ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the best of the midweek Premier League action...
Shortly before the final whistle in Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Arsenal on Sunday afternoon, the Etihad Stadium’s PA system announced Samir Nasri as the man of the match.
It was a slightly surprising choice – there had been other much more impressive performers in the game, and was probably intended as more of a symbolic gesture in a match where he was up against his former club.
It is interesting to compare his passing in that game with the last time he played against City in an Arsenal shirt. He starts on the left in both games – in his Arsenal days he drifts into central positions more and sometimes across to the other side, but at City he plays on either flank, rarely making passes from central zones.
It’s also noticeable how many more passes he plays into the box with City – at Arsenal, he tried to play much shorter passes through the centre, and he gave the ball away nearly twice as often as he did in the reverse fixture back in January.
Despite this, of all the players to have featured in 10 or more Premier League matches so far this season, only three – Leon Britton, John Terry and John Obi Mikel – have a better pass completion rate than Nasri. That reliability in possession will come in handy against Stoke, to prevent them getting the ball and launching it forward.
Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia has been back to his old self in the past couple of games, grabbing four assists in the victories against Wolves and QPR – before those two games, he hadn’t contributed an assist all season.
It remains to be seen whether Valencia starts against Fulham this week – it’s rare for Sir Alex Ferguson to name the same side in two consecutive games, let alone three consecutive games – but he would be wise to pick the on-form Valencia, which would make for a powerful battle against John Arne Riise in Fulham’s left-back zone.
Wigan rarely pick up good results against the big sides, but it was no surprise that when they did at the weekend – when a late Jordi Gomez equaliser rescued a point against Chelsea – a good midfield performance from James McCarthy was one of the main reasons.
Wigan actually outpassed Chelsea in that match, with McCarthy completing more passes than any other player. He’ll aim to do something similar this week against a Liverpool side without their most reliable passer, Lucas Leiva.
McCarthy forms a good central midfield partnership with David Jones, who has an even better pass completion rate. As a result, Wigan have the seventh-highest pass completion rate in the league – one place above their opponents this week.
Without Aaron Lennon for this week’s match with Chelsea, Harry Redknapp might be forced to deploy Rafael van der Vaart on the right flank, the solution he opted for after Lennon’s injury against Sunderland on Sunday.
Though van der Vaart went to the right, as shown by the positions he gets the ball in, he essentially plays the same game as when he plays behind a main striker – moving into the centre of the pitch and trying to thread direct passes through the defence. Against Sunderland, Tottenham had neither Lennon nor Gareth Bale, so the goal predictably came from a Van der Vaart straight pass.
It will be interesting to see how Chelsea look to contain the Dutchman, if he starts on the right. Usually Ashley Cole is involved in a straight battle of pace against Lennon, but here he’ll have to make a decision about how far to track van der Vaart, before handing him over to Oriel Romeu, guarding the zone in front of the defence.
Stats Zone, the app from FourFourTwo powered by data from Opta, is available now at the iTunes App Store
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