Jan 312013

1. After dropping points against Spurs in such disappointing circumstances, and seeing City somehow only managing a draw against QPR, it was essential that we took full advantage of their slip-up and extended our lead at the top of the table back to seven points. Looking back at the game yesterday, I can assure you that most of us would have taken three points up front if it meant that we would play as poorly as we did in the second half. I certainly would have, and so no complaints with me. As Fergie pointed out, we can’t win all our games by three or four goals and sometimes you’ll have to rely on luck to get you the win. However, I’m sure Alex will not be happy with that performance and will let the players know exactly how he feels about it.

2. In the first half, we were allowed to play our own game thanks to the space the Southampton players offered us, something which Kagawa full utilised with a series of fantastic passes and runs. As soon as they started pressing us high up the field however, we started to panic on the ball and do everything we can to get rid of it. Danny Welbeck in particular looked really bad and lost the ball numerous times after being surrounded by opposition players. Taking into account how high Real Madrid like to press, you’ve got to wonder whether or not we’ll be able to cope with their front line.

3. Our second half performance yesterday was arguably the most disappointing I have seen us play all season. At times it looked like we were unable to string together more than five or six passes. As noted before though, this seems to be a recurring theme with us, and more specifically, our midfield disappearing completely in the second half in recent games. Having said that, we still nearly managed to score a few more in the second half if not for a wrongly ruled offside call and an unbelievable save from Boruc to deny Robin van Persie on two separate occasions.

4. Two minutes was all it took for us to fall behind in yet another game this season. After a clumsy pass from Anderson and a disastrous pass-back from Carrick, De Gea was left to look a fool after a good touch from Rodrigues took him away from the goalie. I find it shocking just how much blame falls on the young Spaniard, especially since Carrick himself accepted full responsibility of the goal conceded, and rightly so.

5. Wayne Rooney seems to be scoring at will now which is extremely pleasing to see given our so called ‘reliance’ on Robin van Persie. Although the Dutchman has scored his fair share, it’s pleasing to see the other strikers scoring their fair share as well, what with Hernandez scoring for fun as well. Wazza took both his goals well and deserves credit for it, although he could and probably should have had a third if it wasn’t for a poor touch.

6. It’s amazing just how much more effective we are from set-pieces this season, and all it took was to find someone capable of taking them. No surprises there then. Ever since RvP took charge of our freekicks and corners, we’ve looked much more dangerous and capable of scoring from them. Another important thing to note is Evra’s continuous contribution to our attacks after he notched his second ‘match-winning’ assist in three league games, after setting up Rooney’s second yesterday and Vidic’s winner against Liverpool.

7. As we enter ‘that time of the season’, the strength of our squad is looking more and more impressive as our previously injured players continue to return and get themselves back to full fitness. Luckily for us, and for the first time in three or four years, we haven’t picked up a real significant number of injuries * Knock on wood*. Yesterday we managed to win the game without the likes of Giggs, Cleverley, Hernandez or Valencia featuring which just goes to show the depth of our squad. Yes, I know we were only playing against Southampton at home but the point still stands.

8. As the game dragged on and the nerves started to unsettle the United players, and with the Spurs result fresh in our minds, Sir Alex decided to play it safe and bring on Rio Ferdinand to shore up the defence. Rio’s experience and composure added some much needed steel to our defence and helped carry us forward passed the finish line. If you want to appreciate Sir Alex’s substitutions, simply take a look at Rafa Benitez at Chelsea yesterday night. With them needing to hold on, the fat Spanish waiter brought on a striker and allowed Reading to snatch a late draw after being two down with ten minutes left. How spoilt are we?

9. Whilst watching the United game on the TV, I was also watching the Real vs. Barcelona game on my laptop simultaneously. Although it means that I’m now probably cross-eyed, it was an entertaining match to watch, especially when you consider how close our tie with them in the Champions League is. Real didn’t play too well yet still managed to grind out a draw against a Barca side in top, top form. Ironically it was Varane, a player we were very keen on signing, who got Madrid that all important equaliser.

10. Can we beat Real Madrid? Realistically, I think we can beat them over both legs but everything has to go right for us. As of yet, Mourinho’s men have only the Champions League in mind and so will be throwing everything they can at us. As long as we turn up on the day and hope for a bit of luck, then I think we can progress to the next round. It’s going to be difficult but winning the Champions League nearly always is. We can do it.

Jan 312013

As the January transfer window prepares to slam shut at 11pm, a report released by EA SPORTS has revealed the ‘must haves’ and ‘must avoids’ for managers searching for a last minute bargain.

