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Juventus 3-0 Barcelona

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Similar to Barcelona’s trip to PSG last month, Juventus’s emphatic first leg triumph further highlighted the Spanish champions’ issues under Luis Enrique.

There were no real surprises to Juventus XI. Gonzalo Higuain started ahead of Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado. Meanwhile, Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira protected Max Allegri’s experience back-line.

Enrique was without the suspended Sergio Busquets, which forced the Barcelona manager to field Javier Mascherano in midfield, whereas Jeremy Mathieu was a surprise member in the away side’s back-line.

Juve’s wonderful start to the match was a combination of exploiting the away side’s weaknesses along with their imbalanced shape, which ultimately defined the overall tempo of the match.

Juve squeeze early

One of the key elements to Juve’s success was their quick start. In the opening minutes, Higuain had already spurned a free header from six-yards out via Pjanic’s free-kick.

But from open play, Juve’s high-pressing ensured Barcelona couldn’t settle into their preferred tempo. Higuain and Dybala monitored the Barcelona centre-backs and Cuadrado occasionally stepped towards Mathieu to make it 3v3 at the back.

An attempt to overturn Juve’s press witnessed Mascherano slot into a deeper zone, which therefore offset Khedira to push forward to limit the Argentine’s influence from midfield. Barca were marked across the pitch due to Juve’s cohesive pressing: the full-backs were tight on the Barca wide players – Dani Alves succumbed to an early booking due to concessive fouls on Neymar – Suarez was isolated upfront, while Pjanic tracked Iniesta’s movement in midfield.

Enrique was infuriated by goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen’s reluctance to play passes over the top for Suarez to chase into the channels and viciously showcased is disappointment within the opening five minutes. Obviously, Juve were unable to sustain this press throughout the match – nor was it likely their intention to do so – but it still represented a significant feat to the Italian champions’ positive start.

Barca’s flawed system

The other key factor associated with Barca’s issues was the initial set-up. What appeared to be a 3-4-3 ahead of kickoff was a back three in possession, but supposed to be a back four when Juve broke forward. However, Enrique’s men were uncertain of their duties from front to back.

Sergi Roberto left his right-back zone to help overload central areas, whilst making vertical darts into the channels to provide penetration going forward. Mathieu, on the other hand, rarely ventured forward in the opening stages despite the hosts allowing the Frenchman space to step into their half to play passes out the back. Perhaps Allegri wanted Mathieu in advanced positions so Juve could break into the right channel in transition, along with the fact that the Barcelona centre-back isn’t the strongest defender on the ball.

Iniesta was unable to control the game – though it’s not one of the traits the Spaniard is renowned for – whereas the other issue stemmed from the left flank. Iniesta started the match as the widest midfielder, but his narrow positioning along with Neymar operating as a wide forward meant there was no cover on the flanks, which therefore forced Mathieu to step to the left to cover space against Cuadrado.

Essentially, there was ample space in the channels for Juve’s wide players to manipulate, and it’s unsurprising that the buildup to both of Dybala’s goals stemmed down the flanks.

Dybala goals

Slack defending contributed to the simplicity of Juve’s opening goals, but the fact that the buildup was nearly identical justifies Allegri’s approach. Higuain switched the ball to the right flank to place Cuadrado in a 1v1 situation with Mathieu, which ultimately resulted in Dybala ghosting into the box and quickly firing the opener past ter Stegen.

Subsequently, Juve sprung on the counter-attack down the left flank for Mandzukic to run at the recovering Sergi Roberto before pulling the ball back for Dybala, who curled another super effort past the Barcelona goal-keeper. Towards the end of the half Alex Sandro broke past Rakitic down the left to provide a pull-back opportunity for Higuain that ter Stegen nearly pushed away into danger.

Barcelona encountered difficulties protecting pull-backs from half spaces, but more worryingly was their reluctance to track Dybala, Higuain and Khedira’s late runs towards the box. Juve’s crucial first half chances followed the aforementioned template that highlighted Barca’s issues in wide areas – against the wide players and tracking Dybala’s movement to the flanks – along with Busquets’ absence ahead of the back four.

Messi Magic

The other aspect of Juve’s quick start meant the hosts could drop deeper, remain compact, and swarm the away side when they attempted to penetrate in central zones.

Busquets’ absence was critical to Barca’s issue because Mascherano failed to dictate the tempo of the match with his passing and lacked the range and confidence to play penetrating passes from deep. Meanwhile, out of possession, the Argentine was culpable for being caught on the ball via pressure and failing to track late runs towards the box.

Therefore, Barca were devoid of creativity in midfield: with Rakitic and Roberto unsure of their roles, and Iniesta marked out of the match, only a dangerous cross from the often open Mathieu nearly troubled Juve, but Giorgio Chiellini blocked Suarez’s diving header. Ultimately, it took brilliance from Messi – forced to beat at the minimum two players whenever he found space on the field – to create the game’s best chances.

