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Premier League Preview: Liverpool

Courtesy of Flickr/Dean Jones

Courtesy of Flickr/Dean Jones

The atmosphere around Selhurst Park escalated quickly.

Brendan Rodgers stood emotionless on the touchline, with his hands in his pockets, mystified at the scenes that transpired before his eyes.

Liverpool’s season spiraled downwards in 10 minutes, as the Reds conceded a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace. Scenes that may never leave the minds of some of the most confident players in world football. Daniel Sturridge stared blankly into the sky, while Luis Suarez was on the floor hiding his face under his shirt in a pool of tears, as captain Steven Gerrard –– who committed an inexcusable error by slipping on the ball, which gift-wrapped a goal for Demba Ba a week prior, in another monumental game against Chelsea –– consoled the Uruguayan star down the tunnel.

“The players are devastated, really,” Rodgers said. “The last 12 minutes we did not defend at all with any cohesion. It was a crazy spell where we’ll need to be better in the future.”

Liverpool squandered a golden opportunity to claim their first Premier League title, and they may not receive a second chance in the upcoming years. The luxury of missing out on European football played a factor as the Reds played a minimum of 10 games less than the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. There was also a hint of overachievement following the extraordinary partnership of Suarez and Sturridge.

Rodgers, however, will have to cope without the Uruguayan star after he completed a move to Barcelona this summer. Although, at times, Suarez’s actions were deplorable, his production on the field transformed the striker into a cult hero. Suarez tallied 82 goals in three and a half seasons at Anfield, with the final two years being his most impressive, hitting the 30 goal mark twice.

The loss of a genuine world-class player would hamper any side, and Suarez’s departure is no different. And while it’s considerably easy to make comparisons with Spurs after the sale of Gareth Bale, it’s unlikely that Rodgers’ side will capitulate in the same manner as the North London club.

Liverpool is a cohesive unit that didn’t solely rely on Suarez’s individual brilliance, and they have spent close to £90m on personnel that should cover their lack of depth. Rodgers’ starting XI may be weaker than last year, but there’s a sense of familiarity whereas Spurs shoved several new signings into their squad with no initial plan.

Frankly, under Andre Villas-Boas’ first season at White Hart Lane, Spurs lacked a genuine game plan as they relied heavily on Bale’s brilliance in a free role.

Rodgers, however, is an intelligent young manager that showcased his tactical flexibility last season, as he risked the natural balance of the side to fit Suarez and Sturridge into his XI. It’s unlikely that he will encounter similar issues with the players brought in this summer, and it also appears that Liverpool will predominantly operate in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1.

The arrival of Adam Lallana offers Liverpool a legitimate play-maker, capable of operating in the no.10 role, or drifting laterally into space between the lines from the flanks. Likewise, Lazar Markovic’s pace, power, and tactical discipline can see the Serbian winger develop into a key player for the Reds as the season progresses.

Rodgers’ experiment with a 4-4-2 diamond against Manchester City in preseason failed, as Liverpool’s fullbacks were consistently isolated, and they lacked natural width going forward. This further exemplifies that the likelihood of a Rickie Lambert and Sturridge partnership is unlikely to occur on a consistent basis.

One of the glaring issues involving Liverpool’s preseason campaign was the difficulty they encountered in the final third. While Liverpool only lost once in their opening seven games last season during Suarez’s suspension –– which in fairness is an extremely small sample size –– it must be noted that the Reds averaged 1.5 goals per game.

Now there is insurmountable pressure surrounding Sturridge to replicate last year’s form and tally 20 Premier League goals as the sole striker upfront. The 24-year-old who prefers to operate in the channels and off the shoulder of the last defender may struggle to replicate last year’s success, and there’s fear that the options available may not suffice.

Loic Remy’s failed medical leaves Rodgers with Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini at his disposal, with the latter expected to seal a permanent move with Sunderland. Lambert’s move was fairly logical considering his familiarity with Lallana and several English teammates within the squad. Lambert is a proven goalscorer in England, but more importantly he links play well and can guide runners such as Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson –– players Rodgers hopes will add goals to their arsenal –– into goal-scoring positions.

Both players scored fantastic goals in their preseason friendly against Manchester City, and Rodgers stated the importance of Henderson improving in front of goal.

