EPL Tactical Preview: Everton vs Liverpool / Blackpool vs. Man City / Wolves vs. West Ham
We're only in Week 8 of the 2010/11 EPL season and there have already been a multitude of defining moments.
This weekend will be just as important, if not more. Here we look at what many feel will be the three most important fixtures of this match day: Everton vs. Liverpool, Blackpool vs. Manchester City, and Wolves vs. West Ham.
Everton (17th) vs. Liverpool (18th)
This has been the most tumultuous week in Liverpool's 118-year history. Court cases, temporary restraining orders, anti-suits, fans chanting for Broughton and Purslow after slaughtering them weeks previous, last minute bids, Tom Hicks and his game of Texas Hold 'em, and not one mention of football tells you everything you need to know about what happened at the club.
Martin Broughton has produced the goods off the pitch for Liverpool, so now it's up to Roy Hodgson to make sure his wards produce it on the pitch. No easy task when the match is the 214th Merseyside Derby...
Conventional wisdom for these matches says that the form book goes out the window. It will have to if we're to be treated to anything more than a slug fest between these two old and bedraggled fighters.
A quick check of the stats tells us;
Everton has only taken nine points from its last six home matches.
Their home defence is ranked 17th while Liverpool's away defence is ranked 14th.
Liverpool has only taken six points from its last six away games. However, Roy Hodgson has not won away from home in his last 21 matches as manager with Fulham or Liverpool.
Everton has not beaten Liverpool in their last seven attempts.
The last 11 Derbies has produced 10 red cards, and Howard Webb is the referee.
Liverpool has yet to score before the 60th minute away from home this season.
Everton is on top of the fair play league and have made fewer tackles than any other team.
Both squads have been robbed of important players this week. Jagielka and Felliani have dropped out for Moyes, while Kuyt and Agger will be missing for Liverpool.
However, Fernando Torres has returned to fitness much quicker than expected and his presence on the pitch will greatly bolster Hodgson and his ailing side.
Agger's loss should be tempered by the return to fitness of Paul Konchesky, though. His restoration to the Liverpool line up should see Jamie Carragher resume normal service in the centre of defence with Martin Skrtel.
Jagielka and Felliani's losses will hit Moyes much harder than Roy Hodgson with his late withdrawals. Jagielka was just returning to form after a long lay-off through injury when he pulled his hamstring on international duty with England.
His loss will mean a re-shuffle of sorts; it should see Sylvain Distin partner Johnny Heitinga at the back, as it is still far too early for Shane Duffy to return to full-team action just yet.
The centre half lacerated his liver while on international duty with Ireland in May and is not expected to make any impact in Everton this side of Christmas.
The loss of Jagielka will hit Everton very hard. They are already without Rodwell, Pienaar, Anichebe, and Felliani in a severely depleted midfield. Up front, Louis Saha is still struggling for full fitness while Yakubu's fitness seems to have deserted him entirely.
It is little wonder that Tim Cahill is the Toffees' top scorer with just three goals.
Liverpool is not much better off. Gerrard is also their top scorer on just three goals. Torres has looked a forlorn picture when on the pitch and it is obvious to everyone that his mind is elsewhere.
At the back, they are full of holes. Agger and Skrtel's poor positional play, combined with Jamie Carragher's aging legs and Glen Johnson's proclivity for charging up the pitch and not marking his man, mean that Liverpool are extremely porous in defence.
Christian Poulsen is waging a one-man war to make Lucas look like the centre midfielder that Liverpool have been missing for the past five years, and the pairs one paced lack of ambition is a huge thorn in the Reds' side as they try to break teams down.
Kuyt's injury may actually work in Hodgson's favour.
With the Dutchman out, Liverpool best choice for their three attacking midfielders are Meireles, Cole, and Gerrard.
This is presuming that Hodgson goes 4-2-3-1. The Portuguese is the most disciplined of this threesome and may just be the right player to fill in the gaps that Gerrard and Cole will undoubtedly leave.
This brings us to Torres...
Which Fernando turns up is anyone’s guess. But make no bones about it, he is the player who will make or break this game.
Everton's lack of fire-power up front combined with a midfield bereft of its main players leavesDavid Moyes with few options. They will look to frustrate Liverpool at every opportunity and will probably field an extremely defensive-looking side with maybe two full backs on one side of the pitch, one in front of the other.
Seamus Coleman has the energy and drive to get at either Johnson or Konchesky meaning that Leon Osman, Mikel Arteta, and Tim Cahill will line up in central midfield while Bilyaletdinov will cover the other flank.
This leaves Moyes with the headache of picking a half-fit Saha, an unfit Yakubu, or Jermaine Beckford up front.
The two sides currently reside in 17th and 18th at the moment with Liverpool playing particularly poorly while Everton have been unlucky in certain games.
The Toffees are playing slightly better than their near neighbours at the moment but the news that NESV has taken over the running of Liverpool is bound to have an effect on a couple of players.
As with any match, there are numerous factors at play but the overall riding theme of both sides is that they have struggled to break teams down this term.
That will probably fall into Everton's hands somewhat, as Liverpool's players and management will be under more pressure to prove that a corner has indeed been turned.
A draw would seem the obvious choice, but don't be surprised to see Everton win.
Wolves (19th) vs. West Ham (20th)
Relegation dog-fights all around this weekend. It's not every weekend that the clubs from 17th to 20th face other.
The psychological blow, even at this early stage, caused by a loss could leave any of these four teams facing a tough task to break out of the relegation zone before Christmas, so it is imperative that they don't lose.
That knowledge will probably temper tactics in Merseyside and Molineaux somewhat.
