Of the seven most impressive teams so far this season, this weekend three of them basically held serve and four did something to change how we see them.
- Pep City did their defensively derpy but LOL who cares we rule thing again as they beat a stubborn Swansea side that still looks like a relegation contender to me.
- Liverpool once again overwhelmed their opponent with frenetic pressing and incredible team speed. Difference was this time it was an objectively bad opponent rather than a Champions League-chasing rival.
- Spurs also mostly dominated against Middlesborough but had a much nervier ending to their game due partly to bad refereeing and partly to the fact that they obviously took their foot off the gas in the second half.
- Manchester United and Arsenal raised their perception by scoring two excellent wins. Rooney-less United thumped defending champions Leicester City 4-1 and Arsenal put together a convincing 3-0 win against Chelsea.
- Chelsea, then, is obviously one club whose star fell a bit this week after their humbling at the Emirates. The other is the defensively sturdy Everton who fell to Bournemouth. That said, the Toffees were not as bad as the result may suggest or as bad as their fan’s moaning might lead you to think.
The Expected Goals Data for Week 6 of the 2016-17 Premier League
Here are Michael Caley’s xG results:
Three Things We Learned from Week 6 of the 2016-17 Premier League
Turns out, United did have a Wayne Rooney Problem
Caley’s tweet says it nicely: “Did they do something different?” I hope to do more analysis on this in the next couple of weeks. But the basic change is this: They dropped Wayne Rooney, a player who drops deep as a number 10 and looks to receive the ball and push forward himself, with Juan Mata. Mata’s style is much more about free lateral movement, quick passing, and flitting around more direct, vertical attackers and enabling them to be their best.
Determining average position is a tricky thing and heat maps are often useless as graphics. That said, I’ve often been happy with using “passes received” charts as a way of illustrating the spaces that the player is occupying most often. Here is Rooney’s passes received against Watford last week:
The key thing to note here is that the area where Rooney is getting the ball most often is that advanced central attacking position where you expect a basically immobile number 10 to operate. The trouble here is that United’s star summer signing Paul Pogba, is a ridiculously gifted central midfielder who thrives on having space to surge into. So that central attacking area needs to be open for Pogba to be at his best. With Rooney starting, that doesn’t happen. Pogba is thus kinda strait-jacketed into a role that drastically limits his effectiveness.
Now consider Mata’s passes received this weekend against Leicester:
He does receive a very small number of passes in that central attacking area, but there are two massive differences in where Mata is receiving the ball:
- First, he is drifting laterally much more than Rooney, which means that central area is open.
- Second, he is dropping much deeper to get the ball.
Now let’s check in with Pogba. Here are the passes he received against Watford:
He gets stranded in the left central midfield area, for the most part. He is able to push forward a little, but he is mostly locked up in that mostly non-threatening part of the pitch.
Now, Pogba against Leicester:
Here you can see he’s still receiving a majority of passes in that left central midfield area, but now he’s also pushing forward into central areas more often and drifting into other areas around the pitch.
We can say more: Against Watford, United completed 346 passes. Granted, that was on the road, but it was still a game where you expect them to boss possession. And they did have 60% possession. But that translated to a relatively low number of passes. It is worth noting here that Marouane Fellaini was Pogba’s partner against Watford.
Against Leicester, United had 67% possession—so more, but not dramatically more than against Watford—but nearly double the number of passes. They played 616 passes against the Foxes. Much of this is Mata’s smart lateral movement, but I suspect the presence of Ander Herrera in midfield alongside Pogba also made a difference.
To be clear, the point here is not necessarily that Mata is responsible for playing or receiving more passes than Rooney. He did that, but he did more than just that. Mata’s lateral movement and quick pass-and-move approach seemed to unchain this United attack.
Yup, Liverpool can break down packed defenses.
One of the big questions with Jurgen Klopp’s team was whether or not they could rely on a counter pressing style against teams that attempt to sit deep and force them to attempt more patient, methodical build-up play to create chances.
Well, they passed their first test. To be sure, part of this is down to playing Hull City. And Hull is bad. Here, check out Ryan Mason at his Ryan Masoniest:
Mason is the one tracking and then not tracking Coutinho as he receives the ball, runs through tons of open space in the attacking third and then picks out Adam Lallana in the box.
That said, Liverpool consistently carved out chances against Hull. The xG map doesn’t lie: 3.3 xG plus two penalties. And the really impressive thing is that Liverpool isn’t just taking lots of shots; they’re creating lots of high-quality chances. If you could find a reasonable knock on Klopp’s Dortmund teams, it is that they often (like AVB’s Spurs) settled for high shot volume when they should have aspired to greater shot quality. But against Hull, Liverpool didn’t just take lots of shots, they took lots of high-quality shots.
To be sure, it’s far too soon to get too high on the Reds. Proving you can break down Hull City is not the same as proving you can break down better bottom-half teams, like West Bromwich Albion, Watford, or even Burnley. We’ll have to wait and see. That said, we can say with confidence that Liverpool hasn’t done anything so far this season to justify questioning them as a major top four challenger and maybe even an outside title contender.
Heung-Min Son is coming good for Spurs.
On deadline day 2015 Erik Lamela nearly left Spurs for a loan (with an option to buy) to Marseille of Ligue 1. The only reason it didn’t happen is because Mauricio Pochettino killed the deal.
In the summer of 2016, Spurs winger Heung-Min Son was linked repeatedly with moves back to Germany after a stop-start-stop first season in England with Spurs. Once again, Pochettino convinced his misfiring high-price signing to stick it out and give it more time. And, once again, it’s looking a stroke of genius on Pochettino’s part.
To review Tottenham’s season so far:
- Harry Kane has missed a game and had an OK but not great start to the season.
- Mousa Dembele has missed five of the first six Premier League fixtures.
- Eric Dier has missed a game.
- Christian Eriksen has started badly.
- Dele Alli has had a finishing slump.
Despite all this, Spurs are second in the table, having taken 14 points out of a possible 18. They head into next weekend’s clash with City looking quite strong and more than capable of another serious top four challenge.
Much of that is thanks to their Korean winger. Son scored twice against Stoke and then scored twice again on Saturday against Middlesborough. He was also excellent against Sunderland and was rather unlucky not to score in that game. Son heeded Pochettino’s advice and, as a thank you, has given his manager a major selection headache. It’s hard to imagine any justification for dropping Son at the moment, but it’s also hard to figure out which of last season’s untouchable attacking midfielders should be dropped against Manchester City. (My vote would be Dele Alli.)
If Son continues this form and Eriksen continues to improve and Dembele returns to last year’s form… well, this Spurs team just might surpass the accomplishments of last year’s.