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Two brilliantly taken goals from Luis Suarez, and one cool assist, were enough to finish Cardiff off by half-time in Liverpool’s 3-1 win. The defeat was not unexpected for Cardiff and results elsewhere kept a cushion between them and the relegation zone. As Christmas is coming, Cardiffkickaball takes a brief look at the game.

Liverpool kept the same team and formation that had romped home against Spurs. Cardiff brought Gunnarson in to central midfield to give the midfield some more bite, Noone was given another start on the wing while Odemwingie, surprisingly, started up front.

lineups

Liverpool dominated the early possession, with the defensive trio of Skrtel, Sakho and Lucas seeing a lot of the ball, as they would throughout the match. Cardiff were able to hit Liverpool on the break, Noone coming close in the 15th minute, cutting inside from the right with a decent shot that was too close to Mignolet, but Liverpool were quite worthy of their opener from who else…Suarez.

Cardiff’s tactic of defending deep can be seen in the screenshot below; Henderson (white oval) is crossing to Suarez (black oval), with the direction of Suarez’s movement indicated by the arrow. The defence have been drawn towards the ball to block the cross and Suarez is foolishly allowed to move the other way. His finish is superb but far too much space is allowed around the penalty spot.

suarez1st

Liverpool continued to put pressure on Cardiff and in the final five minutes of the first half, two more goals were scored. Cardiff were caught after going forward for a set piece and Suarez and Sterling easily combined for the second goal, while the third was an exceptional piece of skill from the Uruguayan, curling the ball inside the far post from the edge of the area.

A more attacking Cardiff came out in the second half. The poor Odemwingie and at times overrun Medel were withdrawn for Kim and Campbell, which raised the prospect of Cardiff being hit repeatedly on the break with less cover in front of the defence. In fact, this gave Cardiff more control of the game. Mutch dropped back a little to allow Kim to play as attacking midfielder, while Johnson moved to Liverpool’s left back position. His attacking runs had pushed Noone back but with that threat removed, Noone was able to become more involved in the match.

Cardiff got their goal when a Whittingham free kick floated to the far post and was well headed back across goal by Mutch. After the goal, Cardiff began to threaten and after an hour, for the first time, possession was beginning to become even. In terms of goal attempts, this was Cardiff’s best spell of the match, with shots in the final half hour (and four in the opening hour). A second goal may have worried Liverpool but it was not to come.

Cardiff’s attacking outlook

Cardiff’s better performances of late have come with Noone rather than Cowie on the wing and the attacking outlook is something that appears to work. Had Cardiff gone for a win from the start of the game at Anfield, it’s unlikely they would have got it – extra space for Suarez would surely have allowed him to score while it is a lot easier to go for goals when you’re three nil down with nothing to lose. However, with two home games to come over Christmas, Cardiff will surely revert to the attacking formation seen against West Brom. Whether that includes the underperforming Odemwingie ahead of the underused Cornelius remains to be seen.

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Cardiff follow up the important win over WBA with a trip to second place Liverpool. Liverpool’s irresistible form has seen them win four of their last five matches and they have the league’s top marksman up front, Luis Suarez.

Brendan Rodgers has been one of the more creative managers this season, alternating between a back three and four at times and sometimes using a strike partnership or lone striker. Against Spurs, and without Gerrard and Sturridge, Liverpool played a 4-3-3, with Coutinho supporting on one side and Sterling staying in an attacking position on the right flank. Henderson has also played on the right flank, but he was central this time, alongside Allen and in front of the defensive Lucas. Youngster Flanagan made another appearance at full back, with the overlapping Johnson on the right.

Liverpool

Luis Suarez

Suarez’s performances this season have been nothing short of exceptional and there have been very few top division players in recent years with a run of form quite like this, particularly one lasting a couple of months. He is averaging around a goal and a half per match and even that is not the full story. Not only has he outscored every other player this season (having missed the first five league matches) but he has also set up more goals than anyone else. Calling Liverpool a one man team is unfair but you have to look to Cristiano Ronaldo or Diego Costa to find another player currently in such dominant goal-a-game form in a major league (and Suarez’s 16 goals in 11 games beats Ronaldo’s 17 in 15 or Costa’s 17 in 16 comfortably).