The first opportunity involved a breathtaking reverse ball that bisected the Juve defence to play in Iniesta, but his poor finish witnessed Gianluigi Buffon push away the Spaniard’s attempt seconds prior to Dybala’s second goal. Frankly, Messi was involved in two other major chances in the second half that should’ve resulted in away goals.

First, a failed combination with Neymar led to the Argentine sliding a low effort inches wide of the far post. Then, Messi received the ball in a pocket of space to bamboozle Chiellini before playing in Suarez who rolled Bonucci, but fired his shot wide. Majority of Barca’s attacking play was bland and lethargic, and it’s surprising they failed to record an away goal given the several chances created through Messi’s greatness.

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Second Half

Enrique removed Mathieu at half time for Andre Gomes, meaning Mascherano moved to centre-back, Samuel Umtiti operated as a left-back and the Portuguese midfielder sat at the base ahead of the back-line. The tactical alteration ensured Barca had cover at left-back, and although Sergi Roberto still charged forward into midfield, Rakitic often moved to the right touchline to maintain width.

While the tactical shift slightly improved Barca’s shape, Juve’s best period of the second half – the build up to Chiellini’s third goal – witnessed Mandzukic charge down the left create another pull-back for Khedira, and Cuadrado also charging into the aforementioned space that led to an identical move where Higuain’s tame effort was easily handled by ter Stegen. Minutes later, a quick free-kick over the Barca defence should’ve sealed the match but Higuain’s preference to shoot rather than play the ball across goal to an unmarked Mandzukic led to another important ter Stegen save.

Barca dominated possession for majority of the match following Chiellini’s goal, while Juve maintained a deeper line and slowly turned to defensive options off the bench to secure the result. Enrique’s men still found pathways to goal via Suarez getting the better of Bonucci on numerous occasions, but largely through Messi finding space in midfield to create.

Conclusion

Juve were deserving winners, here, despite producing a far from perfect performance. Allegri exploited the systematic flaws in Enrique’s unorthodox XI by breaking into space in the channels, combined with the intelligent positioning and individual brilliance of Dybala – who scored two great goals and forced the away side into fouling him across the pitch.

Juve’s initial energetic pressing flustered Barca, and they took a commanding lead, protected key zones around their box for large spells to neutralize Barca’s key attackers in the final third. However, Barca’s poor set-up and Busquets’ suspension was also pivotal at full-time, along with poor finishing around the box as Messi created the two best chances of the match.

Allegri has been the victim of a second leg collapse at the Camp Nou in the past, and though a supreme performance from the Barca front three isn’t farcical, the experience of the Juve defence combined with their tactical discipline and organization suggests Barca may not have enough to turn the tie. Enrique may need more than the individual brilliance of his three star attackers to overcome this well-drilled Juventus side.

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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Barcelona’s identity crisis suggests “Messidependcia” lives

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Barcelona’s 1-1 El Clasico draw against Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid was perceived as a loss rather than one point gained. Though it may only be December – with more than half the season to play – Real’s six-point lead over their rivals is an assuring gap.

The Spanish champions’ recent rut includes four draws in five games, in which Enrique’s men have struggled to impose their authority on opponents and are simply devoid of attacking flair in the final third. In majority of these matches, the Catalan side’s attack was completely tame, and you could argue that in most scenarios, barring Lionel Messi’s brilliance, Barca were rather fortunate to avoid defeat.

The treble winning season witnessed Barca go on a tremendous run of form at the turn of the year that possibly coincided with Messi moving to the right so Luis Suarez could roam laterally into the channels to lead the line. Last year they broke away from the pack in the first half of the season, but suffered a losing streak in the spring – that included a Clasico defeat to Real and a Champions League exit by Atletico – and were ultimately rescued by Suarez’s glut of goals.

Perhaps the tactical periodization so heavily mentioned when many defended Barca’s poor form under Enrique is responsible for their slow start to the season, but stylistically, the issue seems more severe. Where you could once argue Barca possessed the best XI in world football, the fear of potential injuries encouraged the club to heavily bolster their depth over the summer.

The arrival of Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne, Andre Gomes, Samuel Umtiti, and Paco Alcacer provided depth in areas that Barca felt they risked vulnerability if injuries occurred. But where you can argue that the reigning Spanish champions have a better squad, Enrique’s men haven’t necessarily progressed.

Success is often the downfall for most football clubs because if you tinker with a winning side you risk tampering with the overall balance. Yet, when clubs opt to persist with the current squad or improve depth, they often experience regression as opponents identify ploys to negate their threat and equally evolve as well.

The issue many had highlighted during the early stages of Enrique’s tenure, but in terms of the club’s philosophy following the Guardiola era, the current Barcelona side still featuring Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets is drifting in a different direction. Enrique’s signings have been predominantly direct players opposed to legitimate ball treasurers, which was an integral trait in midfield during the Guardiola era.

