Arteta making difference at Arsenal, while Garcia looks to put himself in shop window

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the more interesting Champions League fixtures...  

With Milan and Barcelona already through to the final 16, their meeting at the on Wednesday evening San Siro could go one of two ways.

It could be played at half-pace, too slow to produce any entertainment, and meander to a 0-0. On the other hand, the teams might relish the lack of pressure, and play a fantastic free-flowing, open match. Who knows?

Either way, it’s unlikely to be as one-sided as the previous meeting between the sides, back on matchday one. There, Milan scored in the first minute through Pato, and the last minute through Thiago Silva – snatching a 2-2 draw having barely mustered an attack throughout the rest of the match.

Guardiola was scathing about Milan after that match. “Milan couldn't get across the halfway line!” he exclaimed. “We were Barca. We played as we always have done - trying to play football, shooting…they only attacked two and a half times…”

Stats Zone records slightly more than two and half attempts on goal, but the difference in shots between the Champions of Spain and Italy was remarkable. Milan’s performance will be as much about playing well as getting a result – with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, injured from the reverse fixture, no doubt desperate to make a mark against his former club.

Manchester United lost Paul Scholes in the summer, while Owen Hargreaves barely featured in his last two seasons through injury, Michael Carrick has fallen out of favour, while Tom Cleverley is unavailable until Christmas.

United’s need for an extra deep-lying midfield is clear, and various reports have linked them with a move for Benfica’s Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia, formerly of Real Madrid.

He would seem an ideal player for them – excellent in positional terms, plus tall and commanding enough to drop into the defence to create a back three, and allow Benfica’s attack-minded full-backs to move up the pitch.

As you’d expect from a Spanish midfielder, he’s also excellent on the ball and more of a clever interceptor than a tough tackler. His performance in both respects at the Estadio da Luz was very impressive, and he’ll look to impress in his first – and who knows, maybe not last – appearance at Old Trafford.

German champions Borussia Dortmund picked up a crucial victory away at Bayern Munich on Saturday courtesy of a lone Mario Gotze strike, to move two points behind Bayern. Much like Arsenal, they started the season poorly, but have picked up over the last few weeks, and come into this game on a great run of form.

Also like Arsenal, they lost their key central midfielder and captain in the summer, to one of Spain’s big two. Cesc Fabregas left London for Barcelona, whilst Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin headed to Real Madrid. The difference, though, is that Arsenal brought in a ready-made replacement, Mikel Arteta, while Dortmund have turned to a wily old veteran who arguably doesn’t suit the system, Sebastien Kehl.

On Saturday, Arteta was excellent for Arsenal against Norwich, while Dortmund’s win couldn’t hide their lack of invention from the centre. Comparing the most recent games of Arteta and Kehl available on Stats Zone, it’s clear the Spaniard is much more reliable in possession and a more fitting replacement for the departed skipper.

Finally, on the subject of Spanish midfielders, Chelsea’s Juan Mata showed how dangerous he can be in a central role during Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday.

Starting out on the right flank against compatriot Jose Enrique, Mata struggled to get involved in the game, and he had to drop into very deep positions on the right flank to receive the ball – or drift to the other flank.

At half time, Andre Villas-Boas brought on Daniel Sturridge for Jon Obi Mikel, playing Sturridge on the right, moving Frank Lampard deeper, and making Juan Mata the central playmaker.

He played the role superbly, and the diagram below shows that he picked up possession both more frequently, and in more dangerous positions. Lampard continues to fight back when written off, but Mata will end up playing a central role for Chelsea in years to come.

Stats Zone, the app from FourFourTwo powered by data from Opta, is available now at the iTunes App Store   

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