Premier League

Breathing Space From A Relegation Dogfight?

Martin O’Neill has called for calm at Sunderland after a mediocre opening twelve league games, rightly pointing out that his side are playing at home in four of their next five outings. Fans will be hoping Sunday’s convincing win at Fulham will be a springboard to better form, with three points needed to put breathing distance between the Black Cats and the relegation dogfight:

* Simon Mignolet is enjoying a superb season in the Sunderland goal, and is the League’s second top performing keeper having saved 84% of the shots on target he’s faced- the Belgian has only let in three at the Stadium of Light so far, and will be looking to put in another strong performance for his side.

* Sunderland’s outfield will have to raise their game to fend off the Baggies however. Sebastian Larsson has made more successful passes than any of his teammates with 193 in 950 minutes, but the top players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index make this figure look modest- David Silva has notched 315 in just 650 minutes, for example, with 50 others completing 200 or more in less than 900 minutes.

* The Black Cats’ poor passing record will only improve if they can rob opponents of time on the ball- making interceptions has been similarly problematic for the team though, and Larsson again leads the way with an average of one interception every 45 minutes 31 seconds.

* Adam Johnson followed on from his first Sunderland goal in the previous fixture to lay on all three assists for his team mates against Fulham. Johnson has delivered 26 crosses for Sunderland and completed 126 passes in his opponent’s half this season

* After an explosive start to the season Stephen Fletcher’s goals seemed to have dried up until his strike at Fulham. Fletcher hadn’t scored since Wigan at the end of September until he netted against Fulham. Despite that two month drought Fletcher still has the joint fourth highest goals scored tally this season with six to his name. To his credit, Fletcher has far fewer opportunities for his six goals than his fellow strikers on the same tally. Fletcher has had 18 shots for his 6 goals compared to Tevez’s 42, Fellaini’s 35, and Dzeko’s 23.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of West Brom. Fourth place in the Premier League table is the club’s reward for a strong start to the season, and confidence is riding high at The Hawthorns following their superb win against Chelsea last week. Get your calculator out and work out how the teams stand purely on away form however, and West Brom are in sixteenth place. Can they get it together on the road in Saturday’s early kick off?

* Romelu Lukaku has been the League’s sharpest shooter by some margin so far. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index highlights the Belgian as the only player with a 90% percentage of shots on target- Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie and Demba Ba are just three who have failed to reach 50%, hitting strikes wide of the post more often than they’ve tested keepers despite some rave reviews.

* Shane Long has been a handful for Premiership defences this season. West Brom’s Irish striker devastated Chelsea last week, and has four goals from just 17 attempts at goal with 53% of his shots on target

* Key to the Baggies win over Chelsea was sheer grit and determination, with Claudio Yacob, Liam Ridgewell and Youssouf Mulumbu the only men on the pitch to cover 10 kilometres over the course of the game.

* Although impressive, West Brom’s work rate won’t help the side if it comes at the expense of fast, accurate passing. Manager Steve Clarke may want to remind the team to let the ball share the work- none of his players are among the 30 who have made 250 successful passes in the Premier League this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

* Jonas Olsson and Billy Jones are the only two West Brom players to have won 60% or more of the tackles they’ve put in over the course of this season. A step up in quality is a must if the Baggies are to stay in contention to bring European football to the Hawthorns, as QPR are the only other team with no players to maintain a 70% success rate.

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