Dalglish's defensive dilemma, Miyaichi facing Assou-Ekotto challenge
LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs tactical battles against Stoke have been interesting since Kenny Dalglish took charge of the Reds for the second time. StokeÃ¢ÂÂs threat from set-pieces is well-established, and Dalglish has responded to that danger by shifting to a system featuring three centre-backs.
The 0-0 draw between the sides in January was an example of Liverpool using a three-man defence, which worked well, but further up the pitch they had problems. They crossed the ball 42 times in the game, nearly once every two minutes, which played into the hands of the Stoke centre-backs who were happy to deal with an aerial threat. It didnÃ¢ÂÂt help that Liverpool left Andy Carroll, their chief aerial threat, on the bench Ã¢ÂÂ though they were without Luis Suarez, who will be perfect against StokeÃ¢ÂÂs rather immobile backline.
StokeÃ¢ÂÂs crosses in the previous fixture generally came from the right, and thatÃ¢ÂÂs a feature of their attacking play this season Ã¢ÂÂ 42% of their passes are played down the right, a higher proportion than any other Premier League side. It will be interesting to see if Dalglish plays three at the back again, and if not, whether Liverpool are more prone to crosses.
The star of BoltonÃ¢ÂÂs 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers last weekend was young Japanese wide forward Ryo Miyaichi, who created no fewer than seven chances in the game.
This weekend heÃ¢ÂÂll be up against Tottenham left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, one of the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs most consistent left-backs, and it will be interesting to see how the two deal with each other. Assou-Ekotto, as the dashboard from his performance last weekend shows, generally stays solidly in position when his side attacks, and doesnÃ¢ÂÂt leave much space in behind.
Therefore, Miyachi will have to utilise more than his considerable raw pace Ã¢ÂÂ and as a player on-loan from Arsenal, heÃ¢ÂÂd love to play a part in knocking Tottenham out of the competition.
Despite the arrival of Gary Cahill, ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs first-choice partnership at the back is still John Terry and David Luiz, judging by WednesdayÃ¢ÂÂs 4-1 win over Napoli.
Luiz had a good game in midweek, and itÃ¢ÂÂs clear that he brings good passing quality to the back four. TerryÃ¢ÂÂs ability on the ball is also better than he gets credit for, and Chelsea now have two centre-backs comfortable on the ball and able to distribute directly from the back.
These two will almost certainly get plenty of time to play good passes against Leicester this weekend, and itÃ¢ÂÂs interesting to see how their passing patterns vary. Terry plays a lot of backpasses and simple balls to left-back Ashley Cole, rarely hitting square balls to Luiz. The Brazilian is the opposite Ã¢ÂÂ no backpasses, plenty of square balls and more direct passes into the opposition half.
Everton versus Sunderland should see a direct battle between two young Irish wide players Ã¢ÂÂ Seamus Coleman on EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs right, and SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs promising left-winger James McClean.
Coleman is usually used in a relatively defensive role, protecting his full-back Ã¢ÂÂ either Phil Neville or Tony Hibbert. Last week he was used in an unfamiliar wide role after Gareth Bale was used on that flank, but he had a good game, regularly intercepting the ball before it got to Bale.
He might be in for a different challenge against the tricky McClean. Against Liverpool last weekend, McClean constantly tried to beat Liverpool right-back Martin Kelly, but was tackled seven out of nine times. Coleman will have to get goalside of McClean, and show that he can tackle as well as intercept.
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