In truth, it starts with their work-rate out of possession: the high intense pressing, and swarming counter-press in central areas is barely displayed. Dropping into two banks of four, Messi and Suarez have remained central – though they perform their fair share of closing opponents down from the front – but Barca retreat into their base shape, conceding ample space in central areas.

Elsewhere, as witnessed in the most recent draws at the Anoeta and Clasico, when Barca encounter heavy pressing, they no longer possess the personnel capable of retaining possession until the opposition tired. Simply marking Busquets out of the match deprives Barca of control in midfield, thus leaving the front trio isolated upfront and starved of service, whereas the option of Gomes, Arda Turan, Rafinha and to an extent Denis Suarez have been overrun and out-worked in central areas.

This was also witnessed in a comeback victory over Sevilla a few weeks prior, but Messi’s second half brilliance was pivotal to the eventual outcome. Messi was forced to drop deeper to spread possession, play penetrative passes in advanced positions, and ignite breaks with his dribbling, which resulted in a goal and game-winning assist from the Argentine.

Essentially it takes away from Pep Guardiola’s initial plan of keeping Messi within close proximity of the opposition’s goal, but the Argentine’s passing range prevents Barca from simply aiming to quickly play passes into the attacking trio’s feet. Talks of “Messidependcia” have decreased in recent years, but if Busquets’ influence is negated, Enrique’s Barca now seem heavily reliant on the 29-year-old.

Messi has scored 62 per-cent of Barcelona’s goals since defeating Manchester City at the Camp Nou in mid-October, and in many of those games he’s been the defining factor between wins and losses. Though Messi wasn’t at his best against Real, he was still involved in the club’s best moves and frankly should have won the game.

To be frank, that was the negative aspect of the Clasico result from a Barca perspective. Although they squandered two legitimate opportunities to secure maximum points, it took Iniesta’s return to slightly improve the entire dynamic of Barca’s play. The Spaniard is one of the few core players remaining from prior success, and though his game is heavily based on his swift dribbling, he still represents a calm presence in possession.

But Iniesta’s lack of consistency in terms of overall displays at the club level suggests that even his presence in the XI isn’t the definitive answer. Rakitic and Suarez’s poor form, the slight tweaks to Neymar’s role – that saw the Brazilian hug the touchline before cutting inwards – combined with the unrealistic demands on the new young summer signings to immediately adapt to the Barca style coincides with the current identity issue at Camp Nou.

Once renowned for their wonderful team play and built around a ball-retention philosophy, Enrique’s Barca transitioned into an individualistic side suffering in a broken system. Coincidentally, it’s rivals Real, that pride themselves in buying the best individuals under Florentino Perez, that now represents a pragmatic cohesive side under Zidane.

Real pressed the Barca midfield intelligently at the Camp Nou, and under the guidance of the magnificent Luka Modric they comfortably disrupted the hosts play and enjoyed positive moments on the counter. Even with several first-team players unavailable due to injury this season, and Cristiano Ronaldo possibly suffering from regression, Real have found ways to win games, whilst remaining compact and defensively resolute at the back.

Ironically, now, Real’s midfielders can control games though ball retention and pass their way to victories, along with still retaining the devastating frontline that can exploit the smallest errors on the counter-attack. In what’s clearly a hybrid of proactive and reactive football, the most important element to Zidane’s success involves keeping fringe players happy, and being able to count upon his entire roster to abide by the Frenchman’s pragmatism through tactical discipline.

Real Madrid haven’t been stellar this season, but unlike Barca, when playing poorly, they’ve found ways to win games. When key players were missing, and the youngsters filled their roles admirably, meanwhile at the Camp Nou it’s difficult to harp the same tune. Enrique’s tenure as Barca manager has been equally peculiar: despite claiming the treble in the first season and a league-cup double last year, the reigning champions have failed to perform well over the duration of a full season.

Losing integral players that understood what was once Barca’s default system – like Dani Alves, Xavi and Pedro – has essentially provided a stylistic dilemma, but equally placed additional workload on Messi, in particular. Where Enrique can’t be faulted for turning to youth, Messi’s brilliance won’t overshadow the issues at Camp Nou.

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The increasing concern on individualism amongst the front three and quick counters leaves Barca without a clear systematic approach. Perhaps Iniesta’s return and the eventual winter break can allow several Barca players to rediscover their optimum form to alleviate the pressure, but with Real representing possibly the most settled side in Europe – given the personnel – Enrique’s margin for error is slim.

Barca may have improved their depth this summer, but at the moment they simply aren’t performing as a cohesive unit under Enrique, and the reliance on Messi is reaching insurmountable levels.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2016 in 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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2 Guys and a MIKE – Premier League/FA Cup Podcast March 11th

Mike “the Mod” and Tyrrell Meertins briefly breakdown all the action that took place in the Premier League and the FA Cup this weekend.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Match in a sentence

It was a game of two halves that saw Manchester United dictate the first half, and Liverpool change their shape in the second half, to nearly earn a draw.

