EPL Gameweek 29: Man City 1-1 Liverpool

Premier League logoThe race to qualify for next season’s Champions League provided Man City with an opportunity to respond to last Wednesday’s elimination from the same competition. Manager, Pep Guardiola, said he failed to convince his players that attack was the best approach and it wasn’t until the second-half that they started to play with more conviction. That ploy extended to virtually the entirety of this entertaining contest as both sides tried to outpunch one another. 

Fernandinho deputised at right-back as Yaya Touré returned to form an attacking 4-1-4-1 formation. The creativity of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in centre midfield would adjust Liverpool’s midfield from a staggered three to a more structured two-one. 

Liverpool’s only change from last week’s win at home to Burnley was the return of Roberto Firmino as Divock Origi dropped to the bench. The Brazilian is a firm favourite of Jürgen Klopp’s, largely due to his pressing and movement which has seen him rank among the top strikers in Europe for chances created, tackles, sprints and distance covered.

With Guardiola’s teams preferring to play out from the back, Klopp and co looked to selectively deploy the famous gegenpress and claim a fifth straight league win against the blue side of Manchester.


Sparring to Swinging
There were similarities to the Manchester derby in September. That game saw Man City come flying out of the blocks with the contest opening up as time passed until both sides showed clear signs of fatigue by the end. 

The key difference on Sunday was that City couldn’t find a breakthrough nor test Simon Mignolet in goal. The Citizens saw many dangerous low-crosses get cleared to safety, once via a foul that wasn’t easy to see during real-time.

Liverpool grew into the contest and began to test Willy Caballero in goal through Firmino and Adam Lallana.

But it was the second half that saw some serious exchanging of swings. Triggered by James Milner’s opener from a correctly awarded penalty just five-minutes into the half, both teams provided the epitome of end-to-end football by exploiting each other’s spaces at speed.

Managers’ adjustments
Klopp’s men were picky with their press, but it was Guardiola key changes that changed the tie. The Spaniard had no choice but to replace the legless Touré on 65 minutes as he essentially reduced the hosts to 10-men. But it was shifting the out of form De Bruyne to the right-wing that provided City with a second wind. This enabled the Belgian to do what he’s arguably best at and supply dangerous crosses from wide.

It was his teasing ball into the box from which Aguero equalised, five-minutes after Touré was replaced. De Bruyne’s first touch allowed him to release the cross before Milner could close down the angle.

Big opportunities
In the first-period, both sides had claims for a penalty with City’s the more convincing, while Liverpool found the target with their efforts. Joel Matip was denied a goal by John Stones’ last-ditch block as the Reds gained a stronger foothold in the game. 

The second-half saw Caballero deny Firmino what would have doubled the visitors advantage. With the scores level, Aguero stumbled at the wrong moment before De Bruyne struck the outside of the post while Lallana missed a golden chance to cap a fine move and take the lead with 10-minutes remaining.

There was still time for Sterling to lift the ball wide of Mignolet’s goal and Aguero to side-foot a far-post volley over the target in the dying moments as both sides squandered clear chances.



Strong performers
Two of the more impressive displays came from Man City’s Stones and Liverpool’s Emre Can. Both attacks did well until the finish but these players stood out for different reasons.

Stones had the second most passes (65/69) in the match but best pass completion (94.2%). He was joint-second for interceptions (two) and top for blocks, preventing two dangerous attempts at goal.

During the post-match press conference, Guardiola was hailing the cojones shown by the former Everton defender as he often received balls deep in his half to help create space for the pivot (Touré) in midfield.

The only blemish in his performance was the under hit back pass that allowed Mané to beat Ottamendi. 


Stones and Ottamendi stood either side of the area while Touré or De Bruyne came short. This put pressure on their ball skills with Liverpool’s four ready to pounce.

Can completed the most passes for his side (34/41) while also finishing joint-second for interceptions. The German suffered the joint-third most fouls (three) and provided the diagonal ball from which Firmino was fouled for the penalty.


Corresponding fixture comparison
Most notably, there were far more attempts at goal at the Etihad stadium than Anfield. While the total on New Year’s Eve was just 14, both teams managed 13 each on Sunday. Only some wasteful finishing saw the game finish with just two goals. 

In terms of possession and number of passes, there’s little difference between both games. However, the pass completion did improve the second time around.

Liverpool had a similar approach in both matches which went against their season average of 588.3 passes per game and 57.9% possession, both of which are only second to Man City (593 and 60.7%).

Playing over 200 passes fewer than usual meant Klopp’s men attacked at a faster pace which was evident in the second-half. This tactic requires patience without the ball rather than in possession as the Reds have experienced against the likes of Burnley.

City, and in particular, Touré, looked dead on their feet as Liverpool went in search of a second. But Guardiola’s substitution and rotation of players boosted his side who finished stronger despite continuing to leave gaps behind their defence. 

Given the quality and quantity of chances/opportunities, the draw was a fair result. Neither side deserved to lose after committing such effort in pursuit of victory.

After the international break, the big games don’t stop as Man City travel to Arsenal while Liverpool prepare for a Merseyside derby at home to seventh-placed, Everton. Let’s hope the race for the top four will be as exhilarating as this encounter.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 29):
West Brom 3-1 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
Everton 4-0 Hull
Stoke 1-2 Chelsea
Sunderland 0-0 Burnley
West Ham 2-3 Leicester
Bournemouth 2-0 Swansea
Middlesbrough 1-3 Man Utd
Tottenham 2-1 Southampton
Man City 1-1 Liverpool

EPL Gameweek 28: Bournemouth 3-2 West Ham

Premier League logoTwo of the league’s most porous defences faced each other at the Vitality Stadium as Bournemouth hosted West Ham. Both sides are also bottom of the table for tackles per game (Bournemouth – 15.3, West Ham – 14.6). It therefore came as no surprise that there were plenty of goals and opportunities, with an injury-time winner deciding this topsy-turvy encounter to give Eddie Howe’s men their first win of 2017.

Bournemouth were without Andrew Surman or Tyrone Mings following the eventful draw at Old Trafford last week. Dan Gosling and Simon Francis replaced the suspended duo in midfield and defence respectively.

Michail Antonio returned from his suspension which saw Robert Snodgrass drop to the bench as the only change from the Hammers’ 2-1 defeat at home to Chelsea last Monday.


Aerial presence not exploited
Antonio and Andy Carroll up front should have seen the visitors bombard their opponents with crosses into the box. But having started arguably their strongest crosser on the bench in Snodgrass, the visitors’ success rate of 13.6% fell way short of Bournemouth’s 41.2%.


West Ham failed to provide decent service to Antonio, and particularly Carroll.

In fact, in just over half an hour, Snodgrass – who replaced captain Mark Noble – attempted six crosses (four from corners) which was three times as many as Sofiane Feghouli managed during his 58 minutes. The Algerian was part of a double substitution along with Noble that also saw André Ayew introduced to provide a greater attacking threat with Slaven Bilic’s side trailing to 2-1.

Another area for reconsideration might be restoring Cheik Kouyaté to midfield. The former Anderlecht player is currently playing out of position at right-back, a problem position for Slaven Bilic. But his replacement, Sam Byram – who is a natural right-back, provided the assist for Ayew’s equaliser within five minutes of coming on and may be worth an extended run in the side.

That goal started with the pass of the game by Pedro Obiang as he brilliantly-weighted his through ball behind Bournemouth’s defence.

Quality of chances
Partly influenced by the successful crosses, Bournemouth managed nearly double the attempts West Ham racked up from inside the penalty area (17 to nine).