“That’s the objective for Jordan [to get more goals],” Rodgers offered.

“The finish he produced to get the equalizer, he does that day in, day out in training. He’s a player that is so fit and strong, and he’s such a team player – he does a lot of unselfish work. This year we’re asking him to get more into the box.”

However, despite the additions of Dejan Lovren and young powerful midfielder Emre Can, there are still a few concerns within the squad. Who will step up to the plate to score goals? Gerrard’s defensive deficiencies as the sole-pivot are still an issue, while the back four still lacks leadership despite Lovren’s arrival.

Rodgers has provided depth at the full-back position, but Liverpool struggled to close out games last season, often dropping deep into their box and relying on poor finishing from the opposition and Simon Mignolet’s heroics. Only Spurs conceded more goals than Liverpool in the top eight, and with the Reds’ woes in front of goal, Rodgers will hope Lovren is the missing piece to a sturdy back-line.

With little under a month remaining in the transfer window, Liverpool have done a great job in using the funds from Suarez’s sale to revamp their squad.

The improvement of Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Sterling, along with Gerrard’s rotation, and the adaptation of the newcomers will define Liverpool’s season, but Rodgers is certainly ahead of schedule.

Liverpool will find it difficult to challenge for the title with the inclusion of the Champions League, while title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City have improved significantly.

Rodgers may need a year or two to relive the heights of last season, but he’s made the right moves that should see Liverpool battle for a spot in the top four, as the Reds prepare to go again.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal advanced to the last eight of the FA Cup with a resilient victory against Liverpool at the Emirates.

Image Arsene Wenger made several changes to the starting XI that drew Manchester United in midweek. Yaya Sanogo led the line with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski filling in alongside Mesut Ozil. Mathieu Flamini returned from suspension, Lukasz Fabianski started in goal, and Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal started at full-back.

Brendan Rodgers made two changes to his starting lineup, as Daniel Agger slotted into the back four, and Joe Allen joined Steven Gerrard, and Philippe Coutinho in midfield.

Liverpool started the match well, but defensive lapses and woeful finishing saw them crash out of the FA Cup.

Liverpool’s great start

Liverpool produced arguably the best 20-minute spell of football in Premier League history during their 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield, and were looking to replicate that performance at the Emirates. Rodgers’ side have started matches well this season, scoring majority of their league goals in the first-half, and they will be disappointed that they weren’t two goals ahead within the opening five minutes.

Daniel Sturridge was played in free – courtesy of a Gerrard through ball – against Fabianski, but the Polish goalkeeper saved his tame effort. Minutes later, Luis Suarez chipped a delicate ball over Arsenal’s back four towards Sturridge, and while the Liverpool striker rounded Fabianski, his shot hit the side-netting.

Within the opening five minutes Sturridge was presented with two glorious opportunities to possibly replicate the result at Anfield. Apart from an ambitious shot from Suarez at the edge of the box, Liverpool failed to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities for the remainder of the half.

Defensive shapes

The first-half lacked the high-octane, free-flowing football that both sides are renowned for and that was down to their shape without the ball.

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Arsenal dropped into two banks of four without the ball and encouraged their wingers to press Liverpool’s fullbacks, while Mikel Arteta energetically closed down Philippe Coutinho – as the Brazilian struggled to cope with the physical battles in midfield. Sturridge had minimal impact on the match due to Laurent Koscielny’s proactive role, in which he didn’t allow the striker to turn with the ball.

More so, it was peculiar to see Liverpool reluctant to play balls in behind the defence. Flamini offered grit in midfield, while Arsenal still lacked pace at the back.

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Liverpool, on the other hand, dropped into a 4-5-1 that at times looked like a 4-1-4-1. Rodgers also encouraged his side to close down Arsenal’s full-backs, while Coutinho and Joe Allen alternated when pressing Arteta. Some of Jordan Henderson’s best performances have come against Arsenal, and his dynamism was missed in midfield, as Arsenal exploited pockets of space in the first half.

Gerrard

Liverpool’s key player in attack was Gerrard. With Lucas absent, the Liverpool captain remained at the base of the midfield, and constantly switched the Reds’ route of attack. Gerrard was the most proficient passer, completing 64 passes, and he created Liverpool’s best chances in the match.