Analysis

  • Sir Alex Ferguson’s men lined up in a 4-4-2 with Danny Welbeck just behind Robin Van Persie, leaving Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa on the flanks. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand also started together because Jonny Evans was unavailable due to injury.
  • Brendan Rodgers opted for a 4-3-3 with a front three consisting of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Stewart Downing. Andre Wisdom was handed a start at right back and Daniel Sturridge started on the bench.
  • In the first half, Liverpool was having trouble getting into United’s final third and getting service into Luis Suarez. Liverpool was sitting in a 4-1-4-1 without the ball and Suarez found himself isolated around the United backline, who calmly dealt with the Uruguayan striker.
  • Along with lack of movement off the ball, United pressed Liverpool high up the pitch, which prevented Liverpool from playing out of the back with ease. It disrupted Liverpool’s attempt to play their fluid possession based football, and it forced them into several errors in their own third of the field.
  • United took the lead in the 19th minute when Patrice Evra drilled a ball into the box that Van Persie hit first time past Pepe Reina.
  • United could have been up by a few goals at half, but surprisingly only led by one. It’s not often that a two man midfield dominate a midfield three, but Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were able to do that in the first half. Joe Allen was unable to close down Carrick, Steven Gerrard was sitting too deep and it gave Cleverley the license to roam and complete passes at ease.

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  • Kagawa was also an important asset to Carrick and Cleverley because he’d often drift into central areas to provide a passing outlet for Carrick and Cleverley to dictate the game. Whenever Allen got near Carrick, Kagawa or the unmarked Cleverley were available outlets for the United midfielder. Carrick is at his best when he’s allowed time on the ball to spread passes around the field and Rodgers’ tactics benefitted Carrick.

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  • Rodgers changed Liverpool’s shape at half time and he went with a 4-2-3-1 introducing Sturridge for Lucas. Suarez played behind Sturridge and Gerrard and Allen were the two holding midfielders.
  • United doubled their lead courtesy of some poor marking from Glen Johnson, which allowed Evra’s header to bounce off Vidic and past Pepe Reina.
  • Minutes later we saw one of the effects of Rodgers’ tactical change. Gerrard dispossessed Michael Carrick and he took a shot that David De Gea stopped, but his rebound fell to Sturridge who scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool. Liverpool was now applying pressure to Cleverley and Carrick and they struggled to dictate the tempo of the match.

 

  • The change also allowed Suarez to become more involved in the game. He was able to pick up the ball in between the lines or in the midfield and run at the United defenders. With Sturridge pegging United deeper, it opened up space for Suarez that forced Carrick and Cleverley to sit deeper as well. Not only did it benefit Suarez, but also Gerrard was able to stamp his mark on the game.
  • The Sturridge and Suarez combination looked promising, as they were able to combine and pick each other out on several occasions. Unfortunately Liverpool was unable to find an equalizer through the two strikers. Ferguson noticed Suarez’ influence in the second half and brought on Phil Jones to monitor his movement and the space he was presented.
  • Rodgers got his tactics wrong in the first half, but made the required changes in the second half to nearly earn his side a valuable point. United were superior in the first half, but were unable to impose themselves in the second half as they looked nervous in the final 30 minutes of the match. Jose Mourinho was in the Old Trafford stands watching this clash, and I can assure you he left with a smile on his face. Nevertheless, United remain seven points clear at the top as they travel to White Hart Lane next week to play an in-form Spurs side that beat them at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Tyrrell Meertins 

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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Tyrrell’s EPL Weekend Recap – The Premier League is filled with abysmal defending

Weekend in 100 words or less

           Order looks to be restored in the Premier League as another weekend comes to an end. The pressure continues to mount on Nigel Adkins, Mark Hughes and Martin O’Neil as results continue to go the other way. Manchester United complete another remarkable comeback, City save it for late, Chelsea choke when it matters and Arsenal…. well they’re continuing to be Arsenal. It also must be said that defending overall, specifically from set pieces has been poor. In short, despite some diabolical defending, the two teams from Manchester are beginning to build their gap.

Analysis

  • 32 minutes of Hernandez completes another United comeback– Manchester United have been handed the ‘Comeback Kings’ title by their large fan base and this weekend they displayed why. United had the chance to go 4 points clear at the top when they visited Villa Park this weekend and Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a strong 4-2-3-1 with Paul Scholes returning into the XI. Paul Lambert’s Villa was a side with confidence after an impressive against Sunderland last weekend. Christian Benteke led the line, while the duo of Barry Bannan and Ashley Westwood, both 22 years of age sat deep in the midfield. As expected United dominated possession, but they were unable to carve open a resilient Villa side that sat narrow in a 4-5-1. United were spreading the ball to wide men Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia, but they were nullified by Villa fullbacks Matthew Lowton & Enda Stevens. Also Steve Ireland was performing his defensive duties as he kept Paul Scholes quiet in the first half. In the final moments of stoppage time Benteke pushed aside Chris Smalling and found Andreas Weimann who smashed his shot past David De Gea. Villa doubled their lead in the early in the second half when Rafael fell asleep, which allowed Weimann to tap in Gabriel Agbonlahor’s cross from two yards out. Ferguson took off Ashley Young at half for the in form Javier Hernandez, and boy did he deliver. Along with Robin Van Persie striking the crossbar twice in a minute, Hernandez scored two goals and created a Ron Vlaar own goal in 32 minutes. Villa’s young squad troubled United on many occasions, but they ran out of gas, and conceded three goals in 32 minutes thanks to some woeful defending. Hernandez has now scored seven goals in his last five Manchester United appearances, as the Red Devils remain top of the table.