Against Spurs, Suarez either scored or assisted all five goals and only Arsenal and Hull have managed to keep him from doing either in a match this season. In contrast to those efforts, Spurs did their best to help him. Spurs and Villas-Boas were widely criticised after the game for playing a high line against Liverpool, which is certainly true, but it has to be noted that Capoue (filling in as a makeshift centre back) did not adjust well enough to playing at centre back and consistently played far higher up the pitch than Dawson. Their complete lack of awareness of each other showed as Capoue regularly drifted forward into his regular position as defensive midfielder, leaving Dawson stranded behind him and a large expanse of grass for Suarez, Coutinho and Henderson to race into, safely onside. Liverpool’s opening goal is shown in the screenshots below, with the gap between Capoue and Dawson indicated by the black line.

In the first screenshot, Capoue has raced out to close down Suarez, who plays a decent, but not too dangerous, through ball to Henderson. Dawson cuts the ball out with a slide tackle (second screenshot) and there is a shield of four Spurs players between Dawson and Suarez; however, none make as much effort in tracking back as Suarez does in racing forward. Henderson recovers the ball (third screenshot) and plays it into Suarez, whose run is indicated with a white arrow and he finishes expertly.

opener1

opener2

opener3

Gaps behind the defence

The respective heat maps of the Tottenham centre back ‘pairing’, if they can be called that, are shown below, with Dawson above and Capoue below. The left image shows their positions over the whole 90 minutes and it can clearly be seen that Capoue is frequently far in advance of his partner. Most of his excursions into the opposition half occurred between 75 and 90 minutes (right image) as Spurs chased a point at 2-0 down and it is no coincidence that Liverpool scored a further three in this period, having a dominant 70% possession over the final 10 minutes.

spurscb  spurscb2

In comparison, the heat maps of Cardiff’s centre back pairing (Turner top and Caulker bottom) from the West Brom clean sheet are shown below. This is more typical of what you would expect to see, with both centre backs taking up a position between the penalty box and halfway line.

cardcb

In front of the Cardiff back four, as always, will be Medel but the positions of the other midfielders is less certain. Whittingham could well be on the left flank again to give defensive assistance to Taylor, in order to reduce the threat from Liverpool’s right wing. Liverpool’s formation against Spurs listed to the right, with Coutinho frequently cutting inside from the left and Sterling pushing forward with Johnson overlapping him from full back. On the left, the relatively inexperienced Flanagan was unprotected (although he did make some visits to the opposition penalty box, including his goal) which might give an opportunity for one of Cardiff’s pacey boyhood Liverpool fan right wingers, Noone or Bellamy, to attack him. If one was selected, Cowie may be given a central defensive midfield start to move over and provide some cover when necessary, with Mutch playing as the box-to-box midfielder and also pressing high (as he did successfully to score at Stamford Bridge).

Liverpool passing

Liverpool tend to try and build from the back, so pressure on the centrebacks and Lucas to prevent Mignolet passing them the ball is vital. Against Spurs, Lucas was Liverpool’s second top passer and received 92% of his passes in his own half (his position when receiving passes is shown below) and his discipline to stick to his role is admirable. By comparison, Capoue (an extreme example, perhaps) received 28% of his passes in the opposition half, despite supposedly playing at centre back. Campbell and Bellamy, if playing, are both used to chasing down defenders and they will be required to force Mignolet to play long balls, which should give Caulker and Turner, both excellent in aerial duels, an advantage in winning the ball back.

lucas

The Cardiff defensive line will not be as high up the pitch as Spurs was, which will make through balls a lot more difficult; however, it will also increase the playing area available for Liverpool to use. Cardiff’s hope will be to limit space by crowding their own half and that can only be done with bodies. Expect to see Mackay revert to the tactic of the wide players dropping back to the back four line, forcing the full backs closer to the centre backs and there is every chance that another defensive minded midfielder will play alongside Medel.

Liverpool dominated the ball against Spurs, a passing team themselves, completing 411 passes to Spurs’ 272, and Liverpool winning the possession battle in this game is inevitable. It might be a long afternoon but Cardiff’s chances of returning with a point, or even returning with a respectable defeat, depend on how rarely the passes find Suarez.

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Steve Clarke could probably never have imagined how bad his trip to Cardiff would be. Although his team only went down 1-0, he was surprisingly sacked not long after the final whistle. The win for Cardiff takes them closer, in points, to the top half of the table than the relegation zone – for now, at least.

