heading into this fixture was how both sides would approach the match without the ball. In possession, they both rely on ball retention, yet defensively they intend on applying pressure, and closing down their opponents in their third.

Spurs attempted to press Liverpool from the back with Soldado and Paulinho closing down the two centre backs, but Lucas Leiva dropped between Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho as the spare man. At times, Aaron Lennon and Moussa Dembele pushed forward to press Lucas, and a Liverpool fullback, but Nacer Chadli’s deep positioning provided Rodgers’ men with a passing outlet.

The odd feat in AVB’s approach was their reluctance to press in midfield. Spurs maintained an extremely high-line, but they allowed Liverpool’s midfield space and time to play passes across the pitch. The only defence Villas-Boas could make is Liverpool’s aim to overload central areas – Rodgers’ men already had a numerical advantage in central areas, but with Phillippe Coutinho drifting infield, Spurs were outnumbered 4v2.

Liverpool down the right

A common feat in the first half was Liverpool’s aim to isolate Kyle Naughton. Prior to Liverpool’s opener, Rodgers’ men constantly looked to overload and play balls behind the Spurs left back.

  • 10th min: Henderson played a lovely diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling, and the Liverpool winger cut to his right, beating Naughton, and forcing him to foul Sterling at the edge of the 18-yard box.
  • 11th min: Sterling intercepts Dembele’s pass and plays a one-two with Coutinho, before slipping a ball to Allen – behind Naughton – who delivers a cross into the box, thus leading to Sterling firing his shot over the net.
  • 15th min: Etienne Capoue fails to clear Lucas’ corner, and the ball falls to Sterling, who cuts to his right, beats the Frenchman for space and drives a venomous cross into the box.
  • 17th min: Coutinho drifted infield, dragging Chadli and Lennon out of position, before slipping a ball into Sterling. Chadli recovered his run, but was also beaten for pace by Sterling, but the Liverpool winger’s cross went right into Hugo Lloris’ hands.
  • 47th min: Sterling got the better of Lewis Holtby by cutting towards the byline, and his lofted cross was met by Sakho, who nodded the ball off the post.

Sterling was Liverpool’s main threat leading up to Suarez’s opening goal – Rodgers utilized his pace, and instructed his men to play him into 1v1 situations. Naughton struggled throughout the entire half, and Ezekiel Fryers replaced him at half time.

1-0

Subsequently, Liverpool took the lead a minute after Sterling’s final threat in the opening 20 minutes. There’s no denying the quality of the finish, or Henderson’s influence on the situation, but the manner in which Spurs conceded was appalling.

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Above we see Spurs’ shape after Dawson’s timely sliding interception to prevent Henderson from breaking free on goal. We also see Suarez behind Dembele, Sandro and Capoue.

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Henderson’s persistence allowed him to nick the ball away from Dawson to play in Suarez, and the Uruguayan – who was initially behind the three Spurs players – ran onto the ball, anticipated Walker’s slide, swayed to the left and coolly slotted his shot past Lloris.

While Henderson’s run and determination plays a pivotal role towards the build-up of the goal, the work ethic and positional awareness of the Spurs trio was diabolical.

Spurs’ highline

The most evident feat throughout the match was Spurs’ vulnerability maintaining an organized high-line, and Liverpool’s aim to get runners behind it. It also didn’t help that Villas-Boas was without Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches, thus forcing him to pair Capoue and Dawson against Suarez.

However, it was peculiar to see AVB stick with this approach, considering his results against both Manchester clubs this season. At the Ethiad, City blitzed Spurs’ backline, defeating them by six goals. Yet, against United, Spurs sat a few yards deeper and focused on minimizing passing lanes, and space between the lines.

Here, they reverted to the approach at the Ethiad, which ultimately made Rodger’s approach straightforward.

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  • 21st min: Sterling and Joe Allen dispossessed Chadli at the halfway line, and Sterling drove forward and played Suarez through, but the Uruguayan failed to slip his shot past Lloris.

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  • 23rd min: A simple Lucas long ball stretched Spurs’ backline and set Coutinho free on the left flank.

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  • 27th min: Lucas played a quick pass to Coutinho off a free kick, and the Brazilian spotted Suarez’s simple run into half-space. Suarez did well to hold the ball up, and cut it back to Coutinho, and his shot rattled the cross bar.

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  • 33rd min: A simple hoofed clearance from Martin Skrtel, sees Suarez run past the Spurs high-line and nearly double Liverpool’s lead. Lloris mistimed his header, and it fell to Suarez, but the French keeper did well to recover and deny the Uruguayan.

Villas-Boas’ approach was eccentric – he instructed his men to play a high-line, but no pressure was applied on the midfield, and Liverpool were allowed to easily bypass the Spurs midfield. Meanwhile, it was beneficial to Suarez, who is renowned for making runs into the channels and behind the backline.

This was a poor tactical approach from AVB, yet this isn’t the first time his preferred high-line has failed him in a big match.

Henderson

Although Suarez may steal all the headlines based on his great form, and outstanding goal return, it’s key to note that Henderson was magnificent at White Hart Lane. At times, Henderson found himself in deeper positions playing long diagonals and retaining possession, but Spurs were unable to cope with his dynamism from midfield.

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Henderson’s energetic runs from deep positions were integral to the buildup for three Liverpool goals. Rodgers was aware of Villas-Boas tactical naivety, and he encouraged the Liverpool midfielder to push forward and attack open space.

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  • 17th min: Henderson attacked space between Walker and Dawson, which gave Suarez a positive passing option. Dawson may have intercepted the pass, but Henderson’s run and persistence handed him the opportunity to lay the ball off for Suarez, thus leading to his opener.

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  • 39th min: Henderson starts his run at half between Lennon and Paulinho, and the Liverpool midfielder surges forward unmarked, and runs into space to receives Coutinho’s lay off. Lloris stopped Henderson and Suarez’s efforts, but the Englishman did well to convert the third attempt.