Using Official Barclays Premier League data, the findings reveal a number of intriguing statistical insights that prove there’s value to be had without breaking the bank. The report highlights:

Newcastle should launch a shock swoop on deadly rivals Sunderland to replace Demba Ba – Mackems front man, Steven Fletcher, is the best performing striker outside of the traditional top six

Chelsea should stop scouring the market and offer Frank Lampard a new contract – ‘Lamps’ has the best goals per minute ratio of any Premier League midfielder

Arsenal are right to be pursuing West Ham’s Mohamed Diame in order to add steel to their midfield – the Hammer has a better tackling record than any of the current Gunners midfield

• Brendan Rodgers should launch another swoop on old club Swansea to add defensive reinforcements – only Phil Jagielka has contributed more defensively than Swans captain Ashley Williams this season

• If Harry Redknapp brings Peter Odemwingie to QPR he’s replacing Dijbril Cisse with a striker TWICE as deadly at converting chances

The report was collated in conjunction with EA SPORTS FIFA 13 Ultimate Team, which allows players to build, manage, and play as their own Ultimate Team. Using a live in-game auction house you play the role of team manager spending big like Mancini, conservative and calculated like Wenger or swooping for a last minute bargain like the shrewd Harry Redknapp. Making astute trades and landing the right players means you can build a team that every premier league manager will be dreaming of come the end of transfer deadline day.

While the big names and the big clubs will always demand high transfer fees, it’s the players outside the traditional ‘Big 6’ of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool that stand out as the real life ‘Hidden Gems’.

Steven Fletcher has proved a fantastic signing for Sunderland, hitting ten goals with an incredibly efficient 3.8 shots per goal to make him the pick of players outside of the ‘big 6’. In fact, if Fletcher could be tempted to move to St James Park, Alan Pardew would gain a striker more deadly in front of goal than Demba Ba. Ba has 14 goals this season but has needed 88 shots to get there, averaging 6.3 shots per goal. Using each player’s average chance conversion, Fletcher would be the Premier League’s top scorer with 23 goals if he’d had the same number of chances as Ba this season.

Chelsea are rumoured to be eyeing up a £15 million move for Brazil’s Paulinho but the data proves they might be better off securing a more familiar face. Frank Lampard has averaged a goal every 116 minutes 53 seconds this season, the best minutes per goal ratio of any midfielder in the Premier League. Needing an average of only 3.5 shots for every goal, his conversion rate is better than even Robin van Persie’s and surely good enough to warrant a new contract.

Finding a balance in midfield is a practiced art and, while Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal has never been short of quality on the ball, every midfield needs that bit of graft. Rumoured target West Ham’s Mohamed Diame trumps all Arsenal’s current midfield in the tackling stakes. Diame wins 60% of his tackles compared to Wilshere’s 44% and Arteta’s 40%. Add a minutes per interception rating that shows Diame making an interception every 62 minutes 48 seconds compared to Arteta’s 83 minutes 24 seconds and Wilshere’s 96 minutes 22 seconds and it becomes evident that Diame could add that bit of bite to Arsenal’s gracious midfield.

Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge have all worked with Brendan Rodgers previously before moving to Liverpool and, as the Northern Irishman aims to stamp his own philosophy on the club, Rodgers is now being linked with another former player in Swansea Captain, Ashley Williams. Williams has made 243 defensive contributions (measured by tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks) this season – second only to Everton’s Phil Jagielka – which suggests, for a rumoured £8 million, Rodgers could get a bargain if he bags the Swans stopper.

Peter Odemwingie issued a ‘come and get me’ plea over Twitter at the weekend and it looks like QPR and West Brom are set for protracted negotiations as the deadline looms. Odemwingie has had limited opportunities this season, but has still managed to notch up five Premier League goals at a rate of 7.2 shots per goal. Compare that to the man he would be replacing at QPR, Djibril Cisse, and Harry Redknapp would be gaining a striker twice as deadly. Cisse laboured to 13 shots per goal for his tally of 3 Premier League goals. Jamie Mackie’s strike rate isn’t much better, averaging 11 shots per goal. In fact, only the injury-plagued Bobby Zamora has a chance conversion rate of less than 10 shots per goal at QPR.

Although the majority of transfer window activity is expected to happen over the remaining hours, there was some early movement in January with both Liverpool and Chelsea seeking to boost their firepower. But have they made the right moves?

With 3 goals for Chelsea already since moving, Demba Ba already looks like one of the bargains of the season at a reported £7.5 million. Ba’s introduction sees him fight for a starting berth with the misfiring Fernando Torres but the data shows there is very little cause for comparison. On current form, Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is averaging a goal every 276 minutes which is over twice as long for each strike as Ba who averages 127 mins per goal. Torres is actually more accurate in front of goal than Ba, getting 72% of shots on target compared to Ba’s 56% but the short of confidence Torres has only had 43 efforts at goal this season, compared to Ba’s 88.

The arrival of Ba at Chelsea allowed Daniel Sturridge to move to Liverpool. The Reds already had the Premier League’s second top goal scorer in Luis Suarez but, with the Uruguayan scoring 16 and assisting in 5 of Liverpool’s 40 goals this season, they looked over reliant on their number 7. However, the data shows that signing Sturridge could be a masterstroke that leaves Brendan Rodgers with the deadliest duo in the business. The bad news for Liverpool’s Premier League rivals is that Sturridge is even more lethal in front of goal than Suarez. Over the last two seasons Sturridge has scored 14 goals from 106 shots, with a conversion rate of 7.57 shots per goal compared to Suarez’s 8.67 shots per goal.

