CHELSEA 1-0 STOKE
Goodbye, Mata; hello, Matic. In his second spell at Stamford Bridge, Nemanja Matic made a belated first start for Chelsea and may have offered a hint of how Jose Mourinho’s midfield will look in the future.
In the Portuguese’s first stint at the club, his favourite formation was 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder, usually Claude Makelele, and two box-to-box runners. Since he returned last summer and inherited a squad top-heavy with flair players, Mourinho has tended to play 4-2-3-1, with the problem that his central midfielders were split into two camps: those, like John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, who could sit deep but offered too little going forward and those, such as Ramires and Frank Lampard, with either the energy or goal-scoring ability to advance but who prefer to have a more defensive presence alongside them.
Matic hinted he could provide a happy medium. Neither he nor Lampard really operated as an anchorman, which could have left space between the lines but Chelsea were so dominant that it wasn’t an issue. What the Serb did was to keep possession in a more progressive way than Mikel. By completing five of his seven long passes, he indicated he has a greater passing range than the Nigerian. With five tackles, Matic also did the defensive half of his job with quiet efficiency.
The immediate consequence of his first start, however, was felt by Lampard. The left-footed Matic began on the left of the partnership where the 35-year-old has usually begun, partly as it allows him to come inside and shoot on his right foot. In Mourinho’s original Chelsea side, he lined up to Makelele’s left. The vice captain has had to drop deeper as he has gotten older. Now he has been shifted sideways a little as well.
BOURNEMOUTH 0-2 LIVERPOOL
An ongoing issue for Liverpool is how best to accommodate two strikers, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and a No. 10, Philippe Coutinho, especially when Brendan Rodgers also selects a winger. In successive matches, he has taken different approaches, playing 4-4-2, with Coutinho tucked in on the left, against Aston Villa and then 4-2-3-1 at Bournemouth, with the Brazilian in the middle of a trio.
This time Sturridge was the man sacrificed, playing in the position where his only extended run in the Chelsea team came, on the right. He was able to cut in from that side to net Liverpool’s second goal -- with the other winger, Victor Moses, also on the score sheet, the wide men provided a threat -- but even against a Championship side, it highlighted the drawback of playing Sturridge in a wider role.
Perhaps Bournemouth’s most influential attacker was overlapping left-back Charlie Daniels, who put in five crosses. He was aided because Sturridge hardly protected right-back Martin Kelly whereas, on the other flank, Moses occupied the position in front of left-back Aly Cissokho more often. There were times when Bournemouth were able to get a two-against-one on their left, with Daniels and Marc Pugh outnumbering Kelly, as Sturridge either stayed forward or had wandered into his preferred central zone.
STEVENAGE 0-4 EVERTON
In Roberto Martinez’s time at Everton, he has sold two strikers (Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic), borrowed two (Romelu Lukaku and Lacina Traore) and bought one (Arouna Kone). He selected a side at Stevenage without a specialist centre-forward but featuring two men, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith, who often operate in wider positions but who the Spaniard believes can play up front.
Rather than use either as a false nine, the plan was rather conventional. Naismith played as a No. 9 with Mirallas deployed behind him as a No. 10. It was a combination that worked well throughout the game -- the Belgian found space between the lines -- particularly for the opening goal.
Naismith served as the focal point of the attack, laying the ball back for Mirallas to run past him. Then Naismith, spinning and turning, got in the box to score from Aiden McGeady’s cross after goalkeeper Chris Day saved Mirallas’ shot.
If that was Naismith acting as the target man, his second goal came when he provided the run, getting in behind the Stevenage defence to meet Leon Osman’s pass. The two goals highlighted the twin tasks of the normal striker, Lukaku, bringing others into play when they break forward or stretching defences with his pace and looking to exploit any space behind them. Against lowly opposition, Naismith, albeit a shorter and slower player, did a surprisingly good impression of Lukaku.
ARSENAL 4-0 COVENTRY
Arsenal do not have a reputation as set-piece specialists. Their fondness for short passing is well known; so, too, is Arsene Wenger’s fondness for short players. Yet if they do not have a battery of 6-footers to attack a corner, they still scored in distinctly old-fashioned style against Coventry.
Rather than applying pace or curl, Serge Gnabry chipped a corner to the near post. Wenger had positioned his tallest player, Per Mertesacker, there. While his starting position was on the edge of the six-yard box and Mertesacker barely moved, three runners came in behind him: Nicklas Bendtner made a lateral run toward Mertesacker while there were vertical runs from nearer the penalty spot by Laurent Koscielny and, behind the far post, Lukas Podolski. They went into the space Bendtner vacated, and when Mertesacker won a flick-on, his fellow German met it to score his second goal.
It is a simple plan that depends essentially on having one player -- Mertesacker in this instance -- with either the height or the aerial ability to offer a high chance he will win the header at the near post. It is something Arsenal’s assistant manager Steve Bould used to do. One way to combat it would be for the defending side to station a man both in front and behind the near-post man, whereas Coventry had only Dan Seaborne, who was behind the Arsenal centre-back and held off by him.