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  • 74th min: Henderson makes a run behind Chadli and into the space between Capoue and Walker. Walker does well to force Henderson wide, but he provides a nifty back heel to Suarez, who picks out Jon Flanagan at the back post, and he fires his shot off the cross bar to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead.
Henderson better view 3-0 run

A better angle of Henderson beginning to make a run behind Chadli, into open space

Better view 3-0 Henderson

Henderson continues his run and attacks the space

Henderson’s role was pivotal to Liverpool’s success at White Hart Lane. He was a proficient distributor from deep positions –  alongside Allen he pressed Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho out of the match, and his energetic runs from midfield tormented the Spurs backline.

Second half

Spurs responded well in the second half as Liverpool oddly dropped deeper into their third, but Soldado missed two opportunities to cut down the two-goal deficit. While Spurs pushed forward, Liverpool had clear opportunities to expose Villas-Boas’ men on the counter – led by Henderson – but they often lacked the final ball.

Ultimately, Paulinho’s red card midway through the second half ended any chance of Spurs mounting a comeback. With Sandro’s injury in the first half, Dembele’s departure for Andros Townsend and Paulinho’s sending off, AVB was forced to field Lewis Holtby and Chadli in a 4-4-1.

Liverpool received more space in midfield to retain possession, and Rodgers’ men surprisingly only scored three goals, despite creating numerous opportunities.

Conclusion

This was a fantastic Liverpool performance, but it’s difficult to ignore Villas-Boas’ tactical naivety. The Portuguese manager looked to have learned from his mistakes based on his approach against United, but is eagerness to revert to back to his preferred philosophy has been suicidal. It let AVB down in big games throughout his career in England, and this time it cost him his job at White Hart Lane.

Rodgers’ men were diligent out of possession, and isolated Spurs’ deficiencies at every opportunity. Liverpool targeted Naughton, nullified their holding midfielders, and used an energetic midfielder to penetrate open space. The result will build confidence in the Liverpool dressing room, but it’s unlikely that they’ll enjoy such freedom on their trips to City and Chelsea – until then, it’s difficult to categorize Liverpool’s role in the title race.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

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Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

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Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

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Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

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Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

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Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

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With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

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Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

1-1

Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

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Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

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Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

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The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

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Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

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Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

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Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

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Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

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No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

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Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

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As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

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Tottenham 2-2 Manchester United

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Manchester United came from behind twice courtesy of strikes from Wayne Rooney, to earn the champions a vital point at White Hart Lane.

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David Moyes made three changes to the side that comfortably defeated Bayer Leverkusen in midweek. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley were introduced in midfield, alongside Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia. Also, Nemanja Vidic made his return to the starting line up, forming a centre back duo with Jonny Evans.

Andre Villas-Boas also made three changes to his starting eleven after last week’s embarrassing defeat to Manchester City. Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli slotted into midfield – which pushed Paulinho behind Roberto Soldado – while Vlad Chiriches played at centre back alongside Michael Dawson.

This was a tight affair that was decided by individual mistakes – Spurs went ahead twice, but failure to increase their lead, and individual defensive mistakes allowed United back into the match.

Shape

A main feat that contributed to the minimal chances created was the shape both sides dropped into when the opposition was in position.

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Shockingly, Spurs’ defence sat deeper than usual with the midfield sitting off in front of the back four, which allowed Jones and Cleverley time on the ball.  Villas-Boas’ men were content with the duo sustaining possession, and there was no surprise that the Cleverley and Jones completed the most passes in the match.

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Soldado nor Paulinho applied much pressure on the United defenders either – Evans, Chris Smalling and Vidic completed the most passes after the duo – as it was an incentive for United to push forward, and Spurs to hit them on the counter. At times, Paulinho did work hard to close down United defenders, but there was always a spare outlet available.

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Lennon and Chadli tracked back into deeper positions admirably, while Sandro and Dembele worked hard to limit activity in the final third.

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On the other hand, United stuck to their defensive principle under Moyes, and prevented Spurs from playing out of the back. Valencia and Welbeck pressed the Spurs full backs when they received the ball, while Jones and Cleverley picked up Dembele and Sandro. Spurs were forced to play long balls into the channels for Soldado and Paulinho to chase, and their best opportunities were often created on the break.

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In the 14th minute, United were nearly awarded for their work ethic out of possession, as Rooney forced Chiriches to concede possession and he played a pass to the advancing Valencia. Dawson blocked the Ecuadorian’s initial cross, but he cut the ball back to Rooney, who also had his attempt blocked by Sandro.

United dominated the possession statistics due to Spurs’ approach – who chose not to press Moyes’ men – but when Villas-Boas’ men did move forward as a cohesive unit, the tempo was often slow and they lacked creativity.

Right flank

Similarly, there was a distinct feat in the set up of both sides, as they both enjoyed more freedom down the right flank.

Valencia was an influential figure in the match using his pace and strength to get the better of makeshift left back Vertonghen.

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This forced Chiriches to often come across to limit his threat in the final third, while Chadli sat deeper – more so in the second half – to prevent the Ecuadorian from isolating Vertonghen and Smalling from getting forward.

Likewise, the role Evra has developed under Moyes has left him vulnerable against sides that possess pacy, direct wingers. Lennon’s movement dragged Evra out of position, and the United left back was unable to cope with his pace. Also, Welbeck and Kagawa’s inclusion on the left flank ensured that Evra was vulnerable. Considering majority of Spurs’ attacks were on the counter, United’s left attacker was often caught out in a central position – specifically so Evra could push forward – and this allowed Walker to surge forward.

  • 27th min: Sandro wins a loose header that Lennon keeps in play, and the Spurs winger drove forward, holding off Welbeck and Evra, and plays a ball to an advancing Walker. Walker’s cross goes to the far post, but Chadli didn’t make a run at the far post.
  • 30th min: Soldado freely receives the ball, turns and finds Lennon making a diagonal run into the box. The Spurs winger beats Evra for pace, fires a shot at De Gea, and then squares the rebound across the six-yard box, but it’s a few yards ahead of the unmarked Paulinho.
  • 78th min: Jermain Defoe plays Walker in free on the counter, and Evans allows him to drive forward and play a sensational ball to Andros Townsend, but the substitute was unable to direct the ball on net.