The key to Gerrard’s success, however, was the fact that no Arsenal player applied pressure on the Reds skipper. Mesut Ozil preferred – or was instructed by Wenger – to drop ahead of the midfield bank of four, opposed to limiting Gerrard’s influence on the match. In the opening minute his well-weighed through ball to Sturridge should’ve handed the Reds a lead.

Subsequently, Gerrard’s second half cross-field diagonal ball towards Coutinho should’ve seen the Brazilian level the score, but he opted to play a tame cross into the box. Gerrard was also influential via set-pieces, as his cool penalty narrowed the lead to a goal, and his free-kick delivery to Martin Skrtel was an additional goal-scoring opportunity.

Gerrard provided a positive impact towards Liverpool’s attack due to Arsenal’s naivety without the ball, but poor finishing and decision-making aided Wenger’s side.

Ozil

Ozil’s performance at Anfield was maligned by the media, as the German looked disinterested; he casually drifted through the match, and was constantly bullied off the ball by Henderson and Gerrard. The German’s looked knackered as of late, which could be down to Wenger mismanaging his minutes, but here the 25-year-old midfielder quietly sparked Arsenal’s attack.

Specifically in the first half, when Arsenal pushed forward, the Gunners located pockets of space throughout the midfield and Ozil was often the lynchpin behind their attacks. Ozil was the link in attack; whether it was his delicate chip to play in Sanogo, his cross that led to Chamberlain’s goal, or his ability to evade a challenge before driving to the box to have his shot blocked, the German dictated Arsenal’s activity in the final third. Ozil’s inch-perfect pass to Chamberlain in the second half, allowed the Arsenal winger to cut back the ball to Podolski for Arsenal’s second goal.

Ozil’s contribution in both goals signified his importance to Arsenal’s attack, as the German was heavily involved in majority of the Gunners’ offensive moves.

Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Sterling

With Theo Walcott out for the remainder of the season, the talks as to who will play in wide areas in Brazil has been heavily debated. At the Emirates, two ideal candidates in Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling were eager to impress.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was terrific on the night – he constantly tracked back to protect Jenkinson, thus keeping Aly Cissokho quiet throughout the match. He scored and assisted a great goal, and his pace continuously tormented the Liverpool back-line. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace also exposed Gerrard’s vulnerability at the base of Liverpool’s midfield.

The Arsenal attacker generally picked up the ball from his own half and quickly transitioned into attack, thus resulting in Gerrard and Coutinho making poor challenges and earning yellow cards – Gerrard was fortunate not to see red as he committed a clumsy second-half tackle, which merited a booking.

Likewise, Sterling, who’s been in great form over the past few weeks, was dangerous in the second half. With Liverpool forced to attack, the English winger constantly received long diagonal balls from Gerrard and attacked Monreal. Sterling was successful beating defenders and stretching the play towards the byline, but his final ball was often poor.

Yet, towards the latter stages of the match, when Rodgers fielded him as an attacking right-back, Sterling showcased his defensive attributes and impressive work-rate, by constantly getting back into position and making timely tackles.

Although Sterling didn’t replicate the impact he posed in the league encounter at Anfield, he, as did Oxlade-Chamberlain, displayed that they could fill the role that Roy Hodgson demands in wide areas.

Substitutions

With limited options on the bench, Rodgers introduced Henderson for the ineffective Cissokho, as Liverpool became a 4-2-3-1. Jon Flanagan moved to the left and Sterling became a right full-back. Suarez drifted centrally, allowing Sterling to peg Arsenal back and attack the space behind Podolski. Henderson occasionally pushed forward, but he often sat deep with Gerrard, which allowed Coutinho more space in midfield.

As Arsenal dropped deeper towards their box, Liverpool, and in particular Gerrard received more space to switch balls from flank-to-flank. Liverpool’s best chance came when Coutinho drifted into space and played in Sturridge, but as he tried to round Fabianski, the Polish keeper pushed the ball away. Apart from the aforementioned Gerrard ball to Coutinho, Liverpool’s other opportunities were snap-shots from Suarez and Sturridge from distance.