West Ham conceded too many chances inside their area which only emphasises Fonte’s difficult start at his new club. Since the Portuguese’s debut, West Ham have leaked 13 goals in six games and failed to keep a single clean sheet.

Admittedly, two of those were poorly taken penalties as Josh King and Benik Afobe ensured Bournemouth made Premier League history by being the first team to miss two spot-kicks in the first-half.

Both penalties were won via runs from the left with King’s miss occurring just a minute before Antonio’s opener following an uncharacteristically sloppy pass by Harry Arter.

Later in the half, King was inches away from tapping in Charlie Daniels’ driven cross while Feghouli saw his slightly deflected effort prevented from going in by the outstretched leg of last week’s hero, Artur Boruc.

But the second period saw both keepers called into action as predictably the defensive units in front of them failed to restrict the attacks.

Comeback King
King would atone for his 9th minute penalty miss with Bournemouth’s second Premier League hat-trick. The first was Callum Wilson’s last season which was also against West Ham.

His first was a well-taken finish following a neat bit of skill that deceived José Fonte.

The other goals were smart positional play by the Norwegian with his second particularly highlighting West Ham’s defensive issues whether or not the ball struck Afobe’s arm in the process.


Above is a comparison between King’s performances against West Ham both home and away. The former Blackburn attacker is becoming increasingly influential for Howe’s side.

Howe looks to have found an ideal position for King as the 25-year-old matures into a threatening attacker through a combination of speed and skill. Following his hat-trick on Saturday, of the top 10 scorers (King being joint 10th on 11), only Fernando Llorente, Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane have better minutes per goal ratios.

For Bilic and his Hammers, this campaign is in danger of petering out as they find themselves nine-points off the relegation zone and seven shy of West Brom in eighth. Having enjoyed such a successful season last year, the expectation is that they should regularly finish in the top 10. That’s more than possible, but only if they play to their strengths which includes personnel in their natural positons.

This was a massive win and relief for Howe made only possible by the team’s mentality. Despite being without a couple of key players, Bournemouth managed to bounce back from the double blow of West Ham’s opener, missing a second penalty and conceding an equaliser with 10-minutes remaining. This victory should trigger an upturn in the kind of form that has deserted the south-coast side since surrendering a three-goal lead against Arsenal at the start of the year. Confirm survival and invest wisely this summer, particularly in defence, and the Cherries could be popping up the table and establishing themselves as a Premier League side.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 28):
Bournemouth 3-2 West Ham
Crystal Palace P-P Tottenham
Everton 3-0 West Brom
Hull 2-1 Swanea
Middlesbrough P-P Sunderland
Arsenal P-P Leicester
Southampton P-P Man Utd
Liverpool 2-1 Burnley
Chelsea P-P Watford

EPL Gameweek 27: Tottenham 3-2 Everton

Premier League logoThis tie at White Hart Lane was presented as the battle between in-form forwards, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.

By the end, however, it was more of a tactical loss for Ronald Koeman as his conservative starting 11 struggled to cope with their superior opponents during the first hour.

Mauricio Pochettino arguably had his strongest side out for this game, minus Danny Rose who continues to be absent through injury.

Koeman opted for Gareth Barry in place of Adele Lookman as the only change from last week’s victory over Sunderland. The lack of Lookman or Kevin Mirallas would leave Lukaku somewhat isolated which prevented the Toffees from imposing themselves on Spurs’ defence.


Defensive set-up
Given that Tottenham were going into this game as strong favourites and on an eight-game winning streak, it was understandable that Koeman went for a midfield trio that was predominantly defensively minded.

The opening 20-minutes provided little goalmouth action with the home side restricted to just three long-range efforts, all of which were blocked. Everton, meanwhile, showed little ambition as they failed to muster a single attempt at Hugo Lloris’ goal.

But then Kane tried his luck from distance and was rewarded with the opening goal of the game. Question marks were raised over Joel Robles’ attempt to save the dipping drive while Barry should have closed down the striker sooner.

Kane was then denied a second by Robles while Christian Eriksen saw his low effort roll wide of the far-post and Victor Wanyama hit the post. Tottenham had their tails up while Everton struggled to get up field.

Second half
The positives of being just a goal behind at the break soon vanished when Robles inexplicably rolled the ball to Morgan Schneiderlin with Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli closing in. The former Man Utd midfielder tried to shift the ball a couple of yards to Ashley Williams which saw Alli pounce and in-turn, play Kane in on goal down the inside left-channel. The England international showed the sort of composure you’d expect from a forward in peak form. His brace made it 14 goals in 12 appearances this calendar year.

Koeman relented and threw caution to the wind on 64 minutes with Mirallas and James McCarthy replacing Tom Davies and Barry respectively. From then on, Everton managed the same number of attempts at goal as Spurs (six) which was just two shy of the blues’ match total.

Amongst those six attempts were both of the away side’s goals. First, Lukaku pulled one back to ensure a nervy last 10-minutes. Then, Everton’s third substitute, Ener Valencia, scored an immediate consolation in injury-time after Alli caught the defence sleeping to all but seal a deserved victory for Tottenham.


Territory and Passes
An indication of Everton’s cautious set-up, saw over 100 passes in their defensive third attempted (87.7% completion), a similar amount to what they tried in the attacking equivalent (59.4%).

Tottenham, meanwhile, attempted more than two-and-a-half times their 61 defensive third passes (98.4% completion) in the final third (66.7%). This subsequently led to more than double the number of chances created in comparison to the visitors (15 to seven).



Koeman’s tatics were contradicting as they set-up with a defensively minded midfield three only to have a large amount of possession in their defensive third but lack any outlet aside from Lukaku on the break. Everton would have been better off without so much of the ball in favour of a pacey option like Mirallas or Lookman once possession was regained.

The outcome wasn’t a surprise but the result did flatter Everton. Although, all three goals conceded could and should have been avoided. But the difference in their performance once Mirallas and McCarthy came on – albeit against a side two-nil to the good – suggests Koeman has the tools to carry out a more expansive and braver approach in future away matches against the top six.


As the table shows, the Goodison Park side have enjoyed strong performances at home but struggled away to those who currently sit above them. In order to close that gap, Koeman shouldn’t ignore a more bullish tactic that won’t leave one of the league’s best strikers without sufficient support.

Lukaku did well considering Kane was always going to be in a stronger position to have a greater influence on proceedings. The Belgian’s strike saw him become the club’s all-time leading Premier League scorer (61).

Despite having the joint-meanest defence in the league, it’s Tottenham’s consistency in front of goal that has seen a marked improvement. Fifteen of the last 20 competitive fixtures have yielded at least two goals which is a complete reversal of their first 20 that saw just five games where two or more goals were scored.

Whilst Pochettino will be frustrated by the concession of two late goals he can take plenty of positives from a generally commanding performance, which saw Spurs achieve their longest winning streak at home. The club are exceeding expectations in terms of their financial resources but the next challenge will be to build on the foundations of the last two seasons where they’ll have to start recruiting players of a higher caliber.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 27):
Man Utd 1-1 Bournemouth
Leicester 3-1 Hull
Stoke 2-0 Middlesbrough
Swansea 3-2 Burnley
Watford 3-4 Southampton
West Brom 0-2 Crystal Palace
Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Tottenham 3-2 Everton
Sunderland 0-2 Man City
West Ham 1-2 Chelsea

EPL Gameweek 26: West Brom 2-1 Bournemouth

Premier League logoTony Pulis’ West Brom hosted Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth on Saturday with the Cherries winless in 2017.

A clash of styles was expected at The Hawthorns with West Brom’s direct tactics against Bournemouth’s more possession-based approach.