Valencia was a significant threat in United’s attack, but the threat of Lennon and Walker pushed Spurs into dangerous positions – this will be explained below.

1-0

In the 17th minute Paulinho received a ball around the 18-yard box – as Jones allowed Sandro’s nod back to bounce behind him – and the Brazilian was fouled at the edge of the box by Evans, thus leading to a Spurs free kick. Walker scored from a free kick, but the main issue in this situation was the wall in front of De Gea.

The free kick was positioned approximately 20-yards away from goal, and considering Walker is known to go for power opposed to precision, it was peculiar to see the United wall jump. The likeliness of Walker getting/opting to place the ball over the wall and beat De Gea was slim, and there was no need for the United wall to jump.

Soldado/Paulinho

One of the main talking points heading into this fixture was the utilization of Soldado in Villas-Boas’ attack. The Spurs striker hasn’t enjoyed a great start in the Premier League, as he’s often been an isolated figure up top.

Here, Villas-Boas played Paulinho in an advanced role – Lewis Holtby hasn’t prospered behind the Spaniard, and Christian Eriksen is injured. Not only did the inclusion of the Brazilian allow Spurs to play Dembele and Sandro, but it also gave Paulinho freedom to make runs into the box.

In the 28th minute, both men displayed what they offer to the Spurs attack. Paulinho played a ball to Soldado on the break and he did well to lay it for the Brazilian, who drove forward and played a well-weighed ball to the Spaniard, but he skied his shot over the net.

To an extent, Soldado’s poor scoring form can be down to the lack of chances created from the Spurs midfield – however, this wasn’t the case against United.

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  • 5th min: Sandro plays a good ball to Lennon, and his first touch evades Evra, forcing the United fullback to foul him. Paulinho picked up the loose ball and played it out wide to Walker, who ran behind Evra, but Soldado was indecisive with his movement, and the Spurs right back let the ball out for a goal-kick.

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  • 38th min: Dembele completed a powerful run from deep in his half and picked out Chadli, who played a nice ball behind Evra for Lennon, but Soldado nor Paulinho make a run to meet Lennon’s cross.

The decision to play Paulinho behind Soldado was to get a player close to the Spaniard, in hope that he would be more involved in the attack. While Villas-Boas did succeed in that aspect, Soldado’s movement in the final third was poor, and apart from his wild shot over the goal, he didn’t come close to testing De Gea.

United going forward

While United sustained majority of the possession for large portions of the match, they struggled to break down Tottenham’s back line. Initially Rooney and Kagawa didn’t have an impact around the edge of the box, so they dropped deeper into central areas, to help United push forward as a unit.

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Equally, this didn’t improve United’s attack. Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney were dropping into the same area, leaving the Spurs centrebacks fairly comfortable at the back. Moyes’ men didn’t offer an attacking thrust in the final third – Rooney was starved of service, Kagawa didn’t stamp his authority on the match and United failed to create one legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half.

Moyes’ alterations

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Towards the end of the first half Moyes decided to play Kagawa on the left, and push Welbeck ahead of Rooney. This was a logical move because United lacked proper service in the final third, and a physical presence to compete with Dawson and Chiriches.

The move gave Rooney more freedom to express himself, and United were now more threatening in possession. Also, Welbeck was now a danger man because of the strength he possesses to hold up the ball, his pace to attack space behind the Spurs backline and he was still able to drift around the final third to help United sustain possession. Ultimately, Welbeck’s pace did pose problems against Spurs’ backline, and in the 68th minute, he nearly punished Villas-Boas’ men.

Welbeck received a simple ball over the top in the left channel, and he beat Dawson for pace at the byline, but his cross didn’t meet Rooney, who was closely watched by Dembele. Moyes’ alterations increased United’s attacking impetus, as there was a gradual improvement in the final third – Welbeck was now an attacking threat opposed to a defensive liability, Rooney vastly transformed from a peripheral figure to United’s most important player, and Kagawa limited Walker’s freedom down the right.

2-1/2-2

The most eventful moments of the match took place in the 54th minute when Sandro received the ball in midfield, drove forward, turning Cleverley in and out, before firing an unstoppable shot past De Gea.

Surprisingly, it took United two minutes to equalize.

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Walker gambled and flew into a 50/50 challenge with Vidic in United’s third, and came up short. Rooney picked up the loose ball and drove towards Tottenham’s half. With Lennon and Walker out of position, Sandro was forced to drift over to close down the United striker.

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Had Walker been disciplined, he’d be marking Rooney, and Sandro would be in a position to cut off Rooney’s reverse ball to Welbeck. However, Spurs were lacking numbers on the break, and Rooney provided Welbeck with a magnificent ball behind the Spurs backline. The Englishman took the ball in stride, and was tripped by Hugo Lloris.

Subsequently, Rooney converted a spot kick down the middle to level the score line, as United pounced on another defensive miscue from Walker.

Substitutions

Neither side was content with a draw, as it would increase Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table to double digits.

Villas-Boas replaced Lennon with Andros Townsend and Defoe for Soldado. Townsend added another element to Tottenham’s attack with his powerful running from deep areas. Unfortunately for Spurs supporters his crosses were comfortably dealt with, and he was unable to meet Walker’s ball in the 78th minute.

Defoe’s impact on the match was minimal, apart from a Vidic foul near the edge of the box in the 88th minute. Defoe’s mobility was an improvement to Soldado’s, but his decision-making and lack of service in the final third hindered his chances of winning the match.

Moyes’ changes were also straight swaps, as Javier Hernandez replaced Welbeck to no effect, while Nani and Ashley Young were introduced in the final minutes of the match, but there wasn’t enough time for the duo to have a significant impact.

Conclusion

Spurs created the better chances throughout the match, but two defensive miscues – solely from Walker – gave Rooney the platform to earn United a crucial away point.

Spurs will feel that they deserved maximum points, but the home side never looked comfortable when they took the lead. Their cautious approach limited United’s attacking threat, and their natural shape without the ball was a massive improvement from a defensive perspective. Spurs still need to address issues going forward, but Villas-Boas appreciated the overall response from his men.

