Nov 302012
 

Manchester City vs. Everton (15:00)

 

Still undefeated in the Premier League this season, Manchester City are looking good for another title push.  Their opponents this weekend are also performing well, and are determined to break into the league’s top four- this tie should be an excellent display of attacking talent:

 

–          Yaya Toure is the most prolific passer of the ball in the whole league, having completed 609 at an incredible rate of just under one every two minutes according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          Mario Balotelli’s goal against Wigan was his first in the league since March, but Roberto Mancini was still unhappy with the Italian’s overall performance.  Balotelli recorded the tenth fastest average speed among his teammates and is yet to be in the top three during a game this season.

 

–          Gareth Barry, on the other hand, was City’s hardest working player and covered 6.85 miles, half a mile more than David Silva in second.  Wednesday’s match was the fourth in a row in which Barry has achieved this feat.

 

–          City are now the only team in the entire football league not to have lost this season, and will be aiming to repeat Arsenal’s legendary ‘invincible’ 2003-04 record of zero defeats.

 

Everton remained strong in the face of adversity against Arsenal on Wednesday, cancelling out the Gunners’ early strike to secure a point.  This strength of spirit could be critical against a Manchester City side that are looking increasingly dangerous:

 

–          Marouane Fellaini marked his return to the Everton line-up with a goal against Arsenal, and is in the league’s top ten most threatening players- the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that the Belgian has shot on target once every 45.8 minutes on average.

 

–          Fellaini unfortunately continues to sit atop the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for defensive misdemeanor though, having been pulled up for a foul 32 times so far this season.

 

–          Leon Osman ran tirelessly again against Arsenal, covering 6.61 miles.  For five consecutive matches now, he’s been either his side’s hardest or second hardest worker.

 

–          Tim Howard’s opposite number on Sunday has attracted rave reviews for his performances in goal this season.  The American’s statistical record is not far off Joe Hart’s, he’s saved 75.7 percent of the 74 shots on target he’s faced compared to Hart’s 79.6 percent from 49.

 

–          In all competitions this season, the Toffees have only failed to find the net once. They are the only team in the entire league other than West Brom who can boast this record, and will be looking to score early against the champions.

Nov 302012
 

Liverpool vs. Southampton (15:00)

 

Defeat at White Hart Lane will have disappointed Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, with his side unfortunate not to score more than once.  The Reds would be wrong to be complacent heading into a game against eighteenth-placed Southampton, who are on a good run of form:

 

–          Luis Suarez failed to score against Spurs but caused their defence great problems throughout the game.  The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows him to be the league’s most prolific man on the ball this season, having made 31 dribbles at a rate of one every 43.4 minutes.

 

–          Raheem Sterling is chasing Suarez’s record however, and is himself the league’s fifth most prolific dribbler.  The young winger has made 19 at a rate of one every 63.9 minutes.

 

–          Jose Enrique missed a number of chances to score at White Hart Lane, but his rate of shooting accuracy rate has been solid this season with a 55.5% on target rate. This rate is actually greater than star team mate Suarez’s 51.3 percent rate from 76 attempts on goal.

 

–          Steven Gerrard’s importance to Liverpool in all areas of the pitch really cannot be understated. He’s racked up 431 successful passes in the opponent’s half, a squad-high, as well as an impressive 36 interceptions to boot.

 

–          Liverpool may have lost out in their midweek game, but had been on a run of eight games without defeat beforehand.  Three of their next four games are at Anfield, and all will be against teams from the bottom half of the table.

 

Fans of Southampton will be relieved to see their side’s form improving in recent games.  Now undefeated in four straight games, the Saints are marching towards their forty-point target at an impressive rate:

 

Morgan Schneiderlin has won many admirers for his performances this season, but his defensive play could use so more refinement to match his excellent work rate. He currently sits second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for fouls with 30.

 

– This high rate of fouls is likely due to the commitment Schneiderlin shows in his defensive work rate for Nigel Atkins’ side. The Frenchman has attempted 61 tackles so far this season, managing to winning 57%.

 

Jose Fonte’s reading of the game has been impressive for Southampton this season. The Portuguese defender has compiled 21 clearance and 78 interceptions according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

Adam Lallana continues to underline his importance to Southampton with his consistent performance-level this season. He’s their most successful passer of the ball, notching up 312 successful passes in the opponent’s half so far this season.

 

Lallana is also consistently the man most likely to provide the killer final ball for Southampton, having provided 31 crosses for his teammates this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

Nathaniel Clyne is definitely showing he has multiple strings to his bow this season, not all of them limited to his defensive duties. He’s Southampton’s third-slickest passer of a baller, having successfully completed 239 passes.

 

Nov 302012
 

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur (15:00)

 

Fulham battled excellently to hold Chelsea to a draw at Stamford Bridge, and will be in confident mood heading into this clash against fellow Londoners Tottenham. An in-form Spurs will provide a stern test for the Cottagers however:

 

–          John Arne Riise failed to convert either of two clear chances against Chelsea.  Nevertheless, the left-back has an unmatched rate of shooting accuracy amongst his teammates with 90% of his shots being on target so far this season. This is much better than Dimitar Berbatov’s sixteen from twenty-eight (just over 57 percent).

 

–          Steve Sidwell endured a frustrating time at Stamford Bridge, but is the only player in the entire league to have notched up 40 successful tackles this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          Dimitar Berbatov has arguably been Fulham’s standout player of the season so far.  The Bulgarian is capable of strong defensive play as well as getting forward, he’s made 32 interceptions at a rate of one every 28.5 minutes this season, a rate that is unmatched by any of his team mates.

