Last week, we looked at how Birmingham's pressing of Manchester City's centre-backs at goal-kicks forced Joe Hart to kick the ball long, losing possession on every occasion. Against Fulham, the situation was changed with the introduction of Jô. He offered more of an aerial presence in the City attack, despite being positioned on the left wing. The majority of Hart's kicks were sent towards the left-hand side, where six of the long balls were won by the Brazilian striker. This chalkboard compares Hart's distribution in the Birmingham game to the Fulham game, showing how the presence of Jô helps City win possession high up the pitch.
The Arsenal legend Robert Pires made his return to English football after four years away in Aston Villa's 2-0 defeat at Ewood Park on Sunday. He replaced Stephen Ireland, who has failed to make an impact since his summer move from Manchester City, in a central midfield position, a zone where Villa have injury problems with Nigel Reo-Coker and Stilian Petrov both out. Ireland was on the pitch for 68 minutes, Pires for just 22 – but they completed the same number of passes, 17.
With Arsenal's second-half capitulation against Tottenham Hotspur, Bacary Sagna's good performance against Gareth Bale was widely overlooked. Sagna's strategy was to stick tight to the Welshman, getting tackles in as soon as possible and denying Tottenham the opportunity to play the ball into Bale's feet. Presumably this approach is only possible if the full-back is confident he can match Bale's pace if Spurs look to play balls in behind for him to run on to, but it worked for Sagna – despite an early booking for a mistimed tackle, he made nine out of nine successful challenges. Bale did end up on the scoresheet, but in an inside-right position, and Sagna was not culpable.
The red cards shown to Antolín Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega in Wigan's trip to Old Trafford meant Manchester United's full-backs were afforded plenty of room as they enjoyed total domination in the final minutes of their 2-0 win. One of the main features in the final half hour was the excellent crossing of the Brazilian right-back Rafael da Silva. As well as providing an assist for Javier Hernández's header, he sent in another superb cross that Hernández could not take advantage of, while Wayne Rooney headed a simple chance over after meeting Rafael's centre. With Nani showing great crossing ability so far this season (he has contributed seven assists, the majority from the right), Sir Alex Ferguson may be on the way to building a right-wing to match the Gary Neville–David Beckham partnership in terms of crossing ability.
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Michael Cox is editor of zonalmarking.net. You can also follow zonalmarking on Twitter
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