“We are extremely happy with the performance but not so much the result, because a win would have taken us above them, but it’s a good response, not a bad result,” said Villas-Boas.

Once again glimpses of Rooney’s brilliance guided United to a positive result – Moyes’ men were mediocre on the day, and will need to improve as Rooney’s magic may not be enough to earn a result against Everton, Wednesday night.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal’s fluid midfield knocks Liverpool back to reality

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Arsene Wenger was a calm figure in his pre-match press conference Friday afternoon. Arsenal was in their darkest hour since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, as they lost consecutive home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions.

However, the Arsenal manager didn’t show a sign of fear. He was confident his men would show up to the occasion. And a big occasion it was. Although Arsenal hasn’t encountered stern opposition yet, they hosted a Liverpool side in hot form. Liverpool’s success has been down to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s great run of form, and Arsenal’s main goal was to keep them quiet.

While there aren’t many people buying into Arsenal’s great start this season, Wenger is confident that his men will prove the doubters wrong. He’s developed an ‘us against the world mentality’ within his squad that’s proved to be quite successful thus far. The media’s doubt in Arsenal’s title credentials has been Wenger’s fuel to motivate his men, and once again they produced a scintillating performance.

The Gunners’ superiority in midfield proved to be pivotal, as they aimed to get runners from midfield to attack space and latch onto the final ball. Their attacking midfielders dropped deeper to sustain possession, Aaron Ramsey continued to impress on both ends and Bacary Sagna is proving to be a sensible outlet on the right flank.

Similar to Olivier Giroud’s goal against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna got into an advanced position down the right flank, and delivered a wonderful cross towards Santi Cazorla – aided by Giroud’s movement, which dragged Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel out of position. Cazorla nodded the ball off the post, but quickly reacted and smashed the rebound into an open net. From an attacking sense Sagna’s role can become prominent with Arsenal fielding a narrow midfield, depending on his ability to consistently deliver quality balls from the right flank.

Liverpool did present Wenger’s men with a few scares, mainly through their direct play on the break between Sturridge and Suarez. In the early moments of the match, both men dropped deep to receive the ball and got past Mikel Arteta on a few occasions. But as the match progressed, Laurent Koscielny mirrored Arteta’s defensive responsibilities – as it was evident he needed assistance – and stayed tight on the forward that dropped deep.

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Ultimately this hampered Liverpool’s attack, as they lacked invention when Arsenal had players behind the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ men were stifled when trying to play out of the back as Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, winning possession in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool could have benefitted from pushing higher up the pitch as a unit, and getting their wingbacks forward, but they preferred to do neither, despite Jon Flanagan getting into decent positions.

Rodgers attempted to turn the tide in the second half, by reverting to a 4-4-2 and introducing Philippe Coutinho on the left. Although Coutinho looked a bit off pace – considering he returned from injury – Liverpool maintained a better shape without the ball. Coutinho’s impact on the match was less eventful from an attacking perspective – the Brazilian’s movement was positive, but he was unable to complete his precise passing in the final third.

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The tactical shift allowed Suarez more space to attack when he dropped into deeper positions, but it left Sturridge isolated. Suarez scampered around the final third causing mayhem with his intelligent movement, but his decision making let him down massively. With Ramsey pushing forward to join the attack, Arteta was left vulnerable, thus providing Suarez with more space to penetrate

Ramsey put the match out of reach when he received a clever pass from Ozil at the edge of the 18-yard box. The Welshman let the ball bounce and confidently struck it on the half volley past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool failed to impress on their first legitimate test of the season, while Arsenal continued to focus on their superiority in midfield. Arsenal’s fluid, canny, relentless and patient, yet when you add in the improvement of Giroud’s overall game and their manageable schedule thus far, you can understand why the Gunners are top of the table.

Regardless of what their defensive statistic’s state, Wenger’s men still look vulnerable at the back, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop in the latter months of the season. Nonetheless, this result should boost Arsenal’s confidence ahead of a week that sees them travel to Dortmund and Manchester United.

The Gunners have been imperious thus far, but we’ll get a better sense of their overall strengths next week.

Analysis

  • Chelsea missed an opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours, as they fell to Newcastle at St. James Park. Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to move forward a unit in the opening minutes, due to Newcastle’s early pressure. Chelsea’s fullbacks were quickly closed down, while Frank Lampard and Ramires were also unable to push forward.

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Lampard’s inclusion in away matches or against top class sides is quite bizarre considering his limited impact on the match. Due to Lampard’s inability to play penetrating forward passes, David Luiz proved to be a vital cog in Chelsea’s attack, as he played balls between the lines for Oscar and Juan Mata to receive. Newcastle was complacent in the first half, and despite Chelsea’s dominance in possession, the Blues were dull in the final third.

The onus was on Mourinho to make changes in the second half, to give his side a slight advantage. However, it was Pardew who made the most of the personnel on his bench. Vurnon Anita was superb upon his arrival, allowing Yohan Cabaye to push forward, and the movement of Loic Remy improved massively in the second half. Remy dropped deeper to help Newcastle push forward – a feat neither striker completed in the first half – while Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko were threatening on the counter, as Chelsea pushed more men forward. Coincidentally, it was Gouffran who was on the receiving end of a wonderful Cabaye delivery, which gave Pardew’s men the lead.

Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle were introduced in the second half, as Chelsea gradually improved, but their passing tempo was still slow and penetration was at a minimum. Loic Remy put the match out of reach for the Blues as they fail to end their week on a high note. Chelsea missed a great opportunity to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table, and they now sit five points behind the league leaders.

