The news that Lucas Leiva will be out for the remainder of the season has come as a bitter blow to Liverpool. Having taken a while to settle into the Premier League, slowly gaining the respect of his own fans, it is only in 2011/12 that heÃ¢ÂÂs started to be appreciated more widely.
He was named man of the match against Manchester City last weekend Ã¢ÂÂ no player on the pitch made more tackles or more interceptions. There's an interesting comparison between his dashboard from that match and his dashboard from his first game of last season, also against City.
HeÃ¢ÂÂs clearly become much more of a presence in front of his back four, conceding fewer free-kicks (marked by the black triangles) and winning far more challenges (marked by the orange crosses) Ã¢ÂÂ indeed he leads the league in tackles with 68. His passing, meanwhile, has always been reliable.
Liverpool now have a dilemma about how to replace him. They lack a reliable back-up in that role Ã¢ÂÂ Jay Spearing is untested, Steven Gerrard prefers playing higher up and is also currently injured, whilst Charlie Adam needs someone to play alongside him. Lucas is possibly the worst player they could have lost for the season; theyÃ¢ÂÂre lucky that they in their first match without him they face Fulham, a side without a real central attacking midfielder.
Blackburn against Swansea should be an interesting clash of styles. Blackburn have moved away from the pure long ball football Sam Allardyce liked, but they still retain a broadly direct approach Ã¢ÂÂ as revealed last week, goalkeeper Paul Robinson has the lowest pass completion rate in Europe.
Brendan RodgersÃ¢ÂÂ Swansea, on the other hand, favour a short passing game that starts from goalkeeper Michel Vorm, who rolls the ball short to his defenders. In all, Blackburn have the second-lowest pass completion rate in the league, Swansea are third highest.
Looking at the examples of long passes (defined by Opta as 35 yards or longer) last weekend, Steve KeanÃ¢ÂÂs side play twice as many as Swansea Ã¢ÂÂ generally hammered down the centre of the pitch, and generally unsuccessful. ItÃ¢ÂÂs notable that despite Swansea making far fewer long passes, they completed the same number of successful balls into a dangerous area in or around the penalty box: one.
Wigan winger Victor Moses has made more successful dribbles per match than any other Premier League player this season Ã¢ÂÂ 3.3, just ahead of BlackburnÃ¢ÂÂs Junior Hoilett. The cost of this, however, is that he frequently tries to beat opponents and loses the ball Ã¢ÂÂ in that respect, heÃ¢ÂÂs taken over from Charles NÃ¢ÂÂZogbia, who was dispossessed more often than any other player in the league last year.
When the strugglers host Arsenal on Saturday it will be interesting to see what side of the pitch Moses plays on Ã¢ÂÂ and specifically, which full-back Roberto Martinez asks him to take on. On the left, he would be up against a makeshift right-back in either Laurent Koscielny or Johan Djourou, on the right he would be up against Andre Santos, who has improved in recent weeks but still looks weak defensively.
Judging by MosesÃ¢ÂÂ last appearance on each flank, heÃ¢ÂÂs more successful when deployed on the right; strangely, he seems to come inside more from that flank, despite being right-footed.
Those checking the formbook ahead of ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs trip to Wigan will find they struggled to a disappointing 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium last Christmas, a big blow having recorded an excellent win over Chelsea a couple of days beforehand. Are Wigan the type of side that will cause Arsenal trouble?
Perhaps, but itÃ¢ÂÂs worth bearing in mind that the team which contested last yearÃ¢ÂÂs fixture will be almost completely different from the side that starts tomorrow. It's instructive to compare the line-up from that match with ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs draw at home to Fulham last weekend: only one player, Andrei Arshavin, started both matches Ã¢ÂÂ and the Russian is likely to be left out here, with Gervinho favoured on the left.
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