But for the many managers on a more modest budget and still looking to do business, EA SPORTS FIFA 13 Ultimate Team (FUT) has put together two special Transfer Window XI’s that could help them scoop a hidden gem.

Our first XI avoids the high transfer fees and reluctance of rival managers to do business together by looking at the top ranking players outside of the traditional ‘Top 6’ clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs. The season has seen some standout performance outside of these teams and with teams such as Everton and Swansea performing above expectations out First XI shows where managers could be looking further down the table.

FUT First XI: Players outside of the ‘Top 6’
Howard; Baines, Jagielka, A Williams, Rangel; Fellaini, Pienaar, Michu, Routledge; Fletcher, Berbatov; SUBS: Mignolet, Olsson, Osman, Lambert

Our second XI looks at those players who may be tempted by a move for more regular football. Every player in our second XI has played less than half their team’s minutes on the pitch this season (for reasons other than long term injury) but boasts a ‘per minute on the pitch’ rating that rivals the Premier League’s biggest stars.

FUT Second XI: Players playing under half of team minutes
Tremmel; Lescott, Naughton, McCartney, Whittaker; Lampard, Nasri, Kacaniklic, Milner; Weimann, Graham; SUBS: Lindegaard, Dawson, Kebe, Anichebe

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Jan 312013

With the recent purchase of Crystal Palace winger, Wilfried Zaha, many are considering that is a signal for the end of Nani’s run with United. His form has been erratic, his play inconsistent and with the rumors spreading that he’s been unwilling to sign a new contract in the past year, all signs point to his untimely exit with the probable branding of “a player with much potential but failed to live up to it”. But despite all that, Nani still has a place at United and selling him would be a mistake.

Nani’s most recent appearance against a lethargic Fulham in the FA Cup show cased the many frustrations with Nani but, more positively, his talents too. He attacked with drive and purpose at every chance he got. He showed he was a player not lacking in confidence and was willing to take defenders on. I cannot say I’ve seen that same kind of confidence from Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia this season. In fact, Valencia’s atrocious form and inability to use his left foot makes him more of a liability than an asset at this point. Where Valencia’s predictable, (he’s going right no matter what “feints” he uses and then hitting a cross) , Nani’s unpredictable in a good way. (Is he going left or right? Is he crossing or shooting… or is he going to keep dribbling?)While Nani’s final ball and decision making can be found wanting at times, his ability to at least keep opponents guessing and off balanced brings the kind of drive and confidence that United has desperately lacked in the wings this season.

Nani is also more versatile at the moment than any of his competitors. He can play both sides of the pitch with ease. While Young and Zaha can do both, neither of them can whip in crosses with their left foot like Nani can. When your sole purpose is to unbalance opposing defenders and test their skills by whip point in difficult crosses, Nani’s ambidexterity is an asset that cannot be taken lightly. This is even more highlighted when the other winger literally cannot even take a touch with his left foot in any situation.

Let’s not forget that the Portuguese international is battle tested at the highest level and has more trophies to his name than the others combined. This type of experience (3 Champions League finals, 3 Premier League titles, 62 international appearances, 1 Champions League trophy, 1 League Cup and 1 Club World Cup) simply cannot be so easily replaced by an untested Championship winger who is just breaking out the international level. At least not yet.

Wilfried Zaha may be the next great winger to don the red of Manchester, but he is largely untested at this level of competition. To move Zaha ahead of Nani at this point would be premature. Nani was strong in his first season at United in 2007-2008, and was simply magnificent in 2010-2011. He still has the talent and capability of changing a game with the strike of his foot. Until Young, Valencia and Zaha show that they are capable of delivering the goods, selling Nani would be a great mistake.

Jan 302013

Fulham v West Ham, 20:00


Fulham will be looking to bounce back from their last Premier League outing which saw them fall to a 2-0 defeat against Manchester City.


Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell is enjoying his role as a key part of the Fulham midfield this season. Sidwell has won 62 tackles this season, the joint second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index


Overall Sidwell has contributed defensively every 10 minutes 28 seconds this season, the best rating of any midfielder in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. As well as his excellent tackling rate, Sidwell has also contributed 15 clearances, 77 interceptions, and 6 blocks.


West Ham will also be looking to forget their last league outing which saw them lose 5-1 to a rampant Arsenal side. A solitary Jack Collison strike was scant consolation for the Irons in that game


Irish defender Joey O’Brien is one of three West Ham players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s Top 100 players. O’Brien has made 89 defensive contributions this season across tackles won, clearances, interceptions and blocks, averaging one every 16 minutes 14 seconds


O’Brien could still, however, tighten up on his tackling as he’s won just 48.9% of the 45 tackles he has attempted this season


Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, meanwhile, is one of eight goalkeepers now in the Premier League to have made over 100 saves. Jaaskelainen has made 103 saves overall, conceding 33 goals at a rate of 3.12 saves per goal.

