With the title, the Champions League places and the relegation spots all to be decided this weekend, there are plenty of interesting fixtures on the Premier League’s final matchday of 2011/12. But there’s only one place to start – Manchester City’s home game with Queens Park Rangers, crucial at both ends of the table.
While Newcastle were eventually defeated once Roberto Mancini moved Yaya Toure higher up the pitch last week, their general approach worked quite well against City – they sat deep and very narrow, making it difficult for Mancini’s side to play through the middle. With David Silva and Samir Nasri both moving inside from the flanks, City had no natural width, and when they were shown wide, their crosses were poor.
Therefore, the natural strategy for QPR this weekend will be to replicate Newcastle’s approach – to defend narrow and not bother trying to win the ball in wide positions. Trouble is, that’s the exact opposite of what they did last weekend at home to Stoke. Then, QPR’s players were told to stop the delivery from wide zones – so this weekend will be a good test of Mark Hughes’ side’s tactical flexibility.
Of course, if QPR fail to get a point, Bolton Wanderers can survive with a win over Stoke City. There’s recent history between these two clubs – Stoke thrashed Bolton 5-0 in last season’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, before Bolton got revenge with the same scoreline in November’s win at the Reebok.
That match was while Stoke were competing in the Europa League, however, and Tony Pulis was scathing about his side’s performance after the game. “It’s in the bottom three or four games in over eight years I’ve been at the club,” he said. “The way we’ve played is just not good enough…we were very, very poor all over the pitch.”
This will be a much more closely-fought match, and since Stoke currently have nothing to play for, Bolton might regret giving them such a beating back in November – it gives Pulis’ side motivation ahead of an otherwise meaningless match for them.
Meanwhile, Arsenal will be trying to secure third place against a West Bromwich Albion side that has often frustrated them at the Hawthorns in recent years – last season Roy Hodgson’s side earned a point in a 2-2 draw.
That performance from West Brom was a stereotypical display from a Hodgson side – barely any closing down high up the pitch, but instead two solid banks of four behind the ball, well inside West Brom’s own half. As the graphic below shows, no tackles were made higher than the halfway line, and only six of 28 interceptions were made in the opposition half.
West Brom are currently in 10th place, but could (in theory) finish 14th if they lost to Arsenal. That would mean a difference of £2.8m in prize money – a decent amount to a midtable Premier League club, so this game isn’t without meaning for a home side saying farewell to the next England manager.
Tottenham will be looking to take advantage of any Arsenal slip-up, with a London derby at home to Fulham. Spurs’ 3-1 win over Fulham in November looks like a comfortable victory on paper, but they actually struggled to create clear-cut chances throughout the game, with Fulham recording more than twice as many shots.
Tottenham generally created chances by playing the ball into central positions on the edge of the box, and the likelihood of them replicating these attacking moves depends largely upon the players Fulham use in the centre of midfield.
It will be two of Mahamadou Diarra, Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembele. Diarra brings most defensive protection, while Murphy is a distributor and Dembele provides attacking thrust. Martin Jol’s selection in that position will probably determine what type of game Tottenham can expect, and where they should try to create from.