Tactics Board: A pair of Chelsea buses, Giggs' attacking intent
LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA
Brendan Rodgers accused Chelsea of parking "two buses" in their 2-0 win at Anfield. What he meant, perhaps, was that they had two defensive blocks: a back four shielded by a central midfield trio. Both stayed deep, the defence so that there wasn’t much room behind them for Liverpool’s quick players to sprint into, and the midfield to ensure there was little space between the lines for Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to exploit.
As such, the Blues’ midfield triumvirate was key. Jose Mourinho’s side had only 27 percent of possession so, deprived of the ball, they had to concentrate and retain their discipline positionally. Indeed, two telling statistics are that the trio had just one touch -- from Nemanja Matic -- in the Liverpool box and between them, the Serb, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel had fewer touches than the 148 Steven Gerrard mustered on his own.
Mikel, who made 10 clearances but completed only 19 passes, illustrates the destructive nature of their job. He is a holding midfielder in any game but his touch map indicates how close he was to his own goal and to his central defenders; for most of those clearances, he was an ersatz centre-back. While Lampard and Matic were a little more advanced when they were in possession, Chelsea were conscious of how Liverpool look to flood the midfield and knew that they risked being outnumbered if either ventured forward. It meant that, apart from the sole striker, the only Chelsea players to really join in attacks were the wingers.
CRYSTAL PALACE 0-2 MANCHESTER CITY
Yaya Toure marked his return to the Manchester City side with a goal and an assist to highlight his qualities. Both his cross for Edin Dzeko and his finish were evidence of his precision. His touch map gives an indication of his athleticism. Toure is in the select band of central midfielders with the power to get in the final third regularly. His goal proved, too, that he can break past the strikers on the counterattack.
It would be an exaggeration to say City had missed Toure -- Fernandinho had moved into the attacking midfielder’s role against Sunderland and scored within two minutes -- but his contribution at Selhurst Park took his tally to 19 goals and six assists for the league season. Only one central midfielder -- Lampard in 2009-10 -- has ever reached 20 goals in a Premier League season. Toure has three opportunities to join him.
MANCHESTER UNITED 4-0 NORWICH
Manchester United recorded their biggest win of the league campaign, featuring the most attempts at goal in any of their 35 matches. It seemed Ryan Giggs realised his promise to play an exciting brand of football that fitted the United philosophy.
Viewed that way, it marked an emphatic change from the David Moyes era. In one respect, however, there were similarities: Like the Scot, Giggs based his tactics on a 4-4-2 template and, as Moyes often did, selected one out-and-out winger (Antonio Valencia) and a No. 10 playing off the other flank. While it is of course easier playing at home against relegation-threatened opponents, the fundamental difference, however, was that Giggs’ 4-4-2 was essentially attacking, whereas Moyes’ formation tended to be more cautious.
The amount of time United spent in the final third is reflected by Valencia’s touch map. The Ecuadorian did not always make the most of the situations he got into, but it is notable how often he was on the ball in the Norwich box. He delivered five crosses and had four shots, one of them headed in by Juan Mata.
Wing play is a United tradition, and the full-backs were also major factors on the flanks. Phil Jones’ cross led to the penalty for the opening goal and he also recorded an assist. Tellingly, when Mata scored the third goal, it was notable that both the Englishman and left-back Patrice Evra were on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area.
SOUTHAMPTON 2-0 EVERTON
It is easy to pigeonhole Rickie Lambert as an old-fashioned centre forward, a target man who lacks pace. He showed another element to his game against Everton. As Southampton are without the injured Jay Rodriguez, manager Mauricio Pochettino selected the young striker Sam Gallagher to lead the line and played Lambert off him.
In effect, Lambert operated as a No. 10 in Saints’ 4-2-3-1 formation. His touch map shows how, and where, he did his work, almost exclusively outside the penalty area.
The clusters of dots on the left wing are doubly significant: partly because Adam Lallana, nominally the left-sided player, often appears between the lines in the No. 10 position, so it created space for Lambert to move into and partly because the 32-year-old’s curling cross led to Antolin Alcaraz’s own goal. It illustrated that he is a fine crosser -- again, not something always associated with a target man, and proved he can interchange positions with men more accustomed to operating as attacking midfielders.