 

–          Aaron Hughes has been fantastic in his reading of the game at the back for Fulham this season. He currently sits third on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for interceptions with a huge 103.

 

–          Fulham are having very little luck at the moment.  They’ve failed to win any of their last six league games despite scoring nine goals, drawing four in the same period.

 

Tottenham are on a high after a solid victory over Liverpool on Wednesday, and seem to be past the recent run of three defeats that damaged their hopes of a top-four finish.  Gareth Bale is in top gear once again, and will aim to frighten Fulham’s defenders at the weekend:

 

–          Bale made up for his own goal against Liverpool with the match-winning strike, and moved to seventh on the list of the league’s top scorers.  The Welshman has hit 29 shots on target so far this season, more than any player in the league other than Luis Suarez according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          His midfield teammate Aaron Lennon also found the net in midweek, and has a better rate of shooting accuracy than Bale this season with 63.6 percent from 11 shots.

 

–          For the second time in less than a week, Raniere Sandro was Spurs’ hardest working outfield player.  He covered 6.26 miles against Liverpool, and none of his teammates managed to notch up more than 6 miles.

 

–          William Gallas continues to prove that age does not diminish natural instincts, as even at 35 he is still Tottenham’s best reader of the game this season, racking up 58 interceptions.

 

–          Tottenham are having no problems putting the ball in the back of the net at the moment, and are the only league side to have done so at least twice during each of their last three games.

Nov 302012
 

Reading vs. Manchester United (Saturday, 17:45)

 

Reading just missed out on a point at Aston Villa on Tuesday, conceding a late header to lose 1-0.  The side created several good chances though, and will be hopeful of taking points off the league leaders in Saturday’s late game:

 

Kaspar Gorkss has been solid for the Royals this season, having racked up 84 interceptions and successfully completed 63% of his tackles. He needs to improve his work on the rare occasion he gets up the other end of the field though. He’s had 9 shots on goal this season, none of which have been on target.

 

Jobi McAnuff has been toiling to try and spark Reading’s season, the midfielder having dribbled more often that any of his teammates with 13 and providing 33 crosses to boot.

 

– Defender Adrian Mariappa has been more than happy to put his body on the line for the Reading cause this season. He’s racked up 12 blocks according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

– Midfielder Mikele Leigertwood continues to underline his importance in the Reading engine room having successfully completed more tackles that any other Royal’s player with 34.

 

Robin van Persie struck after just thirty seconds to win three points against West Ham, and is on fantastic form.  His Manchester United side remains top of the pile, and will be looking to add another victory against relegation-threatened Reading:

 

–          Van Persie continues to impress, but trails Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in the golden boot standings.  Interestingly, the Dutchman hasn’t scored a brace in eleven games for United, with Suarez achieving the feat twice in the same period.

 

–          Anders Lindegaard got the nod ahead of David de Gea to start in goal for United in midweek, and the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows there is little to choose between the pair statistically.  Lindegaard has saved 79.4 percent of the 34 shots on target he’s faced while De Gea has saved 76.2 percent of 42 shots on target.

 

–          Michael Carrick set up United’s early strike and was their second hardest worker for the third consecutive match against West Ham.  He covered 6.32 miles according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, just short of Van Persie’s 6.46 miles.

 

–          Rafael continue to develop under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson. He’s Man Utd’s most successful tackler this season, winning 24 of his challenges along with 329 successful passes.

 

–          United have only kept one clean sheet in seven away games this season.  Keeping Reading’s attackers at bay will be a priority as the Royals have scored seven in their last four games at home.

Nov 302012
 

Arsenal vs. Swansea City (15:00)

 

A midweek draw left Arsenal seventh in the league standings.  Although this is below fans’ expectations, the Gunners are just five points off Chelsea in third- a home win would haul them towards the Champions League qualification spots.

 

–          Theo Walcott made a good case for more starts at Arsenal with a first-minute goal on Wednesday.  His 66.6% shooting accuracy rate (from 15 shots is identical to that of Lukas Podolski and much greater than Olivier Giroud’s 51.2% from 39 efforts.

 

–          Per Mertesacker has split opinion amongst much of Arsenal’s fan base this season, but has an excellent tackling record in the league.  He’s won 89.5% of the nineteen challenges he’s put in a figure topped by only four others this season.

 

–          Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla were Arsenal’s two most tireless players against Everton, covering 12.9 miles between them.  The pair have both covered more distance than any of their team mates for three consecutive matches according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          Cazorla continues to shine for Arsenal following his summer move form Malaga as he continues his running battle with Yaya Toure to be the league’s most successful passer. He’s notched up 602 passes in the opponent’s half according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          The Gunners failed to score in either of their opening two matches this season, but have done so in eleven of the twelve fixtures since then so Swansea’s defence will have to be on top form this weekend.

 

Swansea produced a great performance on Wednesday, comfortably defeating an in-form West Brom side.  The win will have galvanized the club’s fans, who will do their best to roar their side to victory at Arsenal this Saturday.

 

–          Wayne Routledge scored an excellent brace against the Baggies, becoming the club’s joint-second highest scorer with Nathan Dyer.  The winger has a better rate of shooting accuracy than Dyer this season, 85.7 percent of his 14 shots being on target compared to Dyer’s 68.8 percent from 16 shots.