  • Manchester United won their fourth consecutive match in all competitions, as they easily dispatched of a poor Fulham side. United scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes to earn three valuable points ahead of a monumental showdown against league leaders Arsenal next week. Fulham’s overall shape without the ball was shambolic, as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie found it relatively easy to receive the ball between the lines. United’s notorious strike force tormented Fulham’s makeshift centre back duo, as they played a key role in all three United goals. The Red Devils were in full control of the opening 45 minutes – Phil Jones was given time and space to dictate the midfield, whereas Fulham was dismal in central areas. There was a vast improvement in Fulham’s second half performance as United were content with the result. They now await a trip to Spain midweek, and host Arsenal at Old Trafford, in a match that can truly define their season. Moyes’ men can’t afford to lose another match at home, especially when it can put them 11 points behind Arsenal.
  • Tottenham and Everton wasted the opportunity to climb to second in the table as they played to a dire draw at Goodison Park.  Andre Villas-Boas’ men were dominant in the first half pressing Everton and preventing them from playing out of the back. Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend were rampant down the flanks causing the Everton fullbacks nightmares. Villas-Boas’ men struggled to play out of the back in the early periods of the match, but relied on Michael Dawson’s cross-field diagonal balls to push the North London side forward. Yet, despite Spurs’ superiority in possession, Spurs didn’t provide Roberto Soldado with quality service.

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Nevertheless, the Spaniard was poor on the night, failing to connect with his teammates when the opportunity was presented, and his touches were dismal. Everton improved in the second half when Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley sparked energy in Everton’s attack – with Barkley’s movement between the lines and Deulofeu’s pace. Despite Holtby’s positive outing in the no.10 role – pressing the opposition and playing positive passes – the German midfielder, like the wide men, failed to connect with Soldado, which has been Spurs’ major issue this season.

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While Spurs continue to be impressive on the defensive end, their inability to score goals is worrying. Soldado is top-class striker, but he needs service and players to work off of, hence why Christian Eriksen’s arrival was pivotal.

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He’s the only player in the Spurs side capable of playing incisive passes in the final third, and if runners aren’t getting behind Soldado, his ability to play defence-splitting passes will be significant towards Spurs’ and Soldado’s success.

  • Joe Hart was dropped from the Manchester City starting XI, thus handing Costel Pantilimon a spot in the City lineup. The Romanian goalkeeper didn’t have much work to do, as six different City players got on the score sheet in their impressive 7-0 victory over Norwich.
  • Steven Caulker’s second half header earned Cardiff City three points in the Premier League’s first Welsh Derby. It was a cagey affair that saw both sides nullify their opponent’s strengths in midfield. The main source of attack came from long diagonals behind the left back – it led to openings for Swansea in the first half, and the corner that led to Caulker’s goal in the second. Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay stated pre-match that his men had to get it right tactically to earn three points, and that’s what they did.

Results: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea, Hull City 1-0 Sunderland, West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace, West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa, Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City, Stoke City 1-1 Southampton, Manchester United 3-1 Fulham, Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Everton 0-0 Tottenham, Cardiff City 1-0 Swansea City

Weekend Stats

  • Cardiff City v Swansea City was the first ever top-flight fixture in England not to feature any English teams.
  • Spurs have only conceded one league goal in the first half of Premier League games this season, fewer than any other team.
  • Asmir Begovic’s goal 13 seconds into Stoke City’s match against Southampton makes him the FIFTH goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the previous fastest was in the 62nd minute.
  • Manchester United’s total of 14 points after nine matches is seven points less than they had at this point last season.
  • José Mourinho suffers his worst Premier League defeat as Chelsea manager since a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September 2007.
  • Arsenal has lost 28 Premier League matches in the month of November, more than in any other month. Under Wenger, have lost 22 of 67 in November (33%).

Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) provides all the stats in this recap.

Tune into the 2 Guys and a MIKE podcast as it returns this week. Subscribe to it on I-Tunes!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Tyrrell’ BPL Weekend Recap – Young creative debutants make their mark for London clubs

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Courtesy of Steindy

Weekend in 100 words or less

The battle for the final Champions League spot has become entertaining over the past few years. This season, North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, have been tipped to challenge for the final spot in Europe’s prestigious tournament, which has led to Spurs spending approximately £110.5m in the transfer window. However, Arsene Wenger made his big move on deadline day, when he managed to persuade a world-class talent to take his talents to the Emirates. Both sides acquired talented players in the no.10 role, and this weekend they showcased why the clubs aspiring to solidify Champions League football sought them out.

Analysis

United’s issue in the final third

David Moyes celebrated his first win at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils cruised past 10-man Crystal Palace. For what it’s worth, United struggled to find their rhythm until Kagisho Dikgacoi was wrongfully sent off for a foul on Ashley Young that actually took place outside of the 18-yard box. Ian Halloway’s men were organized well and they maintained a compact shape for majority of the half. Dwight Gayle, Mile Jedinak, Dikgacoi and Jose Campana tucking infield kept Michael Carrick and Anderson quiet, but it also left United space on the right to exploit.

Fabio and Valencia worked hard to create overloads and isolate Dean Moxey, but the Palace fullback coped well. Moyes’ men dominated possession but they lacked thrust, penetration and creativity in the final third. A recurring theme in United’s style of play under Moyes is their intent on pressing the oppositions defenders on goal-kicks or when they attempt to play out of the back – which led to the Young controversy – and it’s been successful thus far. In fairness, United didn’t really face any scares on the defensive end, as Halloway’s men struggled to complete three successive passes, along with Carrick doing a fantastic job in breaking up play.

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United stamped their authority on the match in the second half with the man advantage, as Wayne Rooney began to drift around midfield picking up the ball and linking play, while substitute Adnan Januzaj was a direct threat from wide areas. However, United struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, and relied on a Rooney free-kick to put the match out of sight.  United has failed to score from open play since their opening day victory against Swansea, which shouldn’t be overlooked. The service from wide areas has been mediocre and Rooney still looks somewhat disinterested, thus leaving Van Persie craving service – because there doesn’t seem to be a link between midfield and attack.

Nevertheless, United can’t complain about claiming seven points from four games – equaling title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea’s point tally – but they’ll need to improve in the final third if they intend on being victorious in next week’s Manchester Derby.