Lineups

Cardiff played one of their season’s most attacking formations,4-1-3-2, as Mackay recognised the need to go for the win. Taylor returned at left back while Noone, on the right wing, was given his first Premier League start. Campbell and Odemwingie played as a front two, with Campbell frequently dropping deep.

West Brom recalled Olsson to the back four and used Yacob and Mulumbu to give some cover in front of the back four, with Mulumbu being allowed to push forward more than usual. Sessegnon, who did not wear his shooting boots, supported Long, who spent much of the match walking slowly back from an offside position.

cardwba

Cardiff started the game well, showing intent to attack from the first whistle. They dominated the first 30 mins, completing around double the number of passes as WBA, but were restricted to shooting from range. Once the storm was weathered, WBA were able to get Mulumbu, their most potent force for transitioning the ball from defence to attack, involved more often but they still struggled to get into dangerous positions.

The table below shows the number of shots made by each side with the game broken up into three equal periods. Cardiff’s goal came at the start of the final third of the match – after this, West Brom had their most successful period of creating shots, but only Long’s header, wonderfully saved by Marshall, was on target.

0- 30 mins 30-60 mins 60-90 mins
Cardiff 6 2 3
West Brom 1 5 6

Craig Noone

The impact of Craig Noone on Cardiff’s attacking play was something fans and management will have looked at closely to see if he could provide something of a solution to the recent impotence. He started the game brightly but faded considerably as the game went on. The two heat maps below show the first 30 minutes of the game (top) when he attempted seven passes and three crosses and the final 60 minutes of the game (bottom) with just two passes and five crosses attempted. One of these latter crosses led, of course, to Whittingham’s headed goal but, overall, the 90 minute performance did not do a great deal to dispel the theory that Noone is better as an impact player. The bottom heat map shows how he increasingly had to roam over the pitch in an effort to find the ball.

Noone

While he attempted to beat his man more times (six) than any other player, Noone was successful just twice. Compare that to Mutch’s four out of four and Odemwingie’s three out of four, and also consider that both players (and Whittingham) saw more of the ball in the attacking third than Noone, and his attacking qualities seem a little less reliable – although it certainly needs to be stressed that this was Noone’s first ever Premier League start and expectations should not be too high. The presence of an attack minded wide player is without doubt positive for Cardiff and it will be up to Noone over the rest of December, now that he has earned the chance of another start (perhaps not at Anfield), to prove that Cardiff should look to him and not elsewhere in the transfer window to provide this.

The front two

For the first time this season, Cardiff played with two strikers centrally, with Odemwingie as the more advanced and Campbell dropping back to find the ball. In general, Odemwingie was quite wasteful, perhaps showing too much desire to prove West Brom wrong for letting him go, and Campbell really struggled to get involved. The West Brom cover in front of the defence was fairly effective at minimising the contribution of Cardiff’s strikers, with Mulumbu (15) and Yacub (8) making more loose ball recoveries than anyone else. This shielded the defence and Cardiff were forced to make the majority of their shots (nearly two thirds) from outside the penalty area with none at all coming from within the six yard box. While Odemwingie saw far more of the ball than Campbell, he was frequently forced to send the ball to the wings rather than attack the defence head on. Campbell has the pace to attempt this and, with West Brom’s centre back pairing being a little slow, he should probably have been used as the spearhead of the attack. Odemwingie may be concerned that he did not really do enough to justify a start in the next game.

One striker vs two

While two strikers sounds, on paper, like an attacking formation, in reality Cardiff may have been better off by using an attacking midfielder like Kim or Mutch in Campbell’s position and playing Campbell as the advanced striker. Campbell’s instincts are to evade the defence rather than play through it and without space in front of him he found it hard to, firstly, receive the ball, and then use it effectively. Campbell and Odemwingie both have a game that is a little too similar to work in this system, and as Mackay appears to still be reluctant to start with Cornelius, who should complement either, Cardiff would probably do better to use a more creative (Kim) or driving (Mutch) player behind the striker, as long as attack minded players (like Noone or Bellamy) are also used on the flanks.

Next up for Cardiff is a trip to Anfield to play the other team who were the final straw for a club board’s patience with their manager this weekend, as Villas-Boas left Spurs following their 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool. No doubt Cardiff’s formation will revert to the more defensive lineup seen for most of the season in an attempt to contain the country’s most in form player (possibly in Europe), Suarez. Cardiffkickaball’s preview to the game later this week will take a look at how Liverpool have hit great heights lately.