It was an entertaining opening quarter where all three goals were scored, while the remaining three-quarters provided a conflict of function over form.

There was just one change for the home side with Jonny Evans replacing the injured Matt Phillips. The former QPR winger has been in fine form this season but his absence saw Chris Brunt move further forwards and Evans slot in alongside Gareth McAuley.

Howe replaced Jordan Ibe and Simon Francis with Marc Pugh and Tyrone Mings. For the third game in a row, Junior Stanislas found himself on the bench as Bournemouth looked to arrest the slump that has seen them bottom of the form table for 2017.



The visitors got off to a great start when Ryan Fraser was brought down in the area by Allan Nyom. Joshua King converted the 5th minute penalty to put his side in front. King’s seventh of the campaign also ensured Pulis’ side didn’t improve on their five clean sheets in the league this season (26 games).

But just five minutes later, Craig Dawson saw his shot from distance take a helpful deflection off Charlie Daniels to equalise. Howe would have hoped/expected his side to have closed the right-back down sooner.

By the 21st minute, West Brom had turned the game on its head and taken the lead following an error by Artur Boruc. The Polish keeper is vulnerable to a blunder and isn’t the first Bournemouth player this season to see an individual mistake punished. Boruc’s premature attempt at punching clear Brunt’s corner saw the ball bounce towards his goal with McAuley on hand to tap home. The Northern Ireland centre-back is now joint-top scorer with Salomon Rondon on seven for the season!

It was West Brom’s sixth goal from a corner this season which puts them top, twice as many as joint-second placed sides Middlesbrough and West Ham. Unsurprisingly, the Baggies are also top for goals from set-pieces (16) and percentage of shots in the six-yard box (9%).


Data gathered from Whoscored.com

Function over Form
As expected, this game saw one team play the percentages and the other play the ball. Unfortunately for Bournemouth, the percentages were inevitably far more efficient and that’s a credit to how well Pulis drills his teams.

A look at the passes in the respective defensive, middle and attacking thirds shows where West Brom’s priorities lie. They look to get the ball forwards and quickly whilst Bournemouth are happy to retain possession at the back in search of new penetrative options.




The home side’s efficiency is clear in their ratio of passes to attempts at goal. For West Brom, they averaged 16.5 passes per attempt (215:13) while Bournemouth were 46.3 (556:12).

It’s no wonder West Brom average the least amount of possession in the league (40.6%) and the third worst success rate of passes (70.1%). Furthermore, they average the fewest attempted short passes per game (239) while aside from the top six, only Southampton attempt more than Bournemouth’s 403.

In terms of action zones, only Hull see a greater percentage of the game played in their defensive third (33%) than West Brom (31%). Pulis’ willingness to embrace instead of change ensures his side are competitive, which has seen West Brom not lose to any team outside of the top six since the corresponding fixture against Bournemouth on September 10th.

This relinquish of territory saw West Brom rack up nearly four times as many interceptions as the visitors (19 to five) with Bournemouth’s attacks often ending before they reached the penalty area.


As a result, Bournemouth struggled to create any clear chances with only long-range efforts finding the target aside from the penalty.

Another indication of the Baggies direct approach can be found in their throw-ins. The graphic below might remind readers of Sunday League football but there’s clearly a place for territorial advancement in the professional game.


What may surprise some is the fact both teams attempted a similar number of crosses. West Brom succeeded with three from 23 while their opponents managed eight from 24. But the Cherries enjoyed more than double the hosts’ possession which naturally provides further crossing opportunities.

However, playing against a side so strong in the air makes it difficult to convert said crosses with only Mings’ header from distance in injury-time truly testing Ben Foster.


Bournemouth were unlucky to have conceded the equaliser in the manner that they did but Steve Cook was lucky to avoid a red card following a challenge on Rondon after Mings’ under hit back pass.

The Cherries are suffering from being too soft and easy to play against at the moment which is in stark contrast to Pulis and his men. On average, Bournemouth earn the most fouls (13.2) and commit the least (9.8) in the league. The issue with a manager being admirably strong-minded about his team’s style of play is that only through an improvement of form will this terrible run come to an end. It’s clear, however, that they need to at least tighten up in defence. Avoiding the individual errors is vital, particularly when you consider they’ve conceded three or more goals in nine of their last 15 games.


West Brom, meanwhile, are enjoying a great season. They’re just nine-points shy of their Premier League best (49) with 12 games still to play and that’s largely due to the experience of Pulis and the way he sets his team up. It will be interesting to see if the former Stoke manager is backed in the transfer market to the levels he was expecting last summer should they finish where they currently sit (8th). Then we might see the introduction of a little more form to their function.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 26):
Chelsea 3-1 Swansea
Crystal Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough
Everton 2-0 Sunderland
Hull 1-1 Burnley
West Brom 2-1 Bournemouth
Watford 1-1 West Ham
Tottenham 4-0 Stoke
Leicester 3-1 Liverpool

EPL Gameweek 25: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Premier League logoTottenham travelled to Anfield on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run while their hosts, Liverpool, had yet to win a league match in 2017 (zero from five). That form has helleen Spurs earn 11-points more than the Reds, converting a seven-point deficit on New Year’s Day into a four-point lead prior to kick-off.

Jurgen Klopp was hoping his side could use the match against one of their top four challengers as a springboard for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino’s men looked to close the gap on leaders Chelsea to six-points before the Blues travelled to Burnley’s fortress, Turf Moor.

What was built-up as a clash between two sides who deploy similar styles of play certainly lived up to its billing, especially in the first-half and particularly for one team.

The home side were once again without Dejan Lovren so Lucas remained in the side as centre-back while Georginio Wijnaldum replaced the out of form Emre Can in midfield.

This fixture saw Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Philip Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana start a home game for the first time since the 6-1 hammering of Watford over three-months ago.

Tottenham were without Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen due to injuries so just like their win at home to Middlesbrough last week, Pochettino opted for a back-four with Eric Dier alongside Toby Alderweireld and Ben Davies in the left-back position.


keyPressing the Pressers
Tottenham got a taste of their own medicine as Liverpool pressed aggressively forcing mistakes and disrupting their opponent’s shape.

Players such as Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Wijnaldum were catching Spurs on their heels and quickly turning over possession. This resulted in all kinds of space behind Tottenham’s staggered backline, particularly down the flanks as Davies, and especially Kyle Walker, would start to push forwards only to see their teammates dispossessed without notice.


In the build-up to Mané’s opening goal, Liverpool showed a greater desire than their opponents. Lallana had already nicked the ball from Victor Wanyama before Firmino showed great anticipation to get ahead of Alderwiereld (as shown above). This selfless play by the Brazilian pulled the defender out of position and allowed Wijnaldum to slip a well-weighted pass for Mané whose devastating pace exploited Spurs’ staggered defence.


The second (see above), which arrived only a couple of minutes later, was once again down to a combination of desire, anticipation and intelligent running.

Mané and Firmino were quick on to Dier’s slightly heavy touch as they squeezed possession from the England international. Davies had to cover the space which saw Mané – encouraged by Firmino – pick out Lallana’s deep run. After Lloris had denied both Lallana and Firmino, Mané was on hand to volley home and galvanise an already energetic crowd.


Images gathered from Le Sports then edited

Moments later, Walker lacked the necessary composure to deal with three Liverpool players in close quarters. The full-back should have played a pass to Dier but instead opted for a long-ball towards Lloris. The miscued attempt put Davies under all kinds of unwanted pressure as Mané accelerated past the Welshman, only to be denied a quick fire hat-trick by Lloris’ inner thigh.