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  • Dzeko does it again as Spurs concede late againLast year it was a Mario Balotelli spot kick at the death that sunk Spurs and their title hopes. This year it was Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko that saved City. It was Spurs who took the lead from a Steven Caulker header, as City conceded another goal this week from a set piece. City like United controlled the game, but was unable to find an equalizer. Mancini made a bold decision by introducing Maicon and going with a back 3. Not only was Maicon providing width and sending dangerous balls into the box, but it allowed David Silva and Yaya Toure space in the middle of the park. Ultimately City relied on two moments of individual brilliance, as Sergio Aguero equalized with a superb strike past Brad Friedel. Throughout the game City were caught offside as Spurs played a high line, their problem was they failed to get Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon into the game. Moussa Dembele was and still is dearly missed. With 3 minutes remaining, Silva played in an exquisite ball to Dzeko and he fired his shot in the roof of the Spurs goal. AVB’s Spurs concede in the final quarter of a game for the seventh time this season, and have lost three of their last four games. Dzeko scored his fifth goal of the season, four of them earned City three points. The win sees City climb the table as they sit one point behind their city rivals at the top of the table, and yes, they’re still UNDEFEATED!
  • The month of November is Chelsea’s kryptonite – Over the last three years the Blues have claimed 13 points from a possible 30 in November, as a Luis Suarez equalizer saw Chelsea drop two valuable points. Chelsea welcomed back captain John Terry into the XI as his four-match ban had been served. Brendan Rodger’s sidelined up in a 3-5-1-1 like they did in the second half against Everton. Luis Suarez & Raheem Sterling started upfront and Jamie Carragher made his first Premier league start this weekend. Rodgers’ tactical change had nullified Chelsea’s creativity, as Liverpool had most of the ball but they failed to penetrate the Chelsea backline. Chelsea took the lead from a Juan Mata free kick that Terry nodded home, courtesy of some awful defending from Daniel Agger. Unfortunately for Terry his night would come to an end, as the Chelsea captain was stretchered off the field when he collided with Suarez. Chelsea had the opportunity to double their lead at the end of the half when Mata was 1 on 1 with goalkeeper Brad Jones, but the Spanish international fired his shot over the net. Rodgers’ noticed his that his 3-5-1-1 wasn’t working going forward, so he reverted to a 4-2-3-1 by introducing Suso who replaced Sahin. Liverpool began to take a hold of the game and captain Steven Gerrard thrived in a deeper role. It was Suarez who equalized from a corner that Carragher flicked on to him and he nodded the ball into the net from two yards out. The game overall lacked quality, and Chelsea will rue the several chances they squandered as they now drop to third place. Liverpool will be content with the point as their second half performance was better. The formation change was key, as Liverpool was able to get the ball to Sterling, Enrique and Suso in positions where they can attack the Chelsea defenders. It also allowed Suarez more space to drift into, which gave Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic nightmares.

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  • Arsenal REALLY don’t like two goal leadsArsenal looked to bounce back to winning ways as they hosted Fulham in one of their many London derbies. With Wilshere suspended after being sent off at Old Trafford last week, Francis Coquelin played beside Arteta in a 4-3-3. Fulham lined up in a 4-4-2 with Bryan Ruiz playing off of Dimitar Berbatov. Like they did away to Shalke midweek, Arsenal took a two-goal lead when Olivier Giroud and Lucas Podolski found the back of the net. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Martin Jol’s side knows how to score goals, and so they did. Arsenal conceded another set piece from a Berbatov header, and then Fulham equalized minutes later, as Berbatov crossed a ball to the unmarked sub Alexander Kacaniklic who headed the ball down past Vito Mannone. Arsenal’s problems got worse in the second half as Mikel Arteta was dispossessed by Bryan Ruiz and then brought Ruiz down which forced referee Phil Dowd to award a penalty. Berbatov calmly converted his penalty and Arsenal found them behind. Giroud saved Arsenal from a disaster as he headed home his second of the night from a Theo Walcott cross. Controversy loomed in injury time as referee Phil Dowd awarded Arsenal a penalty when Andrei Arshavin’s shot hit Chris Baird’s arm. Arteta stepped up and had his penalty saved by Mark Schwarzer to end the game. It’s Arsenal’s worst start to the Premier League season as they’ve picked up 16 points from 11 games. Along with poor defending, Ruiz and Berbatov dropping deep caused Arsenal problems throughout the game. They were provided an extra passing outlet, and Arsenal was unable to contain them. Fulham continue to score goals for fun, and Ruiz did a great job marking Arteta out of the game. 

