Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Match of the Week Review here at Finisher’s Forum. I plan to use this space to take an in-depth look at intriguing matches throughout the course of the Premier League season. We’ll discuss a variety of topics as they relate to the Match of the Week, including: player and team storylines, tactics, statistics, and more. I’ll also throw in some random thoughts and observations I had while watching the match. As usual here at the Forum, everything is up for discussion, so feel free to post your comments below.
Match of the Week- Chelsea vs. Liverpool @ The Bridge
In looking over the weekend Premiership schedule while trying to decide which match to make my MotW, two matches immediately stood out as the likely subjects for this column, Manchester City vs. Tottenham and Chelsea vs. Liverpool. I chose Chelsea vs. Liverpool for one reason and one reason only, the return of John Terry to the Chelsea side following his four match domestic ban for racism. The “Captain, Leader, Legend” of Chelsea FC made his return count in the 20th minute when he hammered his open header into the top corner off a Juan Mata corner kick.
Defending of set pieces has been notably poor on several occasions throughout the Premier League this season, with many of the most egregious lapses coming from teams (see Manchester City) who insist on zonal marking, especially for corner kicks. This, however, was not an occasion where zonal marking was to blame. Liverpool was man marking with Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson on Terry and Branislav Ivanovic respectively. Terry makes a quick run to the near post off the back of Ivanovic who “occupies” both Agger and Johnson. Terry is left with a free header which he dispatches into the back of the net, while Agger and Johnson are left to argue over who should have followed Terry’s run.
Unfortunately, the return of Terry to the Chelsea side was cut short by a nasty looking knee injury in the 35th minute. Luis Suarez picked up the ball in Chelsea’s half of the pitch and began to run at Terry, but was caught from behind by Ramires, who won the ball cleanly. However, the momentum of Ramirez carried into Suarez, who couldn’t help but fall forward into Terry, who was just stepping up to make a tackle. Terry was stretchered off to be replaced by Gary Cahill.
Suarez must have been licking his lips at the thought of having to deal with Cahill and Ivanovic instead of Terry, but it took him until the 73rd minute to find a telling goal. Again, poor marking on a corner kick was to blame. Liverpool ran a play that Manchester United have patented over the last several years, where Michael Carrick makes a near post run and looks to flick a low driven ball on to the back post. This time it was Jamie Carragher making the near post run and getting a flick on when his marker John Obi Mikel and the man marking the front post, Oscar, both lost sight of him. Oscar in particular makes a very feeble attempt to win the ball with his foot. Suarez loses his marker Ramirez at the back post (albeit with a pretty blatant push, though to be fair, Ramires also had a good grip of his shirt) to head the ball in from point blank range.
Two goals, two examples of pretty poor set piece defending. 24% of goals in the Premier League this season have come off set pieces, while Chelsea and Liverpool have scored 26% and 29% of their goals off set pieces respectively this season. Meanwhile, the only team to to score over 24% of their goals from set pieces last season was extremely tall, bruising Stoke City. Whether this is an alarming trend of poor coaching on set play defending, or an early season aberration only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Chelsea look set to sweat out a scan on John Terry’s knee on Monday, while wondering how long they will have to go without their captain and best defender at a time when they have allowed 14 goals in their past 7 matches.
Three other observations and thoughts from the match:
Joe Allen will no doubt end up a very fine buy for Liverpool before all is said and done, but this was not one of his better matches. Playing as the holding midfielder, he was caught in possession several times allowing for quick counter attacks by Luis Suarez and Co. Lucky for Allen he was saved his blushes by some good defending behind him.
Whatever Brendan Rodgers might have said pre-match, his team did not look comfortable playing the 5-3-2 he set them up in. While they defended well enough in open play, they offered little going forward until Rodgers made his tactical changes in the second half. In particular, Raheem Sterling is not ready to be a center forward at this point in his young career and has looked much better lined up as a winger in a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3.
Given the lack of wide midfield options for Liverpool, (it was telling that when changing from the 5-3-2 system, both Joe Cole and Stewart Downing remained rooted to the bench) Jose Enrique may have given his manager another option to look to on the left. Enrique looked good going forward, especially as an out and out left midfielder in the latter portion of the 2nd half and indeed was named man of the match. Enrique has been somewhat out of favor with Rodgers during the start to the season, having only been in the starting XI on four occasions in the Premier League, but if he can prove his versatility as both a left midfielder and left back, he might force Rodgers into giving him more looks as the season wears on.
(Statistics provided by whoscored.com)