This week’s patrollers: Isacki & Pratik
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there used to be a popular FFS post in midweek appropriately named the ‘Midweek Meander’. In this post, Mark would, in his own words:
“take a sideways glance at the games that approach us, offering my view on your best bet for clean sheets and goals and which team/player/manager you’ll be wringing your hands over come Sunday evening.”
Having been given the nod to continue this, though under a different name – to avoid us instantly and spectacularly destroying the credibility of the FFS brand by backing Boselli (C) – we present the very first article of this rebooted series with a rebooted name and a logo of its very own!
AT THE BACK
No surprises here. With Newcastle’s first choice CBs back playing together again at home to woeful Villa, a clean sheet is very much on the cards. Newcastle conceded a stingy 17 goals in 19 games at home last year, and Villa look likely to tend more towards the 0 than the 1. Their only goal in 180 minutes so far is a spectacular long-range goal from central midfielder El Ahmadi. That said, they did thrash Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup so you can’t rule anything out…
Man City (QPR)
Unavoidably you’ll immediately think of the unforgettable 3-2 win last year, which is of course was a long way from defensively acceptable for City. It’s true that they’ve made a somewhat leaky start to the campaign, but they remain the same side that collected 11 clean sheets from 19 home matches last year and should dominate a QPR side that appears to have stepped backwards since.
With the departure of Lambert and the arrival of Chris Hughton, who is generally known as a defensive manager, Norwich attacking returns look unpromising this year. Much of Spurs’ early rise up the table last year was due to conceding fewer goals as opposed to scoring more. The question is whether AVB has compromised their defence the same way he compromised Chelsea’s. For that reason, this is not as certain as it would have been last year.
One author – it’s probably not hard to guess – was at the DW Stadium for this fixture last year and watched Wigan pass Stoke to death. With the same formations and the likely lineups differing only by the odd player – Alcaraz, for a start, who got sent off in the League Cup – Stoke’s awful away scoring record should continue if, as expected, they lose the midfield.
Swansea’s two clean sheets to start off the season have confounded the doubters. Of course, the deeper point was that they appear to have improved even further on their passing game, which both protects the defence and aids the attack. Sunderland so far have been stuck with an uninspiring squad lacking in creativity, so on current form a clean sheet would be a good bet. However, Sunderland have been boosted by the signings of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher; it is claimed Dempsey is soon on the way. While it may take some time for Sunderland to click, it does make this the sternest test of Swansea’s backline yet.
The only away fixture on this list, Everton kept a magnificent clean sheet against United and should have kept one in their last away game but for a long-range screamer from the aforementioned El Ahmadi. West Brom have come out strong defensively and have a decent attack, though not nearly as dangerous as United’s on paper. You’d hope. Much of this depends on how defensively Everton come out. If Everton happen to park the bus after taking the lead, a clean sheet is a very real possibility. With Brom possibly seeking to survive by home wins, Moyes may consider this strategy. Alternatively, Moyes may decide he has the better team and open up, in which case it’s anyone’s guess.
AT THE FRONT
Newcastle have already beaten Spurs 2-1 at home and against a newly reworked Lambert defence you have to expect goals. A 4-4-2 with Ba and Cisse up front is the likeliest starting lineup given Pardew’s recent comments, but Ben Arfa will be pushing irresistibly forwards and could well morph it into a 4-3-3. With Villa losing even their defensive cohesion, this is a game which is even more attractive than it was last year.
Man City (QPR)
Little need be said about the leakiness of the QPR defence. Conceding 5 to Swansea on opening day and apparently buying an entirely new defence just before the window closes, they are in turmoil. After messy adventures with 3-4-1-2, plus perhaps an unwillingness to experiment after last season’s final-day drama, City could revert to 4-2-2-2 and have both Silva and Nasri dictating play in the middle, but our eyes will be fixed on Tevez as he will undoubtedly carry the armband of the majority of FPL players. FPL expects.
The arrival of Adebayor is a big lift to the attack. Serving both the role of goalscorer and creator, his hold-up play is superb and benefits Bale – see his superb footwork around multiple defenders to create the assist for Bale in Norwich 0 Tottenham 2 last year. Norwich’s 5-0 defeat to Fulham rang alarm bells about Hughton’s defence – all the more given that they had registered clean sheets in most preseason games. There is uncertainty over exactly who will line up in the attack – see SURPRISES. The larger uncertainty is whether AVB can ever produce a reliable team. That remains to be seen, and may seal your armband decision.
