Premier League Preview: Gameweek 6

barkley

Ross Barkley

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 2 of the weekend’s Premier League games. Swansea look to recover from last week’s 1-0 loss at Watford when they host Everton, who look a much improved side this season. Manchester City can preserve their 100% winning record in the Premier League this season, but to do so they will need to break down West Ham, who have proven themselves as a strong counter-attacking side in their recent trips to Arsenal and Liverpool.

Swansea v Everton

All the talk that followed Everton’s 3-1 win over Chelsea last week was about the crisis in West London, but Everton deserve credit for the way they played. Their performances, both against Chelsea and against Southampton in the second week of the season, suggest Roberto Martinez is evolving his tactical philosophy.

Martinez is a manager that notoriously likes his teams to control possession and camp in the opposition half. However, the adventurous positioning required to do this means that the team will be vulnerable against quick counter-attacks, and that was a major problem for Everton last season. This year, his side are not having as much of the ball in games, but they look well organized and are breaking quickly.

The change in approach has benefited midfielder Ross Barkley, who has already scored 2 goals and picked up 3 assists, whilst making some impressive driving runs from midfield. Last season, the pedestrian nature of Everton’s football meant that there were fewer opportunities for Barkley to attack in the transition phases of play, and he struggled to have an influence against tight opposition blocks. Barkley lacks the perfectionistic passing quality of other attacking midfielders in the Premier League, such as David Silva or Mesut Ozil, who can unlock narrow defences with a pass. Instead, he is suited to dramatic, end-to-end games, where opposition teams are braver and there is space in forward areas for him to run into. For that reason, the counter-attacking setup of this Everton side suits him perfectly.

One could say the same about Arouna Kone, who has linked up well with Romelu Lukaku. Kone was heavily criticized last season, but his main attributes were arguably not used effectively, due to the way Everton played. It was hard for him to utilize his pace and energy, when his teammates were so reluctant to play early balls forward into space. This season, the Ivorian has had two impressive games against Southampton and Chelsea, and in those matches, he got the kind of service that he needed and looked more of a threat.

In many ways, the recent improvement from Barkley and Kone highlight the problems with possession-based football. Another example is that Swansea lost 1-0 at Watford last week, and they had 61% possession. The Swans had just 3 shots on target and looked sluggish throughout, as the team struggled down the right hand side of the pitch, and on the other side, left-back Neil Taylor struggled to deal with the power of Watford right-back Allan Nyom. Swansea did not play with enough pace and width that day, and these qualities have been key to their otherwise bright start to the season.

Left winger Jefferson Montero tore apart Brandislav Ivanovic on the opening day at Chelsea, and performed similarly well against Darryl Janmaat against Newcastle. Montero was surprisingly dropped to the bench at Vicarage Road but he is the type of player that Swansea will need at the weekend, particularly against an attack-minded right-back like Seamus Coleman.

Everton have started this season surprisingly well and this blog will back them to record a win on their journey to South Wales.

Man City v West Ham

If there was one team outside the established top 4 that Manchester City would want to avoid playing at home, it is West Ham United. The Hammers, like the aforementioned Everton, are among the best counter-attacking teams in the Premier League at the moment, and have put in outstanding displays against Arsenal and Liverpool this season. West Ham are a better team when they have the entitlement to drop deep and absorb pressure, because there is more space for their quick forward players to cause problems on the break.

West Ham had recently had 70% possession against Leicester and lost 2-1, Slaven Bilic decided to stick with the tactical approach that had worked against the top teams when West Ham hosted Newcastle on Monday night, and it paid off. With 39% possession, Bilic’s men won 2-0, and went up to 5th in the Premier League table.

Loanee Victor Moses made his debut against Newcastle and played very well, committing 6 take-ons and adding extra pace to the side’s attacking play. Moses had a good pre-season in America with Chelsea and, having been perhaps harshly excluded from Jose Mourinho’s plans this season, he has started brilliantly for the Hammers.

Moses got man-of-the-match against Newcastle, although it was Dimitri Payet who scored both of West Ham’s goals. Like Moses, Payet has lightening pace, and in that sense it is no surprise that his 3 best performances this season have come when West Ham have had very little possession. When his side have played on the counter-attack, Payet has had space in the gaps between the opposition midfield and defence, and been able to run at the centre-backs.

Moses and Payet are exactly the types of players West Ham need in this match, as they face a Manchester City side that will almost certainly dominate possession.

The Citizens might have had a perfect start to the league season, but they have arguably only played well for 45 of their last 270 minutes of football. They came to life in the second half of their match against Watford and won 2-0, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side were somewhat fortunate to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 last week, and lost 2-1 to Juventus in the first week of their European campaign. In that match, Juventus stifled City and stopped them playing forward passes into David Silva, who was unable to have an influence on the game.

Another concern for Manchester City is that Sergio Aguero picked up an injury at Selhurst Park, and it may take him a while to get back to full fitness. Bony struggled against Juventus and it remains to be seen whether he is hardworking or dynamic enough to lead the line, without possessing Aguero’s world class ability.

At the moment, West Ham are a side that raise their game when they play the top teams, and this blog will back them to hold out for a draw on their trip to Manchester.