Stoke's secret corner routine, Spurs' weakness and Jol's dilemma

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

Travelling to Stoke this weekend, Manchester City’s defence will be in for the traditional Britannia Stadium aerial test. Roberto Mancini’s first concern will be his centre-back pairing: he’ll hope to have his first-choice duo of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott available after injury problems in recent weeks.

He might also be wise to look at the pattern of Stoke’s corners in their last two home matches. There appears to be a different plan depending upon whether the corner is hit from the left or the right. All five corners taken from the left were fired into the near post zone, where they were either met by a Stoke head or cleared by the defender guarding that area.

From the other flank, there’s much more variety, with the corner often being played into a zone between the width of the goalposts. Whether this is a deliberate tactic or not is questionable, but Mancini’s defenders – whoever they are – should be made aware of the pattern.

Aston Villa visit Arsenal for the second time this season, following a 3-2 defeat in the FA Cup Fourth Round. They went 2-0 up in that game – as they did in the Premier League fixture last season, when Darren Bent helped himself to two goals.

His pattern of passes received last season shows that he works the channels continually, and receives plenty of long clearances downfield from the goalkeeper. It’s notable that he only gets the ball in the area twice, and finishes both chances. The lesson is clear – Bent’s all-round game is OK, but keep him outside of the penalty area and hec’s less of a threat. Expect Arsenal to maintain their high defensive line this weekend.

During December's 1-1 draw between Tottenham and Chelsea, one of the interesting tactical battles was the situation in Chelsea’s left-back zone. Aaron Lennon was injured – as he is for this fixture – so Rafael van der Vaart was played out on the right.

But Van der Vaart doesn’t like playing on that flank, especially when asked to track a dangerous attacking full-back. He did a poor defensive job on Ashley Cole, partly because he was always focused on coming inside into the middle of the pitch. Cole scampered down the left to create two chances, one of which was finished neatly by Daniel Sturridge.

Harry Redknapp should remember this ahead of this game, and it’s unlikely that he’ll play Van der Vaart on the right again. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gareth Bale fielded out on that flank – he’ll come inside too, of course, but he should also track back and nullify the threat of Cole.

Fulham boss Martin Jol has been playing a particularly attacking side in recent weeks, fielding not just two strikers (usually Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andy Johnson) up front but also two forwards on the flanks (Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz). Furthermore, he’s moved Moussa Dembele, also more happy as a forward, into the centre of midfield.

Dembele has adapted well to the change in position – the diagram below shows how different his game has become. He’s more patient on the ball, he spreads the play wide, and has a much higher pass completion rate.

But he offers little defensive protection, leaving Fulham’s holding midfielder stranded ahead of the defence. Danny Murphy isn’t a tackler either, while Mahamadou Diarra had a poor game against Swansea. Will Jol be brave enough to play Dembele in the centre of midfield against Manchester United, or will he opt for a more cautious approach involving two traditional central midfielders?

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