Canaries to edge Swans in aerial battle, the difference between Walcott and AOC

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the best of the weekend's Premier League action...    

Swansea against Norwich is a clash of two newly promoted clubs flying high in the top half of the league, and also a meeting between Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert, two of the most promising young managers in Britain.

The two clubs have very different strengths, however. Swansea always keep the ball on the floor and look to hold the ball in deep positions, while Norwich are more direct. Although they’re certainly not a long ball team, they enjoy playing crosses into the box for their strikers.

Norwich have scored more headed goals than any other club in the league, while Swansea win the fewest aerial duels per game. That combination was evident in the previous meeting between the sides – Norwich crossed the ball with plenty of success, while Swansea barely won anything in the air. This time, Swansea will hope to dominate possession more, and keep the ball away from their own third.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has inevitably been cast as the new Theo Walcott, but even at this stage of his career, he seems to have a more complete game.

In last weekend’s 7-1 win over Blackburn, Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed two goals – but his all-round play was also impressive. The comparison with Walcott shows that the elder player stays wide and gets assists by playing square balls across the face of goal, while Oxlade-Chamberlain came infield to link play more regularly.

With Arsenal’s newly found threat on the wing, their battle with Sunderland on Saturday should be interesting. Martin O’Neill has brought in a style of play based largely around width and crossing, so it will be interesting to compare the approach of the two sides in wide zones.

The previous league meeting between Manchester United and Liverpool was overshadowed by the Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra incident, although it wasn’t a particularly good game. Both sides went for negative systems and waited for the other to attack, and both goals came from set-plays – Steven Gerrard’s free-kick, and Javier Hernandez turning in a corner. The midfield zones lacked any sort of creativity.

It’s worth remembering that two key midfielders from that battle will be missing tomorrow – Lucas Leiva and Darren Fletcher are both out for the season. The comparison of their passing from the previous fixture shows an interesting pattern, with Fletcher’s passes being much squarer than Lucas’, who perhaps surprisingly gives the ball away more frequently than Fletcher.

Everton have a knack of frustrating the top sides, mainly through their approach of sitting very deep behind the ball and denying the opposition the spaces to pass through them.

In the reverse meeting between the sides at Stamford Bridge, Everton used this approach, which resulted in some amazingly high pass completion rates for Chelsea players in deep positions. Both John Terry and Jon Obi Mikel were close to the 100 mark, in terms of passes attempted and pass completion percentage.

Chelsea triumphed 3-1 in that game, however, and David Moyes may order his side to play higher up the pitch at Goodison Park. Fernando Torres continues to look short of pace, so playing high up the pitch and leaving space in behind isn’t a huge problem.

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