Jan 302013

A couple of Arsenal defeats to sides in the lower reaches of the Premier League is par for the course of a Gunners’ season nowadays. Gone are the days of Bould, Adams et al; a rearguard tighter than a Ryanair seat.

At the moment, when news is transferred to a football supporter that Arsenal has lost a game, the reaction is one of indifference rather than the bewilderment you’d previously come across.

If one were to click here for tickets at the Emirates, they would stumble across what looked like a good defence in the programme notes, only to discover a hideously, incoherent mess when the same personnel took to the pitch. For all the talent Arsenal’s back-line possesses, this never seems to come to fruition when the studs meet the grass.

The early season good run of form, one that included a host of clean sheets, proved a false dawn for fans of the North London club. Every ‘Gooner’ you’d give up 2 minutes of your time for would wax lyrical about how Steve Bould in his new Assistant Manager role, had plugged the metaphorical gap so tight that even the introduction of a Mr. Bramble to the back four would not have caused any harm.

Alas, this never turned into a long-term affair and come December, the Red part of the capital was back to its previous manner, with defeats at the hands of Norwich and Swansea. Not to forget the combined total of 8 goals conceded in games against Premier League giants Reading and Fulham.

For all the slow Giraffe jibes, Per Meresacker is a composed and reliable centre-back. After all, you don’t reach 85 caps for the German national side before the age of 29 if you’re bad in your position. The same could be said for Thomas Vermalen; while he isn’t quite as solid as his German counterpart, his ability to start attacks from a deep position as well as the fantastic reading of the game he possesses, make him a terrific all-round defender. Not only this, he is also from Belgium, the footballing hipster’s nation of choice.

Similar approval could be uttered when talking about the full-backs in Arsenal’s fearsome foursome. Bakary Sagna has proven to be one of the league’s most consistent right-backs in recent seasons. Furthermore, Kieran Gibbs has the potential to be Ashley Cole’s long-term replacement in the England side, providing he starts to shovel down as much calcium humanly possible in the next few years, because at the moment, his bones have got as much chance of staying healthy for a season as Barcelona have of playing a pass over the 30 yard mark.

So evidence suggests that the raw materials are present in the Gunners’ defence, but whether they get turned into the efficient fortress other club’s once held in so high regard is another story. But you never know, purchasing Arsenal tickets for 2013 may be a gateway into the Catenaccio of this decade…or maybe not.

Jan 302013

Reading v Chelsea, 20:00


Reading came from a goal behind against Newcastle to win 2-1 thanks to a brace from Adam le Fondre.


Le Fondre’s goals took his tally for the season to eight coming from an efficient 32 shots at goal averaging exactly 4 shots per goal. To put that in context, league top scorer Robin van Persie averages 4.39 shots per goal.


Reading had Adam Federici to thank for keeping them in the game up til that point. The Reading ‘keeper made 11 saves during the game, the busiest goalkeeper in the last round of matches.


Mikele Leigertwood has excelled in the role of midfield enforcer this season, winning 62 tackles so far, the joint second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He has also made more interceptions than any other midfielder with 104.


Jobi McAnuff has had an impressive season for Reading, but will be hoping the goals start to flow soon. The midfielder has had 23 shots at goal including 8 on target without scoring, the third highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index


Chelsea will need to put the drama of their League Cup exit and Eden Hazard’s red card behind them and return to concentrating on the Premier League. Their last league outing saw them beat Arsenal 2-1 thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard.


Mata and Lampard now have eight goals each in the Premier League this season, although Lampard has secured his at a rate of one every 116 minutes 53 seconds (the best ratio of any midfielder in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index) compared to Mata’s one every 209 minutes 45 seconds


Bot midfielders boast impressive accuracy in front of goal, with Mata getting 73% of his 41 shots at goal on target and Lampard 68% of this 28 shots.


However, Lampard is unusually yet to register an assist this season, despite having completed 245 passes in the opposition half. In comparison, Mata has 11 assists to his name having completed 689 passes in the opposition half.


Mata completes a pass in the opposition half every 2 minutes 26 seconds on average, the 6th best rating in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, discounting those players who have played less than 500 minutes.



Jan 302013

Norwich v Tottenham, 19:45


Norwich have now failed to score in their last two Premier League games, including their most recent 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.


The goal drought at Carrow Road isn’t for want of opportunities. Winger Robert Snodgrass has delivered 86 crosses this season, the third highest overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index and just two behind the top ranked player Leighton Baines who has delivered 88.


That performance makes Snodgrass Norwich’s top ranked player in 40th overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, thanks to four goals and four assists this season. Snodgrass has also completed 504 passes in the opposition half, averaging one every 3 minutes 41 seconds.