 

–          Miguel Michu took his goals tally to nine with another strike on Wednesday.  Interestingly, the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows him to be the only man in the league to have shot on target and won a tackle twenty times each.  This versatility will be key to a strong result at the weekend.

 

–          Pablo Hernandez was another superb performer in the midweek game.  With 187 passes at a rate of just under one every four minutes this season, he’s Swansea’s most prolific passer of the ball.

 

–          Only Norwich and champions Manchester City can share the Swans’ boast of being on a five match unbeaten run, with two wins and three draws in November.

Nov 302012
 

Saturday 1st December:

 

West Ham vs. Chelsea (12:45)

 

West Ham fought bravely at Old Trafford on Wednesday, just losing out to a first-minute Robin Van Persie strike.  A stuttering yet talented Chelsea side will provide a tough test at Upton Park:

 

–          Jussi Jaaskelainen kept the Hammers in the game against United with a string of fine saves.  He’s the league’s second best performing keeper this season, having saved 82.4 percent of the 91 shots on target he’s faced.

 

–          James Tomkins frustrated United’s attack for much of the game, and is statistically the Premier League’s most successful tackler according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.  He’s won a massive 94.1% of the seventeen tackles he’s gone in for.

 

–          Chelsea can expect a physical battle at Upton Park, as Mark Noble has also been one of the league’s toughest tacklers. He’s one of only seven men in the whole league to have put in 35 successful tackles this season.

 

–          The Hammers have had an impressive season so far and look highly unlikely to become involved in a relegation battle.  The team will be aiming to score more often however, as it has now gone six games without
striking more than once.

 

Two games into his managerial tenure at Chelsea, and Rafael Benitez’s team are yet to score.  They haven’t looked like conceding however, and will be full of determination to end their recently inconsistent run of form:

 

–          Eden Hazard had a difficult time against Fulham on Wednesday, with little space to operate.  He remains the Premier League’s assist leader with nine however, one ahead of Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez.

 

–          Juan Mata is third on the same list, but was left out of Chelsea’s team on Wednesday.  His return could well spark the Blues into life this weekend, as the Spaniard is currently the league’s ninth most prolific passer- the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows him to have made 387 so far at a rate of one every 2.4 minutes.

 

–          Covering 7.12 miles, Nascimento Ramires was Chelsea’s hardest worker on Wednesday.  This has been the case for the last three consecutive games in which the Brazilian has played the full 90 minutes.

 

–          Fernando Torres’ lack of form may be grabbing all the headlines at the moment but the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows his is most certainly still willing to let fly. He’s had 23 attempts on goal this season, 74% of which have been on target.

 

–          Fans  at Stamford Bridge will be hoping December produces better results.  Chelsea took just one victory from seven in November, the first month this season in which the Blues missed out on at least a two-thirds win rate.

Nov 292012
 

Peter Sixsmith has been watching Sunderland since the days of Cec Irwin and Ambrose Fogarty. In that time he has witnessed some dross and he now adds Tuesday’s visit of the Premier League’s bottom side to that collection. Much of the pre-match speculation was about the effect Harry Redknapp would have on the game but in truth QPR could have had Louise Redknapp in the technical area and the outcome would probably have been the same – such was the dearth of attacking options provided by Martin O’Neill’s boys. As a contributor to Total Sport said: “The Samaritans were outside the ground handing out leaflets after this one.” We’ll let Sixer talk it through …

Over the years, the number of negative reports I have written for Salut Sunderland have far outweighed the positive. Keane, Sbragia, Bruce have all had me considering a return to the Championship and visits to Barnsley, Bolton and Blackpool in whatever season we are looking at.

We have escaped on every occasion, usually with a bit to spare, although once it was by the skin of our teeth and we owed profuse thanks to Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer and Fat Mike Ashley.

Twelve months ago, it looked as if we were in serious danger of being dragged into the relegation dogfight. The answer then was to replace a manager who had lost the support of the fans with one who had the backing of the vast majority of red and whites.

So, where are we now? If Tuesday night’s miserable offering was anything to go by, we will be spending a lot of time in Yorkshire next season as we contemplate visits to Barnsley, Huddersfield and Hull.

Tuesday was as dispiriting a night as I have had at the Stadium since the last dispiriting night. I came away seriously worried about where the club, the manager and the season is going.

I have rarely seen such a flat, one paced Sunderland side. Take Rose out of the equation and there is no pace whatsoever.

I have rarely seen a Sunderland side fail to get a grip in midfield as this one did. Once Cattermole limped off, six minutes into the game, we were completely dominated by the bottom side in the league, a team that has not won all season and who have not won away since last summer.

I have rarely seen a Sunderland side so toothless up front, despite having spent £22m on the players who were supposed to move us up a level. Fletcher must be very worried about becoming a Jonah. Should my worst fears be realised, let’s hope Newcastle sign him.

Quite frankly, it was bloody awful. Rose and Kilgallon were the only success stories. Mignolet made a couple of crucial saves and Cuellar was solid.

Other than that, I can’t think of anything positive to say. I suppose McClean looked a bit sharper when he came on, but he was still a shadow of the player who bounded down the touchline last year against these opponents.

The rest were somewhere between ineffective (Fletcher) and dismal (Gardner and Bardsley). Passes went astray, the ball was passed backwards and sideways as it has been all season. Nobody was able to run at a defence that is as leaky as a roomful of politicians. We never threatened to score all night.

The manager cut a forlorn figure as the game went on. It looks as if he knows that the game is up with this current batch of players. He must be hoping to strengthen in January, but he will have difficulty attracting players to a club which could well be languishing in the bottom three.

