Moyes' tactical plan, Coyle's dilemma and Rio's return

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Editor of, Michael Cox, casts a tactical eye over three of the weekend's biggest Premeir League fixtures, using the Stats Zone app from FFT and Opta...

The opening Premier League game of the weekend sees an interesting clash between Manchester City and Everton, a fixture David Moyes’ side have a surprisingly good record in over the last couple of seasons.

Their 2-1 victory in Manchester last year came somewhat against the run of play – the away side’s two goals came from their only shots on target from six attempts, while City had 33 shots and only scored once.

It will be intriguing to see how Moyes approaches this match. He’s generally a good tactician when facing bigger sides, encouraging his full-backs to tuck in narrow, and his wide midfielders to cut off the passing angles to the wide players, sometimes leaving the opposition full-backs free.

Roberto Mancini will have to decide which of his full-backs are better on the ball, to take advantage of this potential avenue of attack.

If Moyes asks his wide midfielders to prevent balls out to the wide players, it will be a difficult job because of how quickly David Silva and Samir Nasri come inside.

Indeed, looking at the passing maps of either, you’d be surprised to learn they were nominally starting from the flank.

The below diagrams shows Silva’s narrow positioning against Fulham, and also Manchester City’s crosses in that game, which were frequently unsuccessful.

That said, City have variety in their attacking play. Whereas Arsenal always want to play narrow and opponents can force them to go wide and cross the ball without too much danger, City have the threat of Edin Dzeko, who converted two crosses in the 5-1 win over Spurs.

Everton need to play narrow enough to prevent through-balls penetrating their defence, but not so narrow as to allow City too much time to cross the ball.

Arsenal’s shambolic performance at Blackburn last weekend shows they still have problems in defence, particularly in the air.

They welcome Bolton Wanderers to the Emirates this weekend, where Owen Coyle will have something of a dilemma. On the one hand he wants to present Bolton as a good passing side, but on the other, Arsenal are probably more vulnerable to a simple route one strategy, and with Kevin Davies up front, Bolton have the ability to test Arsenal with such an approach.

Indeed, last season they had some success with long balls forward from goalkeeper Adam Bogdan (interestingly, the long balls were more likely to be completed when they were angled into the right-hand channel, rather than played straight down the middle). Long balls were the most frequent way in which Davies received the ball.

Another interesting battleground will be down Bolton’s right, where all four of their chances in the defeat to Norwich originated. Tuncay started there but Chris Eagles replaced him at half-time, and the latter is likely to start at the Emirates. He’ll be up against Arsenal’s new Brazilian left-back Andre Santos, who is not dissimilar to his predecessor Gael Clichy in defensive style – he likes to come high up the pitch and intercept the ball, but can leave space in behind.

Finally, Manchester United’s trip to Stoke City provides a different test for Sir Alex Ferguson – inevitably, he’ll be thinking about how to deal with Stoke’s long balls into the box.

Last season, he went to great lengths to get an extra centre-back in the side – pushing Patrice Evra to the left of midfield in order to accommodate John O’Shea at left-back.

The good news this time around is that he probably doesn’t need to make such a blatant change – Chris Smalling is essentially a centre-back but has been excelling at right-back, so United will be playing three centre-backs anyway, which should help them in the air. The question is, who will the other two centre-backs be?

The possible return of Rio Ferdinand would probably mean Jonny Evans being dropped – a shame for him, as he was very good in the win over Chelsea, particularly with the ball at his feet. Phil Jones seems a sure starter – although Ferguson could try to play Jones deep in midfield for the further additional aerial power.

The return of Ferdinand is a boost for United, but this is really a game for the injured Nemanja Vidic – last season, he was far more proactive than Ferdinand at clearing Stoke’s long balls.