 

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Cardiff followed up the disappointing performance at Stoke with an even worse one at Palace, going down 2-0 to their relegation rivals. In spite of Mackay’s post-match comments, Cardiff didn’t create chances and rarely threatened once Palace had taken an early lead. Having not scored in three matches, Cardiff face West Brom at the weekend, another team on a downward spiral, and really do need a win to give their form a kickstart.

Both of Palace’s wide players, Puncheon and Bannan (especially) tended to drift inside and Chamakh putting in a good performance supporting Jerome.

palacelineup

Cardiff started with Kim on the left flank in a failed attempt to give some attacking threat. Mutch and Whittingham returned as the midfield partnership ahead of the holding Medel. With Taylor still injured, Declan John was again given a start at left back.

cardifflineup

The outcome of the game was determined after just 5 minutes. Whittingham fashioned an opening in the first minute and poked the ball wide to Cowie, whose cross from the right flank found Campbell between the centre back and right back. He headed down into the ground with a lot of the goal to aim at but Speroni pulled off a decent save. Shortly after the corner was cleared, Palace sustained some pressure in the Cardiff box and Puncheon found Jerome in the middle. He also headed into the ground and close to the keeper, but Marshall could not replicate Speroni’s save. Palace had an early lead that they would not lose.

The goal could have been stopped a number of times before it finally went in. Although Turner did well to recover from being the wrong side of Jerome when he was initially released, the Palace striker was quickly crowded out and Cardiff failed to clear far enough. Young left back Declan John was easily turned by Puncheon and at the moment of the turn, Turner has his eyes only on Jerome (indicated in the screen shot below with the black line). By the time Turner realises the ball is coming in and Jerome is on the move, he has lost his man. Jerome’s header was not particularly firm and bounced up close to Marshall – with the season he has had so far, he should have done better.

turner

What is even more galling for the defence is that Jerome and Chamakh, as highlighted in the preview, are poor in the air. Over the course of the game, they won just six out of 25 aerial duels and Jerome won only two headers all day; stats that he can take with a wry smile when one of them is a goal.

With the pivotal moment coming so early, it’s hard to see what Palace changed to keep Cardiff out. But the early goal played into Pulis’ hands as the first thing he has done with Palace is instil a tight defence. Cardiff managed just two more shots from range in the first half as they either played balls to the flanks without managing to get crosses in or tried hopeful long passes through the middle that rarely paid off and were easily won by Gabbidon in the air. The graphic below shows their first half passes into the attacking third. Barely more than half (dark blue) are successful.

attackinthird

In the second half, Cardiff brought on Noone for Cowie in the hope of targeting Palace’s out of position left back, Ward, who had started on the right but moved over due to Moxey’s injury. Cardiff did have more possession in attacking areas in the second half and with a good enough player at number 10 might have been able to create more. Jedinak was not giving much protection in front of the back four, but Gabbidon and Delaney were comfortably clearing Cardiff’s central attacks. Cardiff’s wingplay, even against an unsettled full back, was mainly unsuccessful with just two of 14 second half crosses (most from Noone’s wing) finding a man in the middle. When they needed the ball in the middle, they could not make it stick.

With Cardiff unable to hold on to possession, Palace repeatedly hit back on the break. Medel advanced up the pitch as Cardiff chased the game and, unusually, made more attacking third passes than any other Cardiff player over the course of the game, which allowed space in front of Cardiff’s back four for Chamakh to hold up the ball. The win was eventually sealed with unmarked Chamakh’s strike from the edge of the area, having loitered in the zone between Cardiff’s defence and midfield without being picked up. Cardiff had allowed Palace space repeatedly and the home side may have been surprised at how easily they won the points.

West Brom

As Cardiff lost 2-0 to a rival at the bottom end of the table, so did West Brom, going down 2-0 at home to Norwich. West Brom’s form is also dipping although they fell to a smash and grab raid from Norwich on this occasion. The Baggies were dominant with 26 shots in total as they chased an equaliser following an early goal (nearly half of their shots were on target), while Norwich managed just three on target. These were enough, however, to seal the win.

