Clash of the titans at Stoke, Walcott aims for Baines revenge, passive Wolves risk mauling

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...    

Wolves are, statistically, a very strange side. They make fewer interceptions per game than any other Premier League side (15.4), they also complete fewer tackles per game than any Premier League side (12.1). In summary, they’re amazingly bad at winning back the ball.

Why is this? Do they simply have a high rate of possession and therefore don’t need to win the ball back? Not particularly – they see 50.7% of the ball, the eighth highest in the league. That’s fairly impressive, but doesn’t explain why they’re so poor at regaining possession – the seven sides ahead of them in the possession stakes are all, obviously, better at winning the ball.

The real reason lies in the way Wolves defend – they stand off and sit deep, inviting pressure. In last weekend’s game against Sunderland, Wolves only made six successful tackles and seven interceptions. Unless those figures are significantly higher, even a troubled Manchester United side will surely run riot this weekend.

Saturday afternoon should see a good battle between Theo Walcott and Leighton Baines. Walcott is on form and has improved his delivery from wide areas this season, while Baines is one of the best left-backs in the country.

Everton coped very well with Walcott last season at the Emirates. David Moyes instructed his wide players to drop deep, allow the Arsenal full-backs time on the ball, and instead prevent passes out to Arsenal’s wide players. If Arsenal did manage to get the ball out to the flanks, the wingers would be closed down quickly by the full-backs. Baines won the battle with Walcott – he completed four of his five tackles, and Walcott didn’t get a cross in all evening. In fact, a significant proportion of his passes were backwards.

Baines may be in for a different battle this time around, however. Walcott plays a little higher up the pitch in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 but has become cleverer and more varied with his movement, and with Arsenal playing more of their passes down the right than down the left (a pattern consistent over the past couple of seasons) that will be a key battleground.

Has Peter Crouch changed his game since going from being managed by Harry Redknapp to being managed by Tony Pulis? Yes – he used to challenge for long balls towards the right of the pitch, now he challenges for long balls towards the left of the pitch.

Crouch will be keen to make an impact against the side who discarded him in the summer. He’ll probably be up against his ex-teammate at both Spurs and Portsmouth, Younes Kaboul.

This will be a great aerial battle, as both are in the top four this season in terms of aerial duels won per game – Crouch beats an opponent 4.6 times per game in the air, Kaboul’s figure is 4.2. They sandwich QPR’s Heidar Helguson on 4.4, with West Brom’s Gareth McAuley leading the way on 4.9.

More important than beating Crouch in the air is making sure his flick-ons and knock-downs don’t find an opponent. His good record in the air is negated by his poor record of finding an opponent – only Norwich’s Steve Morison, Bolton’s Kevin Davies and Helguson find a teammate less reliably than Crouch, who has a 57% pass completion rate.

Substituted against Newcastle and dropped for the win over Valencia, Frank Lampard will be hoping for a start in Monday night’s clash with Manchester City. But in all likelihood Andre Villas-Boas will replicate the tactics he used against Valencia – which means sitting deep and using Oriel Romeu, Raul Meireles and Ramires as a sturdy but energetic midfield triangle.

Stats Zone doesn’t cast Lampard’s performance against Newcastle in a particularly favourable light. He attempted two shots – one was horribly wide, the other was a missed penalty.

His pass completion ratio of 76% was poor in itself, but particularly troublesome for Lampard was the zone of the pitch the passes took place in – deep in midfield close to the halfway line, rather than high up the pitch driving towards goal.

With Juan Mata starting left and drifting inside, the area of the pitch Lampard works in has changed, and he’s no longer as effective – he isn’t used to playing that deep, and too many forward passes went astray.

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

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