Observations 

  • Steve Clarke continues to impress as West Brom defeated Wigan 2-1 at the DW stadium. Clarke’s men stay in fifth place and seven points away from the top of the table. They’re bound for a dip in form at some point this season, but Clarke has shown that he’s capable to coach at this level. They play some great football at home and they know how to win on the road. The objective this year apart from survival is Europa league football, and the Baggies look more than able of achieving their goals.
  • Southampton is going down? Well they still have time to turn things around but Nigel Adkins might not be the man to keep them safe. The Saints hosted Swansea over the weekend, and despite the numerous chances they created, the Saints failed to pick up three points. Swansea was far from their best, but Laudrup’s introduction of Nathan Dyer paid off as he dispossessed Maya Yoshida in his third of the field and equalized. It was two massive points dropped from the Saints, and even when they’re playing well, they can’t seem to keep the ball out of the net.
  • Everton scored two goals in three minutes, as they came from behind to defeat Sunderland at Goodison Park. Marouane Fellaini was the heartbeat of the comeback with his superb strike, and cheeky back heel assist to Nikita Jelavic as the Toffees stay in the top four for another week. The Toffees have lost once in 2012 in the Premier League, where as Sunderland have not won on the road since February. On the bright side, someone other than Steven Fletcher scored for the Black Cats. Oh, and Martin O’Neil’s days are numbered.
  • Remember Charlie Adam? His goal gave Stoke City a narrow 1-0 victory against QPR. Stoke City snapped a 4 game winless streak, thanks to some diabolical QPR defending from a setpiece Apart from the result, the real question is, will QPR win a game this season?
  • Former Newcastle captain Kevin Nolan haunted his old side as his first half goal gave West Ham a 1-0 victory over the Toon. West Ham now move into sixth in the table, whereas Newcastle continue to struggle to create goals.
  • Reading & Norwich drew 0-0 this weekend, and I respect those who took the time to watch these two sides play. 

Weekend Stats

  • David Moyes’ took charge of his 400th ‪EPL match – the 4th manager to reach this milestone after Ferguson, Wenger & Redknapp
  • Charlie Adam scored his first goal for Stoke, and first ‪EPL goal in 13 months since netting for Liverpool at West Brom in October 2011.
  • Arsenal has missed 5 of their last 10 ‪EPL penalties for a 50% conversion rate. The average league-wide conversion rate is 75% ‪EPL
  • Paul Scholes was a fresh-faced 20-year-old when ‪Manchester United last lost at Villa Park in the league. He also starts this game.
  • Robin van Persie has scored 122 goals in 153 games for club & country since Jan 1 2010 and 56 in his last 65 league games
  • Manchester United has scored 8 goals from headers this season in the PL, most of all teams. Seven different players scored these 8 goals.
  • John Terry scored his 50th goal for Chelsea in all competitions.
  • Six of Edin Dzeko’s seven official goals for Manchester City this season have come after coming on as a substitute. It was also his 11th EPL goal as substitute.

Top 5 Players of the weekend

1. Javier Hernandez

2. Marouane Fellaini

3. Dimitar Berbatov

4. Bryan Ruiz

5. Olivier Giroud

Goal of the week

http://www.101greatgoals.com/gvideos/nikica-jelavic-everton-2-1-v-sunderland/

That was the action in the Premier League this weekend. Hopefully you all enjoyed it more than I did.

Cheers!

Follow Me @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in EPL Notebook

 

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Tyrrell’s EPL Weekend Recap – A weekend filled with reminders

Weekend in 100 words or less

As the Premier League kicked into November, many questions that we’ve been asking over the past months were unveiled. Luis Suarez reminded everyone that he is a world-class striker, We were reminded that Arsenal is a good team, but they’re not a great team and Manchester United reminded us why they’re the most successful team in the Premier League era. Over the years we’ve learned to never count Fergie out no matter how big the task is. And even though it’s as early as November, Fergie’s side that’s been plagued by defensive injuries sit top of the Premier League.