With Jonas Olsson suspended, Lugano had his first league start at centre back against Norwich. Olsson is likely to reclaim his place at the weekend. Yacob and Mulumbu as the two holding midfielders have given good cover in front of the West Brom defence and both tend to stay central so Cardiff may be encouraged to use two attack minded wide players to create chances (something Mackay has been loathe to do this season).

wbalineup

West Brom’s form does not necessarily match their performances, with just one win in the last nine games (the previous being the notable win at Old Trafford). Not only did they dominate this match in terms of chances, they were also close to ending Mourinho’s unbeaten home league run at Chelsea until a highly dubious last minute penalty awarded against them.

The difference between the West Brom of this season and last is stark – Romelu Lukaku. On loan last season, the Chelsea striker scored 17 league goals and finished as their top goalscorer, with more than double the number scored by Long (who played in more matches). While Clarke tried to replace Lukaku with a few different players, the problem is continuing – this season, only six goals have come from their strikers, all three of top-scoring Long’s coming in a 41 minute spell against Chelsea and Villa. Long was dropped for Victor Anichebe against Norwich (Anichebe having scored the late goal in the previous 2-3 defeat to Man City), with Anichebe then guilty for the most misses during the match, missing all six shots from inside the area and he certainly should have finished at least one of them. Indeed, West Brom’s shooting accuracy ratio of 16% over the season is the worst of all teams except Hull.

While Lukaku was finishing his chances, he was also having more. Last season, Lukaku averaged a touch every 2 minutes (similar to Anichebe this season) and had a chance every 26 minutes unlike Anichebe at every 37 minutes, the equivalent of one chance fewer per game. With fewer chances coming around and more of them being missed, it’s little wonder West Brom are, like Cardiff, struggling for goals.

sesspasses

Supporting the striker, Sessegnon was lively against Norwich but has also had a fairly unproductive season. His pass map is shown above and it can be seen that while he did not give the ball away often, he would usually choose to go sideways or backwards. Medel will likely be the player sticking close to Sessegnon and he will hope to consistently force Sessegnon away from danger.

Against Norwich, West Brom did the majority of their attacking on the right flank, with Billy Jones at right back receiving the ball more often than any other player but his crossing was poor, finding his man just once from eight attempts. Alongside Jones in the defence, West Brom field two older centre backs, Olsson and Macauley, who may find the pace of Campbell a handful. Norwich’s opening goal by Hooper came as he outpaced the pair from a simple through ball between them (and Hooper is by no means a quick player). However, they are as strong in the air as Cardiff’s pair – West Brom have allowed fewer headed attempts on goal than any other club this season.

In the two previous games against relegation rivals, Cardiff were guilty of hoping to keep the opposition out instead of going for the win. Those were away games where a point was a good result, but it is concerning that the attitude did not change against Palace, despite being behind for 85 minutes. Fans who would like to see Cardiff attack may be encouraged by Norwich’s win, where they played with two strikers (Elmander and Hooper) and a very attacking right winger in Redmond.

Whether Mackay does take the game to West Brom this weekend remains to be seen; if not, then Cardiff run the danger of seeing West Brom’s recent bad luck running out.

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On an exciting evening of Premier League football, Stoke and Cardiff bucked the trend by playing out one of the season’s most tepid 0-0 draws to date. If we didn’t learn whether Messi could perform on a cold winter’s night in Stoke, we discovered the names of a good number of players who certainly can’t. The point did allow both teams to rise up the table, but while it was an acceptable point for each, neither can be delighted with the performance.

Stoke lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Wilson coming in at centreback, Arnautovic starting on the right and Adam pushing forward to provide balls for Crouch.

stklineup

Cardiff went to a more defensive side than had been seen against Arsenal, with Whittingham moving to the left flank to replace Kim. Declan John came in for Taylor at left back and Gunnarson sat in front of the back four with Medel.

cardifflineup

Stoke had the better of the early possession, particularly on the left flank, but they could not create good openings and were restricted to speculative efforts from range, which Cardiff could block at the source. Gunnarsson moved into the middle to stop Adam’s playmaking abilities and Cardiff were then able to get Mutch on to the ball more often. With Campbell coming so deep that he could not receive the ball inside the area, it was down to Mutch to be Cardiff’s attacking threat, as little of it as there was. Mutch had more goal attempts over the match than any other player and was responsible for the best chance of the first half, when he was first to the near post to firmly head a Whittingham corner goalwards, only for Begovic to save.

