Monday, 28 October 2013

This Weekend In The Premier League

Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal

Flamini is very important and Gnabry is very good.

Last week against Norwich Mathieu Flamini was taken off injured and Arsenal lost control of the midfield. This prompted the realisation that Flamini, and none of the stars further up the pitch may just be their most important player. This theory gained further credibility over the weekend. The Frenchman suffered rotten luck again and limped off after just 9 minutes. Aaron Ramsey took up his role in the centre of Arsenal's midfield alongside Arteta. Ramsey is a fantastic footballer, one who has come a long way in the past twelve months but in terms of defensive work rate and tenacity he does not bring to the team what Flamini does. Ramsey is a box to box midfielder. Flamini, a pure defensive workhorse.

Arsenal v Palace

Serge Gnabry was Flamini's replacement, he played very well on the right wing. He's unique among the galaxy of attacking midfielders at Wenger's disposal is that he's a pacy winger as opposed to a number ten. Walcott aside, the rest of them are rather similar. Advanced playmakers. A very good plan B to have if they are ever struggling to break a team down.

Palace played a pure containment game with a very narrow defensive line, and Bannon and Thomas doubling up as wing backs. I don't even know why Marouane Chamakh was allowed play but he was involved in probably the harshest red card of the season for Arteta. Palace had the man advantage for most of the second half but were so far adrift in terms of ability, it was really not that significant. They are one of the worst Premier League teams I've seen in a good few years. Perhaps since Wolves in 2011/12 or Burnley in 2009/10.

Man United 3-2 Stoke

Backs against forwards.United still have no midfield

United finally got the bit of luck they were due. The way things have been going recently it would not have been a surprise to see Stoke hold out for the win or even a draw but like many teams who came to Old Trafford during the Ferguson days, their resistance was broken late on.

United lined-up with Kagawa on the left again. I still think he's wasted out there although he was heavily involved in the game, his link-ups with Patrice Evra in particular have been important for United recently. On the opposite flank, Nani contributed very little. United have always used wingers, have always been a crossing team and this shows no signs of changing under Moyes.

United vs Stoke

Ironically, given the massive height advantage the Stoke defenders have, it was three crosses and three headers that led to the United goals. Nani's sole significant contribution was a perfect ball onto the head of Rooney who's attempt rebounded to van Persie. The second equaliser came from a corner and the third a cross from Evra.

This was essentially an attack versus defence exercise. Stoke were leading for virtually the whole game up until the 80th minute and were content to sit back on this. United's biggest weakness was in midfield. Jones and Evans were suspect again and they need to do a lot better but they are being exposed all too often by a lack of any real substance in midfield. Fellaini hasn't done it so far. Cleverley was given a golden chance on Saturday to put his name back on the first choice team-sheet but let the game pass him by for the most part. He didn't win a single challenge for the whole game. At the big teams, centre midfielders need to take games by the scruff of the neck and dominate them. Yaya Toure does this. Aaron Ramsey too. United need this.

Southampton 2-0 Fulham

Southampton are the Barcelona of the Premier League.

Southampton have become the best team to watch in the Premier League right now and their excellent form continued on Saturday as they brushed Fulham aside with ease. Going forward they play with such pace and fluidity it's incredible to watch at times. They completed nearly three times as many passes as Fulham. The way they like to play out from the back was emphasised by the sixty passes shared between the triangle of Boruc, Fonte and Lovren.

They play a 4-2-3-1 formation. Wanyama and Schneiderlin are the two holding midfielders in the middle of the park. These two play a supporting game for those further up the pitch and rarely look to get forward into the box. Their lack of presence is made up for by two dynamic young full backs in Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw. Both love to attack down the flanks and join pretty much every Southampton attack. Adam Lallana was brilliant as he has been quite often lately. And Lambert started in place of Osvaldo, doing his chances no harm with a goal and an assist.

"Ricky Lambert.. He's going to Brazil!" Is what fans at St Marys were singing on Saturday. He should do. And he shouldn't be Southampton's only representative in the England squad in my opinion.

Chelsea 2-1 Man City

A tactical victory for Mourinho

I predicted before the game that both managers would adopt a cautious approach going into this game in the hope of avoid defeating and I wasn't totally wrong although I can't say I expected the game to be as it was.

Jose was a bit more adventurous than I had anticipated. He played a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation with Schurrle and Hazard as his two wingers, joining Fernando Torres in attack. The aim was to sit back and utilize the pace of these to catch City on the counter attack when they pressed men forward. Juan Mata was left out again. The harsh reality is that despite being an excellent footballer, he just doesn't fit into Mourinho's system at all and his days at Stamford Bridge may be numbered, especially if he continues to miss out on games like these. Samuel Eto'o and his lack of place were are also not desirable when playing counter attack football. They executed their game-plan very well. Hazard had a fine game. Torres will get the plaudits however, he gave a very energetic performance and finished with a goal and an assist.

Pellegrini left Negredo out of the side in favour of another defensive midfielder. Javi Garcia was brought in to play the holding role. Fernandinho retained his place but was given a bit more freedom to get forward at times. Yaya played his usual role. Pellegrini also went for Nasri and Silva as his wide players. He selected  a side that would control possession in midfield. Unfortunately this played right into Chelsea's hands. The home side were content to let City have the ball in front of them and hit them on the break whenever they got the chance.

Chelsea vs City

It was a big risk giving Demichelis his debut on an occasion like this. He did look rusty at times. It's always very obvious when a centre half pairing hasn't played together before. There was a clear lack of positional understanding between him and Nastasic in the opening half of the game. It is worrying for them how reliant they are on Vincent Kompany in defence.

In the end, the result was decided by a disastrous mix-up between Hart and Nastasic which led to Torres grabbing a winner that his efforts deserved. Joe Hart seems to make so much more mistakes than any other top rung keeper. It will be interesting to see how long Pellegrini can justify picking him for. His mistake on Sunday has led to a three point swing between these two title chasers which could prove crucial come the end of the season.

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