Ozil proves his worth, while Ramsey continues to dominate 

Mesut Ozil displayed to Premier League fans why he was worth the £42.5m Arsenal splashed on him at the end of the transfer window. The German international enjoyed a fantastic debut for the Gunners, and was one of the few influential players in a third consecutive Arsenal victory. It took the German 11 minutes to make a statement, as he ran into space and calmly brought down a long ball, which he squared for Olivier Giroud, who gave Arsenal an early lead.

Ozil laterally glided across the final third, combining with wingers and dropping into midfield to overload central areas. Overloading central areas in midfield has been a feat in Arsenal’s approach over the past few matches – Ozil and Wilshere dropped into deeper to help Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini assert their dominance in midfield. Ozil was most threatening on the counter attack, where he played two defence splitting passes, sending Theo Walcott 1v1 with Keiren Westwood, but the Sunderland keeper denied Walcott on both occasions. Ozil was imperious throughout the match, specifically in the first half, where he was allowed to attack pockets of space in the final third.

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Frankly, Paolo Di Canio’s approach to the match was lethargic. His side sat in two banks of four with his forwards failing to apply pressure to the centre backs and his midfield sitting off – with Adam Johnson tucking in – which allowed Flamini and Ramsey to dictate the tempo of the match and Kieran Gibbs to freely surge into advanced positions.

Sunderland improved in the second half, and was awarded a penalty when Laurent Koscielny committed a clumsy challenge on Adam Johnson, which substitute Craig Gardner converted. Di Canio’s men limited the gaps of space in midfield, sitting narrow and compact, and Arsenal struggled to break them down. Meanwhile, Johnson began to penetrate in wide areas, and Sunderland was catching the Gunners out of shape on the counter. Wenger’s men were fortunate not to go down a goal, when referee Martin Atkinson wrongfully halted play when Jozy Altidore was clearly fouled by Bacary Sagna – but Altidore was on a clear breakaway and put the ball in the back of the net.

Arsenal took advantage of their fortunes minutes later when Jenkinson got forward and played in a wonderful cross to Ramsey, who displayed great skill to volley the ball past Westwood. Ramsey put the match out of reach when he made a pass to Ozil and ran into space and collected a pass from Giroud, after he combined with Ozil. Ramsey was superb defensively, and he continues to show maturity going forward in midfield.

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This was one of the better Arsenal performances over the past few years, albeit it coming against a feeble Sunderland side.

Eriksen makes his mark 

Spurs bounced back to winning ways with a convincing victory against Norwich City. Andre Villas-Boas handed Christian Eriksen his Tottenham debut, and the Danish midfielder flourished. A significant factor in Spurs’ loss to Arsenal two weeks ago was a link between midfield and attack, and Eriksen filled that void in a fantastic manner.

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Eriksen received balls between the lines and played key passes out wide and penetrating balls between defenders. The Danish midfielder provided a defence-splitting pass for Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener and his ball out wide to an advancing Paulinho led to Sigurdsson’s second goal.

Villas-Boas men cruised through the match due to Norwich’s lack of pressure and defensive structure. Soldado dropped into midfield and wide areas to link play, Dembele and Paulinho were allowed time to play sideways passes into wide areas and push forward, Sigurdsson drifted infield and made runs from midfield, while Andros Townsend’s direct running caused the Norwich backline several problems.

Norwich rarely provided an attacking threat, but they did identify spaced behind Kyle Walker to exploit. Chris Hughton’s men attacked the right side several times, and they created their best chance of the match by doing so. Nathan Redmond broke free behind Walker and played a ball into the six-yard box for Ricky van Wolfswinkel, but Danny Rose recovered well and cleared the danger.

The inclusion of Eriksen to the Spurs squad is a massive improvement – they now possess an attacking link that can create chances in the final third, which is an element AVB’s men required in their quest for Champions League football.

Naismith nods unbeaten Everton past Chelsea 

Roberto Martinez earned his first win as Everton manager this weekend, as his men showed grit and resilience to fend off a strong Chelsea side. Samuel Eto’o and Gareth Barry made debuts for their clubs, while Juan Mata started in a no.10 role for the Blues. It was a tight opening half that saw Everton maintain a slight advantage in possession, but Chelsea got into better areas in the final third. John Obi Mikel tracked Leon Osman, Ramires kept tabs on Ross Barkley, and Mata pressed Barry when he dropped deep, while Eto’o occupied both centrebacks.

Mourinho’s men aimed to hit the Toffees on the counter, but they failed to make the most of their chances. Mata slowed down the tempo when Chelsea broke on the counter, Eto’o lacked match sharpness and Andre Schurrle was poor in front of goal. Ramires and Mikel were allowed space in midfield to play forward passes, while the attacking three drifted between the lines to receive the ball in pockets of space.

Eto’o didn’t have a poor debut, and in the first half he displayed why he’s a better option than Fernando Torres and Demba Ba. Mourinho wants his centre forward to link play with the attacking three and interchange with them, thus providing fluidity in the final third. In the opening 45 minutes, Eto’o drifted to the right flank to allow overloads and connect with midfielders making forward runs. The Cameroonian striker should’ve handed the Blues the lead in the first half but Schurrle played a poor pass to the striker allowing Barry to block his shot.

For all of Everton’s possession, they failed to create legitimate goal-scoring chances, often being stifled around the 18-yard box, but the Toffee’s found an area to attack. Surprisingly, Baines and Coleman were cautious about moving forward – and it was logical based on the space left available to expose on the counter – yet Coleman was more adventurous with his positioning. There was vacant space behind Cole to exploit on the right, encouraging Naismith and Coleman to overload the right flank. Despite Eden Hazard replicating the great defensive work of Naismith in tracking back, Barkley often drifted over to the right to maintain a numerical advantage.

Everton took the lead at the stroke of half time when Ramires was dispossessed in midfield. The attack was pushed to the right and a cross was played into Nikica Jelavic, and the Croatian nodded the cross back to an open Naismith, who headed the ball in from two yards out. Terry was left marking space, while Cole failed to track Coleman’s run into the box, and after several attempts to exploit space on the right hand side, Martinez’s men succeeded.