Team mate Anthony Pilkington has also been delivering the crosses this season, and is ranked 6th overall


Another Norwich midfielder doing his best to reverse Norwich’s fortunes is Bradley Johnson. Johnson has been consistently one of the Premier League’s hardest working players over the last two seasons and has now covered 133.62 miles this season, more than any other Norwich player.


A late Clint Dempsey equaliser earnt Spurs a point against league leaders Manchester United in their last game.


Spurs midfielder Sandro has excelled in the role of holding midfielder this season, winning 62 tackles so far, the joint second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index


Moussa Dembele is another Spurs player to sit high in the tackles won ranking. Dembele has won 39 tackles, more than any other forward in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index


Gylfi Sigurdsson will be hoping to end his dry run against Norwich. Sigurdsson has had 29 efforts at goal this season including 15 on target without scoring, more than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.


Aaron Lennon is enjoying a return to top form this season, and is ranked fourth overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for dribbles with 30.


Fellow winger Gareth Bale has been just as dangerous on the other flank, delivering 80 crosses, the fourth highest number in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Jan 302013

Man Utd v Southampton, 20:00


Manchester United’s last league outing saw them denied three points by a late Spurs equaliser. Robin van Persie has put United ahead with his 18th goal of the season earlier.


Van Persie’s goal scoring has allowed Wayne Rooney to drop deeper into more of a supporting role, a move supported by his stats which show he makes more passes per minute in the opposition half than any other Premier League striker. Rooney averages a pass every 2 minutes 53 seconds.


Tom Cleverley provided the assist for van Persie’s goal, just his second of the season, despite having completed 386 passes in the opposition half at a rate of one every 3 minutes 6 seconds.


Manchester United defender Phil Jones made five blocks during the game against Spurs, the joint second highest number of the season.


Southampton’s new manager Mauricio Pochettino got his career off to a promising start with a 0-0 draw against Everton in their last game.


Pochettino has inherited the hardest working team in the Premier League. Southampton have covered more ground than any other team in the Premier League with a total of 1474 miles.


Morgan Schneiderlin, meanwhile, takes the individual trophy for most distance run with a total of 148.2 miles so far this season, one of only five players to have topped 140 miles so far.


Schneiderlin has also completed 414 passes in the opposition half this season, more than any other Saints player.


Rickie Lambert is Southampton’s top ranked player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index having scored ten goals in the Premier League at a rate of one every 191 minutes 40 seconds, and one every 5.1 shots.


Lambert also has five assists to his name, meaning he has contributed to exactly half of Southampton’s 30 Premier League goals this season.

Jan 302013

Arsenal v Liverpool, 19:45


Arsenal ran riot in their last Premier League game, beating West Ham 5-1 thanks to two goals from Olivier Giroud, and strikes from Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott.


Giroud’s strikes took his Premier League tally to six this season from 51 shots with 51% of those on target. Giroud has also been supporting at the back, with 20 clearances. That’s the second highest for a striker in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index behind only the man Giroud was bought in to replace, Robin van Persie, who has made 24 clearances.


Aaron Ramsey was one of the game’s controlling forces, completing 43 passes in the opposition half, more than any other player in the last round of games.


The match will be a battle of the midfielders, as the game will see two of the league’s hardest working midfielders go head to head. Santi Cazorla (142.4 miles) and Steven Gerrard (142.92 miles) rank third and second in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for miles covered so far this season.


Cazorla has a chance to go top in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for passes completed in the opposition half over the forthcoming fixtures. Yaya Toure leads Cazorla at present by 916 to 843, but with Toure away at the Africa Cup of Nations Cazorla has a chance to make his mark at the top of the passing charts in his first season in the Premier League.


The game also sees two of the league’s most attacking full backs go head to head. Bacary Sagna has completed more passes in the opposition half per minute on the pitch than any other defender this season averaging a pass completed every 3 minutes 31 seconds. He will go up against Liverpool right back Glen Johnson, who has had more shots at goal than any other defender this season with 34, and more dribble than any other defender with 19.


Liverpool also hit five in their last league game, winning 5-0 against Norwich thanks to goals from Jordan Henderson, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and an own goal forced by Raheem Sterling


Sturridge has wasted no time in settling in at Anfield, scoring 3 goals from 18 shots already this season. Sturridge has averaged a shot every 17 minutes 36 seconds this season, the most prolific strike rating in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.


Sturridge is only just ahead of team mate Luis Suarez, who averages a shot every 17 minutes 59 seconds, so Arsenal Keeper Wojciech Szczesny can count on having to add to the 61 saves he has made so far this season.


Arsenal’s defenders will also need to be on their toes against a Liverpool side that enjoys running at players. Liverpool have both of the top two players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for dribbles in Luis Suarez (41) and Raheem Sterling (34)


The return of Lucas to the Liverpool midfield has proven an excellent defensive platform for a Liverpool attack which has scored three or more goals in three of their last four Premier League games. Lucas has contributed more defensively per minute on the pitch than all but one other Premier League defender. Lucas has made 79 defensive contributions across tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks, at an average of one every 8 minutes 38 seconds.

