Left-wing Liverpool, right-wing Chelsea & Everton's defensive plan

As the Premier League swings back into action, ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the big weekend fixtures

An interesting feature of Liverpool’s previous home game, against Wolves, was how much more creative they were from the left side of the pitch. There were various reasons for this. Jose Enrique is a better attacking full-back than Martin Kelly, Stewart Downing is more of a natural winger than Jordan Henderson, whilst Charlie Adam tends to move to the left of the pitch – and in this match, so did Luis Suarez.

The result was that 12 of the 13 chances Liverpool created came from the left-hand side, with two very obvious ways of working an opportunity – a cross from beyond the edge of penalty area to the edge of the six-yard box, or a pass from the left flank into a central shooting position from roughly 25 yards out.

This will be of particular concern to Manchester United, who have problems at right-back. Antonio Valencia was used there against Norwich but looked uncomfortable, so Chris Smalling or Jonny Evans are likely to start up against Downing.

Dirk Kuyt was the hero for Liverpool in this fixture last season with a well-taken hat-trick, but Luis Suarez was the man who caused United most problems. His dribbling ability was particularly impressive t– he beat opponents seven times out of nine attempts, including three in the same move for one of Kuyt’s goals. His shooting ability was less impressive – only one of his three efforts tested Edwin van der Sar.

It will be interesting to see where Suarez is deployed against United. Recently he’s been played just off Andy Carroll, but in this game an out-and-out striking role, perhaps supported by Steven Gerrard, might be a better bet. Wherever he plays, Suarez will look to take on United defenders.

Here's StatsZone’s ‘player influence’ diagram from the fixture between Chelsea and Everton last season at Stamford Bridge, which finished in a 1-1 draw. Everton’s timeline has been restricted to the first 63 minutes, before David Moyes made any substitutions, to give an accurate impression of how their starting XI lined up.

Ten of the 11 players that started last year may well play again this weekend – although the exception, Steven Pienaar, was the most involved player in the game last season, as shown by the large text for his name.

This could well be the same formation used by Moyes this weekend – 4-4-1-1, with Tim Cahill ahead of the midfield, and Louis Saha using his pace to get in behind the Chelsea defence. It’s also interesting how tucked in Pienaar, now of Spurs, is on the left – which allows Leighton Baines to get forward down the flank, to become one of Everton’s main attacking threats.

One difference this weekend might be the positioning of Phil Neville from right-back (although Tony Hibbert has also played there this season) – he might be asked to track Juan Mata’s runs infield from the left, meaning Seamus Coleman will have to play deeper, almost as an additional full-back.

Despite Baines' ability to get forward, Everton might be wise to pay particular attention to the left side of their defence. In Chelsea’s last home game against Swansea, 13 of the 15 shots they attempted came from that side of the penalty area, including all four goals.

One of the main reasons for this was Ramires, who shuttled forward from the right of a three-man midfield to take five shots, including two goals from almost identical positions, both into the centre of the net.

This could be an area Chelsea look to exploit again. It makes sense for them to be more dangerous down the right, with Mata coming in from the left into the centre, and the right-winger (Daniel Sturridge or Nicolas Anelka) staying wider. With Baines likely to attack and Sylvain Distin sometimes not comfortable coming out to the flank, Everton might have problems down that area of the pitch.

That said, Frank Lampard didn’t play against Swansea, but his return to the side for the game at Bolton showed that he is in good goalscoring form, and he generally breaks into the box from the other side, a left-of-centre midfield position.

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

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