Our data analysts dive into Stats Perform’s advanced metrics to pull out the key tactical snapshots from the latest Premier League action. Data visualizations, AI models and the occasional Arsenal bias can all be guaranteed, as Jonny Whitmore and the team dive into the numbers each week.
There was plenty to pick out from Liverpool’s win over Burnley. The return of Virgil van Dijk. The man of the match performance from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Sadio Mané getting on the scoresheet.
What stood out to me was Liverpool’s ability to commit players forward and into the box. The Reds had an average of 3.2 players in the box during their 18 open-play crosses against Burnley. Only Manchester City in their opening two games have managed higher.
This may sound simple, but Liverpool’s system makes this possible. The width provided by their full backs allows the front three to play more centrally, with both Mané and Mohamed Salah frequently found in positions where a traditional striker would play.
With more options, comes more goals. As Mikel Arteta said last season, “if we put bodies we had in certain moments in the box, it’s maths, pure maths and it will happen”.
Many pundits and fans have been writing off Liverpool this season. With a near fully fit team that is able to bring on Thiago and Roberto Firmino in the second half, there’s plenty more exciting results to come.
The focus of Sunday afternoon’s London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea was Romelu Lukaku. It took him just 15 minutes to score on his second Chelsea debut as he tapped in Reece James’ cross.
The key to this move, and a common theme throughout the game, was the movement of a player who didn’t even touch the ball: Mason Mount. With Lukaku glued to Pablo Marí for the afternoon, Mount often drifted in from the right-hand side to take up a narrow position alongside his new teammate. This forced Kieran Tierney to move inside to mark him and create a very narrow back four for Arsenal.
A consequence of this was the huge amount of space that it gave James to advance into from right wing back. Tierney was the closest defender to James as he squared the ball to Lukaku for his goal but was still a massive 7.1 metres away.
Where was Tierney’s support? The first question I asked myself on Sunday too. Arteta chose to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation against Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1. That was always likely to result in numerical advantages out wide for Chelsea.
However, this was exacerbated by Bukayo Saka’s role on the left wing for Arsenal, who looked like he had been instructed to stay narrow when out of possession. A tactical decision that proved largely ineffective at closing down Chelsea’s central midfielders and isolated Tierney defensively, who was Arsenal’s stand out player last week.
It wasn’t until the second half when Granit Xhaka or Albert Sambi Lokonga often dropped deeper to mark Mount that it allowed Tierney to push out to James and counteract this situation. By then, the damage had already been done.
Social media went into another transfer rumour frenzy after Yves Bissouma’s man of the match performance for Brighton against Watford. In a defensively dominant performance by the Malian international, it was his high press and interception that led directly to Neal Maupay’s goal that was particularly impressive.
Graham Potter referred to this in his post-match interview: “it’s nice that we could win the ball and then play forward, play the correct pass”. This is key. Winning the ball back is one skill but to have the composure to then play a progressive pass to a teammate is another.
Since the start of last season, only Manchester City’s Rodri (62), Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi (54) and Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka (53) have completed more high turnovers than Bissouma (51). A high turnover is where a player gains possession of the ball in open play within 40 metres of the opponent’s goal.
The ability to turn these high turnovers into goalscoring opportunities, as he did for Maupay’s goal, is the key next step. Over the same period, Bissouma ranks ninth for high turnovers where the resulting sequence ended in a shot. Seven of the eight players who ranked higher in this metric played in teams that finished in the top five last season. Maybe he’ll find himself in one of these sides in the not too distant future.
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