There will be plenty of eyes on Mick McCarthy's side following Danny Murphy's comments last weekend. The Fulham player’s insinuation that certain managers send players out to injure opponents has seen many managers jump to McCarthy's, Pulis', and Allardyce's defence.
So it will be very interesting to see how Wolves' midfield gets on without Public Enemy No. 1 Karl Henry. McCarthy's captain picked a straight red for an awful challenge on Jordi Gomez in Wolves defeat to Wigan last time out.
It would seem that the Wolves enforcer was beginning to enjoy his reputation as a hard man and that he went out last week against Wigan to add to that reputation.
Deservedly, he was ejected from the game and admonished by his manager. Whether he learns from it, though, is another thing entirely.
Stephen Hunt looks set to make his Wolves debut after joining from Hull in the summer. He should renew his old Reading relationship with Kevin Doyle as McCarthy's side go in search of their first win in six games.
Again the stats give us a picture of what to expect.
Wolves have not won a match in six games.
The home side have only taken nine points from their last 18 at Molineaux.
Wolves have an average of less than two goals during the last six home games.
They have only managed 17 shots on target all season.
West Ham has not won away from home in 21 matches.
They have only taken two points from the last 18 and have only scored three times away from his this season.
The Hammers defence is ranked 17th in the EPL while Wolves' are 13th.
West Ham has scored five goals this season; four of those were from set-pieces.
This game is much more a must-win that the Everton-Liverpool tie. Both of these sides were expected to be relegation candidates and they face being cut adrift from many of their rivals at a very early stage if they lose here.
Wolves is a tough side to play against. They mark tightly and make you work for your chances on goal. Kevin Foley and Stephen Ward are capable full backs with Jody Craddock being the glue that binds the defence together.
Jelle van Damme has come in with a decent reputation but his fitness is obviously an issue as the player has yet to make it past the 70-minute mark for Mick McCarthy.
Ryan Jarvis and Hunt will now be expected to supply the arrows for Doyle and Ebanks-Blake to finally become goal threats but as soon as the Irishman finds his scoring touch, he will be whisked away to a better team.
West Ham will go into this game in the knowledge that Thomas Hitzlsberger will be missing from their midfield for the next four months after injuring his thigh.
He was one of the few Hammers midfielders capable of putting his foot into a tackle and he will be sorely missed. His absence all season has left Avram Grant's side with a decidedly soft underbelly in midfield.
Robert Green's semi-return to form combined with Scott Parker's excellent form and Piquionne's goals have given the Hammers a dimension they were missing at the start of the season.
Four straight defeats followed by three games without a loss now means that should West Ham draw or beat Wolves on Saturday they will have achieved their best unbeaten run since 2009.
Victor Obinna and Fredi Piquionne provide plenty of pace and strength up front and their inclusion in the team mean that Grant can set up slightly differently than with Carlton Cole.
The English international, while big and strong with a decent eye for goal, is very one paced and never troubles defenders when put through with a long ball.
His exclusion creates a better defensive set-up for the Hammers as they do not possess the players to make the most of defence, attack, and Carlton Cole's skill set.
In other words, Cole's absence makes it easier for West Ham to defend and counter attack.
The importance of this game should not be underestimated. A defeat for either side could be thoroughly devastating.
West Ham is unbeaten in all competitions in four games and confidence is beginning to creep back in. Their shocking away record may have something to do with them being too open away from home but Grant's tight 4-4-2 has made them much tougher to beat.
This game will be won and lost in central midfield. West Ham has the upper hand as Henry is missing and Scott Parker is playing very well.
The match will be a cagey affair that West Ham can easily take three points from.
Blackpool (9th) vs. Manchester City (2nd)
On any other weekend, this would be the most compelling fixture.
This will be an intriguing battle between the poorest team in the EPL and the richest.
One would almost assume that the club with all the money would be the extravagant, never say die, flowing footballing side but you'd be wrong.
Ian Holloway's team have been a joy to watch this year. They constantly attack and have the kind of ambition that embarrasses clubs with much bigger budgets and targets than they have.
They are a brutally honest side with every player giving his all for the cause and they go out to win every single game, regardless of the opposition.
The same cannot be said about Manchester City.
Away from home they shut up shop and play on the break. Mancini's Italian mentality that his team should win their home games while drawing their away games has tempered his tactics, even in matches that his team can't afford to lose.
Think back to last season when Spurs travelled to the Eastlands in the penultimate game of the season. He "reverted to type," and when the pressure was on, he played not to lose instead of trying to win.
Ian Holloway's philosophy is completely opposite to his counterpart this weekend.
Blackpool has yet to win at home this season, but they have taken 11 points from the last six games when the Championship is included.
The home attack is ranked 7th, but their home defence is ranked 19th.
Manchester City has the second best away defence this season, but are only ranked 16th for attack.
Both teams provide an average of two goals in their last six games.
Blackpool has conceded 15 goals so far this season.
Carlos Tevez has scored 26 goals in his last 30 matches for City.
Neither Blackpool nor Manchester City has scored a headed goal this season.
Charlie Adam has been a huge influence on Blackpool's good start to the season but it is very hard to see him getting any purchase from a midfield that contains Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, and Yaya Toure.
The Ivorian signing from Barcelona allegedly earns more money per week than Blackpool's entire first team!
This will be a tough game for Blackpool. Their best hope of coming away with something will depend upon Manchester City's returning internationals.
But with the vast majority of those players having returned on Wednesday, you would have to figure that they would have recovered by this weekend.
Stephen Crainey's quote sums up the match perfectly. "Manchester City are spending all these millions and then they're coming to Bloomfield Road! You can't beat it... It's great to test yourself against the best in the world, and hopefully, we'll put on a good show and beat them."
Manchester City to win an entertaining encounter, on the counter attack...