Talking Tactics

Rice and Ward-Prowse duel key to vital clash at the bottom

By Adrian Clarke 30 Mar 2023

Adrian Clarke looks at what could be defining battles in three of this weekend's Premier League fixtures

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Adrian Clarke picks out three key battles between players and teams going head-to-head in Matchweek 29.

Declan Rice v James Ward-Prowse

West Ham United versus Southampton on Sunday is a huge relegation six-pointer that will be heavily influenced by an intriguing midfield duel between England team-mates at London Stadium.

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Respective captains Rice and Ward-Prowse are talismanic figures for their clubs.

Not only are they among the best box-to-box players in the division, they are also the only two Premier League midfielders who have featured for every single minute of the season so far, out of those who have played a minimum of 26 matches.

Outfield players to feature for every minute
Player Matches
Ward-Prowse 28
Tarkowski 28
Kilman 28
Guehi 27
Rice 26

In possession, Rice and Ward-Prowse are both dominant figures who want to get on the ball as often as possible.

The West Ham captain will attempt a greater number of longer passes, while his Saints counterpart is inclined to drift wide and cross the ball whenever opportunities arise.

Other than those clear differences, they are very similar in the way they try to build attacks.

Each wants to get the ball forward into the final third and, given that neither plays for a possession-heavy side, it is impressive that they both make the top five in this department.

In open play, they are similarly creative, with Rice making 26 key passes and Ward-Prowse 27.

Top stats for midfielders 22/23
Passes into final third Poss. won middle third
Rodri 275 Rodri 151
Neves 261 Rice 130
Ward-Prowse 246 Hojbjerg 112
Partey 245 Adams 112
Rice 228 Partey 106
Hojbjerg 212 Ward-Prowse 92

Rice, 24, is the stronger defensive player but Ward-Prowse never shirks that side of his game.

In fact, he ranks sixth among Premier League midfielders for possession regains inside the middle third, with Rice second.

This high-stakes duel in east London promises to be a fascinating watch.

Will Arsenal out-work Leeds?

Leaders Arsenal welcome Leeds United in a match that promises to be played at a fast and frenetic pace.

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While Leeds are adjusting to a slightly less high-octane style of play compared to how they worked under previous head coach Jesse Marsch, they remain one of the fittest, most hardworking teams in the division.

No team covers more ground than Leeds, who average 112.2km per match and also rank second-highest for sprints, with 151.9 per 90.

Arsenal should be able to cope with that intensity, though, as they run 110.6km a match, the fourth-highest tally in the league.

Best pressing teams 22/23
High turnovers Poss. won final third
Arsenal 288 Arsenal 172
Man City 273 Man City 166
Liverpool 246 Leeds 158
Leeds 239 Chelsea 139
Chelsea 239 Liverpool 139

When it comes to winning the ball back in advanced areas, Arsenal and Leeds are very much among the best in the division.

The Gunners lead the way for high turnovers and possession won inside the final third, while their opponents are also incredibly strong in those areas.

Both teams are determined to make life difficult for opponents, restricting the number of passes they string together.

The passes per defensive action (PPDA) metric is a wonderful gauge of this and it is no surprise that Arsenal and Leeds feature prominently on that list.

They allow their opponents the fewest number of successive passes.

Fewest passes per defensive action 2022/23
Chelsea 9.4
Leeds 10.2
Brighton 10.8
Arsenal 10.9

This encounter will see two sides fully committed to producing maximum effort, on and off the ball.

Roberto De Zerbi v Thomas Frank

Two of the smartest tactical minds in the Premier League will meet on Saturday, when Brighton & Hove Albion host Brentford.

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It was no easy task taking over from Graham Potter but De Zerbi has overseen a seamless transition that has allowed Brighton to make improvements, particularly in attack.

De Zerbi did oversee a 2-0 loss away to Brentford in October but since then they have been one of the form teams in the division.

Across the last 12 matches, the only sides to have accrued more points than either of these clubs are the current top three.

Form table over last 12 matches
Team Points
Arsenal 26
Man City 26
Man Utd 24
Brentford 23
Brighton 21

Both head coaches are tactically adaptable and possess strong game management.

It is no coincidence Brentford have won 10 and drawn three of the 13 matches in which they have scored first. Meanwhile, Brighton have taken the lead in 16 matches and lost only once.

This match will be a style clash of sorts.

While Brighton are a patient possession-based team that like to control matches, Brentford are more direct and focus a lot of attention on scoring from set-pieces.

Early and late scorers 22/23
Goals scored 0-15 mins Goals scored 76-90 mins
Brighton 10 Brentford 11
Aston Villa 10 Man Utd 11
Arsenal 7 Arsenal 10
Man City 7 Fulham 10
Liverpool 7 Liverpool 10
Leicester 7    

Victory for either side will provide hope that they can qualify for European football next season.

Brighton might be the team who start faster. They have scored the joint-most goals and have the best goal difference in the opening 15 minutes of matches this season.

But Brentford are one of the strongest finishers, with no other side having scored more than their tally of 11 from the 76th minute onwards.

There is a lot to like about Brighton and Brentford this term, so De Zerbi v Frank will be a fascinating duel.

Also in this series

Part 1: Fred can dictate in Casemiro's absence against Newcastle
Part 3: How lethal Alvarez can shine with or without Haaland
Part 4: Stellini must plug the gaps in Spurs defence

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