Manchester United's visit to Chelsea demonstrated more than any other match the decline of Fernando Torres as a goalscoring threat. In his Liverpool pomp the Spaniard man used to terrorise the United back line by playing through the middle, often causing a defender of Nemanja Vidic's quality to look pedestrian to the point of desperation.
RESULTS (click team name for web-wide club news feed) Sat 4 FebArsenal 7-1 Blackburn Rovers; Norwich City 2-0 Bolton Wanderers; Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers; Stoke City 0-1 Sunderland; West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Swansea City; Wigan Athletic 1-1 Everton; Manchester City 3-0 FulhamSun 5 FebNewcastle United 2-1 Aston Villa; Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United (Mon 6 Feb 8pmLiverpool v Tottenham Hotspur)
At Chelsea, however, his game has changed. No longer the ever-present threat running in behind the defence, he now drops deep and moves wide so often that Chelsea regularly play with nobody in the penalty area, making it easy for opposition defenders to pick up those late runs from midfield that made Frank Lampard a 20-goal midfielder for seven seasons on the bounce.
Using StatsZone we can see how rarely Torres picked the ball up within 25 yards of goal, instead receiving it in front of the back four or wide to the left.
As if to emphasise the point, Chelsea's second goal was assisted by a Torres cross from the right wing Ã¢ÂÂ one of two crosses which certainly had more of an impact on the game than his two attempted shots. Perhaps he should be studying Wayne Rooney, who managed to combine excellent link-up play with eight shots at goal.
Or perhaps Torres could look further north for his inspiration. Newcastle's Senegalese strike duo Demba Ba and Papiss CissÃÂ© created their Premier League partnership earlier than expected after Leon Best's injury brought forward the new signing's introduction, and to Aston Villa's chagrin the pair showed very good signs of forming a threatening duo, topped by a goal apiece.
While Newcastle were benefitting from returnees from the Africa Cup of Nations, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was still trying to find a suitable lineup to compensate for the continued absence of Yaya Toure. Against Fulham he boldly played Samir Nasri in a more central role alongside Gareth Barry.
While the end result was a comfortable win, it wasn't without risk: Nasri's propensity to drift to the left allowed Fulham, and in particular Danny Murphy, to seize possession. The visitors eventually registered 53% of the ball Ã¢ÂÂ at a ground where City have been so dominant that they've only dropped two points since Christmas 2010 Ã¢ÂÂ and five shots on target to City's four.
Unfortunately for Fulham, they couldn't turn those shots on target into goals. It was a very different scenario at the Emirates, where eight goals were scored from 10 shots on target between Arsenal and Blackburn. It may sound like a poor reflection on both goalkeepers, but none of the eight goals could be claimed as goalkeeping mistakes. Save percentages are more indicative of defensive flaws, allowing shots from almost certain goalscoring positions, as a Blackburn defence shorn of Christopher Samba and reduced to 10 men before halftime amply demonstrated.
Stats Zone is a freely-downloadable app from FourFourTwo powered by stats from Opta, updated LIVE during the game. It covers Champions League and Premier League games Ã¢ÂÂ and there's a completely free version dedicated to the Africa Cup of Nations.
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