Analysis

  • Manchester United back where they belong? – Manchester United had the opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours if they picked up a victory against Arsenal at Old Trafford. Both teams’ named unchanged sides from last weekend, which saw them both pick up points against Chelsea and QPR. United in a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney behind Van Persie and Young/Valencia providing width. Arsenal looked to be sitting in a 4-5-1 that throughout the game became a 4-1-4-1. Unfortunately for Arsenal, an early defensive lapse from captain Thomas Vermaelen allowed former Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie to give Manchester Unitd the lead. As they did against Chelsea, United intended on attacking down Arsenal’s left side in hopes of exposing Andre Santos. In terms of quality the game was quite poor, teams were misplacing passes, the tempo was slow, and the play in the final third was dismal. Arsenal like they did at City and Liverpool were looking to sit deep and hit on the counter, but the problem was they had no outlet in Cazorla to hit as he sat deeper. Arsenal were handed a lifeline later in the half as Cazorla’s handball gave Manchester United a penalty, that Wayne Rooney missed. Arsenal brought on Walcott for Ramsey and Cazorla pushed higher up the pitch, but despite their improved performance they fell victim to another set piece goal in a big game courtesy of a Patrice Evra header. Arsenal was down and the knockout blow was given when Jack Wilshere was sent off for receiving his second yellow card. What made this interesting was the fact that both Wilshere and Tom Cleverley were on yellow cards, but Ferguson took off Cleverley whereas Wenger kept Wilshere on. Although there was no adequate replacement for Wilshere, his sending off made Ferguson look like a genius. Cazorla bagged a late goal as a consolation in a game that didn’t live up to its heights. Clinical finishing at key moments won the game for United and Rooney doing a fantastic job pressuring Mikel Arteta prevented Arsenal from playing. Arsenal continues to show why they’re not title contenders and they’re backing of Wenger display their lack of ambition. Whereas Manchester United continues to pick up points and despite the issues they have in the middle and back, sit top of the Premier League. They now have winnable games against Aston Villa, Norwich, QPR, West Ham and Reading, before travelling to the Ethiad. There’s a good chance we might see Manchester United walking into the Ethiad full of confidence, healthy and a few points ahead at the top of the table. Scary!
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Mikel Arteta received the lowest amount of passes this season thanks to Wayne Rooney’s man marking

  • Chelsea concedes late again – Chelsea handed Oriol Romeu, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses there first starts this season, as they travelled to the Liberty Stadium. Both sides opted to sit in 4-2-3-1 setups, and Chelsea were unable to pickup all three points as Pablo Hernandez late strike earned the Wales side a point. Oscar particularly, found it difficult to drive down the middle as “Swanselona” sat narrow and were compact. Chelsea threatened from wide areas through Moses and Hazard, and set pieces through Cahill, who eventually headed a corner onto Moses head and in the back of the net. Swansea looked dangerous on the counter, constantly troubling Chelsea’s backline and their buildup play was superb, but they lacked finish and the final pass. Fernando Torres was once again decent, but he continued to show his lack of confidence and he had a few chances that he should’ve shot but opted to pass. Overall it was a fair result, and Swansea continue to inflict damage on the top teams and displayed no side will fancy their trip to the Liberty. Chelsea, who has been decent away from home weren’t ruthless and now find themselves one point behind Manchester United. Luckily for the Blues they welcome back John Terry as they welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge next weekend.
  • Unbeaten City settle for a point – Mancini tinkered with his formation this weekend again going with a 4-3-3, which saw Carlos Tevez at the top, and Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli on the flanks. Kolo Toure also made his first Premier League start of the season for the champions who failed to break down an organized West Ham side at Upton Park. Yet again, a referee made an error that would’ve changed the entire game. Kevin Nolan’s early goal was ruled offside, but replays showed us different. City was much better on the road this weekend but the likes of Mario Balotelli squandered several opportunities. Sergio Aguero being on the bench and David Silva injured could’ve made a difference in a game where City were unable to find a break through. City stay unbeaten this season but failed to go joint top of the table with rivals Manchester United. All focus is on their massive Champions League encounter with Ajax this week as they need to win out all three-group games remaining to advance to the knockout round. Their schedule consists of games against Dortmund, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in the following weeks, so Mancini’s men need to get their act together, for Mancini’s sake.
  • The battle of the winless didn’t provide a winner – Both QPR and Reading needed to record their first wins of the season but neither had that extra bit of quality to claim a winner. It was former QPR defender Kaspar Gorkss who opened the scoring as QPR failed to clear their lines and conceded another goal from a set piece. Initially it was a 4-4-2 clash, and QPR seemed to threaten a bit more, as wingers Adel Taarabt and Junior Hoilett were tucking in between the lines and overloading the midfield, in which they took multiple shots from 20 yards out. Reading manager Brian McDermott fielded a 4-5-1 in the second half, as he wanted to occupy the space provided in between the lines. This allowed Jose Bosingwa to get forward and provide the width QPR lacked in the first half, and also resulted in a goal. Bosingwa bombed down the right flank and crossed in a ball to Djibril Cisse, who followed his decent first touch and placed the ball past Alex McCarthy. QPR enjoyed a bulk of the possession for the rest of the half and missed several opportunities to win the game. Reading apart from troubling the Rangers from set-pieces rarely threatened and if it wasn’t for McCarthy making several key saves, the result could’ve gone in QPR’s favour. Neither team made a legitimate case as to why they deserved their win and a point apiece leaves both sides in the relegation zone, where they arguably belong based on performances.
  • Liverpool play long ball and football – Brendan Rodger’s side were desperate for a home win against Newcastle but instead they ended up sharing points at Anfield. Liverpool was in more of a 4-2-3-1 this weekend, as Raheem Sterling and Suso were more central behind Luis Suarez allowing the fullbacks to get forward. Nuri Sahin was in an advanced role as Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen sat deep. Newcastle lined up in a 4-3-3 with Demba Ba leading the line and Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa out on the flanks. Liverpool for the most part was the better side, the pace from Suso and Sterling and Luis Suarez roaming around the final third always looked dangerous. Despite dominating possession and moving the ball quickly, Liverpool failed to create good goal scoring opportunities. Newcastle took the lead with their first legitimate break on net as Ben Arfa did well to skip past Jose Enrique and cross in a ball to Yohan Cabaye at the far post. Cabaye’s first touch was marvelous and his finish was even better. It was quite absurd how Newcastle, who was far from impressive, led this game. Both teams made personnel changes, but it didn’t involve their shape. Liverpool’s equalizer came from nothing as Enrique played a wonderful long ball into Suarez, and the Uruguayan displayed his sublime skill as he took three touches of class to brush off Fabricio Coloccini and get past goalkeeper Tim Krul to tuck the ball into the net. Suarez was magnificent on the night dropping deep, beating defenders one on one, dragging defenders out of position and the goal was class. Suarez frustrated Coloccini all night, which led to his sending off after a high challenge on the back of Suarez’ leg. Liverpool failed to nick a winner against 10 men Newcastle and will have to settle for another two points dropped in a game they should’ve won. Alan Pardew will be pleased with a point, as his men didn’t offer much going forward. Liverpool clearly needs a player who can put the ball in the net because an injury to Luis Suarez would be a massive blow. Despite controlling possession they still fail to create enough goal scoring opportunities and if this tiki-taka approach is for the future, Rodgers needs to find ways get goals from it, and FAST.