The heat maps below show the positions of Campbell (top) and Mutch (bottom) in the first half and how often Mutch pushed ahead.

campbmutchheat

Both teams found themselves battling on the same flank, with Stoke’s left sided Assaidi and the combination of Theophile-Catherine and Mutch, in the second half particularly, on Cardiff’s right seeing a lot of the ball, with Cowie happy to drop back and allow T-C to come forward. Stoke leftback Pieters was substituted at half-time for Muniesa, a player more suited to centre back, which was a major factor in Mutch spending more time on the right flank as the game progressed. Mutch’s second half heat map, to be compared with the first half above, can be seen below.

mutch2ndheat

The youngster Declan John made a rare appearance at left back so Cardiff spared him too much ball. John’s start may have been a factor in Mackay’s decision to move Whittingham back to the left flank, where he had put in fairly unconvincing performances earlier in the season, in the hope that he could provide better defensive cover for him than a player like Odemwingie might. With Cowie and Whittingham playing wide, Cardiff had only T-C able to give attacking presence on the flanks (the right-back having twice as many touches in the opposition half as John).

Just as T-C and Mutch combined, Adam and Assaidi rained in crosses from Stoke’s left but Turner and Caulker dealt with them well, Crouch having a single header on goal. Despite their previous reputation, Stoke have failed to score with a header all season which underlines the change in approach that Hughes has tried to bring to them. But with so many members of the squad very much in the Pulis mould, Stoke face a tough season of transition. As yet, Hughes has not brought the best out of smaller players like Ireland, although he had the opportunity to win the match late on, only to fire a wild shot when unmarked in the area.

The match was doomed to remain scoreless (though Stoke had a goal narrowly ruled out for offside) despite Adam’s attempts to create a talking point with a couple of incidents he may well have received a second yellow card for.

Crystal Palace

While Pulis might claim that Stoke were never a long ball team, he would probably find many disagreeing. But since replacing Ian Holloway at Crystal Palace, he has brought defensive stability where there had previously been none and a chance of staying up (to be fair, the turnaround had begun under the temporary care of Keith Millen).

Palace are on an enviable run of form, seeing them win two of the last four matches and conceding just one goal. 1-0 wins over rivals Hull and West Ham (with a defeat to Norwich) have given them hope. They lined up against West Ham in a 4-2-3-1:

palacelineup

West Ham dominated the ball in the match, completing 349 passes to Palace’s 166, and yet Palace managed five shots on target to West Ham’s two. Although Pulis may claim otherwise, Palace certainly did look to find Jerome with long passes – 20% of their passes in the match were deemed as long (compared to 15% of Cardiff’s and 16.6% of West Ham’s, two teams which are known for being quite direct too). But when a team has as little of the ball as Palace did against West Ham, playing a direct route must be deemed sensible. The image below shows the length of passes received in Palace’s attacking third of the pitch and how they lost possession from these passes (red is unsuccessful) just under half of the time.

palacepasses

As with any system, the players have to be suited to the direct approach for it to pay off best. Jerome and Chamakh may have been the targets of higher balls, but they won just seven out of their 26 aerial duels against West Ham. Turner and Caulker’s aerial success rate in the Stoke match (12 out of 23) looks far better and was achieved against the lanky Crouch. With 56 balls won, Turner has the second best aerial stats for a defender in the Premier League this season and if he can keep this up, Palace will find it hard to get themselves into dangerous positions.

Defensively, Palace allowed West Ham to come into their half before attempting tackles (seen in the image below), although they were quite effective at also keeping the Hammers away from the danger zone. West Ham managed only one unblocked shot on target from inside the area, which was saved by Speroni.

palacetackles

This may well be another cagey encounter, particularly if Mackay elects to play for a 0-0 draw away to a rival, as happened at Stoke and Norwich. With Palace’s recent low scoring matches, there’s little reason to think this game will be pan out any differently. While there may be goals in this game, don’t expect either manager to go looking for them.

 

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Arsenal showed their true class with a 3-0 win at the Cardiff City Stadium, but they weren’t able to wrap up the points until Flamini’s late strike. Anything other than a defeat for Cardiff would have been a surprise, but their performance was more encouraging than the midweek opponent, Stoke, in their 4-0 defeat at Goodison. With the games coming thick and fast, we’ll look ahead to that match after rounding up Saturday’s game.

