West Brom 3-2 Queens Park Rangers
– This was yet another match which showed just how terrible QPR’s defence really is at the moment. The first two West Brom goals stemmed directly from utter disorganization in their back four. Clint Hill, playing left-back, was caught out time and again – every time QPR lost the ball in midfield, Hill was found way out of his position (as happened for the second goal), and when faced with the hard-working Shane Long he was either not properly protected by Adel Taarabt or was simply outpaced by the Irishman. It was difficult to fathom just why Hill was so often found so far upfield when West Brom launched counterattacks; perhaps he was given a brief to provide the team with width, and for M’Bia to cover, but Hill isn’t the most fluent defender going forward. Phil Bosingwa is, but even then it was difficult to account for his reluctance to cover the right side of defence as well.
One West Brom attack just before half-time which saw Julio Cesar pull off a great save from Zoltan Gera was illustrative of QPR’s defensive malaise: a long punt upfield reached Long, who retrieved the rebound in the face of the two centre-halves, Anton Ferdinand and Ryan Nelson, and laid it off to Peter Odemwingie. It took forever for QPR cover to arrive to try to close down, and in fact Bosingwa didn’t bother tracking back at all, so that Odemwingie had an obscene amount of time to pick a pass to Gera who was in a huge tract of space to pull off the shot.
Mark Hughes quite understandably tried to provide a more natural balance to his defence by swapping Hill for Armand Traore, and the full-backs noticeably stayed more behind the ball. It took a superb team goal by West Brom to make it 3-1, an intricate set of passes unlocking a QPR defence that looked much more solid than the first half.
The puzzling thing is that QPR have excellent attacking players who surely do not need supplementing even further by ordering the full-backs to make wanton forays upfield. Taarabt stationed on the left but often drifting infield, Esteban Granero orchestrating the play from the middle with some very perceptive passes, and Bobby Zamora leading the front line require either a pair of holding midfielders to provide defensive balance for the free-spirited creators, or having Park Ji-Sung stationed on the right side of midfield to even out the decidedly less defensive left wing. Instead Park was more centrally positioned, and M’Bia seemed to lack the discipline to hold consistently. The result was a woeful first half in which West Brom should have scored at least two more.
Mark Hughes is in massive trouble with his defence. He doesn’t have many grade-A options: beside the erratic Ferdinand and the aging Nelson, none of Nedum Onoura, Hill, Bosingwa or Traore are top-class defenders. Even at this still relatively early stage, Hughes cannot afford to set his defence up in such a cavalier fashion. QPR need to start with a more closed defence, much like the second half of this game, and allow Granero, Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlin to create for Zamora without defensive responsibilities, and for other players to plug the gaps. It’s now approaching a point where ‘it’s going to take time to bed in new players’ isn’t going to apply – Hughes needs his team to start picking up points, and for that to happen the defence is going to have to get behind the ball.
Chelsea 4-1 Norwich City
– Notwithstanding the reluctance to enjoy the team for which Ashley Cole and John Terry are first-team regulars, it’s a rare pleasure to watch Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Fernando Torres insisting on playing their way through the absolute centre of the opposition defence. There was some concern before the season that Chelsea don’t have enough width, but the remarkable close control, vision, passing and movement exhibited by their three creators plus Torres mean that they don’t need it. Having seen Chelsea several times this season it’s still a marvel to see Mata, Hazard and particularly Oscar looking so comfortable amidst a sea of opposition players, and in this match as well the trio were dancing their way in and around Norwich’s D. With the exception of Frank Lampard who provides the antidote in the form of late runs into the box and direct shooting, there’s not much the rest of the Chelsea team needs to do except stay alert and defend.
– A lot has been – and continues to be – said about Torres and his effectiveness in this team. Ruud Gullit went as far as to say that Chelsea are playing with 10 men, but I think Torres is the perfect striker for the way Chelsea’s creative forces are set out to play. While the likes of Mata, Cole and Ivanovic will provide crosses when necessary, most of Chelsea’s best play has come from intricate moves through the middle, and through-balls picked off by the vision of Hazard and Mata. The runs that Torres is making are simply exemplary, even if he is not finishing as many of them as he should. But if he is allowed to continue what he is doing, Torres should easily get to 20+ goals this season.
– Grant Holt: what a beast of a player. No matter what happens, Chris Hughton needs to stick him up front every game.
West Ham 1-3 Arsenal
– Another striker who is unfairly maligned at the moment is Olivier Giroud. Unflattering comparisons were being drawn with Marouane Chamakh, but the difference is that Giroud works flat-out hard throughout his time on the pitch, and his play tangibly improves Arsenal’s approach. Their first goal was created and taken very well by the Frenchman, for the second he created angle for Santi Cazorla to provide a pass which he received to release Theo Walcott; and his shots in general looked sharp.