Observations

  • Boos were heard around White Hart Lane as a Ben Watson winner gave Wigan a 1-0 victory over Spurs. AVB will not be a happy man suffering two straight home losses, but he’s not the only one that’s unhappy. Spurs fans and Jermaine Defoe let AVB know how they felt as Defoe stormed straight to the tunnel after being subbed off. With a November fixture list that include matches against Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, it’s fair to say that AVB will be the subject of criticism if he fails to get results.
  • Everton somehow failed to pick up all three points after a great performance that saw the Toffees dominate Fulham at Craven Cottage. Kevin Mirallas again was superb and a Marouane Fellaini brace seemed to be enough. Unfortunately, for the Toffees. Seamus Coleman failed to pick up Steve Sidwell who equalized at the death courtesy of a Sascha Riether cross. David Moyes will be upset that his side conceded late, but also with their finishing in front of goal (cough cough Nikita Jelavic).

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  • Bradley Johnson’s goal just before half time gave Norwich a 1-0 victory against Stoke City. The Canaries are now unbeaten in their last 4 matches in all competitions. Chris Hughton’s men are now 5 points clear of the relegation zone after a rough start to their campaign.
  • A second half Gabriel Agbonlahor strike gave Aston Villa their second win of the season against Sunderland. Villa was worthy winners on the day, and the midfield duo of Barry Bannan & Ashley Westwood took advantage of the space awarded to them. This allowed Villa to dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game.
  • It was another poor performance from the Black Cats who were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by npower Championship side Middlesborough midweek. They’ve only won one game this season against Wigan, and they’re struggling to score goals as teams are easily isolating Steven Fletcher. Martin O’Neil is walking a tightrope and his fate might be sealed soon if results don’t change.

Weekend Stats

  • RVP (3′) equaled the fastest goal ever in this fixture in PL era – Dwight Yorke in 2001.
  • Wayne Rooney has now missed 7 of his 20 PL penalties. NOT GOOD ENOUGH
  • Robin van Persie has now scored against ALL current PL clubs. Only one other player has done this – Yakubu
  • Tottenham suffered back-to-back PL home defeats for the first time since May to September 2008, when they lost three in a row.
  • Kaspar Gorkss became the second Latvian to score in the PL after Pahars, who scored 42 for Southampton between 1999-2004.
  • Steven Gerrard plays his 600th match for Liverpool, becoming the 10th player to reach this milestone for the Reds.
  • ‪Liverpool will end 2012 with their lowest amount of PL wins at Anfield in a calendar year (now 3). Even if they win all four of remaining PL home matches.
  • Gabby Agbonlahor ended a run of 28 PL matches without a goal, netting his first since ‪Villa 3-2 home win vs Norwich on Nov 5, 2011 

Top 5 Players of the weekend 

  1. Luis Suarez
  2.  Wayne Rooney  
  3. Kevin Mirallas   
  4. Marouane Fellaini  
  5. Alex McCarthy

Goal of the week

That was this weekends EPL recap. Stay posted to my blog for stories throughout the week.

Cheers!

Follow Me @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in EPL Notebook

 

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