His judgement must be questioned as well. Cattermole was supposed to have a serious knee injury, but he started. Poor call by the manager to play him.

Off he goes and on comes Jack Colback, a player who has struggled all season and who seems to have lost confidence in his ability to move the ball forward. The crowd were less than impressed and poor Jack had another tortuous 84 minutes as he was brushed aside by Mbia, Taarabt and Mackie – as was the increasingly pedestrian Craig Gardner. I’m afraid he is rapidly turning into another Shaun Cunnington.

Rangers were OK and they worked hard for each other. Redknapp may do to them what O’Neill did to us a year ago and get them playing with confidence. I suspect they may have a busy January window.

A miserable day all round as it was three years since the death of my pal Dave Lish. I have a very good idea of what his caustic but accurate assessment would be of the complete and utter mess that we once again find ourselves in.

Norwich on Sunday and then Chelsea and Reading at home. One point out of that lot and we will be firmly camped in the relegation zone. Then what does the owner do? What do we as supporters do?

Depressing isn’t it?

Nov 282012
 

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City (20:00)

 

Jordi Gomez was the hat-trick hero in a dramatic win last weekend, which gave Wigan a four-point cushion to the relegation zone.  Visiting champions City are yet to lose in the league this season, but visit a stadium where Wigan have scored eleven times in seven home games so far:

 

–          Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jordi Gomez was the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index performer of the week for the last round of fixtures.  With only 393 minutes to his name this season and a place in the team largely owed to Wigan’s injury problems, he’s staked a serious claim for more pitch time.  42.1 percent of his nineteen shots have been on target so far this season.

 

–          Of all the keepers who’ve played more than 1000 minutes this season, Ali Al Habsi has been the busiest.  Although he’s faced more shots on target than the likes of David de Gea and Joe Hart, just under one save every 16 minutes means the Wigan keeper is more than capable of staying on his toes against City.

 

–          Only two Premier League players have notched up more than 100 interceptions this season, and they are both Latics- Gary Caldwell will be looking to hamper the slick passing of City’s stars on Wednesday, but Ivan Ramis is suspended.

 

–          City have only conceded twice in their previous seven matches, the best defensive run of form in the whole league.  Something will have to give on Wednesday night however, with Wigan the bottom half of the table’s best goal scoring team at home (eleven from seven games).

 

 

Manchester City couldn’t find a way past Chelsea at the weekend, but are still unbeaten and will remain confident of a title push.  Only 28 percent of their goals have come away from home however, and Roberto Mancini will be aiming to improve this record by attacking at Wigan:

 

–          Edin Dzeko holds the second best goalscoring record in the league in terms of the average time it’s taken him to strike- one every 87 minutes is far more efficient than the likes of Sergio Aguero, who has taken just over 126 minutes to score each of his five goals. Only Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez has been more efficient in front of goal.

 

–          City remain the most prolific passing side in the league this season.  Of the six players who’ve taken less than 2.5 minutes to make each of their successful passes on average, three are sky blues: Sami Nasri, David Silva and Yaya Toure.

 

–          James Milner was the hardest worker on the pitch in City’s weekend game, covering 6.95 miles- no Chelsea player managed to run even 6.5 miles, and a repeat of Milner’s energy will be vital late on against Wigan.

Nov 282012
 

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool (19:45)

 

Tottenham ended their losing streak with a comfortable win at the weekend, and now face a Liverpool side unbeaten in eight straight games.  Both will be looking to preserve their form heading into the Christmas period:

 

–          Gareth Bale is having another excellent season for Tottenham, and has made 43 successful crosses at a rate of one every 26.5 minutes- only Leighton Baines has crossed the ball more often according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

–          With two goals at West Ham, Jermain Defoe made the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index team of the week and scored a higher rating than any player other than Jordi Gomez.  His rate of shooting accuracy has been impressive this season at 60.8 percent (31 of his 51 attempts have been on target).

 

–          Interestingly, Tottenham were one of only two teams to win despite covering less distance than their opponents last week.  With 60.1 miles travelled compared to West Ham’s 61.0, the team was able to use a more efficient style of play to beat their opponents- Liverpool will be keen to prevent Spurs from ‘letting the ball do the work’ in this one.

 

–          Spurs have scored at least twice in five of their last six games at White Hart Lane- Liverpool managed to frustrate a home Swansea side at the weekend however, so will be difficult to break down.

 

 

Liverpool are on a solid run of form and seem able to pick up at least a point even when the team is having an off day.  For a team unbeaten in eight straight league games to be in the bottom half of the table is unusual, and the Reds could escape to eighth place with a win on Wednesday:

 

–          Steven Gerrard never ceases to impress fans around the country, and is the only player currently playing for a bottom-half side to have notched up over 400 successful passes.  At a rate of just under one every three minutes, only ten others have passed more efficiently this season.

 

–          Luis Suarez continued to impress on Sunday despite failing to score against Swansea.  The Uruguayan has made more successful dribbles than anyone else in the Premier League this season (28), and may be able to take advantage of tiring legs as Tottenham’s defence will be playing so soon after a hard fought Sunday win.

 

–          Joe Allen covered 6.85 miles at Swansea last week, and was Liverpool’s hardest worker for a fifth consecutive game.  The midfielder is becoming an increasingly vital to his team, and will be key to getting a result on Wednesday.