The Senegalese international was giving his marker a torrid time and was again denied by Lloris from the resulting corner to make it four attempts, four on target and two goals in just seven-minutes.


Mané was especially effective during the opening half an hour compared to the remaining 60-minutes.

Constrict and Contain
Much to the delight of Klopp and captain, Henderson, Liverpool were able to display a different side to their game in the second-half as they kept Tottenham at arm’s length, protecting their two-goal advantage.

There was a complete reversal in possession between both halves with Liverpool going from 54% in the first to 46% in the second.

But the visitors didn’t discourage a high-press as they attempted 96 passes (83.3% completion) in their defensive third compared to Liverpool’s 39 (92.3% completion).


That led to the Reds swarming Spurs, resulting in a total of eight attempts on target in the opening 45-minutes. The most any Tottenham side has conceded since Opta began in 2003/04.


Tottenham, meanwhile, could only muster two on target. One of those was an effort from Son having broken the defensive line only to be thwarted by Simon Mignolet. With Liverpool dominating and two-goals to the good, that chance could easily have flipped the momentum on its head and tested Liverpool’s resolve.

Midfield/Attack comparison
Where Liverpool prospered most was in the productivity of their midfield and attack compared to Tottenham’s. The tables below show stats for the respective midfields and attacks of both sides:



What is clear is just how much more effective Liverpool’s half-dozen were compared to Tottenham’s. Wijnaldum stands out for his passing, ball recoveries and tackles, while the only chance he created led to Mané’s first.

The total number of passes in the attacking third also indicates Liverpool’s territorial dominance with more than double the successful attempts of their opponents, which equated to more than twice as many shots at goal.

While one forward was doing selfless work, nearly scoring a rebound which led to the second goal and acting as the trigger to most of the pressing, the other was…not.

Just a glance at their respective dashboards from the game will show how quiet and isolated Kane was compared to Firmino. Tottenham’s top scorer didn’t even have an attempt on goal and perhaps let his frustrations get the better of him with his first booking of the campaign on 67-minutes. In fact, six of the seven bookings came during a more disjointed second-half.


Not only did Kane fail to shoot on goal, he also failed to create a single opportunity thanks to Matip and Lucas’ defensive work.

So far, the England forward has had less of an impact in the big games this season. Since breaking into the Spurs team during the 2014/15, Kane has only failed to attempt a shot at goal or create a chance on three occasions against those in the current top six. All three have occurred during this campaign (Liverpool home and away as well as Chelsea at home). For a full breakdown, open this PDF.


Based on the table above, Kane is half as effective this season compared to last in terms of goals and assists. However, with home games against Man Utd and Arsenal still to come, there’s every chance his return will improve, particularly as his goals per game at home since 14/15 is 0.55 compared to 0.38 away. Although, it’s more likely to improve via the Arsenal game than it is against Man Utd as shown below.


Noticeably, Kane enjoys playing against North-London rivals, Arsenal, the most and Man Utd the least. Only Man City at home 13/14 (6) saw Kane surpass his average number of shots against Arsenal (5.25) while only Chelsea at home 13/14 (2) saw Kane surpass his average number of goals against the Gunners (1.25).

Liverpool thoroughly deserved this win and that will hurt Pochettino. The Argentinian manager has only won one game away to the top six rivals since arriving from Southampton in 2014. This match wasn’t lost due to two, albeit very good players, being unavailable through injury. Nor was it because of a return to their most common formation (4-2-3-1). The loss exposed a weakness in mentality from a side who appeared shellshocked after Liverpool’s blistering start.

Spurs need more goals against the big sides with just nine in eight so far and five different scorers. Kane’s form in those matches is a contributing factor which is why the club will need stronger reinforcements this summer than they managed last. Although, Alli’s tally of four from those nine shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Klopp on the other hand will be delighted with a masterclass in gegenpressing during the first-period. He’ll expect his side to build on this victory with a two-week break until they travel to wounded Foxes, Leicester. During that time, Tottenham have four games (two in the Europa League and one in both the FA Cup and League). It’s this advantage in preparation time coupled with Mané’s return that could see Liverpool finish in the top four for only the second time in seven years.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 25):
Arsenal 2-0 Hull
Man Utd 2-0 Watford
Middlesbrough 0-0 Everton
Stoke 1-0 Crystal Palace
Sunderland 0-4 Southampton
West Ham 2-2 West Brom
Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham
Burnley 1-1 Chelsea
Swansea 2-0 Leicester
Bournemouth 0-2 Man City

EPL Gameweek 24: Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal

Premier League logoArsenal’s past results away at Chelsea didn’t bode well for Arsene Wenger’s side, having lost their last four visits to Stamford Bridge. But there was hope that could change as the North Londoners went in search of reining in their capital rivals who started the day nine-points clear at the top. Within 10-minutes of the second-half, however, that hope had disappeared like Wenger amongst a crowd of supporters.

Antonio Conte made just one change from the 1-1 draw at Anfield as the pacey Pedro replaced Willian on the right of the front-three.

Arsenal were suffering from absences in central midfield with Aaron Ramsey (injured), Granit Xhaka (suspended) and Mohammed Elneny (International duty) all unavailable. That led to a rarely tried midfield duo of Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Alexis Sanchez started in the centre-forward role for the first time since the defeat at Man City on 19th December with Olivier Giroud dropping to the bench.


Counter v Possession
Over the last 10+ years, Arsenal have developed a reputation for trying to pass the ball into the net. Playing a style that at full-flow is the epitome of why fans refer to football as the beautiful game. But the Gunners’ supporters get restless when it fails to provide the expected ending. Many of those subsequently appear on Arsenal TV seemingly unaware there’s a camera involved so they can be ridiculed and mocked across social media for being overly tribal, passionate, irrational and/or deluded. But they do satisfy many a guilty pleasure, especially if you’re having a bad day.

Chelsea on the other hand concern themselves with getting from one end of the pitch to the other as quickly as possible rather than provide the type of click-bait that showcases their least philosophical supporters.

The difference between the two approaches is like Titanic vs Titanic in five seconds.

Marcos Alonso’s towering header gave Chelsea a 13th minute lead, which proved to be particularly unlucky for the stranded Hector Bellerin who had to be replaced with someone who knew what the score was.

That goal only increased the home side’s willingness to allow their opponents more of the ball, which as the table below shows, actually works in their favour in terms of shots on goal and shots conceded.



Despite the extra possession, Chelsea were able to restrict Arsenal to just nine attempts at goal – four fewer than the hosts. This was a combination of both Mesut Ozil and Sanchez having off days as neither player provided the moment of magic they’re often associated with. Furthermore, The Blues style of play, which was triggered by their first-half humbling at The Emirates in late-September – if only Arsenal had won 1-0 that day – is based on a narrow five providing the majority of the defensive cover. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante shield the trio of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta who have started the last 18 Premier League games as a back-three.


Chelsea held Arsenal at arm’s length during the second-half as they defended their lead and drew in the Gunners before releasing their counter-attacks.

Crossing against Chelsea
Due to that prominent back five, teams, particularly the rivals amongst the top six, have been getting most joy from crosses against the Blues.



As the table above shows, seven of the 11 goals conceded across eight games were via crosses. Six of the last seven goals conceded by Chelsea in the Premier League have been via crosses into the box be it first or second balls. The remaining one was a low ball which Peter Crouch tapped in during Stoke’s 4-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

It was therefore no coincidence that Arsenal’s best chances came from crosses into the box with Gabriel missing his side’s best opportunity to equalise before half-time. Substitute Danny Welbeck forced Thibaut Courtois into a fine save with a glancing header at 2-0 while Shkodran Mustafi nodded wide when left unmarked on a corner.

