ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the big weekend fixtures...
In 2010, Stoke and Blackburn clashed at the Britannia in a match featuring the fewest number of passes in a Premier League match for years. Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce ordered their side to play long ball football, and both sides were pretty good at it, having the right type of players to make that style work.
They meet again this weekend, and we can expect something broadly similar. Blackburn sacked Allardyce and promoted Steve Kean in search of "good football"; although the Scotsman's style is not so route one, goalkeeper Paul Robinson retains his habit of booting the ball downfield as far as possible.
That’s also exactly what Stoke’s goalkeeper, whether Asmir Begovic or Thomas Sorensen, does. But whilst Blackburn have tried to move away from the idea of having a pure target man upfront, Stoke have brought in the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch to help win aerial balls.
The result is that Stoke’s goal kicks are long but generally find a teammate, whilst Blackburn’s are long and usually unsuccessful. Robinson has the unwelcome distinction of the worst pass completion rate for any player in Europe’s five major leagues.
The way to play against Manchester City, as Napoli showed in midweek, is to sit deep, allow them to have the ball at the back, soak up pressure, and then break quickly. City may have plenty of pure attacking options, but they lack a deep-lying playmaker and do not possess centre-backs who can step out of the back and prompt attacks themselves.
On Sunday at Anfield it will be interesting to see how Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish instructs his side to play without the ball. A notable feature of his side this season has been the willingness to close down from the front: the three attackers he used away at Chelsea last week: Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez, are all willing chasers. Will he maintain this pressing style, or sit deeper?
At Chelsea, Liverpool looked to get Suarez closing down right-sided centre-back David Luiz, leaving left-sided centre-back John Terry free (while Bellamy dropped on Jon Obi Mikel). It should probably be the opposite approach against City, however – as the passes in Naples demonstrate, Vincent Kompany simply knocks the ball across the defence, whilst Joleon Lescott tries to play more incisive passes.
Charlie Adam’s good display – and excellent late assist for Glen Johnson – at Stamford Bridge came despite some extremely poorly taken corners. When trying to whip the ball in left-footed from the right, more than once the delivery was cleared off the ground by the defender guarding the zone at the near post.
The diagram of Adam’s 12 corners across his last two matches makes for interesting viewing. First, there is a clear difference between where inswinging (from the right) and outswinging (from the left) corners are played to. The former are fired into the six-yard box, the latter are into a space between the six-yard box and the penalty spot. That would be expected – indeed, it’s entirely natural – but it’s interesting how marked the contrast is.
Second, and more importantly, the four outswinging corners find a teammate 75% of the time, whilst opponent cleared all eight inswinging corners. Whilst his deliveries from the left seem to be drifted in, his deliveries from the right are fired in – less likely to find a teammate, but probably with more chance of ending up in the net if it does.
Finally, after Newcastle’s unbeaten record ended at Manchester City last weekend, now they must return to the same city to take on Manchester United.
Their previously impressive defence fell apart against City; despite the leaders having more possession, Newcastle made fewer tackles, fewer interceptions, and only won 25% of aerial duels.
Their defending was distinctly last-ditch. This was summed up by Steven Taylor, who didn’t make a single successful tackle in the game, but did make five blocks – sadly, none required his legendary acting skills.
Stats Zone, the app from FourFourTwo powered by data from Opta, is available now at the iTunes App Store
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