After sitting out much of the summer and a chunk of the season so far, Saturday saw Scott Parker get his first significant shift in the Premier League. A week on from starting against Coventry in the FA Cup, Parker’s timely return came unfortunately when Sandro had to depart.
The England international played for 65 minutes in the midfield alongside Moussa Dembele and showed some of the steal we saw last season, but also some signs that he can adapt to what AVB wants this.
Some things don’t change
Last season, Scott Parker was in Harry Redknapp’s side for his terrier like qualities to hunt the ball down, win it back and then move it to a playmaker in Modric, van der Vaart or Bale.
Andre Villas-Boas also requires this from his central midfield duo and against QPR, although he only played 65 minutes, Scott Parker looked a solid defensive force.
Our number eight was buzzing around with his usual high-energy game, making a perfect five out of five tackles and a whopping eight interceptions.
The nature of the new coach’s pressing game can be seen from the location of his challenges. Not only are three of his five tackles in the opposition half, but he also intercepts the ball up around halfway and in to QPR territory.
AVB requires Scott Parker to be more forward thinking
But it’s not just the tenacious defensive side that Scott Parker needs to bring if he’s to play for Andre Villas-Boas. The manager also requires that his midfielders can move forward and instigate attacks.
That is what the new manager is all about, quick transitions. When the opposition play is broken down through pressing or a challenge, the ball is swiftly moved forward and the midfielders have to be part of this.
Sandro has had to adapt his game this season to prove that he is more than a defensive machine. The Brazilian’s swashbuckling style may see him win 3.3 tackles per game and make 3.6 interceptions, but his 23 chances created is more than double his tally last term. Under Harry Redknapp, Sandro was creating a chance every 133 minutes on pitch, this season he is creating an opportunity for a teammate every 81 minutes.
This has led to Sandro providing a goal and two assists already this term, whereas he didn’t register in either category in the last campaign.
The early signs that Scott Parker can also adapt to this new role have been promising. Although we failed to break down a stubborn QPR side, Parker stepped in as Sandro limped off and looked to move the ball quickly in transition after winning it back.
He was also getting up the field and attempting to play in more attacking balls to the forwards. If we look at his passing chart from the game and compare it to his one against QPR at Loftus Road for Harry Redknapp we can see the difference in styles.
Last season, Scott Parker did the bulk of his work with the ball in and around the centre circle. The area he covers is very central and defined. In terms of his passing, it is short and square. He does try a through ball from a deep midfield position, which is unsuccessful. He also makes a couple of passes down the inside right channel along the edge of the area.
If we compare that game to Saturday’s match, we can see first of all how much more ground he covers, as he moves the ball more directly out to the left and right. Andre Villas-Boas likes the team to switch the point of the attack more quickly than Harry Redknapp.
We can also see Scott Parker attempting a number of more direct through passes in to the penalty area or to the edge of the box. This is again from Andre Villas-Boas’ preference for a more direct style.
He attempts six more passes in this match against QPR than he did in last season’s clash playing under Harry Redknapp. In that game, 47% of his passes were forward and 35% square. This time 60% of his passes are forward and only 14% are square, indicating a shift towards a more aggressive passing game under the new coach.
Can Scott Parker change his game?
The early signs that Scott Parker can change to what Andre Villas-Boas requires from his central midfielders are promising.
Parker played a more attack-minded role when at Charlton, Newcastle and in his last season with West Ham where he scored five times, whilst also adding three assists.
If we look at a couple of those games from his last campaign with the Hammers, we can see how Parker could succeed where he has to move the ball with more purpose.
In both matches he covers a great deal of ground and gets forward, which is much more than last season at Spurs for Harry Redknapp. That’s not to say he wasn’t excellent in the terrier type role that Redknapp wanted him for. It was just that playing attacking passes and moving up the field wasn’t needed from him. That was left to the creative talents of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart.
In both of those matches for the Hammers, he is also a lot more aggressive in his play with the ball. He looks to move it wide on the diagonal to his wingers, whilst also hitting passes down the channels towards or in to the penalty area.
It is these types of purposeful forward balls that he is going to have to play more of, if he is going to succeed in a quick transition game.
Sandro has had to adapt this season for the new manager and has been a revelation. Scott Parker will also have to alter his game if he is to succeed under Andre Villas-Boas, but it’s not as if he hasn’t played a more purposeful style before.
We may just get to see a bit more of the attacking side of Scott Parker this campaign.