Unsurprisingly, Olivier Giroud, grabbed the consolation goal in injury-time with…a header, providing further credibility to the idea that the Frenchman should have started up front instead of replacing Coquelin in the 65th minute.

Of Arsenal’s 34 crosses (13 corners) six were successful, four of which came from the 13 attempted after Giroud had entered the field. That total number of crosses attempted by Arsenal in the Premier League this season broke their previous record of 29 which were amassed during the home stalemate against Middlesbrough.


Arsenal were far more successful and dangerous with their crosses after Giroud and Welbeck came on.

Hazard v Oxlade-Chamberlain
Chelsea’s star man stole the show with an impressive individual goal that all but sealed what could prove to be a telling victory in the title race.

The former Lille playmaker brushed off the weak attempt at a challenge by Coquelin before putting Laurent Koscielny on his heels and scoring past Petr Cech, albeit with a slightly scuffed shot which didn’t match the dribbling that preceded it.

That run saw three successful take ons, which contributed to the Belgian’s total and game high of 10 without once being dispossessed. Hazard didn’t shy away from his defensive duties either as he recovered nine balls, only two fewer than the game’s top player in this particular metric, Kante.

Hazard’s replacement and former Arsenal midfielder, Cesc Fabregas, rubbed salt in the wound when he coolly capitalised on Cech’s poor clearance having only been on for a minute. The former Chelsea keeper misplaced his pass and allowed the Spaniard to loft the ball into an empty net.

Whilst it was another day to forget for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain can be relatively pleased with his performance in centre-midfield against much stronger opponents.

The former Southampton player had the best pass completion rate amongst his teammates at 93.2% (55/59); created the joint-most chances (two) for Arsenal; had four from four in terms of take ons; was his side’s top player for ball recoveries (eight); joint-top for tackles made (four); top for blocked crosses (three); and finally, second in his team for clearances (four) and fouls suffered (three).

It was a commonly disappointing day and result for Arsenal, but the ‘Ox’ might just have found a position that he can establish himself in and really begin to fulfil his undoubted potential.


Hazard succeeded with every take on while Oxlade-Chamberlain covered a lot of ground and was involved in the action at both ends.

Conte has got his side playing clinical football but there are a couple of minor chinks in the armour that next opponents, Burnley, may be able to exploit through Sam Vokes’ aerial ability at the fortress that is Turf Moor.

Fortunately for Chelsea, the challengers are becoming more concerned with a place in the top four than a tilt at the title such has been their dominance, which can allow a slip up or two. But with such a consistent line-up and top players performing to their reputations, the destination of this season’s league title looks all but decided.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 24):
Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 4-0 Sunderland
Everton 6-3 Bournemouth
Hull 2-0 Liverpool
Southampton 1-3 West Ham
Watford 2-1 Burnley
West Brom 1-0 Stoke
Tottenham 1-0 Middlesbrough
Man City 2-1 Swansea
Leicester 0-3 Man Utd


EPL Gameweek 23: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Premier League logoLiverpool took on Chelsea in their third match in six days, a sequence labelled by many as season defining. Having been knocked out by Southampton and Wolves in the EFL and FA Cup respectively, The Reds took on league leaders, Chelsea, who they trailed by 10-points prior to kick-off. Had Antonio Conte’s side extend that to 13, then Liverpool’s title challenge would have been all but over with a top four place the last remaining target before the start of February.

As it turned out, there’s still a glimmer of hope. But only a glimmer.

Sadio Mane – flown back from the African Cup of Nations via a private jet – was named as a substitute having not appeared for Jurgen Klopp’s side since the 2-2 draw at Sunderland on January 2nd.

Numerous followers of the game have pointed to the wide-forward’s absence as a major contributing factor to Liverpool’s terrible run of form during January which saw them only register one win in nine matches.

Chelsea, meanwhile, were at full-strength with Conte opting for Willian ahead of Pedro in the wide-right position, presumably to provide a better link between midfield and attack in addition to some extra defensive cover.


First 15
Buoyed by a raucous Anfield crowd under the lights and heavy rain, the home side got off to a strong start. Taking control of the ball and looking to impose themselves on their opponents defensive third. But Chelsea’s backline was typically organised and disciplined as they held the hosts at arm’s length.

One notable element of this opening period was the contrast in number and types of passes. On the few occasions Chelsea did have possession, they’d look for long balls towards the front three, primarily Diego Costa. Manager Conte has built a team and style of play that is stubborn in defence and ruthless on the counter-attack. In early December, Man City found out just how clinical Chelsea were as they scored three goals on the break.

After 25-minutes, David Luiz broke the deadlock with a well-struck free-kick that caught Liverpool off-guard. The Brazilian’s goal – his second from 46 attempted free-kicks in the Premier League – temporarily took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails.


Despite the greater possession, Liverpool could only muster one attempt at goal from distance which Courtois comfortably saved.

Squeezing on the sides
Jurgen Klopp’s famous gegenpress appeared to be more focused in the wide areas on Tuesday night. Roberto Firmino was forcing the opposition to play the ball down one particular side through well-positioned and short sprints – something Daniel Sturridge is less effective at doing. That then led the wide front player – Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana – to close off the square ball inside as the widest central midfielder – Emre Can or Georginio Wijnaldum – along with the full-backs also closed in. This normally led to Marcos Alonso (54.3% pass completion – 19/35) or Victor Moses (62.2% – 23/37) being outnumbered and with few options.

Their respective pass completions were their lowest amongst the last six league games with worse percentages away to Man City. That match at the Etihad and away to Tottenham were the only other times each player fell below their average over the nine games listed in the table below.

Man Utd at home was also considered as this along with Man City away and Tottenham at home were the other matches against top six rivals since the introduction of the 3-4-3 formation.


A look at Liverpool’s interceptions and ball recoveries also reveals most of their success took place down the wings, particularly with regards to interceptions.


With Milner pushing further forwards than Clyne, Liverpool recovered the ball more often in Chelsea’s half on the left than they did on the right.

The clusters of ball recoveries show where the gegenpress was most effective. Liverpool achieving more down their right is reflected in Alonso’s poorer pass completion and the extra protection provided for right-back Nathaniel Clyne who was concerned with Eden Hazard. The Belgian playmaker had a quiet game prior to his substitution on the 72nd minute.


The touch maps show Alonso had more of the ball in Liverpool’s half than Moses due to one of Chelsea’s most dangerous players, Hazard (there’s a joke there), also occupying that side.

Henderson v Kante
Both players find themselves in similar roles yet have very different impacts on the game for their respective teams.

Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, has been pivotal for his club as he’s often their top passer and expected to link both wings by moving the ball quickly. The former Sunderland midfielder showed great vision and awareness to provide a deft ball for James Milner to head back across the box from which Wijnaldum equalised just before the hour mark.

Meanwhile, Mr. Double Shift, N’Golo Kante, racked up an impressive 14 tackles from the 16 he attempted. That was 11 more than the game’s second placed ranking player, Henderson, who had three from five.

The protection Kante is providing Chelsea is similar to his work at last season’s champions, Leicester. The French international is proving value for money since his summer move as this formation allows him to contribute to a solid defence so the likes of Diego Costa and Hazard can do their damage at the other end.


While Henderson was making passes, Kante was making tackles…a lot of tackles.


The touch maps show just how often Henderson had possession in comparison to Kante.

Form against rivals
Unfortunately for Chelsea, like Hazard, Costa too had a fairly quiet game. Although that could have been very different had he converted the penalty he won with 15-minutes remaining.

