Manchester United aim to exploit Cole absence, as Bale drifts inside again

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...

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini now has an extra central midfielder to choose from, following the loan signing of Roma's David Pizarro.

Pizarro offers something that Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure and Nigel de Jong don't: excellent distribution from deep in midfield, where he can play simple short passes to retain the ball, but also much longer incisive passes into the feet of attackers. City struggle against teams that sit deep, with Barry unable to provide the creative spark and Toure's game based more around driving runs.

At his best, Pizarro is one of the best deep-lying playmakers in Europe. Using StatsZone's data from last season's Champions League, when Roma reached the second round, we can compare his passing stats to Barry's from the midweek defeat to Everton.

It's clear to see that Pizarro is more adept on the ball - his passes are longer, more reliable and even when spreading play to the flanks, the passes move the side up the pitch. Barry's distribution is very short, and against Everton he wasted possession with too many straight long balls.

Ashley Cole is suspended for Chelsea's home match with Manchester United after his red card at Swansea in midweek, so Chelsea will have to field another left-back for the first time in 65 Premier League games, an astonishing statistic that perhaps partly explains why Cole has looked jaded in recent months.

While Andre Villas-Boas has options in that position, none of them are perfect. Ryan Bertrand is inexperienced, Paolo Ferreira is right-footed and David Luiz was once torn apart when playing left-back...against Villas-Boas' Porto side, who thrashed Benfica 5-0 with right-winger Hulk running riot.

Cole has struggled in his last two games against United, however. Back in September Nani had a good game and kept dribbling past opponents, including Cole, while Antonio Valencia did the same thing last May.

Tottenham travel to Anfield on Monday night, with Gareth Bale likely to be Spurs' main threat after an excellent performance in midweek. But which Bale will we see?

The Welshman has been used in two very different roles in recent away matches. In the win at Norwich, Harry Redknapp told Bale and Rafael van der Vaart they could 'play where they want', with the result that Bale came inside and made himself the game's star player.

But away at Manchester City a fortnight ago, he stayed wide and hugged the left touchline, doing battle with Micah Richards. With Liverpool still without a good central midfield combination in Lucas Leiva's absence, this might be a game for him to roam inside.

Arsenal's previous meeting with Blackburn Rovers was a remarkable game. The scoreline, 4-3 to Steve Kean's side, was enough of a surprise, but it was made even stranger by the fact Blackburn recorded just eight shots in the match, compared to Arsenal's 23. In fact, Blackburn only scored two of their four goals themselves - Arsenal helped them by scoring two own goals.

The two goals Blackburn did score on their own came from Yakubu, who completes his three-game suspension this weekend. His absence is a huge blow, and makes it more difficult for Blackburn to retain their unexpected record as the only club in the Premier League to score in every away game this season.

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

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