 

–          The Reds are unbeaten in eight, and have only conceded more than a single goal in one of these fixtures.  Fans at White Hart Lane will be hopeful of more goals to add to the three their team scored at the weekend however, and will give Liverpool a hostile reception.

Nov 282012
 

Everton vs. Arsenal (19:45)

 

David Moyes is gunning for a top-four finish once again, and his team look capable of achieving the feat if they can continue to pick up points- their opponents are one point behind in sixth, so this one could prove to be critical for Everton:

 

–          The Toffees will be confident based on the fact they’re yet to lose at Goodison Park this season.  Only Manchester City and Stoke City can make the same boast.

 

–          Leighton Baines has put in 64 crosses this season, more than any other player- he’ll be looking to put Wojciech Szczęsny under pressure with more on Wednesday.

 

–          Steven Naismith struck for a second successive game against Norwich, and is playing well.  With an 85.7 percent rate of accuracy (six on target and just one off target this season), he’s been Everton’s sharpest shooter this season.

 

–          Marouane Fellaini will be looking to convert some of his strong away form this season into home performances.  With an average points score of 19 he’s the only Everton player in the league’s top ten according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

 

Arsenal lacked a cutting edge at Aston Villa last weekend, failing to score for the fourth time in the Premier League this season.  There are plenty of reasons for fans to be cheerful however, and the team will head into this tie buoyed by the fact that they’ve only lost one home game in the league this season:

 

–          Possession football appears to be the team’s preferred method this season, and has worked well- for six of their last seven games, Arsenal have recorded more than 50 percent of possession.  Santi Cazorla has been a key part of this success, playing more successful passes than any of his team mates this season (576 or just under one every two minutes).

 

–          Theo Walcott has had to work hard to get starts for Arsenal this season, but is the current league leader for the rate at which he’s notched up assists.  With four at an average rate of one every 115 minutes, no other player has set up goals as efficiently.

 

–          Arsenal have scored 16 goals at the Emirates in six league matches so far, at a rate of just under one every 34 minutes.  Only Manchester United have been more deadly at home, striking once every 30 minutes on average.

 

–          The Gunners also have the best away defensive record in the league this season.  Five goals conceded in seven games equates to one every 126 minutes.

Nov 282012
 

Manchester United vs. West Ham United (19:45)

 

Back to the Premier League summit after local rivals City drew at the weekend, Manchester United have momentum on their side.  Their opponents have also had an impressive season however, and could cause problems if the Red Devils take too long to settle into the game:

 

–          Javier Hernandez remains the league’s best goalscorer in terms of the average time it’s taken him to strike- one every 69 minutes is unmatched by any other forward.

 

–          Robin van Persie didn’t add to his tally of goals against QPR, but still performed well enough to usurp Carlos Tevez as the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index overall player of the season.  His current Final Index score of 276 is one point more than Tevez, and well ahead of third-placed Juan Mata on 244.

 

–          The Dutchman’s philosophy is certainly not ‘style over substance’- he covered 6.39 miles at the weekend, more than any other United player for the third consecutive game.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s investment in the striker is being rewarded by a fantastic work rate so far.

 

–          United are the only team in the league to have won six of their last seven games, and are on great form.  In a staggering nine of their thirteen league matches however, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have fallen behind- they’ve normally recovered well to rally, but could run into problems unless they make things easier for themselves in future.

 

–          Darren Fletcher returned from a long-term absence at the weekend and thankfully seemed back to his workmanlike best on his first start in over a year.  He covered 6.29 miles in 90 minutes, more than all but three of his team mates.

 

 

West Ham head to Old Trafford just two points away from Everton in fifth-place.  Hungry for European football after a long absence, the Hammers may be hard to break down if they can snatch an early lead as so many others have done against United this season:

 

–          Kevin Nolan may be key to the Hammers chances at Old Trafford, and is the league’s most accurate finisher according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.  With 70 percent of his 30 shots on target this season, he is matched only by Chelsea’s Fernando Torres.

 

–          Defender James Tomkins has won 93.8 percent of the tackles he’s gone in for, which is more than any other league player- the Red Devils attack will be in for a difficult time if he continues this impressive record.

 

–          Although the Hammers had a tough day against Tottenham last weekend, Andy Carroll’s goal means that they’ve still only failed to score in three matches this season.  United have only kept two clean sheets, which further suggests West Ham will be able to get on the score sheet.

 

–          Carroll has split many fans’ opinions this season, but has a solid rate of shooting accuracy.  With thirteen on target from twenty attempts (65 percent), he is not far off top scorer Kevin Nolan’s rate of 21 from 30 attempts (70 percent).

 

–          Resolute defending will be key if they strike first, and in Winston Reid the club have the league’s seventh best performing defender so far- the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index gives him a Final Index score of 167, more than other impressive performers Gary Cahill (164) and Ashley Cole (150).

Nov 282012
 

Chelsea vs. Fulham (19:45)

 

Rafael Benitez will be keen to improve his reputation with Chelsea’s fans by putting together a series of winning results- a home tie against Fulham will be his second chance to secure a win after last week’s Manchester City draw:

 

–          The Blues will be hoping for goals against the team with the second weakest defensive record on the road this season.  Fulham have conceded sixteen in just seven games, and Chelsea’s attacking firepower will be hoping to add to that figure.

 

–          Fernando Torres will be pleased to be playing under his old Liverpool manager, and is the most accurate finisher in the league according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.  70 percent of his 20 shots have been on target, a figure matched only by West Ham’s Kevin Nolan.