Cardiff brought Kim into the team on the left wing to provide some pace with Campbell’s performance against Man Utd earning him another start in attack.

carlineup

Arsenal brought in Gibbs, Cazorla and Arteta from their previous victory over Marseille and again gave their attacking players the freedom to roam, with Ozil, Wilshere and Cazorla changing behind and in front of the deep-lying Giroud.

arslineup

Ozil started on the right flank but spent the latter part of the opening half on the left. In the second half, he again went back to the right flank. Although he didn’t have a strike on goal himself, he was the most dangerous Arsenal player, creating the most chances and assisting two of the goals. Wilshere and Cazorla also frequently moved around, Wilshere going from the centre to the right and Cazorla from the left to the centre as the game progressed. This constant movement made it hard for Cardiff’s defensive players to track their man and the space was there for Arsenal to exploit by threading passes through Cardiff’s midfield. In the 15th minute, this resulted in the unusual sight of Giroud being released by an Ozil flick whilst a couple of yards offside. The officials were the only people in the stadium expecting the game to continue as Giroud stopped and looked over for a flag that stayed down.

Ramsey

While Giroud had allowed Caulker to recover and tackle him on that occasion, Ramsey took his chance quickly and gave Arsenal the lead as he headed in a floated Ozil cross. Cardiff had most of their team behind the ball, but they had not kept formation and Ramsey was able to run into the gap. Caulker and Turner, the centreback pairing, are indicated by the black line on the screenshot below; Caulker had tracked the run of Cazorla (out of shot on Arsenal’s left flank) which left Taylor to pick up Ramsey (indicated by the red line), which he had no hope of doing from the wrong side.

ramseygoal

Man of the match Ramsey was the most involved player on the pitch, receiving the ball more often than anyone else and even beating the most players. His heatmap from the game, below, shows how truly he was a box-to-box midfielder. While he scored twice, he could have also assisted two more, as Wilshere hit the bar in the opening moments and Giroud had a shot blocked on the line after Ramsey had battled his way to the goal-line.

ramseyheatmap

Cardiff’s best chances to score came from Campbell’s head, the closest in the 51st minute when Szczesny got down well to block a strong header. Despite his height deficit against most centre backs, Campbell’s ability to time his jumps very well, winning three out of five of his aerial duels against both Arsenal and Man Utd. While Cornelius is expected to give Cardiff more aerial presence, he may struggle to perform better than Campbell in the air.

Late goals

Arsenal were always in control of the game, but the points were not secured until the two late goals. Cardiff matched Arsenal quite closely in shots on target (Cardiff’s four to Arsenal’s six) and the images below show how Arsenal were forced to defend a lot more deeply in the second half (bottom) than the first half (top).

arstacklesfirst

arstacklessecond

Stoke City

Cardiff may have lost 3-0 but they will go into the Wednesday evening match at Stoke City feeling more pleased with their performance against the best team to visit the CCS this season than Stoke will after their 4-0 defeat to Everton.

Stoke lined up as below, without the injured Huth at centreback. Under Mark Hughes, Stoke are no longer the direct team of old but have struggled of late, winning just one of their last ten PL matches.

stokelineup

Stoke had held firm, despite being the second best team, until just before half-time when Deulofeu scored Everton’s opener, playing one-twos with Pienaar and Barry (helped by N’Zonzi leaving Barry free for the vital final pass). He was the brightest Everton player of the match, playing in a wide right position (although the goal came from the left). Everton’s smart passing created plenty of chances on the day and Stoke were increasingly forced back into their own area. The graphic below shows where they made tackles in the first half (top) and second half (bottom).

stoketackles

Huth is still injured for Stoke and this might give Cornelius a chance to test out his aerial dominance in the Premier League, although it seems more likely that Campbell will start up front again with another late cameo from the Dane. Without Huth, Stoke defended poorly, with Adam cheaply allowing a short corner routine to pass him for the third and Lukaku permitted to win the ball between two defenders for the fourth.

In attack, Stoke will use Crouch but their top crossers of the season (Etherington and Arnautovic) will both probably miss out, which will make taking advantage of his height a lot more difficult.

While Cardiff may not have the fluid attacking football displayed by Everton at their disposal, it is at least encouraging that they were able to put similar pressure on Arsenal’s defence, despite the gulf in midfield class between the two teams. This match is winnable for both sides, but may well be so close that neither gets three points.