Figuring Out the Premier League, An Ongoing Series

QPR 0-2 Manchester United

Man U won, but unconvincingly. One of the interesting things about picking up a new sport is attempting to sort out the phenomena other people take for granted. United looked terrible; City lost to Arsenal; I've watched Chelsea and Tottenham and City all drop points to teams that are in danger of relegation. Why?

United kept losing the ball in midfield; QPR seemed to particularly enjoy messing with Wayne Rooney (an old man at 29! There's sports for you). This appears to be the key: the Premier League is mostly about 'parking the bus,' putting 8-10 men in and around the penalty area in an attempt to stop goals. The primary offensive strategy, such as it is, is the quick counter-attack after a missed chance on the defensive end. No one has much talent in creating shots from midfield (aside from Karim Benzema, but that's why he's great); if there's no score on a break, you end up watching highly-paid strikers stand around waiting for someone to miss a shot so that they can scramble. That's the Plan B for most teams. It makes sense, in a way: if you have a massive, or substantial, talent gap, passing the ball around waiting for the other team to make a defensive mistake is a solid strategy. Man U won, after all.

But it's not a great strategy. Because these teams are lazy in the middle third, any team committed to high pressing has a good chance to score on their own break: QPR had three or four good chances go wasted. Combine that with a natural inclination towards conservatism on the road, and it only takes a lucky chance or two to lose. Talent will out, but it looks like a poor tactical decision.

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