 

–          Juan Mata is the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s best performing player in away league games this season.  With an average points score of 30 on the road, he’s been 20 percent more effective than Dimitar Berbatov in second (25).  He also covered more distance than any of his team mates against City, 6.42 miles at an average speed of 4.52 miles per hour.

 

–          For three matches in a row, the Spaniard has also been Chelsea’s fastest outfield player.  His average speed of 4.79 miles per hour against West Brom recently was the fastest any Chelsea man has recorded in a league game, and the Spaniard will be looking to outpace the influential John Arne Riise on Wednesday.

 

–          Frank Lampard will be proud to have been nominated for the FIFA World XI Shortlist this week, and is enjoying another strong season.  With 112 successful passes in the opposition half at a rate of one every 3 minutes and 45 seconds, he’s Chelsea’s most prolific play maker this season.

 

 

After a late push, Fulham were unfortunate to lose out at Stoke on Saturday.  A win at Stamford Bridge would haul them closer to European qualification, and the Cottagers will be keen to ensure their London rivals fail to win for a fifth consecutive game:

 

–          Fulham were unlucky not to score against Stoke at the weekend, with Dimitar Berbatov continuing to impress for the Cottagers.  They will take heart from the fact that only Manchester United have topped their impressive twelve goals in seven away games this season, or just under one every 52 minutes.

 

–          Berbatov can take plenty of the credit for this statistic.  Having taken an average of just over 164 minutes to score each of his five goals, the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index ranks him in the league’s top ten most efficient goalscorers this season.

 

–          Steve Sidwell has been getting stuck into the action at a tireless rate this season, having gone in for 61 tackles in 911 minutes.  At a rate of more than one every 15 minutes, no other Premier League player has matched this statistic.

Nov 282012
 

Stoke City vs. Newcastle United (19:45)

 

Stoke City won yet again at the Brittania Stadium on Saturday, a stadium that has become one of the league’s most reliable fortresses.  With the mid-table teams so close, every point the Potters can pick up will be extremely valuable:

 

–          Zero defeats, one goal conceded and twelve points is a superb home record from Tony Pulis’s men this season- Newcastle are yet to win on the road, so the stats appear to bode well for the Potters.

 

–          Robert Huth is in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index team of the week after a strong showing against Fulham.  The German is currently in the top 15 best performing defenders over the course of the whole season, the only representative from the bottom half of the table.  He’s won 19 of the 40 tackles he’s gone in for this season, just under 50 percent.

 

–          Ryan Shawcross was another defensive rock against Fulham, and has made 16 blocks so far this season- only QPR’s Ryan Nelsen has made more with 17.

 

–          Jonathan Walters was also excellent for Stoke last weekend, covering 6.77 miles.  Not a single Fulham player managed to reach 6.3 miles, and Walters’ high work rate will be critical on Wednesday.

 

–          Charlie Adam scored the winner against Fulham on Saturday to become the third Stoke player with two goals to his name this season.  He’s notched up ten shots on target this season, with eleven off his efforts heading off target.

 

 

An inconsistent run of form has dented Newcastle’s bid to repeat their strong fifth-place last season, but eight points from a possible fifteen at the start of the current campaign proves the team is capable of putting together a string of results- they’ll be aiming to become the first side to win at Stoke this season:

 

–          Newcastle appeared to miss Hatem Ben Arfa against Southampton, and will be looking forward to his return from injury in December.  The Frenchman is the best dribbler in the league according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, with 26 successful attempts at an average of just over one every 44 minutes.

 

–          Tim Krul was on sensational form against Southampton last weekend, pulling off a string of saves to keep the score down.  His selection rival Steve Harper has also proved himself this year however, coping well with being the league’s fourth busiest keeper.  With almost one save every 14 minutes according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the veteran will be keeping Krul on his toes (Krul has made 52 at a rate of just under one every 17 minutes).

 

–          The Magpies recorded more possession than their opponents for the third consecutive game on Sunday.  Keeping the ball away from Stoke may frustrate the side, who are used to depriving away opposition of the ball at the Brittania.

 

–          71.4 percent of Newcastle’s league points have come at home so far, with no wins away from home heading into a match against a team that are yet to lose at home.  Football can be a strange game however, and Newcastle’s determination to end a run of three defeats may have more bearing on the outcome than the statistics.

Nov 282012
 

Southampton vs. Norwich (19:45)

 

An upturn in form has pulled Southampton out of the relegation zone for the first time this season, and a third consecutive win could take them as high as fourteenth depending on other results:

 

–          With seven points from the last possible nine, Southampton are one of the league’s form sides.  Only West Brom have had a better trio of results in the last three games.

 

–          Adam Lallana has been in superb form for the Saints, making 28 successful crosses at a rate of one every 44 minutes according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index (the fourth best rate in the whole league).  Steven Gerrard, Santi Cazorla and Yaya Toure are just three of the midfielders who’ve failed to match Lallana’s record.

 

–          Lallana was joined by Gaston Ramirez in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s top 10 players for the last round of fixtures- the Uruguayan has been a key player during Rickie Lambert’s goal drought, which has seen the striker score just one goal in eight.

 

–          There is little to choose between Lambert and Ramirez in terms of shooting accuracy.  With 47 percent of his efforts on target (8/17) compared to the English forward’s 46.4 percent (13/28), the two are neck-and-neck.  Lallana, meanwhile, has a much higher success rate with 68 percent (17/25).