Chelsea have succeeded most in winning the games against those outside of the top six. Only Swansea have taken points of The Blues this season and that was a 2-2 draw in Conte’s fourth league game in charge.

The table below shows both Liverpool’s and Chelsea’s performances against the top six this season in terms of possession, passes, attacking third passes (both completed), shots and finally the result. Klopp’s men have had little trouble raising their game against their rivals as they’re rarely coming up against the deep block that has caused them such problems in the last month.


As you can see, since the introduction of the 3-4-3 during the second half of the Arsenal game at The Emirate – which Chelsea were already 3-0 down by half-time – Conte’s side have only had more than 50% possession on one occasion out of five matches. That game saw them lose at Tottenham as Mauricio Pochettino matched Chelsea’s formation.

This ‘lack’ of possession emphasises the direct style of play Chelsea employ, particularly against their rivals. With Kante and Matic protecting a solid back-three, Conte likes to draw his opponents in before hitting them on the break to devastating effect. Costa is one of few top-level strikers who can play the lone forward role in such a team without sacrificing his number of goals.

As a result, Liverpool were able to enjoy their joint-most attacking third passes – the previous occasion also coming against Chelsea – but only managed their second fewest attempts on goal.

There was a noticeable difference between Liverpool’s first and second-half performance in terms of passing as the graphic below shows. During the opening 45, they only completed two passes into Chelsea’s box, neither of which were particularly dangerous. The second-half saw and improvement in penetration as the Merseysiders rarely got to the bylines.


There was more penetration in Liverpool’s passing during the second half as they looked for an equaliser (then winner) and players began to tire.

The point satisfied Conte more than Klopp due to his table-topping team being so far in front of the stumbling pack. Albeit a stumbling pack that has seen Arsenal earn more points at this stage than eight of the last 11 seasons; Liverpool in 23 of the last 25; and Tottenham in 50 of the last 51.

Liverpool will now look to build on this gutsy performance with a win at Hull on Saturday as they look to cement their place in the top four before considering an unlikely assault on the title. Fans should note that finishing in a Champions League spot would certainly be an achievement for what is arguably the league’s sixth best squad.

Chelsea’s tough fixtures continue as they host Arsenal. Should they again avoid defeat then you’d expect them to have enough to see the season out barring any major injuries. Their following fixtures read favourably too: Burnley (a), Swansea (h), West Ham (a), Watford (h), Stoke (a) and Crystal Palace (h). But based on the above analysis, those teams, including The Gunners, should look to pressurise the wing-backs while being prepared for a counter-attack. Not as easy as it sounds and it doesn’t sound easy.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 23):
Arsenal 1-2 Watford
Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
Burnley 1-0 Leicester
Middlesbrough 1-1 West Brom
Sunderland 0-0 Tottenham
Swansea 2-1 Southampton
Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea
West Ham 0-4 Man City
Man Utd 0-0 Hull
Stoke 1-1 Everton

EPL Gameweek 22: Man City 2-2 Tottenham

Premier League logoPep Guardiola’s Man City looked for a return to the title race via a home victory against Tottenham who were on a six-game winning streak and second in the league heading into gameweek 22.

Despite a dominant performance, it was City who were once again left to rue missed chances and defensive frailties as Mauricio Pochettino’s side came back from two-goals down to earn an unlikely draw.

It was an attacking formation by Guardiola as the Spaniard looked to put Tottenham on the back foot like he tried, and largely succeeded, against Chelsea’s similar 3-4-3 set-up. Playing Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in the wide positions nullified Kyle Walker and Danny Rose’s impact in the final third which has often allowed the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to do their damage from central areas.

Yaya Toure – whose recent reputation wouldn’t put him down as a ground covering, all-action midfielder – was in the ‘holding’ position as Fernandinho continued to serve his suspension.


This was essentially Man City’s central midfield with Toure doing a better job than many would have expected.

Kevin Wimmer replaced the injured Jan Vertonghen for Tottenham. Given Ben Davies’ experience in that position for Wales and being naturally left-footed, the former Swansea player may have been a more suitable option to provide the balance across the three-man defence that served Pochettino so well at home to Chelsea and West Brom in recent weeks.


Issues at both ends
Like a bad case of food poisoning, City have had trouble at both ends, as the nine league games where they’ve failed to win has proven.

Guardiola’s side are the second best in the league for shots conceded per game yet their total of 28 goals against is joint-ninth in the division. That suggests that it’s a quality over quantity matter which quite rightly questions the team’s defending, which hasn’t been helped by the criticism of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who has failed to display the shot stopping capabilities of his counterparts.


The table above shows all nine league games where Man City have failed to win this season. Of the five losses and four draws, it’s only the first defeat, coincidently at Tottenham, that saw the Citizens have fewer attempts at goal than their opponents.

They created a total of 15 clear chances but only managed to score eight goals, some of which didn’t come from those great opportunities. At the other end, City had 11 clear chances against them and a total of 19 goals conceded.

Dominance of the play was never in question with only Tottenham and Liverpool having more than 40% of possession. Guardiola loves his side to retain possession for both attacking and defensive reasons. It’s the simple theory that it is harder to concede when you have the ball and of those nine games, City averaged 65.4% possession, which is more than their 60.3% season’s average.

The idea is to pass with a purpose and recycle the ball until a gap appears for a full-back, midfielder or attacker to penetrate. Hence why City had a greater number of completed passes in the attacking third than any of those who took points off them during the campaign – although, Liverpool were close. Unfortunately for him and to a lesser extent, Jurgen Klopp during January, teams in England have proven to be particularly good at setting up an organised and disciplined defence whilst possessing a real threat on the counter-attack. Leicester City provided the clearest example of this as they were able to go back to the style that won them the league last season.

In the last eight winless matches, Man City have conceded just 24 attempts on target but seen 17 of them end up in the back of Bravo’s net…hence the scrutiny. Whilst the Chilean keeper has been heavily questioned, the protection provided by his teammates even when they’re in possession should also be brought to light. Klopp on Monday Night Football stated that his players “should either be an option or protection” when they have the ball. Given recent form, both the former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich managers could do with reiterating that to their respective sides.

Of course, some of the above matches were decided on minor details – like most are in football. The 1-1 draw with Everton saw two missed penalties, Middlesbrough scored an injury-time equaliser, and Kevin De Bruyne was inches away from doubling City’s lead against current league leaders, Chelsea.

Dominance not converted
City should have taken the lead on more than one occasion as they peppered the Tottenham goal and often saw promising moves break down due to poor pass selection or execution. This may have been in part to some anxiety developed before kick-off following last week’s 4-0 defeat at Everton.

Spurs on the other hand were grateful to have got in on level terms as Pochettino used the half-time break to adjust his side’s formation by introducing attacking midfielder Son Heung-min for defender Wimmer.


Tottenham were very much kept at arm’s length during the opening 45 minutes.

Second half
Tottenham started the second-half with a conventional flat-back-four as Son provided extra support for the quiet Harry Kane.

But within four-minutes of the restart, Man City scored the opener their dominance deserved with the help of some hesistant play by the normally reliable Hugo Lloris.

De Bruyne’s long ball over Spurs’ high line gave the speedy Sane something to chase and as Lloris debated whether to come or not, the former Schalke winger closed down the sweeper keeper’s attempted headed clearance before tapping in from close range.


De Bruyne regularly played long balls over the top for the likes of Sterling, Sane and Aguero to run on to. Silva, meanwhile, played shorter passes, which explains the greater pass completion.