Wenger’s reluctance on removing Ozil was peculiar, considering his limited influence in the second half, lack of defensive work, and the fact that they host Bayern Munich in midweek. However, Cazorla replaced Podolski at first, which was also odd based on his limited defensive work – and Sterling still posed a threat down the right.

Minutes later, Kieran Gibbs replaced the leggy Oxlade-Chamberlain, and swapped flanks with Cazorla. Now, Gibbs nullified Sterling’s threat in attack, and his energy pegged Sterling deeper into his half, forcing him to defend. Giroud replaced Sanogo to wind down the clock, as Arsenal survived Liverpool’s second half resurgence.

Conclusion

Despite an early scare, Arsenal was clinical in front of goal, and escaped the Emirates with an important victory. Rodgers was upset with the result, and poor officiating, but he highlighted that clinical finishing was the difference. “We could very easily have had another five or six goals today, but we weren’t as clinical,” Rodgers said.

Howard Webb’s poor officiating will dominate headlines, but besides a few defensive issues, Wenger’s weakened side showcased resilience at the back – including Fabianski’s key saves – as they gained revenge for their drubbing at Anfield.

Nevertheless, the games key players could all play a key role in England’s World Cup quest. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace, defensive work, and quality in the final third snuck Arsenal past the Reds, but Gerrard’s passing could’ve equally tilted the tie if his teammates converted their chances.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Luis Suarez turns provider in Liverpool’s FA Cup triumph over Bournemouth

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Courtesy of: Flickr/cap_gundamgirl

For all the attacking prowess Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool possess, there’s a vast contrast in terms of their defensive qualities. Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge guided Liverpool to the fifth round of the FA Cup, in a match that revolved around Rodgers’ men providing a threat on the counter, opposed to dominating possession.

After Liverpool’s 2-2 slip-up against Aston Villa at Anfield, the Reds were expected to alter their formation to provide adequate protection ahead of the back four. But with Rodgers persistent on keeping Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge upfront, Liverpool continued to play with a two central midfielders.

Liverpool struggled to sustain possession for large portions of the match, and Bournemouth created several half-chances. Marc Pugh and Charlie Daniels surged forward at every opportunity, dominating the left flank, while creating openings behind Martin Kelly, but the home side lacked quality in the final third.  Meanwhile, Bournemouth posed a threat in wide areas, as Liverpool’s issue defending set-pieces, and balls from the flank, troubled Rodgers’ backline.

Rodgers’ decision to play Steven Gerrard as a deep-lying midfielder last week was bold, and the Reds nearly lost the match in the first half. Here, without the injured Lucas Leiva, Henderson and Gerrard were paired in midfield again – and despite both men completing over 90% of their passes, they were a liability on the counter attack. Bournemouth consistently bypassed Liverpool’s midfield on several occasions, but the home side failed to convert chances around the 18-yard box.

The games most important player was Luis Suarez – the Uruguayan striker ran the channels, admirably tracked back to complete defensive duties, and he displayed his ability to play as a competent no.10. His cross-field pass on the break led to Moses’ near-post opener, and he received the ball behind the Bournemouth midfield and slid an incisive pass into Sturridge, who expertly doubled Liverpool’s lead.

The score-line doesn’t reflect the fact that Liverpool found it considerably easy at Goldsands Stadium, but once again their defensive issues were exposed. Suarez and Sturridge will torment back lines around the country, but an unreliable backline and Gerrard’s inability to consistently break up play in midfield can impede Liverpool’s top-four aspirations.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Torres shines bright as Chelsea climb to second in the table

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Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini were under the spotlight as their new squads met at Stamford Bridge, Sunday afternoon. Arguably the two legitimate favourites to contend for the title in May were aiming to keep pace with league leaders Arsenal, who defeated Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

However, Fernando Torres stole the headlines from both managers, as he produced his best performance this season – including the match-winner at the death. In particular, Torres thrived in the first half, due to City’s poor shape without the ball. It was evident that they would drop into two banks of four, but Pellegrini’s men left gaps between the lines and around the final third for Chelsea’s attackers to exploit.

Torres dropped deeper to link play and he was allowed time and space to receive the ball between the lines and then turned to run at defenders. One of the issues the Spaniard has faced during his spell at Chelsea has been adapting to the football philosophy at Stamford Bridge. At Liverpool, Torres enjoyed space between the lines and his pace terrified defenders – this is a key feat that Mourinho is trying to implement in Chelsea’s style of play.