Man Utd (sou)
As Super Zlatan says: “RVP always has the potential to launch a nuclear attack against any opposition.” It seems impossible to ignore him for this kind of fixture when he is nailed-on. Despite the surprises Sir Alex continuously springs upon us, it is unthinkable for RVP not to be the focus of the United attack when Rooney is out. Kagawa is perhaps the next most likely source of attacking points if you find RVP way out of your means. Whether it’s adequate or not, we will know in the coming gameweeks. Taking lessons from the City match, though Southampton may set out to defend, they’re not built to take persistent pressure for the full 90 minutes. City wasted numerous chances to score and still scored three. How many could United score?
There is at least one thing we haven’t shamelessly copied and that is a SURPRISES section. Here, we’ll highlight players tipped to overachieve or underachieve – the latter including rotation worries that could drop you a nasty 0 or 1 pointer.
The last few days of the transfer window are seldom unexciting for a Spurs fan. It is no different this time round. Spurs agreed a fee for midfield ball-winner and all-round beast Dembele last night, and are heavily rumoured to be about to capture Lloris and Willian. On the other hand, “Der Kaiser” PBJ reports that Van der Vaart has agreed personal terms with Hamburg but no fee has been agreed. With VDV possibly set to exit, this sets up a possible attacking midfield three of Bale, Sigurdsson and Lennon behind Adebayor. Dembele and Sandro could form an intimidating central midfield partnership that both protects the defence and gives the forwards licence to attack. Watch out for a potentially dramatic improvement in points at both front and back.
We have doubts on which formation Mancini will deploy against QPR this Saturday evening. Will it be the 4-2-2-2 accommodating both Nasri & Silva, or the 3-4-1-2 with Clichy and Kolarov wingbacks and only a single space for one of the duo? Toure was also picked over Lescott for the last match, though after Toure’s performance against Liverpool, Lescott has to be favoured to return. A general leakiness in defence has prevailed in City’s games so far including the Community Shield, perhaps not aided by changing their formation every match. A QPR goal is not out of the question, though it’s probably not a good idea to bet on Djibril Cisse anytime soon.
Just as Southampton showed their expected defensive frailties against City, they also demonstrated a remarkably sharp attack. Southampton hit on the break with speed using attacking players brought off the bench, the biggest surprise of which was Lambert. With this match being home not away, we may see patterns form such as Lambert starting at home – he played the whole match against Wigan last time out.
Wigan’s 3-4-3 passing game and consequent domination of midfield could not meet more suitable opponents than Stoke at home. One criticism of Wigan has been their inability to convert attractive play into goals, with their lack of a proven striker the first obvious problem. The arrival of a new striker in Kone appears to have increased the the threat of the front three. Kone seems to be the new center forward, with Maloney playing on the left and Di Santo on the right. Any of the front three have a shout of attacking points, but as center forward and with much better goalscoring pedigree than Di Santo, Kone may be a super differential in the making. Not an Amr Zaki though. Please.
There’s no doubt that Jol’s 4-4-1-1 system has clicked from the start, overwhelming Norwich and even overwhelming United for spells late on. Supported by Ruiz, two aggressive wingers and a strong central midfield, Petric looks like a great value bet for points and the rather lumbering West Ham defence could be pulled apart. The damage caused by the departure of Dembele is yet to be counted, though.
The normally rock-solid United defence has conceded 3 in 2 games, and deservedly so. Various factors are pinpointed, the most obvious being an unfortunate series of injuries to central defenders which have resulted in Carrick’s deployment at CB, where he was ruthlessly beaten in the air by Fellaini to score Everton’s winner. The lack of a ball-winner in midfield and suspect defending by both fullbacks leaves United open in ways worryingly reminiscent of last season, and we know how that ended. Whether Carrick plays in midfield or defence could be key. With that in mind, Evans was on the bench for their last match, hinting at his return to partner Vidic in central defence. Since this implies that Carrick returns to being a midfield metronome, this could signal a return to normalcy. Their defence still isn’t convincing enough to include as a defensive pick this week, though.
Liverpool… and Arsenal!
Despite poor starts, there’s undoubted attacking quality in both sides. Both use three mobile forwards and a technical midfield three blessed with the passing to pick them out. The arrival of Sahin just adds to the quality midfielders already set to start: Cazorla, Arteta, Diaby, Allen and Gerrard. With Rodgers’ arrival, both sides are also playing relatively high defensive lines to facilitate passing out from the back. Rodgers’ central defence of Skrtel and Agger is sieve-like at the moment, with Skrtel’s calamitous backpass gifting Tevez a goal at the weekend and West Brom tearing them apart. Arsenal’s defence appears to have improved under Bould, at least at dealing with balls into the box, but on the flip side they’ve not been tested by a pacey attack yet. Goals could fly in. With Giroud and Podolski still a lottery, owning Cazorla and Suarez could be a points hurricane.