Jan 302013

Everton v West Brom, 19:45


Everton come into the game against West Brom on the back of successive nil nil draws against Southampton and Swansea, and you can get an industry best price of 16/1 with 888sport.com on this fixture being another nil nil draw


Phil Jagielka remains the key to Everton’s excellent defensive record this season. Jagielka has won 87% of the 54 tackles he has made this season, a percentage bettered only by Reading’s Shaun Cummings.


In fact, no player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index has contributed more this season defensively than Jagielka. Jagielka has made 260 defensive contributions this season across tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks.


Meanwhile Leon Osman is having something of a renaissance this season, earning his first England cap thanks to a string of impressive performances for the Toffees. Osman is ranked fifth overall for distance covered this season with 140.53 miles.


West Brom’s last league game was a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa, with goals from Chris Brunt and Peter Odemwingie, who seems to be on his way out of the Hawthorns after taking to Twitter this week to voice his dissatisfaction.


Odemwingie has five Premier League goals this season, coming from 36 shots at goal with exactly half on target. Odemwingie also has four assists to his name, averaging a goal or assist every 139 minutes.


Brunt has completed 290 passes in the opposition half this season, averaging one every 4 minutes 36 seconds. It’s midfield team mate James Morrison, however, who has the most impressive passing stats in the West Brom squad, with 408 passes in the opposition half, averaging one every 4 minutes 28 seconds. Morrison is an industry best price of 6/1 to score at any time against Everton with 888sport.com


If Everton are to avoid a third successive game without scoring they will need to find a way past West Brom defender Jonas Olsson. Olsson has made more clearances than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index this season with 61.

Jan 292013

QPR v Man City, 19:45


Loic Remy marked his QPR debut with a goal to earn QPR a point against West Ham in their last league match.


Remy was also the hardest working player on the pitch for QPR, covering 6.31 miles in total and showing the fresh impetus that new signings can bring in the January window


QPR will be hoping Remy’s goal scoring continues. Their current top goal scorer is Adel Taarabt with four goals this season. However, it has taken Taarabt 66 shots to score those goals, a conversion rate of 16.5 shots per goal. That makes Taarabt the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s 8th most prolific shooter but the 39th ranked goalscorer.


With four goals and four assists, however, Taarabt has contributed directly to 8 of QPR’s 18 goals (44%) this season, showing just how valuable he is for the R’s. He has also completed 478 passes in the opposition half this season, ranked 21st in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, and over 100 more than his next ranked QPR team mate Esteban Granero with 374


Taarabt is also ranked third overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for dribbles completed this season with 33


Manchester City have won their last four Premier League games, including three consecutive clean sheets.


Man City goalkeeper can thanks his outfield team mates for making those clean sheets relatively easy to come by this season. The England number one has had to make just 67 saves this season, averaging one every 33 minutes 7 seconds. Compare that to the league’s busiest goalkeeper Aston Villa’s Bradley Guzan who has had to make 130 saves, averaging one every 15 minutes 33 seconds.


David Silva scored twice in their most recent victory, a 2-0 defeat of Fulham, to mark a return to last season’s scintillating form for the Spanish midfielder. Of players who have played over 500 minutes this season only Paul Scholes has a better minutes per pass completed rating than Silva. Silva averages a pass completed in his opponent’s half every 2 minutes 10 seconds (compared to Scholes who averages exactly two minutes between each completed pass in the attacking half).


That has put Silva third overall in the ranking for most passes completed in the opposition half with 758. Silva’s passing game will be even more crucial as team mate Yaya Toure is away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and he leads the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for passes completed with 916.


City covered a total of 66.96 miles in that game, the 8th highest total distance posted by a team in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index this season

Jan 292013

Stoke v Wigan, 19:45


Stoke have been one of the best teams in the league defensively this season, but will need to return to that form to halt a run which has seen them concede ten goals in their last three Premier League games.


The most recent defeat was a 3-1 loss against Swansea, in which Michael Owen scored a late consolation goal.


Robert Huth has been at the centre of Stoke’s best defensive work this season. Huth is ranked third overall for defensive contributions this season with 238 across tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks. That means Huth interrupts an opposition attack every 9 minutes and 35 seconds on average.


Jonathan Walters’ season may be remembered for his nightmare performance against Chelsea which saw him score two own goals and miss a penalty, but in fact Walters should be credited as one of the most consistently hard working players in the league. Walters has covered 141.46 miles this season, the fourth highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He has been Stoke’s hardest worker in 12 of their 23 league games this season.


Walters has also done more defensively than any other striker in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 77 defensive contributions across tackles won, clearances, interceptions and blocks. 888sport.com have Walters at an industry best price of 6/1 to buck his recent run of bad luck and score first against Wigan.


Wigan were unfortunate to lose 3-2 against Sunderland in their last league game, to make it three games without a win for the Latics.