Nevertheless, Mourinho’s men benefitted from the space available – specifically on the right – and it started with Oscar delivering a great ball to an unmarked Gary Cahill, but the English defender skied his shot over the bar. In the 28th minute, Torres beat the offside trap, and admirably controlled Ramires’ cross from the right side, but the Spaniard also sent his shot over the bar.

It was a shocking miss, and a familiar scenario, leaving many to believe we’d witness another uninspiring performance from El Nino, but minutes later Torres won the ball and turned onto his left shoulder to mount an attack. The Chelsea striker used his pace to blitz past the poor Gael Clichy, and the Spaniard delivered a great ball for Andre Schurrle to tap in.

Manchester City did enjoy a few decent spells in the first half, as their aim was to sustain possession and get their fullbacks forward to provide width. Fernandinho and Javi Garcia sat deeper to protect the back four, and although Garcia was poor, Fernandinho was continuously winning tackles and aiming to provide a direct approach to City’s game. Oscar was handed the role of pressing the deepest midfielder, but both midfielders sitting deeper was beneficial to City as they always had passing option going forward.

City started the second half in fine fashion, when Samir Nasri played a lovely through ball to Sergio Aguero. Aguero did well to sneak behind Cahill and John Terry, and the Argentinian striker fired a sensational shot past Cech to equalize. Pellegrini’s men vastly improved in the second half, as Nasri and Silva pulled the strings.

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Similar to the first half, Nasri and Silva dropped deeper into midfield to sustain possession, as they patiently waited for openings. The main difference was the tempo, precision and the penetration in their passing. Pellegrini’s men began to play more incisive passes into the box, forcing Cech to make a few key saves.

Also, City’s shape without the ball in the second half improved – gaps were limited as Pellegrini ordered his men to maintain a compact shape. Torres wasn’t allowed to receive the ball freely, or penetrate space between lines.

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Furthermore, Chelsea didn’t attempt to push for a victory, as their substitutions were strictly player swaps – with Samuel Eto’o’s introduction being Mourinho’s sign of attacking intent without risking the balance of his side. Pellegrini introduced Aleksandar Kolarov, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas to give City a direct threat, but City was unable to find another significant opening.

Conclusively, Chelsea won the match in a bizarre manner. A simple long ball over the top provided miscommunication between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic, allowing Torres to run past the latter and tap the ball into the net. The goal highlighted a significant issue City suffered throughout the match, as they were unable to cope with balls over the top.

City packed the midfield to avoid being blitzed on the counter, but it was also to sustain possession when attacking. However, City succeeded when they played a more direct style of football in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. On the other hand, Chelsea focused on attacking on the counter, but with City aiming to sustain possession, they left gaps of space available when they pushed higher up the pitch.

“When everybody was expecting a draw, even ourselves, I tried to play Samuel and give a bit more but I didn’t want to risk too much. It was the kind of game that you wanted to win but you didn’t want to lose, because if you lose it you lose points against a title contender, so I wanted to take a risk but with balance,” Mourinho said. 

Stamford Bridge erupted, Torres shined and Chelsea kept pace with league leaders Arsenal, despite encountering a difficult schedule compared to majority of their title rivals. Although Chelsea didn’t play well, results of this magnitude can tilt the balance of the title race in May.

Analysis

  • Arsenal faced adversity midway through the second half when Mikel Arteta was harshly sent off for fouling – former Gunner – Marouane Chamakh. Palace created two key chances to equalize when Joel Ward received Kagisho Dikgacoi’s wall pass and smashed a scintillating shot, which Wojciech Szczesny deflected off the crossbar. Off the initial corner kick, Szczesny failed to clear his lines and Mile Jedinak forced the Arsenal goalkeeper to make a phenomenal save.

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Prior to Arteta’s dismissal, Arsenal continued to overload central areas and patiently waited for openings. Ramsey took the initiative to surge forward and join the attack, while Arteta sat deep. While Arsenal was in full control of possession, it took a silly Adlene Guedioura challenge on substitute Serge Gnabry to hand Arteta a penalty, giving the Gunners the lead. Giroud added the second goal to secure all three points, nodding in Ramsey’s cross, after the Welshman did well to hold the ball up. Arsenal remains top of the table, and now have their eyes set on a showdown against Liverpool, next week.

