Liverpool defend smart, Newcastle face different challenge & Rio fills Vidic void

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...     

Liverpool have only scored 18 goals in their 15 league games so far this season, a disappointing record that even bottom-placed Bolton can beat. Kenny Dalglish blames poor finishing, claiming last weekend that his side had dominated every game they’d played this season, with the exception of the 4-0 away defeat to Tottenham.

His side do have the best defensive record in the Premier League, however, conceding just 13 goals. The 1-0 home win over QPR last weekend showed how intelligently they defend – they complete far more interceptions than tackles, generally quite high up the pitch and therefore breaking up opposition moves before they’ve really begun.

Liverpool also deserve credit for continuing to look solid despite the absence of Lucas Leiva – in the 200 minutes they’ve played since his injury in the Carling Cup against Chelsea, they’ve conceded only one goal, away at Fulham, and that was primarily down to a Pepe Reina mistake, rather than poor defending.

Newcastle were without first-choice centre-back duo Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini in their defeat against Norwich last weekend, and Paul Lambert managed to successfully exploit their aerial weakness at the back. Grant Holt and Steve Morison started upfront, Norwich pumped long balls their way, and all four goals came from crosses or set-pieces.

With James Perch and Danny Simpson likely to continue at the back this weekend, Alan Pardew will be relieved that he’s facing the least dangerous aerial side in the league. Swansea only win 5.2 aerial duels per match – no other side wins fewer than 8.2.

In fact, Newcastle won a higher percentage of their aerial battles than Swansea in their respective matches last weekend – both competed 13 times in the air, Newcastle won nine and Swansea only four. Both sides might benefit from keeping the ball on the floor this weekend, however.

On the subject of injuries at centre-back, it was interesting to see how Manchester United adapted in defence without Nemanja Vidic last weekend. The win over Wolves was the first game they had played since the Serb was ruled out for the season with a cruciate ligament injury sustained against Basel.

It seemed that Rio Ferdinand essentially took on the Vidic role. Ferdinand usually leaves the aerial battles to Vidic and sweeps up behind, but against Wolves he was always in the right place to clear the ball inside the penalty box – that is Vidic’s trademark, as he makes more clearances per match than any other player in the Premier League this season.

In all, Ferdinand made 18 successful clearances in the game against Wolves, over double the number he made against Aston Villa in the previous game, when Vidic made 19.

Manchester City started excellently against Chelsea on Monday night, pressing high up the pitch, winning the ball back quickly, and not allowing Andre Villas-Boas’ side to settle. They should have been out of sight within the first half hour, and will point to a penalty not given to David Silva as one of the main reasons they only scored one goal.

It was obvious how much they tired in the second half, even before they went down to ten men thanks to Gael Clichy’s second booking. After that, Chelsea were intelligent with their use of the ball, spreading play from flank to flank and making City get through a lot of running.

This meant that Roberto Mancini’s side found it very difficult to win the ball. While in the first half they made 11 tackles, in the second half this figure dropped to six – they simply didn’t have as much energy, and had to endure long periods without the ball.

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