Ronnie Stam’s shot forced a Sunderland own goal for the first, while Angel Henriquez hit the second. Henriquez is an industry best price of 9/1 with 888sport.com to make it two goals in two games and score first against Stoke.


Stam has delivered more crosses per minute on the pitch than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with one every 18 minutes and 18 seconds, 42 crosses in total.


James McArthur covered the most ground for the Latics in that game with 7.08 miles, the 7th time in 8 games he has topped his team’s charts for ground covered and taking his total mileage for the season to 104.39 miles.


Jean Beausejour has been a constant threat this season delivering 87 crosses so far, the second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index and just one behind the league’s top performer Leighton Baines who has delivered 88 crosses.

Jan 292013

Aston Villa v Newcastle, 19:45


Aston Villa will be looking to bounce back from a week that saw them knocked out of both the FA Cup and League Cup.  Their last league game was a 2-2 draw with West Brom that saw goals from Christian Benteke, who has been a stand out performer for Villa this season, and Gabriel Agbonlahor.


Benteke has seven goals from 68 shots this season, with an impressive 72% on target. He’s also contributed four assists meaning he has had a hand in 58% of Aston Villa’s goals this season.


Agbonlahor’s goal was just his second of the season, having had 14 shots at goal with 71% on target. The usually prolific Agbonlahor has been shot shy this season, averaging a shot every 84 minutes 24 seconds.


Matt Lowton has been another stand out performer for Villa this season, winning 58 tackles so far, more than any other defender in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.


Newcastle will also be looking for an upturn in form, after losing 2-1 to Reading in their last Premier League game. Yohan Cabaye had put Newcastle ahead in that game with a superb free kick.


Cabaye has been a key player for Newcastle over the last two seasons, and his absence through injury has had an undeniable impact on Newcastle’s fortunes.  Cabaye has played just 1017 minutes this season, but has completed a pass in his opponent’s half every 5 minutes 9 seconds this season and won 61.5% of his attempted tackles.


Newcastle’s reliance on Cabaye is made clear when you consider that 84 players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index have completed 300 or more passes in the opposition half this season, but only one of those is a Newcastle player (Vurnon Anita with 307 passes completed)


Following the loss of Demba Ba to Chelsea, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa seem to be Newcastle’s most likely sources of goals. Cisse has four goals from 39 shots at goal with 51% on target, while Ben Arfa has 3 goals from 30 shots with 53% on target. A conversion rate of approximately ten shots for each goal for both players will need to be improved on if they are to fire in the goals to keep Newcastle clear of the relegation zone.


Jonas Guttierez is doing as much as anyone to try and provide the goal scoring opportunities. He has delivered 31 crosses without being credited an assist, the second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Jan 282013

Sunderland v Swansea, 19:45


Two goals from Steven Fletcher and a penalty from Craig Gardner helped Sunderland battle to a 3-2 win over Wigan in their last league game.


Gardner’s goal was just his third of the season, despite having had 39 shots at goal this season with 61.4% on target. Gardner has been more effective at the other end of the pitch, however, making 26 clearances, more than any other midfielder in the league.


Sunderland have built a reputation as a tough tackling team this season, led by midfielder James McClean who has won 65 tackles so far this season, more than any other player.


Carlos Cuellar has also excelled in the tackle this season, winning 86.7% of his 53 attempted tackles this season, a percentage bettered only by Reading’s Shaun Cumming’s and Everton’s Phil Jagielka


John O’Shea, meanwhile, has been one of the league’s most influential defenders. O’Shea is ranked fourth overall for defensive contributions with 231 across tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks, averaging one every 7 minutes 38 seconds.


Swansea were also winners in their last league game, beating Stoke 3-1 thanks to two goals by Jonathan de Guzman and Ben Davies’ first goal for Swansea


De Guzman’s goals take his tally for the season to five in the Premier League, coming from 31 shots with 54.8% on target. He also has 5 assists to his name, with 472 passes completed in the opposition half or one every 3 minutes 28 seconds.


Sung Yeung Ki will be hoping to break his duck in front of goal soon. The South Korean midfielder has had 26 efforts at goal including 13 on target without scoring, the second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.


Angel Rangel shares a similarly frustrating statistic, having delivered more crosses (32) without being credited an assist than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index


Away from the goal scoring heroics of his team mates, Ashley Williams has excelled in defence this season. He has made 160 interceptions, more than any other player, and is second only to Phil Jagielka for overall defensive contributions, having made 243 contributions across tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocks

Jan 282013

With less than a week until Transfer Nuclear Armageddon (or Transfer Deadline Day) is upon us once again, what Tottenham Hotspur must do is not so much dream of the future, but like any good historian, learn the lessons of the past.

That’s because there was a time seven and a half years ago when Tottenham in the summer transfer window, like now, were growing increasingly desperate for a striker. In August 2005, Spurs, re-emerging under Martin Jol and Chris Hughton, had Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Mido as their batch of forwards. With Keane and Defoe having long balls flying over their heads at regular intervals and Mido battling his weight more than opposition central defenders, reinforcements were needed. With money scarce and time even scarcer, Jol and Daniel Levy made their transfer plunge. The centre forward they purchased? Grzegorz Rasiak.