  • Manchester United mounted a late second half comeback to survive a shocking defeat against Stoke City. Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez were on the score sheet, as United scored twice in two minutes to earn all three points. However, United struggled for large portions of the match to assert their dominance on the match. Mark Hughes’ men targeted the space behind Chris Smalling and created a few legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Peter Crouch’s first goal came through Erik Pieters’ cross on the left flank. 11 minutes later, Marko Arnautovic beat Smalling, and delivered a cross to Jonathan Walters who nodded the ball to Crouch, who flashed his shot over the bar.

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Crouch was the main cog in attack, and the dismal performance from United’s entire backline contributed to Stoke’s threat in the final third. Meanwhile, United’s issue was down to their narrow shape in attack. It took the introduction of Adnan Januzaj to lift United’s energy. His direct penetrating runs, and will to be on the ball gave Moyes’ men a new element of attack. Arnautovic’s departure also played a key role, as Marc Wilson didn’t offer any attacking threat going forward. Moyes introduced Hernandez and Antonio Valencia to increase the Red Devils’ attacking impetus – a moment of brilliance from Wayne Rooney, David De Gea’s top saves, and natural width led to their victory. United’s poor defending, along with their narrowness in attack, halted their attacking fluidity. Over the years United’s attack has relied on width, and once again it was a key component towards earning three points.

  • Gus Poyet earned his first victory as Sunderland manager in the all-important Tyneside Derby. Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore worked exceptionally well as a strike partnership, as they dropped deep to link play and played off the shoulders of the Newcastle defence. Fletcher opened the scoring from an Adam Johnson cross – handing the Black Cats the attacking movement they’ve lacked in their opening games. Alan Pardew initially started in a 4-3-3, but the Hatem Ben Arfa experiment as centre forward miserably failed. Pardew altered his formation into a 4-4-2 and although Ben Arfa began to find more space, Loic Remy and Papiss Cisse were unable to hold up the ball and link play. More so, Poyet’s decision to introduce Fabio Borini reaped rewards, as he scored a fantastic goal to hand Sunderland their first win of the season.
  • Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge continued to cause havoc against teams in the Premier League; this time their opponent was West Bromwich Albion, as Suarez scored a hat trick and Sturridge scored the fourth. The win leaves Liverpool two points behind league leaders Arsenal, heading into their showdown at the Emirates Stadium next weekend. Also, Roberto Soldado notched his third penalty shot of the season, which earned Tottenham three points, and sees them climb into the top four.

Results: Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal, Aston Villa 0-2 Everton, Manchester United 3-2 Stoke City, Norwich City 0-0 Cardiff City, Liverpool 4-1 West Brom, Southampton 2-0 Fulham, Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle, Swansea City 0-0 West Ham, Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City, Tottenham 1-0 Hull City

Weekend Stats

  • Mikel Arteta’s last six Premier League goals for Arsenal have come from the penalty spot.
  • Luis Suarez scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool at Anfield – all his previous three for the club had come away from home.
  • Javier Hernandez scored his 12th ‪Premier League goal as a substitute. Only Ole Gunnar Solkjaer (17) has more substitute goals for Manchester United.
  • Chelsea win opening five Premier League home matches for the third time (2009/10 & 2010/11). They are unbeaten in all 65 Premier League home matches under Jose Mourinho (W51-D14)
  • Peter Crouch has yet to win a Premier League match against Manchester United: 17 previous matches, W0-D4-L13.
  • Arsenal will be leading ‪Premier League after nine matches for first time since 2007/08. They finished 3rd that season.

Infostrada Sports @InfostradaLive provides all the stats available

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Southampton’s valiant display sees Manchester United stumble at Old Trafford

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They came, they saw, but they didn’t conquer. Well, for a Southampton side that flirted with relegation last season, a draw at Old Trafford would suffice. However, like last season, Mauricio Pochettino’s men may feel as if they underachieved.

