Saturday sees us head to the Reebok Stadium for a tussle with Owen Coyle’s Bolton with David Moyes hoping we can grind out back to back victories against an opponent who have the worst home record in the top flight….
Bolton have found the going tough this season; they lie in the Premier League’s drop zone with the worst home record in the top flight having picked up just 3 points from 18 and conceding 17 goals in the process.
Bolton play with inverted wingers (Eagles on the left and probably Mark Davies on the right) and both will look to cut inside on their stronger feet. This has contributed to Bolton making the fewest crosses per game (16) in the division. Both are a threat though and Mark Davies ball retention is particularly impressive, recording 89% pass completion.
This article from the excellent Zonal Marking questioned last season’s zeitgeist that Bolton play really attractive football under Coyle, with his statistics showing that their passing was perhaps not as swashbuckling as the media would have us believe. They appear to be playing less long balls this season (17%) than last season (21%). However, they still seem to have their game plan focused to mix it up when they can; they make 13.3 fouls per game which is the 3rd highest in the league and have posted a league highest of 20.3 interceptions per game which hints that they are still perhaps better off the ball then on it. This is backed up by the possession and pass completion stats which still see Coyle’s men amongst the worst sides in the top flight this campaign.
A consequence of playing inverted wingers is that Bolton’s wide men will invariably cut inside. Bolton certainly play through the middle and post an impressive 6 through balls per game at home (4th highest in league behind Arsenal and the Manchester Clubs) which compares very favourably to ourselves who record on average just 1 per game on our travels. This would imply that Bolton have good incision from central areas.
In terms of shooting, 52% of their shots come from outside the box at home which is the 3rd highest in the league. Eagles is direct and posts an average of 3.2 shots per game which is the Trotters highest. Klasnic will be the main danger man – he has posted more goals (6) and claimed more assists (4) than any of our players.
Last season we were humbled at the Reebok in what was arguably our worst display of the season. This Bolton side is much changed however and lack the incision and energy of key men Holden and Lee and the direct play of forwards Sturridge and Elmander.
Bolton will try and play through us so we need to reverse this by tucking in our fullbacks and control the centre of the pitch to force them out to the flanks and their wide men onto their weaker feet. Eagles in particular will occupy positions very high up the pitch and I would therefore expect us to line-up more 4-4-1-1 with Coleman and Drenthe tasked with dropping deeper to assist our fullbacks rather than pressing Bolton’s.
Defensively, Bolton are there for the taking as their alarming defensive record at home illustrates. I’d imagine we would again be looking to play more directly with Jagielka looking to pick out Coleman and Drenthe from back to front which has become something of a feature of our recent play.
I wouldn’t expect this to be a classic. Bolton are hardly a side for the purists and our style has an increasing emphasis on getting the ball forward as soon as possible. Keeping a clean sheet just isn’t in our locker these days so it’s more likely that we will concede but with Bolton’s leaky rearguard I fancy us to get a couple to see us through 2-1.