Rasiak only cost £1.5m and was quickly shipped out on loan to Southampton. He only made eight appearances and statistically is a mere footnote in Tottenham’s rich, varied and only one time Lasagne affected history. But in those eight scoreless appearances, he was so bad and so woefully out of depth as to give fans that saw him play the football supporter’s version of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What Tottenham must not do in the last week of the transfer window is make the same mistake again and buy another striker of his ilk. A bad striker who will cost the club time, money, poor on-pitch performance and maybe even dressing room harmony will be far more costly both literally and metaphorically than keeping with the status quo.

Last season, Tottenham’s transfer dealings in January proved this point. Louis Saha after a good start at the club disrupted the team tactically and struggled to score goals, while the departures of Vedran Corluka and Steven Pienaar on loan left Spurs with a crippling lack of squad depth when tiredness and fatigue viciously kicked in. As unlucky as Spurs were to miss out on the Champions League due to Chelsea’s stunning victory in the competition, the fact they finished 4th and not 3rd was entirely self-inflicted.

The yearning for a striker this January is understandable. Spurs only have two genuine strikers in their first team squad, and of those two Emmanuel Adebayor has barely played this season and when he has played has shown all the effort and application of a spoilt teenager on a Monday morning. The only game he applied himself for, against former club Arsenal, he was sent off after 18 minutes for a tackle so stupid even Lennie in Of Mice and Men would have thought better of it.

He signing permanently for Spurs after being at the club on loan last season has seemingly taken away his effort and application on the pitch. Given his history of not pulling his weight at Manchester City and Arsenal, you can’t say Spurs weren’t warned the same thing would happen when he signed a long term deal at the club.

Jermain Defoe, for so long denied a consistent run in the Spurs starting line-up has almost by default been granted a regular berth in the team. And while his tally of fourteen goals before the end of January is impressive, he has only scored one goal in his last eight games while his all round play has at times left a lot to be desired.

His performance at QPR at home earlier this season was his season in microcosm. He only had five touches all game, was poor throughout but tapped home a rebound he could barely miss to put his name on the scoresheet and encourage the pundits who are too lazy and sure of their opinions to watch games to loudly sing his virtues. The amount of pundits who have said of Defoe this season that ‘he’s on fire’ makes it amazing that at no point has Defoe literally been on fire.

The best forward Spurs probably have at the moment is Clint Dempsey. And he’s a midfielder. An alternative to Defoe and Adebayor, youngster Harry Kane, is on a season-long loan to Norwich. A striker is needed if Spurs are to carry the momentum gained from their last minute equaliser against Manchester United and their current run of only one loss in twelve to a top four finish at season’s end.

As badly as Tottenham may want a striker though, there are few, if any top class strikers currently available to them. The likes of Falcao, Fernando Llorente and Mario Balotelli are too expensive and frankly looking to sign for clubs of a higher calibre than Tottenham. Whether Spurs would want someone as eccentric and potentially destabilising as Balotelli anyway is doubtful.

The strikers Spurs have been linked with are hardly people who are going to set fans pulses racing. Leandro Damiao has been linked with Spurs for an age without ever coming close to signing, while tabloid gossip this week has linked with the club with Celtic forward Gary Hooper, who a few years ago couldn’t even make the Southend United starting XI.

While he has an excellent goalscoring record at Celtic and has scored in the Champions League, the Scottish League is of an ever lower quality and is now truly the uglier, wrinkled, drug addicted sister to the attractive, shallow princess that is the Premiership. For every Henrik Larsson and even Nikica Jelavic who were top goalscorers playing in the SPL, there’s Georgios Samaras and Kris Boyd, people who failed in England but have had success in Scotland.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that Hooper, though undoubtedly a striker of some potential, simply wouldn’t be good enough for a side now a regular in and around the top four in the Premiership. Another striker Spurs have supposedly been interested in, Matej Vydra of Watford, may have scored eighteen goals for Watford this season but didn’t make the grade at Udinese and after only half a season in the second tier of English (and occasionally Welsh) football surely lacks the sufficient experience.

Those two names are indicative of just how low Tottenham are having to look and how desperate they’re increasingly becoming to sign a striker who can to add an ever improving side. The defence has improved greatly since Hugo Lloris replaced Brad Friedel in goal, while the midfield was one of the best, if not the best in the league with Sandro in it and even without him will be strengthened by the arrival of Lewis Holtby from Schalke.

The forward line is the only real chink in Tottenham’s increasingly resilient armour. If it isn’t bolstered and improved, Spurs run the risk of being short of the necessary firepower when Arsenal, Everton and others attack in the hunt to finish in the top four. If it is bolstered but only by a rotten apple that’s worse than Defoe and Adebayor, the destabilising effect could be costly.