Meanwhile, the pressure on David Moyes is at an all-time high, as the Red Devils are off to their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. Unlike last season, neither Robin Van Persie, nor Wayne Rooney could save Manchester United from mediocrity. Outscoring their opponents is no longer a genius tactic – their production in the final third is anonymous, the clinical finishing is a distant memory, while long-periods of possession was a rarity.

Although United didn’t play well, they had a few chances to put the match out of reach, but Artur Boruc and the crossbar denied Moyes’ men three points. Southampton – who’s improved significantly compared to last season – produced an impressive away performance combining excellent work-rate and movement between the lines. Morgan Schneiderlin stepped forward to press Marouane Fellaini, whereas Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama kept tabs on Michael Carrick  – and Wayne Rooney when he dropped deeper.

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Most teams don’t possess the pluck to press Carrick when he receives the ball, but if executed properly, it limits Carrick’s contribution to United’s attack. Meanwhile, Fellaini’s transfer still seems peculiar and superfluous, as his performances have been mediocre. The Belgian is sitting deep alongside Carrick, offering the same threat as his midfield partner – besides the penetrating passes between the lines – which prevents him from joining the attack.

With both midfielders nullified, and adequate pressure applied on the defenders, United struggled to dictate the tempo of the match. Schneiderlin continued to drive forward when possible, while Lallana and Davis roamed around the final third when in possession. In particular, Lallana drifted infield looking to play incisive passes in the final third, while Davis dropped deeper to help Southampton sustain possession and drive forward as a unit.

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Frankly, United were struggling to cope, and Pochettino knew his side was capable of earning a point at minimum. While, James Ward-Prowse, Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado were introduced to increase their attacking impetus, Moyes decided to preserve the lead by adding numbers in midfield and the backline, which was logical.

Regardless of the late Dejan Lovren equalizer, United couldn’t solve Boruc, and they didn’t assert their dominance on the match. “I am disappointed because we wanted to get a bit of momentum going and we weren’t able to do that,” Moyes said. Southampton produced an impressive away performance – one similar to the win at Anfield, and had Osvaldo been up for it, they might’ve walked away with all three points.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible for Moyes to avoid the critics after dropping points at home. Carrick, arguably United’s best player last season, was quick to highlight that luck hasn’t been on United side thus far. “It is frustrating because things are not going the way we want. But as players we have to stand up, take responsibility and get better,” Carrick said. “We are still confident. Everything is in place but for some reason, at the moment, we are not quite clicking and not quite firing,” he added.

The most concerning issue is United’s shape overall – the double-pivot sits too deep, while the three attacking players behind Van Persie have struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Adnan Janzuaj has been a refreshing inclusion to the squad, yet heavily relying on an 18-year-old winger is an indictment on the squad, opposed to the player.

If Saturday’s draw was any indicator to how the season will pan out, United will struggle to defeat the better Premier League teams this season. More so, majority of United’s title rivals, and mid-table Premier League sides have evolved over the transfer window, whereas United hasn’t, and Van Persie’s goals may not be enough to retain their Premier League crown.

Analysis

  • Arsenal remains two points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League, defeating Norwich City 4-1. A recurring theme in their play since Ozil’s arrival has been the urge to overload central areas. Likewise, with the inclusion of Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla behind Olivier Giroud, Norwich had no answer for Arsenal’s movement in the final third.

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While Norwich pressed Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, the movement of the front three always provided Wenger’s men with passing options, along with handing Wilshere the license to push forward – as runners got behind Giroud who dropped deeper to link play and provide wonderful assists for Ozil and Wilshere. Despite Norwich handing  Arsene Wenger’s men a few scares, their quality in the final third was disappointing.

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Aaron Ramsey – who started the match on the bench – came on for the injured Flamini and continued to impress. He made key tackles, scored a wonderful goal, and assisted Arsenal’s fourth goal, as the Gunners continue to shine.

