Chelsea's talented trio
Grant Holt may have caused Chelsea an early scare by drilling in the opening goal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday but it merely acted as the catalyst for the home side's trio of attacking midfielders to take charge of the game.
It was mesmerising stuff from Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar with their close control and fluid football allowing them to play around Norwich on the edge of their area. Operating as a narrow three with Chelsea getting width from the full-backs, they played a remarkable 90 passes to each other in the course of the game.
It is rare for players in such an advanced position to play the most passes - ordinarily it would have been the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole or Mikel who saw most of the ball. But Hazard and Mata played the joint-most successful passes in the game - 80 each - with the majority of them in the attacking third of the pitch.
And it was effective too. The trio created 12 of the 26 chances in the game with Mata and Hazard combining wonderfully for the latter to score the Blues' third goal. Chelsea may already be European champions but it is only now they are showing signs of producing the sort of football Roman Abramovich craved all along.
|Successful final-third passes|
|David Silva||Manchester City||36|
Reading Refusal to Pass
"I am trying to fit into the direct style of play the manager wants," wrote Guthrie on his Twitter feed prior to the game. "I pass too much at the moment, which is my biggest asset. I understand what the manager wants but stopping habits like going and getting the ball from the back four is difficult."
It is worth remembering this is Danny Guthrie - hardly a man previously noted for his commitment to the beautiful game. But the vision of Brian McDermott is clear and the contrast with Saturday's opponents Swansea was marked. The numbers are one thing - 600 attempted passes to 225 - but the real story lies in the percentages. Only 58 per cent of those 225 passes were completed and the Royals had just 29 per cent possession.
It is little surprise that the completion stats were so poor given the away side's direct approach. Reading's most common passing combination was Alex McCarthy finding Noel Hunt with no other pairing managing to get the ball to each other more than five times.
Of course, Swansea are not a side without flaws of their own - they conceded twice early on - but with so little of the ball it was hardly surprising that the home side found a way through in the end to earn a share of the points. And for the second Premier League game running, Guthrie was an unused substitute on the Reading bench.
|Most pass combinations - Aston Villa vs Everton|
|Leon Britton||Angel Rangel||18||Alex McCarthy||Noel Hunt||7|
|Leon Britton||Ki Sung-Yueng||16||Jimmy Kebe||Shaun Cummings||5|
|Ki Sung-Yueng||Ben Davies||16||Pavel Pogrebnyak||Jem Karacan||5|
|Ben Davies||Wayne Routledge||16||Nicky Shorey||Noel Hunt||4|
|Wayne Routledge||Ki Sung-Yueng||14||Nicky Shorey||Pavel Pogrebnyak||4|
|Angel Rangel||Leon Britton||14||Jay Tabb||Pavel Pogrebnyak||7|
Saints can't maintain pressing
Southampton's aggressive pressing early on was a feature of their game against Fulham. While Martin Jol's side completed 160 more passes overall and enjoyed 58 per cent of possession, it was the home side that completed more passes in the final third and enjoyed 60 per cent of territory. Time and time again they won the ball high up the field and ensured the game was played in the opposition half.
But they could not keep it up. As the wingers and forwards tired, Fulham's full-backs came to the fore. Left-back John Arne Riise latched onto a cross from right-back Sascha Riether and his deflected effort brought the equaliser. Substitute Kieran Richardson then converted another Riether cross to give the Cottagers the lead.
Indeed, the Germany international was especially influential - doubling up with Damien Duff on Danny Fox as Adam Lallana got sucked inside. This is shown by the statistics that reveal Riether was involved in the game's two most common passing pairings - with his winger Duff and centre-back Aaron Hughes.
Asked if he regretted substituting Rickie Lambert, Nigel Adkins' reply was telling - claiming his only regret was not taking him off earlier. His team were wide open and he knew it. "In the first half the pressing was OK," Adkins told Sky Sports. "In the second half we were far too open and didn't get anywhere near them. You've got to be compact whether it's an attacking-third press, a mid-third press or a defensive-third press.
"We've been talking about it on the training ground all season - different ways to give ourselves a good defensive platform. The first half was a little bit better, the way we pressed up there, but if we don't press as a unit it is far too open, we were far too deep and there's far too much space for the opposition to play through us. And in the end we've conceded a couple of poor goals because of that."
|Successful passes||272||Successful passes||432|
|Successful final-third passes||81||Successful final-third passes||70|
|Top passing pairings (both teams)|
|Sascha Riether and Damien Duff||32|
|Sascha Riether and Aaron Hughes||30|
|Danny Fox and Steven Davis||28|