Liverpool's weak link, QPR's new challenge and the round's most interesting clashes

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the weekend's big-name FA Cup games...  

A clear problem for Liverpool in their 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers last weekend was the lack of a defined holding midfielder to occupy the space ahead of the centre-backs. In the continued absence of Lucas, Kenny Dalglish chose a central midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam.

Neither is a defensive midfielder, and both got caught too high up the pitch – meaning both Mark Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker could stroll through the defence to score. Of the two holders, it was Gerrard who contributed considerably more defensively, as shown by the pair's tackling – or rather Adam's absence of it.

Against Manchester United this weekend, Liverpool won't have to worry so much about driving midfield runs, but they will be up against the threat of Wayne Rooney in the hole. What will Dalglish's solution be? A midfield trio might be the sensible solution, perhaps with Jay Spearing in the side.

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Queens Park Rangers are another side who are without their star holding midfielder for the rest of the season. Argentine Alejandro Faurlin was enjoying an excellent campaign, but a cruciate ligament injury means he won’t feature again this season. Mark Hughes has money to spend on a replacement, but his immediate solution to the problem has been to recall Akos Buzsaky to the first team.

The Hungarian saw little playing time under previous manager Neil Warnock, starting just two Premier League games – he’s already started more under Hughes. Last weekend against Wigan he enjoyed a solid game, attempting more shots and completing more passes than any other QPR player.

That ball retention is vital for QPR, especially with the often wayward passes from midfield colleague Joey Barton, who finished with just a 50% completion rate last weekend.

However, playing Wigan is very different to playing Chelsea. QPR will spend long periods without the ball this weekend, and it will be the defensive side of Buzaky's game that is really tested. Here, he’s no match for Faurlin, who made more tackles per game than any other Premier League player this season.

West Brom v Norwich is a fixture that took place just a fortnight ago in the league, with the Canaries running out 2-1 winners through a late Steve Morison goal.

Norwich are an interesting side because they generally play with a midfield diamond, making them very narrow. They're happy to invite crosses, confident the centre-backs will be able to deal with any aerial balls.

West Brom tried to exploit that narrowness in the league fixture by hitting diagonal balls across the pitch from right to left. In particular, Gonzalo Jara played some long balls out towards Jerome Thomas on the left, and most of West Brom's attacks went down that left flank – summed up by the fact Norwich made almost all their interceptions on that side of the pitch.

Expect a contrast of styles in the Bolton-Swansea tie. In the league meeting between the sides earlier in the season, there was the most obvious different in goalkeeping distribution you'll ever see - Swansea's Michel Vorm passed the ball out of the back, completing 32 of 33 attempted passes, while Bolton's Jussi Jaaskelainen thumped the ball long constantly, retaining possession less than half the time.

Swansea were completely dominant over Bolton at the Liberty Stadium, running out 3-1 winners having completed 620 passes to the visitors' 230, and attempted 23 shots to Bolton's eight.

But Swansea have the Premier League's worst away record and are unable to assert their short passing game away from Wales. It will be interesting to see whether Bolton are able to turn the match into more of a direct encounter at the Reebok Stadium, and if so, how will Swansea cope?

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