Rafael faces Taarabt puzzler, Downing still misfiring, Pizarro the man for City

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

Adel Taarabt’s Premier League season burst into life with an excellent performance and well-taken goal in the 2-1 win over Arsenal last weekend, and now he’ll be looking to turn in a similar display against Manchester United this weekend.

Taarabt will be fielded out on the left wing, a position he interprets in an interesting way. He doesn’t hug the touchline and cross the ball, but neither does he drift into the centre of the pitch particularly often. The main feature of his game is the constant attempts to drop away from his marker – he comes very deep towards the ball to pick up possession in space, or positions himself in a ‘square’ between four opposition players in their two banks of four.

His battle with Rafael will be an interesting one – the Brazilian likes to stick very tight to his man, and is happy to follow him up the touchline. But will he track Taarabt into more central positions?

After Taarabt broke his goalscoring duck last weekend, the Premier League player to have attempted the most shots without finding the net this season is Liverpool’s Stewart Downing.

Downing seems to have lost all confidence when presented with a decent scoring opportunity, yet continues to hit long-range attempts from ambitious positions. In his last start, the 2-1 defeat to Wigan, he had four shots but none troubled Ali Al-Habsi.

This weekend’s game against former club Aston Villa may remind him his of good goalscoring form of last season, when he hit nine goals. In fact, his final goal for Villa was in the final match of last season, from his only shot that day – and it was against Liverpool.

Manchester City are now in a position where they have to throw caution to the wind – they can’t really afford another slip-up in their attempts to catch Manchester United. Even a draw away at Arsenal, which Roberto Mancini would probably have considered a good point back in the Autumn, isn’t quite good enough.

Therefore, Mancini may consider using David Pizarro in the centre of City’s midfield, in place of the more defensive-minded Nigel de Jong. Pizarro has only started one Premier League game, at home to Bolton, and although he misplaces more passes than De Jong, it’s obvious that he’s more forward-thinking and direct with the ball at his feet.

While a trip to Arsenal may usually be a fixture in which Mancini would prefer to deploy a more solid holding midfielder, the reality is that City need someone to dictate play from deep, and the Chilean might be the man for the job.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle deservedly picked up March’s Manager of the Month award after three crucial wins over fellow relegation strugglers QPR, Blackburn and Wolves.

A notable feature of these games has been the high number of shots Bolton have attempted, particularly in the latter two games - 17 against Blackburn and 20 against Wolves.

Part of the reason for their high number of shots per game is the use of David Ngog rather than Kevin Davies upfront. Ngog has 1.8 shots per game, while Davies only has 1. The two strikers only have five goals between them this season, but the Frenchman appears to be the greater danger in the penalty box, even if he lacks Davies’ aerial ability.

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