On Saturday night, I launched a themed series that will be called “Spotlight Match Review.” I’m hoping these reports will be discussions of tactics and analysis that will engage our community. I’m not an authority; I’m a football fan who loves the game and wants to gain expertise in match analytics. Comments are encouraged! If I missed something, if you have a suggestion, if you think that I completely missed the mark in my analysis, please join the conversation.
In addition to the “Spotlight,” I will also publish a “Bonus Match Review” as time allows. My goal with the “Bonus” will be to hit every club throughout the season, but I won’t ignore a secondary top match should a round contain two that are highly provocative.
Obviously today thus far, the Bolton Wanderers have garnered a lot of attention on EPLTalk (see Chris McQuade’s thorough synopsis of the Trotters’ recent success and Jesse Chula’s FOTW topic). Coincidentally this weekend, the second match I chose to detail was an impacting match on the table, in this case Bolton’s skirmish at the Reebok with Newcastle United. With both teams sitting in Europa League spots on the table, the anticipation level was high.
Both teams trotted out in 4-4-2 formations. Each team featured a big man up front (Kevin Davies for Bolton, Andy Carroll for Magpies) who clearly were targets for long balls all game. They also had more gifted open-space dribblers paired with their towers (Johan Elmander, Shola Ameobi). For Bolton, the attack was often driven by Matthew Taylor and Chung-Yong Lee from the outside midfield. In the case of Newcastle, Jeremy Guthrie and Jonas Gutierrez played narrower midfield positions, with supporting runs from wingback Jose Enrique.
Throughout the match, there were two themes that provided most of the flavor of the action.
1) Kevin Davies imposed himself physically upon Newcastle, receiving unfettered aerial passes, and neither Fabricio Coloccini nor Mike Williamson could match up to his size and poise to win the vertical battles.
2) Newcastle United were frustrated early, and made Elmander the target of ruthless physical challenges.
Early play was relatively even, with Magpie midfielder Kevin Nolan getting a rising shot off just over the bar in the first few minutes. Shortly after that, Nolan was involved in a dubious play that gifted Bolton their first goal. At the right edge of the penalty area, Lee was looking to control a chest-high ball. The ball took a bad bounce from Nolan’s thigh, and he intentionally influenced the ball with arm in the area. Referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot, and Davies buried the penalty with a low shot to the right to give Bolton a 1-0 lead.
Within minutes, the rough tactics began to show against Elmander, and Newcastle were fortunate not to go down a man. Elmander was moving forward on a break, and center back Williamson knocked the striker down with a deliberate headbutt. Williamson went undetected and remained on without punishment.
At the 39th minute, Bolton cushioned their lead. After rapping a freekick off the crossbar from 27 yards, Matthew Taylor gathered the loose ball, sent it to Lee who was questionably onside, and Lee left-footed the ball past goalkeeper Tim Krul for 2-0, which was the way they entered the locker room for the intermission.
The teams returned from the break without change in formation. Newcastle had only garnered two shots in the first half, and neither tested goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. Andy Carroll had worked hard throughout the first half, but he could not get away from Gary Cahill and Zat Knight.
Elmander made a positive result at the 50th minute. He received a through ball from Davies into the area. The Swede juked around a diving Krul, and coolly slid the ball into the goal to stake the 3-0 mark.
Carroll gave the Magpies a lift shortly thereafter. After a long-throw, midfielder Stuart Holden for Bolton dispossessed Ameobi outside the area, but the ball fortuitously found Carroll, and he stroked the ball into the net with his right foot.
After another harsh challenge from Nolan, Elmander plugged on. A long ball from Taylor was played timidly by Coloccini, which allowed Elmander to jockey and gain the advantage and end up in alone on Krul. A well placed ball to the right of Krul put the advantage back to 3.
At that point, Coloccini lost his composure. On a subsequent long ball down the right, Coloccini threw an elbow into Elmander’s cheek. This time an assistant detected the detestable act. After consultation, Webb sent the Argentine back off early with 15 minutes left to play.
The final thrust came in stoppage time for the Trotters, this time on a second penalty. Right midfielder Rodrigo Moreno, subbed for Lee, played a through ball for Davies, and Enrique was judged to have brought him down in the area. Enrique was cautioned, and Davies pumped in his second penalty to cap the scoring for Bolton, 5-1.
Much of Bolton’s success was garnered by the vertical presence of Davies and Elmander. One could wonder if the defensive presence of Chiek Tiote (1 match ban) would have been helpful against Bolton’s forwards, as opposed to Alan Smith.
Finally, Newcastle often seemed to be lacking manpower to support their forwards, especially Andy Carroll. Perhaps the need for midfield support to contain the Bolton striking pair prevented Nolan, Gutierrez, and Guthrie from being available to help Carroll and Ameobi up front.
Here is a .pdf of the play-by-play record I took for the game. Let me know if you happen to find this useful.