Chelsea rallied in the second half, upping the tempo and applying more pressure, but the Blues created minimal chances. Mourinho introduced Oscar and Frank Lampard for the unimpressive Schurrle and Mata, but they didn’t have a significant impact on the match. Martinez reverted to a 4-5-1, introducing James McCarthy for Jelavic, thus leaving Mirallas, Barkley and Naismith upfront – three players capable of causing havoc on the counter. Mourinho’s last attempt to salvage a result saw him introduce Torres for Cole, pushing Mikel to centre back and David Luiz to the left – but Torres was poor and Luiz didn’t offer much going forward.

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Osman and Naismith were standout performers on the defensive end – Naismith tracked back effortlessly to prevent Eden Hazard from isolating Coleman, while despite failing to dictate the match, Osman prevented Chelsea’s midfield from dominating midfield.

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Also, Barkley continues to display his significance to this Everton side, as he used his pace, trickery and vision to help Everton break on the counter, while playing a few key passes in the final third.

Chelsea produced a good performance, which should’ve seen them up a goal or two in the first half, but the lack of quality in the final third led to their downfall – Everton took their chance and defended admirably in the second half, which merited three points.

Saints lack creative spark against Hammers 

Southampton was one of many Premier League sides that made significant improvements in the summer, which has tipped many to believe that they could finish in the top half, this season. Yet, they’ve been ridiculed for their lack of creativity in their attack. Mauricio Pochettino continued to experiment with Rickie Lambert and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo upfront, but once again they failed to have test the West Ham back line.

Sam Allardyce’s men pressed West Ham on goal kicks and when they aimed to play from the back, forcing Pochettino’s men to concede possession. Ravel Morrison, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble closed down Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin, who struggled to get forward to join the attack. Southampton created a handful of chances throughout the match, but Jussi Jaaskelainen made several top saves to keep the score leveled. Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez drifted centrally, while Lambert moved into wide areas to receive the ball, but the quality in the final third was dire. Pochettino’s men improved in the second half with Schneiderlin occasionally making darting runs into the box, Rodriguez running at defenders from central positions and West Ham’s press dwindling.

West Ham struggled to create opportunities going forward, receiving their best chances from wide areas, specifically Jarvis’ delivery. Allardyce looked for another element of attack by introducing Ricardo Vaz Te, but the Portuguese forward was merely an isolated figure. The Hammers had a chance to take the lead in the dying minutes of the match, but James Collins skied his shot from six yards out.

More importantly, Southampton lack a link between midfield and attack, and the Lambert/Osvaldo experiment is failing miserably, without a creative spark. It was surprising to see James Ward-Prowse enter the match so late, and Pochettino’s reluctance on using Gaston Ramirez. Nevertheless, Southampton drop more points in another match that they dominated, and it’ll be interesting to see how much longer Pochettino sticks with the Lambert/Osvaldo duo and keeps Ramirez on the bench.

Other Results: Stoke City 0-0 Manchester City, Fulham 1-1 West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United, Hull City 1-1 Cardiff City,

Weekend Stats

  • Robin van Persie scores his 125th Premier League goal and the first vs. Crystal Palace. Of the current Premier League clubs, he has now only not yet scored vs. Cardiff City.
  • Since the start of 2008/2009, five players have been sent off for fouls on Ashley Young, joint most of all current Premier League players with Scott Parker.
  • David Moyes recorded his first-ever win as a Premier League manager at Old Trafford (P13, W1-D4-L8)
  • Christian Benteke has now scored 9 goals in his last 10 Premier League home matches for Aston Villa.
  • Laurent Koscielny caused his sixth penalty in the Premier League since the start of 2008/09, joint most with Robert Huth, Sebastien Bassong among players now active in PL
  • Chelsea’s 7 points after four Premier League matches is the WORST start for the club in the Roman Abramovich era (Jul 2003)
  • Everton & Liverpool keep clean sheets in their opening two top-flight home matches of the same season for the first time in history.

@InfostradaLive provided all the stats used in this recap

Follow me @TEEWHYox

Tyrrell Meertins.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Roberto Soldado: Another Piece To Villas-Boas’ and Tottenham’s Puzzle

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White Hart Lane was left in a subdued atmosphere despite Gareth Bale’s winner against Sunderland on the final day of the season. News from St. James Park had broke loose that Laurent Koscielny’s second half goal was enough to secure Champions League football for the Gunners – ultimately leaving Tottenham out of Europe’s most prestigious tournament for the second consecutive season.

Tottenham finished the season with 72 points – the club’s record point total and the highest of a side that has finished outside the top four, which would’ve guaranteed the North London side second place two seasons ago. For the most part, Andre Villas-Boas’ first season at White Hart Lane was successful – despite finishing one spot lower than Harry Redknapp’s side a year prior. Although AVB’s influence saw Spurs develop tactically, the Portuguese manager’s side still encountered a few issues that saw them drop 12 points in their final 10 games – which Bale scored goals in the final five minutes against Southampton and Sunderland, to avoid further blemishes.

Defensive solidity has been a recurring issue for Spurs over the past few years, yet the large abundance of inferior teams in the league has benefitted the North London side. The main issue Tottenham has endured was in the final third, mainly at home, where they struggled to break down sides that sat deep, and stayed organized. Spurs dropped 19 points at home last season, albeit only being bettered by Liverpool for creating the most clear-cut chances in the league – simply highlighting that a no.10 and a striker was needed.

While Bale’s highly speculated move to Real Madrid has dominated headlines, AVB has added two quality players in Paulinho and Nader Chadli to his squad – as it looks certain Spurs will transition into a 4-3-3 side. Frankly, keeping Bale is essential, but it’s uncertain as to whether he’ll be able to replicate the 26 goals he scored last season – where he benefitted playing in a free role as a no.10.

Now, Bale’s departure wouldn’t be disastrous as many think, considering Spurs would receive approximately £80-100m for the Welshman. There’s no question that there was a heavy reliance on Bale, but the system switch would limit the freedom he enjoyed – and it would leave the creativity to the midfield three and the wingers, while they would need a reliable striker to provide the goals – which explains the purchase of Spanish international Roberto Soldado.

