ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the best of the weekend's Premier League action...
Andre Villas-Boas had just 27 league games in charge of Chelsea, starting with an away draw at Stoke and ending with an away defeat to West Brom. What changed in that time?
Tactically, plenty of things. Chelsea stopped playing with such a high defensive line, they no longer rotated the midfield triangle and they started to move away from the 4-3-3 formation Villas-Boas favoured at Porto, and shifted towards more of a functional 4-2-3-1.
Amother noticeable difference between Villas Boas’ first and final games in charge is the number of times Chelsea attempted to dribble past opponents. They tried it 38 times against Stoke, and just 15 times against West Brom. This could be explained a number of ways – less possession, less confidence, less skill – but ultimately it shows that Villas-Boas’ philosophy had been watered down significantly by the time of his departure. It will be interesting to see the figures from this weekend’s home clash with Stoke, under new boss Roberto Di Matteo.
Sunday afternoon’s match at the Liberty Stadium sees the battle of the Premier League’s best two passers – depending on which statistical measure you take.
Swansea’s Leon Britton has the highest pass completion rate in the league at a highly impressive 93%, while Manchester City’s Yaya Toure completes more passes per game than any other player, with an average of 79.7.
The difference is demonstrated by the comparison of their last home game – Toure marauds around the pitch and sees plenty of the ball, but sometimes concedes possession with forward passes. Britton, however, is much more static and generally plays short sideways balls.
Louis Saha will return to Goodison Park this weekend for the first time since his surprise January move from Everton to Tottenham. He’s not guaranteed a start, though – Harry Redknapp has started with two upfront in his last two games, but this has resulted in heavy defeats to Arsenal (5-2) and Manchester United (3-1), so he may move back to one upfront.
Saha managed to score twice in his first start for Tottenham against another of his old clubs, Newcastle United. That was more than he’d scored in 18 league appearances for Everton this season, and Everton fans may have wondered where Saha’s sudden goalscoring form came from.
But there’s no real secret to the sudden success – Saha was simply receiving the ball plenty of times in goalscoring positions, which didn’t happen once in his final game for Everton.
Wolves against Blackburn is a classic relegation six-pointer, with the clubs straddling the relegation zone in 18th and 17th place respectively, level on 22 points and separated by four on goal difference.
They have something else in common – no other sides in the league have such a preference for playing down the left flank. Wolves play 42% of passes down the left compared to 32% on the right, while Blackburn’s figures are 38% on the left, and 28% on the right.
This may seem a fairly obscure statistic, but the pattern is obvious when looking at the positions the two sides entered the final third in their previous matches. As a result, the most important players in this game might be the two right-backs – Wolves’ Ronald Zubar and Blackburn’s Jason Lowe.
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