Medel’s midfield metal keeps Cardiff moving in right direction
The Premier League’s inaugural South Wales derby ended with a 1-0 Cardiff victory built on tenacity and dogged determination. At the heart of it was Chilean enforcer Gary Medel, as the home side overcame a slow start to overpower slick-passing Swansea and enjoy a first derby win at home since April 2010.
What the Bluebirds lack in style they more than make up for in fight, winning more tackles, making more interceptions and completing more clearances than Michael Laudrup's men.
Individually, the visitors dominated the passing charts; 7 of their players made up the top 10, but nobody could keep up with Medel’s stellar statistics.
The former Sevilla man had been at the centre of pre-match mind games. Swansea full-back Angel Rangel had claimed Cardiff had paid over the odds to secure the services of a “hard-working, holding midfielder”, but the £11 million man had the last laugh on Sunday as it was exactly those attributes that the Swans could not match.
Medel completed 96% of his passes (82 from 85) and also made more ball recoveries than anyone else (10) – forming the platform from which Cardiff took the game to Swansea in the second half and even completed more passes than them.
The 26-year-old, despite arriving in South Wales with a reputation for ill-discipline, continues to stand out for Malky Mackay’s men, and it’s no coincidence that Medel was also the star man in Cardiff’s last Premier League victory, 2-1 at Fulham.
On that day, the Chilean topped the charts for passes, tackles and ball recoveries, yet they still required a last-gasp missile from Jordon Mutch to bag all three points.
Goals have been hard to come by this season; Steven Caulker’s match-winning header was just their ninth in 10 league games. Narrow wins are the order of the day and hard work goes a long way to achieving them. In Medel, the Bluebirds have it in abundance and £11m will be seen as a snip if his steel keeps them up. (GD)
Could Brazil be beckoning for boy from Burundi?
West Brom boss Steve Clarke thinks it might be, having moved to play down Saido Berahino’s readiness for international football. The 20-year-old enhanced his reputation further on Saturday by scoring his sixth Baggies’ goal of the season to break Crystal Palace’s resolve. With another four goals in three England U21 caps to his name this term, reports suggest the starlet is set to named in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the upcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany.
“For Saido, the most important thing is that he continues to develop as a player," said Clarke after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Palace. "That is what I am trying to do with him here and I think he is happy to work with me along those lines. My own personal opinion is that he is not quite ready for full international football. It is not for me to tell Roy how to do his job, but that is my personal opinion. People are trying to push him too far too quickly. Give the boy time to grow and develop."
A more pressing concern for Clarke is to get the former Northampton Town and Brentford loanee, earning just £850 per week, tied down to a long-term contract before other clubs inevitably come calling.
Berahino started Saturday’s game on the bench, but after replacing the injured Billy Jones on 31 minutes, the striker did not need long to break the deadlock as his campaign continues to go from strength to strength.
“He's had a good season and long may it continue," Clarke said. "We're in negotiations with Saido's representatives and if I was the club, I would get it done as soon as possible.
"I don't think [any increase of salary or profile] will affect Saido, he's hungry, he wants to play and he's a young boy who wants to make his name in the game.
"This contract is important to him but it is not the most important contract he will ever sign, that's further down the line. He's a young boy that eight weeks ago nobody was talking about, so you have to keep the level of expectation down and in this country we are too quick to push people forward as the next big thing." (GD)
ALSO ONLINE Q&A with Saido Berahino
Vertonghen’s no longer missed in the middle
Andre Villas-Boas may have left Goodison Park frustrated with his side failing to capitalise on a dominant first half display against Everton. Yet the performances of Vlad Chiriches and Jan Vertonghen will have given the Portuguese plenty of positives to reflect on.
Spurs had to fend off a markedly improved second half showing from the Toffees in order to record a 13th clean sheet from 17 matches this season. Michael Dawson and Chiriches let little past them; the England defender making a game-high 11 clearances and his Romanian partner 11 ball recoveries.
Dependable in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, the 23-year-old arrival from Steaua Bucharest won the most aerial duels in last weekend’s home win over Hull and was the best passer on the pitch in Spurs’ 2-0 victory at Aston Villa.
His solidity in the centre means Tottenham are no longer missing the presence of Jan Vertonghen, who was able to put in a man-of-the-match performance at left-back instead. The Belgian was at the heart of Spurs’ first-half ram raid on the Everton rearguard, roaring forward to set up 3 of the visitors’ 10 chances.
Villas-Boas has moved Vertonghen wide for the past three league matches since the home walloping by West Ham, with Spurs keeping a clean sheet on each occasion. Danny Rose is ruled out and Kyle Naughton hobbled off during the League Cup win over Hull, so AVB was left with little choice but to persist with that formula on Merseyside. As Chiriches continues to impress and form a solid understanding with Dawson, he may be tempted to stick with it. (GD)
Big Sam's striker nightmare continues
It worked to a tee against Tottenham, but West Ham's false No.9, 4-6-0 system is now haunting Sam Allardyce with too much regularity.
On another day Saturday would have been a comfortable Hammers victory against Aston Villa, but instead the east Londoners' struggles up top left them rueing what could have been after a frustrating goalless draw.
Andy Carroll is still at least a fortnight away from a return to contention, but that West Ham are missing the powerful Geordie so much is worrying. At the beginning of the season Modibo Maiga was ineffectual, while Croatian striker Mladen Petric has so far been snubbed.
Allardyce's side completed almost 200 more passes than their opponents, three times more in the final third, outshot them 17 to 8 and dominated the wings (as seen below). Yet their possession counted for little as they registered just 4 efforts on target, while Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis's combined 30 crosses might as well have been played to the Invisible Man. Yep, it's all still screaming Carroll. (JB)
Rodgers' 3-5-2 got found out at the Emirates
This was always going to be a clash of systems – Arsene Wenger’s 4-2-3-1 vs Rodgers’ 3-5-2 – and it was the Frenchman’s that prevailed.
Arsenal’s midfield swamped Liverpool’s in the centre of the park, pinning Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson back. As they chased the ball, the Gunners drew them out and played passes in behind the visitors’ wing-backs, Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho.
This gave Bacary Sagna a lot of joy down the right channel. To counter this, Rodgers replaced Cissokho with Philippe Coutinho at half-time and switched to a 4-4-2, but Arsenal’s defence stood firm against the added attacking threat.
At the other end of the pitch it was 3 vs 1, but Olivier Giroud gave the Liverpool back three all sorts of problems. Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey did a fine job of supporting the French striker when he was outnumbered.
When the guests did get the ball forward they didn’t counter-attack with enough speed, leaving a huge gap between Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and the midfield. They tried to do it on their own and failed. (BW)