  • Stamford Bridge was filled with controversy, as Eden Hazard’s equalizer should’ve been disallowed. Samuel Eto’o nicked the ball away from Cardiff goalkeeper Dave Marshall when he bounced it on the ground, which subsequently led to Hazard sliding the ball into the net from close range. According to FIFA rules, the goalie is still in possession of the ball when he bounces it, meaning Eto’o committed a foul that the referee missed. However, Cardiff dropped deep into their third and frustrated Chelsea to the point where Mourinho gambled and played three at the back – thus leading to a quality strike from Eto’o. Along with an entertaining Jose Mourinho dismissal, Cardiff caused Chelsea a few problems in the final 20 minutes, but Oscar and Hazard increased the lead, pushing the Blues to second in the table.
  • Manuel Pellegrini saw his men earn their first away win of the season at Upton Park, orchestrated by David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Aguero produced two fine finishes to give City a comfortable lead, and assisted Silva’s goal late in the second half. But the main man was Silva, he floated across the final third finding pockets of space to link play and build attacks, as he thoroughly controlled the match.

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Sam Allardyce attempted to replicate a shape that saw his side defeat Spurs at White Hart Lane, but his men left too many gaps of space around the final third for City attackers to drift into, and were blitzed for large portions of the match. Another away test awaits Manchester City next Sunday, as they travel to Stamford Bridge full of confidence, aiming to overtake Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

  • Andros Townsend stole the headlines once again, as he was one of the few bright spots in Spurs’ victory at Villa Park. Villa maintained a high defensive- line in the first half, and focused on pressing Spurs’ fullbacks and two holding midfielders. Andre Villas-Boas’ men were unable to break through the press, as Villa’s fullbacks tightly marked their wingers and Roberto Soldado was isolated upfront. But Paul Lambert tinkered with his side at half-time – seeing as Townsend was fortunate to see his cross beat Brad Guzan to give Spurs the lead. The reason behind switching to a 4-3-1-2 was to get the most out of his attackers – who also didn’t see enough of the ball in the first half – but pushing them into central positions left the Villa fullbacks vulnerable against overloads.

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Townsend was at his very best after the change, driving down the right flank and his unpredictability left Antonio Luna confused, as he was unsure whether Townsend would cut in or attack the byline to produce a devastating ball into the box. Christian Benteke did enter the fray in the second half, giving Villa a lift with his aerial presence that Libor Kozak lacks – despite his height – but Soldado’s goal minutes later was the final blow for Lambert’s men.

  • Daniel Sturridge scored his 7th goal of the season to nick a point against 10-man Newcastle. It was mediocre display from Brendan Rodgers’ men, who allowed Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye to dictate the match – and witness the French midfielder score a great goal. Prior to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s sending off – for pulling Suarez in the box, thus leading to a Gerrard spot-kick – Suarez and Sturridge were deprived service, as they were forced to drop deeper to get involved with the play. Nevertheless, tactical alterations were significant, as Alan Pardew encouraged his men to drop into a 4-4-1, sacrificing Moussa Sissoko for Paul Dummett, who gave Newcastle the lead in the second half. However, Liverpool switched to a 4-2-3-1 introducing Luis Alberto, who was instructed to drift infield, allowing Glen Johnson to push forward. The change gave Suarez more space to operate in, as he drifted into the channels and between the lines, and it reaped rewards as he assisted Sturridge’s equalizer. Liverpool searched for a winner by introducing Raheem Sterling and pushing Alberto in an advanced position in midfield, but Tim Krul made a few top saves in the latter stages of the match to earn his side a valuable point.

Results: Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool, Swansea City 4-0 Sunderland, Stoke City 0-0 West Brom, Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City, Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City, Everton 2-1 Hull City, Manchester United 1-1 Southampton, West Ham 1-3 Manchester City, Aston Vila 0-2 Tottenham

Weekend Stats

  • Manchester United fail to win successive Premier League home matches for first time since 2007.
  • 16 points from seven ‪Premier League matches, is the most points that Arsenal have had at this stage of the season since 2007/08.
  • Daniel Sturridge has scored in six consecutive Premier League away matches. Only one player in Premier League history has more – Robin Van Persie in nine.
  • Liverpool is undefeated in their last 8 Premier League away matches for the first time since Apr–Oct 2008.
  • Robin van Persie needs 1 more goal to reach 127 in the Premier League. Would make him equal Hasselbaink’s Dutch record and join him in 10th all-time.
  • Steven Gerrard has scored his 100th ‪Premier League goal in his 449th appearance.

All stats are provided by Infostrada Sports @InfostradaLive

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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