 

 

Unbeaten in six consecutive games, Norwich City’s cushion to the relegation zone is growing quickly.  Up against a team who’ve experienced a similar upturn in form of late, both will want to prove to their fans that they’re going to be safe in May:

 

–          Norwich will be looking to improve their away form against struggling Southampton.  Only four of the Canaries’ fifteen points have come on the road, and only Aston Villa have scored less goals in away games.

 

–          Alexander Tettey was once again the Canaries’ hardest worker in last weekend’s game, covering 6.37 miles.  For six consecutive matches, he’s been in his team’s top two hardest workers.

 

–          Norwich should prepare for a tough game as Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin is the league’s only man to have committed 30 fouls.

 

–          Russell Martin, on the other hand, is statistically the league’s cleanest player.  According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, he holds the best ratio of successful tackles (17) for each foul (just one).

 

–          Martin will return to the Norwich defence on Wednesday night after overcoming a back problem. Turner has won an excellent 81% of tackles attempted, 17 out of 21 in total, while also contributing 14 clearances, 27 interceptions and 4 blocks

 

–          Martin’s defensive partner Sebastian Bassong scored Norwich’s equalizer at the weekend, heading home from Javier Garrido’s free kick. Bassong has used his aerial ability to more effective use at the other end of the pitch so far this season. Bassong has made 28 clearances, the 6th highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Nov 282012
 

Swansea City vs. West Brom (19:45)

 

Swansea will be pleased with the ways things are going so far, and seem to have avoided the ‘second season syndrome’ that has plagued so many before them.  With West Brom’s fans expecting the visitors to continue their strong form, the Swans may be able to use this pressure to their advantage by scoring early on and causing the Baggies to panic:

 

–          The team wouldn’t have much difficulty holding onto an early lead given that they hold the league’s fourth tightest defensive record on the road- with just seven goals conceded in six games, only Chelsea, Arsenal and champions Manchester City have taken longer to let in each strike in away games.

 

–          Miguel Michu has performed as well as many of the league’s most highly rated players so far this season.  Having taken an average of exactly 168 minutes to score each of his goals, he’s statistically outperformed the likes of Juan Mata, Peter Crouch and Gareth Bale when it comes to goalscoring efficiency.

 

–          Having covered 66.6 miles over the ninety minutes, Swansea were the league’s hardest working team at the weekend according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.  To put this into perspective, Tottenham were praised for their tireless play against West Ham but only travelled 60.2 miles in total.

 

–          The Swans have proved very difficult to break down this season, but may want to work on their ability to hold onto the ball- for five consecutive games they’ve had less than 50 percent of possession, although the team didn’t lose any of these games.

 

–          Nathan Dyer has been on great form during this run, scoring four goals.  His rate of accuracy is better than any other of Swansea’s team (68.8 percent or 11/16 shots on target).

 

 

Yet another convincing win last week has given West Brom even more confidence they can push for European football next season.  Three more points against Swansea would keep the Baggies in third place:

 

–          With an average of one goal for every 114.5 minutes he’s spent on the field, Romelu Lukaku’s impressive strike rate is topped only by Javier Hernandez and Edin Dzeko.

 

–          Lukaku is also one of the league’s most accurate finishers, with 86.4 percent of his 22 shots being on target according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.  No other player with fifteen or more shots to his name can match this percentage.

 

–          The Baggies haven’t been messing around in defence this season either.  Jonas Olsson (45) and Gareth McAuley (36) are the two men in the Premier League who’ve made the most clearances.

 

–          Perhaps the most impressive sign of how well the Baggies are performing is the fact that their 85.7 percent win ratio at home (six from seven) is superior even to Manchester United’s (83.3 percent).  The record is identical to that of champions Manchester City.

 

–          Goalscorer Zoltan Gera covered 6.86 miles at the weekend (more than any of his team mates) and has been one of the Baggies’ top four fastest players in every game he’s taken part in this season (based on average speed with the ball in play).

Nov 272012
 

Aston Villa vs. Reading (20:00)

 

A point against Arsenal will have relieved the pressure on boss Paul Lambert to a small extent, but three points will be what Aston Villa fans crave even more- victory against Reading will be a must in this season’s relegation battle:

 

–          Although the team is low down in the table, Villa have only lost two home games in five this season- the fact that Reading are yet to win on the road makes this statistic even more significant.

 

–          Marc Albrighton was full of energy against Arsenal, recording an average speed of 6.31 miles per hour.  A similar performance on Tuesday may be too much for Reading’s players, none of whom managed to clock an average speed of more than 5.2 miles per hour in their weekend game.

 

–          Nine league players have won more than 80 percent of the tackles they’ve gone in for this season, and two of them are Villains.  The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index suggests that Matthew Lowton and Barry Bannan will give Reading’s attack a difficult time on Tuesday.

 

–          The injured Ron Vlaar hasn’t been messing around in defence this season, making the third greatest amount of clearances in the league with 33 (one every 36.5 minutes on average).  Replacement Eric Lichaj will be hoping to improve his record of one clearance every 96 minutes.

 

 

A first league win ten days ago lifted Reading out of the relegation zone to boost their supporters.  Three points against fellow strugglers Villa would be a great contribution to the Royals’ forty-point target:

 

–          Reading have scored at least once in four of their last five away trips including the league cup tie against QPR- the team will be hoping to continue this record on Tuesday with an early strike.

 

–          Of all the keepers who’ve played more than 500 minutes this season, Alex McCarthy has been the busiest.  He’s faced plenty of shots on target, stepping up to the plate with just under one save every 13.5 minutes this season.