On the 53rd minute, City had doubled their lead with Lloris again making a mistake as he fumbled Sterling’s cross for De Bruyne to squeeze home and score his first league goal since the mid-September win over Bournemouth.

Spurs then pulled one back as Alli got on the end of Walker’s inviting first time cross. It was the visiting side’s first attempt on target and ensured that Alli already surpassed last season’s impressive tally of 10 league goals with his 11th in 21 appearances.

Pochettino’s side suffered another injury to a key defender as Toby Alderweireld came off with half an hour to play. Harry Winks replaced the Belgian which forced the makeshift centre-back pairing of Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier – a partnership that has been commonly found in midfield.

City were most threatening down the right with Pablo Zabeleta regularly providing the overlap which was used as both a decoy and a target. As a result, Rose was unable to support attacks as often as he’d had liked, particularly during the second period.


Zabaleta was an attacking threat, particularly during the second half as the Argentinian helped restrict Rose’s attacking influence.

Pochettino’s change worked in terms of reducing the opportunities for Guardiola’s men as they managed just six attempts. But the home side could conceivably have been awarded two penalties after the break, especially when Sterling was pushed in the back by Walker as the England international ran clear of the defence.

Controversially, less than a minute later, Spurs were level with their second and final attempt on target. Harry Kane flicked the ball into Son’s path for the South Korean to steer into the far corner. Replays showed Kane was slightly offside which only further incensed Guardiola on the sidelines.

The positives for Guardiola can be found in Man City’s general performance against one of the league’s strongest and in-form sides. But not being ahead at half-time had a big impact on the result despite taking the lead soon after as Pochettino took advantage of the break. His tactical changes improved Tottenham’s performance but they didn’t deserve to come away from the Etihad with anything and this will go down as one that got away for a manager who’s used to winning leagues but now needs to focus on finishing in the top four.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are still in an unfavourable title race that Chelsea appear determined to end before spring even begins.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 22):
Liverpool 2-3 Swansea
Bournemouth 2-2 Watford
Crystal Palace 0-1 Everton
Middlesbrough 1-3 West Ham
Stoke 1-1 Man Utd
West Brom 2-0 Sunderland
Man City 2-2 Tottenham
Southampton 3-0 Leicester
Arsenal 2-1 Burnley
Chelsea 2-0 Hull

EPL Gameweek 21: Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool

Premier League logoThis match between two of the game’s biggest rivals possessed more frenzy than finesse as Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised with less than 10-minutes remaining to deny Liverpool an impressive win.

Jose Mourinho’s side headed into this match on the back of a nine-game winning streak across all competitions while Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had been stuttering of late compared to their early season/autumn form which saw them sit second before the latest round of fixtures.

For United, Marcos Rojo returned from injury to continue his unexpectedly successful partnership with Phil Jones at the heart of the defence.

Liverpool, meanwhile, had captain Jordan Henderson back in the side following an injury lay-off since the victory at home to Man City on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately for The Reds, Nathaniel Clyne, had to pull out with an abdominal problem which provided 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold with the daunting task of making his first start in the Premier League at arguably the toughest venue for a Liverpool player. The full-back had a couple of nervous moments in an otherwise solid performance.

Liverpool’s initial formation seemed more of a diamond behind Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino. The pressing and industrious efforts of both players was probably what tipped Klopp to choose them ahead of the undeniably talented Daniel Sturridge.


Nullify Carrick
The aim of the diamond was to prevent time and space on the ball for Michael Carrick who has despite being 35-years-old, proven to be a key figure in providing balance and penetration from midfield thanks to his often-immaculate passing.

Adam Lallana – who was regularly at the top of the diamond – along with Firmino would press and harry Carrick as well as his teammates when looking to play the ball from their defensive and middle third.

This led to Carrick completing far fewer passes than during his previous league appearance at Old Trafford during the 3-1 victory over Sunderland. Liverpool’s plan stifled Carrick’s impact so much so that Mourinho replaced the deep-lying playmaker with Scouser Wayne Rooney who needed just one more goal to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for Man Utd…not that anyone had mentioned it.

The same combination of Lallana and Firmino almost dispossessed Jones on the edge of his area but fortunately for the former Blackburn defender, his teammate Rojo was on hand to put the ball out for a corner.

That subsequent corner led to Paul Pogba – who had his attempted takeover of Twitter frequently plasted on the advertising hoardings around the pitch – giving away a penalty. The big summer signing was regularly obstructed from marking Dejan Lovren during the first several set-pieces and this one saw his desperate attempt at compensating some lost ground result in a clear handball.

The nerveless James Milner converted for his sixth goal (penalty) of the season to give Liverpool the lead on 27-minutes.


Carrick was restricted to fewer passes and the defensive part of the middle third due to Liverpool’s pressing.

Counter options
Whilst Man Utd created a couple of good chances for Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan either side of the goal, Liverpool were always looking to exploit their opponents on the break.

Origi – who did the dirty work but failed to provide a big enough threat in attack or retain possession well enough – was often drifting to the left hoping to capitalise on the space vacated by the marauding Antonio Valencia.

It nearly paid off when the Belgian forward got goal side of Rojo but was unable to create a clear shooting opportunity as the home side’s defence tracked back. A more experienced player may have gone down under the challenge from Rojo, potentially earning the Argentinian a red card as he tangled with Origi.


Origi spent more time down the left side with Valencia often providing attacking width down the right.

The half-time change of Rooney for Carrick saw Mourinho adopt more of a 4-2-3-1 formation and this led to further opportunities on the break for Liverpool. But those only truly began to materialise when Coutinho replaced Origi on the hour-mark as the Brazilian provided a composure on the ball that his teammates had been lacking during the opening period of the second-half.


Despite Man Utd enjoying more possession and having a more attacking line-up, Liverpool created more opportunities, often through counter-attacks.

Fellaini/Direct play
Keen to maintain his side’s unbeaten run and avoid falling further behind Liverpool, Mourinho introduced Marouane Fellaini which naturally saw an additional target to Ibrahimovic for the long, direct balls.

Prior to Fellaini’s introduction, the Red Devils averaged 0.7 attempted long passes per minute. But from the 76th minute onwards, that increased to 1.07 with a lower percentage success rate.


In terms of crosses, pre-Fellaini saw 0.24 attempts (1/18) compared to 0.71 (the graphic doesn’t include Valencia’s assist for Ibrahimovic’s equaliser) post-Fellaini. They were also far more successful with those crosses at a 40% rate compared to 5.6% during the first 76-minutes. Three of those crosses were in build up to the goal as Fellaini’s header clipped the post before Valencia crossed the loose ball for Ibrahimovic’s improvised header.


It’s frowned upon by the purists but it’s clearly an asset and option for Mourinho to utilise should his team need to put further pressure on their opponents during the latter periods of a game. In this case, the pragmatism often associated with the confident Portuguese manager once again paid off.



Both sides dealt with many more clearances in the second half as the game opened up following a more tentative first-45. Three times as many clearances for Man Utd and twice as many for Liverpool.

While it wouldn’t have been hard, this fixture provided more entertainment than the corresponding tie as the graphics show. Six more attempts on goal, three more on target and three times as many corners.

What’s particularly noticeable is the change in approach from Man Utd which would have been expected given their run of form and the fact they were the home side. At Anfield, they only managed 259 passes and 35% possession but at the Theatre of Dreams, that rose to 374 and 55%.

The dour encounter earlier in the season saw 768 passes as United defended deeply in numbers. On Sunday, there were fewer passes (658) as the game was played at a higher pace with more direct approaches from both sides.