Soldado has reached the peak of his career, so there was no surprise that he was eager to be the main man of a potential contender. The 28-year-old has failed to consistently be the centre of attack for the national team, and a full season under AVB’s guidance, bolsters his chances of potentially solidifying a starting role in Brazil next summer.

At the age of 14, Vicente del Bosque, then Real Madrid youth team coach, persuaded Soldado to leave his regional side Don Bosco. Soldado was an instant hit at Castilla, Madrid’s B side, yet he was unable to display his skills for the first team, despite scoring 63 goals in four seasons. With a strike-force that consisted of Ronaldo, Robinho, Raul, Michael Owen and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Soldado found it difficult to feature regularly in a Madrid shirt, which led to Fabio Capello’s decision to loan the striker to Osasuna for the 2006-2007 season. 13 goals in all competitions for the Pamplona based side was enough to earn Soldado a second stint at Madrid, under newly appointed coach Bernd Schuster, but once again the Spaniard was deprived the opportunity to play.

Soldado was offloaded to Getafe the next season for €4m, where it looked like his career would amount to nothing, yet that’s where the Spaniard’s career took storm. Life abroad allowed the Valencia-born striker to flourish as the spearhead of the Getafe attack, scoring 33 goals in 66 appearances, which interested a Valencia side that was looking to replace David Villa. As humble, and soft-spoken as Soldado is off the field, he was quick to state his role with the club that eventually paid €10m for his services.

“I have all the enthusiasm in the world, but I’m not here to replace anyone,” Soldado said.

“I’ll contribute as much as possible with my work,” he added.

During Soldado’s three seasons at his hometown club, the Spanish striker slowly built his own legacy. The 28-year-old striker notched 80 goals in 146 appearances for Los Che, scoring a minimum of 25 goals per season in all competitions – while bringing his Champions League tally up to 15 goals, more than any player on the Spurs roster. Throughout the Spaniard’s career, he’s made it clear that he’s a genuine poacher, which could explain the player’s he admired as a youth.

“I favoured the finishers [when growing up], the goalscorers. [Ivan] Zamorano – I loved him when he was at Madrid. Jimmy [Floyd] Hasselbaink at Atletico, Ronaldo when he was at Barcelona. They really were the best of the best,” Soldado said in a UEFA.com interview.

However, although Soldado’s demeanor off the field was reserved, the bullish, yet gritty side of the Spaniard, which is often seen on the pitch, came out when speaking to reporters about his Valencia departure.

“The reason I’m leaving is because I don’t have faith in the current project and because the president has been lying for a long time, to me personally over the telephone,” Soldado said.

“A lot of the information you have received I believe was leaked by him. He has caused a lot of damage for me and my people, who are like family to me,” he added.

As the Spaniard reaches the latter parts of his career, a move to Spurs was logical, seeing as he fits the mold of a player the North London side need. Soldado prefers to play as the lone striker, and has made a living off of poaching goals in the 18-yard-box – all 24 of the Soldado’s league goals came in the penalty area. The Spanish striker tends to play on the shoulder of the last defender, while his movement off the ball and link-up play has gradually improved.

His performance against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup was an indicator that the Spaniard can thrive as the main striker in a 4-3-3. Soldado constantly linked play with Cesc Fabregas, allowing the Barcelona midfielder to get into advanced positions when he dropped deep – not to mention his game-winning goal with his preferred right foot.

Statistically, Soldado is an upgrade to the two strikers that Spurs have at their disposal. His 24% shot conversion is twice as good as Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor’s, along with scoring more league goals than the both men combined. Of the 511 chances created by Spurs last season, the duo scored 16 goals and without a proper no.10, AVB’s men lacked a player that can play an incisive final ball. Soldado is a step up from the current Spurs strikers – his awareness in the box and ability to get on the end of chances can prove to be pivotal next season.

In hindsight, Soldado does rely on quality service from the midfield, and with players such as Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Lewis Holtby behind him, the Spaniard should suffice. Although the trio isn’t known for their incisive direct passing, Soldado can link play, allow the midfield to penetrate the space behind him, and provide ample space with his off the ball movement so the midfield could supply the service required.

For all the good Soldado offers, the Spanish striker does have the tendency to drift out of games. It’s been one of the few pieces of criticism the 28-year-old has received over the past few years, yet Soldado doesn’t let the negativity affect his game.

“You have to have the belief that if you try to get away from your marker twice and you fail the third time you will succeed. In fact they can be winning the battle for almost the entire game but then you get the better of them once – and often that is enough,” Soldado said in an interview with the Telegraph.

Yet, even though the Spaniard has been ridiculed for being shaped in the form of a limited striker, Del Bosque, now Spanish head coach, encourages Soldado to stick to his game. Del Bosque believes that Soldado’s movement away from the play, not only keeps pressure on the opposition’s defenders, but it also gives the midfield space to orchestrate.

With that being said, Soldado’s arrival did come at a hefty price, and pressure will be on the Valencia-born striker to produce, but Spurs now have their first legitimate proven goal-scorer since the departures of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane.

Spurs still face a few deficiencies at the back, and could improve on their squad depth, but as AVB’s tenure continues, the chances of Champions League football returning to White Hart Lane increases.

With-or-without Bale, Spurs are building a team to fit AVB’s philosophy, which proved to be successful at Porto. The Portuguese manager adds another piece to the puzzle that he’s attempting to solve – hence, Soldado’s fantastic goal-scoring record can be the difference between Champions League football and another substandard finish outside of the top four.

It’s evident that Spurs’ transition to a 4-3-3 is beneficial to their long-term success but they need to score more goals, and Soldado is the answer.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Weekly Roundup Podcast May 16th

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Tyrrell Meertins and Toronto journalist Victor Ferreira, break down last weekend’s Portuguese Classico, the Europa League final and Porto/Benfica’s future. Hugo V also joins Meertins to talk Wigan, the top 4 battle, and they introduce the debut of “Hit or Miss.”

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Podcasts, Uncategorized

 

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