 

–          Critical to a relegation ‘six-pointer’ will be for both sides to keep their discipline, and Reading currently hold the third cleanest record in the league.  The Royals will be trying not to add to their total of 14 yellow cards and no red cards this season.

 

–          Last weekend, the Royals’ workrate was far superior to Tuesday’s opponents.  With a total distance covered of 67.2 miles compared to Villa’s 61.9 miles against Arsenal, Reading will be confident they can wear out their opponents.

Nov 272012
 

Sunderland vs. QPR (19:45)

 

Both sides will have something to prove heading into this tie, with new R’s boss Harry Redknapp hoping to weather the Black Cats’ determination to bounce back from a loss on Saturday.  There is plenty of reason for Sunderland fans to be cheerful despite the result, and they’ll have high hopes for a strong performance:

 

–          Although the Black Cats have only one victory to their name at home this season, they have a solid defensive record at the Stadium of Light- with only seven conceded in five games, just four other clubs can boast a tighter backline in home games.

 

–          Their ability to score will be greatly helped by the presence of Steven Fletcher on Tuesday.  The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows him to be one of the most accurate finishers in the league with 68.1 percent of his shots on target so far.  By comparison, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Demba Ba have all failed to reach 60 percent.

 

–          QPR have struggled for possession according to the stats, with none of their players yet to notch up 50 successful passes this season.  Sunderland will be hoping their confident passing style continues, with three of their players currently on more than 150 (Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and Sebastian Larsson).

 

–          Defender Carlos Cuellar will be highly influential on the game’s outcome.  Having won 91.7 percent of the challenges he’s gone in for, he is the league’s second most successful tackler according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, and is capable of scoring too as he recently showed against Fulham.

 

 

Harry Redknapp’s appointment has given bottom club QPR’s fans a renewed sense of optimism that they can beat the drop.  The club will be hoping to put in another confident performance after an improved showing at Old Trafford on Saturday:

 

–          The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that, for each of the last three sets of fixtures, QPR’s men recorded a faster total average speed than the Black Cats.  Three R’s averaged 4.4 miles per hour over the course of 90 minutes at Old Trafford, with no Sunderland players achieving the feat in their game.

 

–          Although their recent form has been inconsistent, QPR have scored at least once in eight of their last ten games, a record not shared by many others in the league- scoring early as they did at Old Trafford will be vital if they are to get something out of the game.

 

–          Estaban Granero’s crossing ability may be one way to beat the Sunderland defence on Tuesday.  The Spanish midfielder is one of only 30 league players to have played 20 successful balls in from the wing this season, at a rate of more than one every 48 minutes.

 

–          Just ten players have gone on more than ten successful dribbles this season, and Adel Taarabt leads the way for QPR.  With twelve at a rate of one every 66 minutes, he’ll be looking to cause problems for the Sunderland defence.

 

–          Jamie Mackie gave the R’s the lead at Old Trafford, and was also their hardest worker during the game- the striker covered 6.75 miles, 14.8 percent more than United’s famously tireless Wayne Rooney.

Nov 272012
 

There might not be much room for debate around whether Manchester Unted needs to employ the midfield diamond more often or stick to their wingplay tradition if the indifferent form shown by the wingers in the current season continues – in particular, Ashley Young.

The decision to spend 17 million (source: BBC Sport) on Young last season confounded many fans. Nani, Rooney and Welbeck could all play down the left (the latter two in a 4-3-3). Ryan Giggs and Fabio Da Silva could also perform decent cameos on the left. Hence, with the well known problems being in central midfield, it was baffling that Sir Alex would spend big for another winger, especially one that wasn’t known for scoring samba goals but instead did everything that existing players already did week in, week out for United.

A probable idea would have been to employ Young more ‘in the hole’, as the creative outlet between the midfield and attack, and to take over the dead ball situations. But he has been ineffective in both fronts, and despite showing some promise in the first three months of the season, quickly fizzled out. A return of 6 goals and 9 assists for a midfielder is good, but not for a 17m attacking midfielder who had 17 assists in his first full season at Aston Villa and 14 in his last season prior to arriving at United. Even Alex Song, who played a more withdrawn role for Arsenal, had 11 assists last season.

The poor form has continued into this season. After returning from injury, though he has been a regular starter, his performances have been anything but frustrating for the fans.Failure to run past defenders, inability to whip in a decent cross, and wasting dead ball situations aren’t the reasons why Ferguson would sign a winger. Despite this, injury to Nani and Kagawa means that he is the only option on the left wing. Or is he?

When Cristiano Ronado was at United, Rooney often played down the left. It might not be his favoured position, but in a 4-3-3, he could be more flexible with Van Persie occasionally moving to the left during a game. Or Welbeck, who played on the left during his successful loan spell at Sunderland two seasons ago, could also interchange with Rooney in this, or a more mobile 4-3-1-2. On Kagawa’s return, he could play in the hole in this formation and switch places with Rooney on the left. Besides this, Ferguson can also use the diamond structure that was successfully employed against Braga and Newcastle.

Fact of the matter is that Ashley Young is not indispensable. There are other players / formations that can render his position irrelevant. Antonio Valencia might not be in great form this season either but he still manages to beat defenders down the right and put a cross in. Moreover, he links up very well with Rafael down the right flank. At the moment, Young doesn’t have much going in his favour and it won’t be long before, like the fans, the manager runs out of patience too and tries to cut his losses.