Given Liverpool’s form heading into this much-hyped game and the selection issues which included Joel Matip’s unavailability due to ongoing issues with Cameroon and FIFA; this point would have been accepted by most Liverpool fans prior to kick-off. But despite the absentees, they’ll be disappointed not to have come away with a win having led for so long and conceding a late equaliser.

They can at least take solace from the fact they now have 17 games remaining, 10 of which are at home – more than any other top six rival. They’ll be hoping to make the most of that advantage as they look to maintain a title challenge despite Chelsea’s run of 14 wins from their last 15 games, which puts the Blues seven-points clear of Liverpool and 12 ahead of Man Utd.

That will probably see Mourinho’s focus turn more to a top four finish than a title challenge even though they’ve extended their unbeaten run to 16

For both sides this draw will provide positives as Man Utd can compare to the state they were before the previous game against Liverpool while Klopp’s men showed a slightly different side through a dogged and organised performance in defence, led by man of the match Lovren.

In spite of the positives, it’s Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal who would have enjoyed the “Tower of Power’s” (to quote Martin Tyler) equaliser the most.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 21):
Tottenham 4-0 West Brom
Burnley 1-0 Southampton
Hull 3-1 Bournemouth
Sunderland 1-3 Stoke
Swansea 0-4 Arsenal
Watford 0-0 Middlesbrough
West Ham 3-0 Crystal Palace
Leicester 0-3 Chelsea
Everton 4-0 Man City
Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool

EPL Gameweek 20: Tottenham 2-0 Chelsea

Premier League logoLondon rivals Tottenham and Chelsea took part in their first game of 2017 as the Blues looked to extend their Premier League winning streak to 14 matches.

Standing in their way were a Tottenham side who had scored eight in their previous two games thanks to 4-1 victories at both Southampton and Watford.

In the corresponding fixture, Antonio Conte’s men came out on top in a 2-1 win despite Pochettino’s players taking the lead and putting in a particularly dominant first-half performance at Stamford Bridge.

With Liverpool dropping points at Sunderland two-days earlier, Chelsea had the chance to extend their lead at the top to eight points. But Spurs’ win saw them climb to third and ensure that only 10-points separate first from sixth.

Compared to the reverse tie in late November, Chelsea – like they have been for the vast majority of this impressive run – were unchanged, while Tottenham had two changes which made a big difference to their formation at White Hart Lane.

Opting to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea’s 3-4-3, Pochettino went with a 3-4-2-1. This essentially stifled their opponents in an attacking sense with only Eden Hazard profiting from one of Conte’s well-rehearsed counter-attacks. Unfortunately for the travelling fans, the Belgian playmaker was unable to direct his left-foot shot on goal having broken the offside trap early on.

Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose were always going to be missed by Tottenham at the Bridge and their presence this time around allowed the formation adjustment. With Rose and Kyle Walker offering great pace and width from the wing-back positions, Alderweireld was able to marshal the defence with Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen either side. This wasn’t an option for Pochettino last year as even back-up left-back, Ben Davies, was absent.



Tottenham’s line up was much more a like for like than the previous fixture between these two sides. Obviously Kane was the target man and not Alli as suggested here.

Better Balance
While Conte and Chelsea have revived the 3-4-3/ 3-4-2-1 formation, Pochettino and Tottenham are arguably the league’s best equipped team to carry it out.

The back three they had during this match has a better and more natural balance than Chelsea’s, which includes Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Spaniard Azpilicueta is a fine defender but naturally a full-back, while Cahill isn’t left-footed.

For Spurs, the two defenders either side of the central player have experience playing full-back but are predominantly central players. This leads to a more compact shape when out of possession but comfortable to widen the field of play when having the ball. This then encourages the wing-backs (Rose and Walker) to push higher up the pitch in support of the front three.

With wing-backs, it is often a case of who can pin the other back. Too defensive leads to the team lacking width and instead forming a flat five.


Azpilicueta’s tendency to pull wide as a natural full-back allows Moses to push forwards like he prefers. But this can leave a vulnerable area between the right-centre and centre-back which happened to be where Alli penetrated.


Vertonghen was far more advanced than Cahill which was partly the reason for Eriksen finding space to provide the assists.


Walker is far more established in this position than Moses who is still learning the role. The England international’s advanced and wide position is a real asset for Spurs.


Rose mirrors his teammate Walker on the left while Alonso – who was late tracking back for the second goal – doesn’t possess the same pace to recover from surges forward.

Wanyama v Kante
In the middle of the pitch, it became a two v two as Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele battled it out against N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.

Wanyama, the summer signing from Southampton, was a powerful force against the highly-rated Kante. The Kenyan recovered more than twice as many balls as his French counterpart (nine to four), had a higher passing percentage (84.6% to 76.7%), made more tackles (5/6 to 4/7) and suffered more fouls (two to zero), while managing more interceptions (two to one), blocks (one to zero) and clearances (three to one).


Kante’s incident that led to a shot was forced by Wanyama’s pressing and strength.


Wanyama had a real presence in the middle of the pitch.

Déjà vu
Both of Tottenham’s goals were scored by the same player (Dele Alli), provided by the same crosser (Christian Eriksen) who received the pass from the same player (Walker) from the same side (right).

For the first goal, Eriksen dropped off as Walker sucked in three Chelsea players (Alonso, Matic and Cahill) before cutting the ball back to the Dane. The latter two plus Kante couldn’t get out to Eriksen quick enough as Alli ghosted in between Moses and Azpilicueta to head home.

The space exploited by Alli was a result of Cahill pushing out on the left which led to Luiz and Azpilicueta moving across. But with Moses slightly too far forwards, there was a gap which allowed Alli to head home unchallenged on the break of half-time.

For Tottenham’s and Alli’s second, Alonso over commits on Walker who again cuts the ball back to Eriksen. Cahill then committed himself to a block as the England international tried to make up ground on Eriksen and avoid a repeat of the opener. But this time, Tottenham’s playmaker – whose return to form was triggered by a goal scoring appearance in the reverse fixture – dummied the cross before producing an even better ball than his first to leave Alli with a close-range header. Courtois should have made himself bigger but that probably wouldn’t have prevented Alli from getting his third brace on the bounce.


It was a game of few clear chances with Spurs scoring both of their attempts in the area. Chelsea, meanwhile, had six attempts in the box but only one on target.

che-2-1-tot-statsComparison of Stats tot-2-0-che-stats
The two graphics reveal that in both fixtures between these sides this season, the away team has had more possession and shots. The home side, meanwhile, had fewer passes and corners yet more tackles.

Both matches also featured goals in the final minute of the first-half.

Most notable, however, is the lack of shots on target during the most recent encounter with Tottenham showing a particularly ruthless streak while limiting Chelsea to few clear opportunities.

Pochettino matched Conte with his formation as his players outshone their opponents. Aside from bringing the top six closer together, this match could conceivably provide the blueprint not for how to beat the Blues but for how Spurs can set-up in future matches, particularly against the sides around them.

Chelsea will be disappointed with the nature of the goals and the inevitable end of their run. But Conte will be further encouraged to find players either in this transfer window or the next that suit this system slightly better, particularly with a lack of wing-back options beyond Alonso and Moses.

The combination of balance, application and conversion saw Tottenham claim a victory that might propel them to serious title contenders for a second consecutive season.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 20):
Middlesbrough 0-0 Leicester
Everton 3-0 Southampton
Man City 2-1 Burnley
Sunderland 2-2 Liverpool
West Brom 3-1 Hull
West Ham 0-2 Man Utd
Bournemouth 3-3 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 1-2 Swansea
Stoke 2-0 Watford
Tottenham 2-0 Chelsea