Analysing Everton’s Group H Opponents

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With our Europa League campaign getting under way in just a few days time it’s probably as good a time as any to take a look at the sizeable challenge we are up against between now and the new year. This preview will scrutinise the strengths and weaknesses of our three Group H rivals Wolfsburg, Lille and FC Krasnodar and zoom in on how I think we will fare against each side.

New Picture (82)Wolfsburg – Odds to win group:  21/10  Odds to qualify:  3/5  Current form: LWDDDLDLDD

Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg arguably represent the biggest threat to our ambitions of winning the group, and the German’s are first up at Goodison this week in a potentially high scoring match-up. The Germans have finished  8th, 15th, 8th,11th and  5th in the past five seasons since their sole Bundesliga title in 2009, achieved during the Dzeko-Grafite vintage.

They have deservedly earned a reputation of being the German side who entertain more than any other in the last 18 months, probably due to the fact that they are as ruthless going forward as they are error prone at the back. They’ve scored in their last 29 Bundesliga games – a club record – but have failed to keep a clean sheet in 17 matches, stats which are indicative of an extremely gung-ho approach. This is backed up by their data last season; they claimed just 5 clean sheets, amassed the most defensive errors in the league and  50% of their games were either won or lost by 2 clear goals.

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In a way they have similarities with ourselves, particularly in the fullback slots with Rodriguez and Jung last season recording  more assists than any defenders in the Bundesliga  – 16 in total.  Left back Rodriguez – who both looks and sounds like an evil drug overlord – also bagged 5 goals and recorded the most accurate crosses (72) in the league, helping Wolfsburg tot up the second most set piece goals in the division.

Between the wing back duo in the centre back slots are talented ball playing defender Knoche and his arl arse overworked sidekick Naldo. Knoche is a  two footed centre half who is confident and calm in possession can  use either foot. He can overplay, though. Naldo is a right footed Brazilian centre back and is a very good reader of the game, making the most interception (94) in the division last season. Arguably their problem is that three of the four first pick defenders are better on the ball than off it, something which came to a head last season when they conceded 6 in back to back games.  The defensive midfield shield in front of them is likely to be Guilavogui and  Luis Gustavo, formerly a treble winner with bayern and who recorded three red cards last season – the most in the bundesliga. The  20 year old box to box midfield general Junior Malanda is also highly rated and could get some runs out in the EL.

As you would expect of a side with such an expansive approach they have plenty of options in the forward positions. A lot of the creative burden will rest on ex Chelsea man Kevin De bruyne who will slot in either on the left or centre of the attacking midfield trio and he will look to beat  his man and create chances. Summer signing Aaron Hunt will also play in behind the forward, and he has a decent track record with 67 goals and assists in 184 games.

Up front the menacing Ivica Olic is very much the main man. I’ve always liked this cat – he will never shirk putting in a shift, can score and create goals and is a general pain in the arse in dragging centre backs into positions they don’t want to go, a bit like tevez minus the toxic personality. He has won league titles in Russia, Croatia and in Germany  and was top scorer for the Wolves last season with 14 goals. They have other goal threats with the likes of 18 year old Max Arnold and penalty box predator Bas Dost. Nicklas Bendtner also arrived in the summer from Arsenal.

Strongest Team: (4-2-3-1) Grun – Jung, Rodriguez, Knoche, Naldo – Gustavo, Guilavogui – Vierinha, De Bruyne, Hunt – Olic

Key Player: Ivica Olic

Bong Prediction: The Wolves will no doubt win many friends with their swashbuckling forward play and brinkmanship at the back. Given our new-found liberalism in defence the games between us and them could be goals galore and I think they will qualify either as winners or runners-up. Neither us or Wolfsburg lose many games at home and I could see us winning at home against them, particularly given Wolfsburg’s iffy start to the season with just 2 points from their first 3 games.

New Picture (94)FC Krasnador – Odds (To win group) 8/1 Odds to Qualify 7/2  Current Form: DWDWWLWWLL

Whereas Lille and Wolfsburg have both won their domestic league in recent years, Krasnodar certainly represent the unknown quantity in the group.

The club are very much a developing force in the Russian league under billionaire owner Sergey Galitsky. The Krasnodar born oligarch has a personal fortune of $8bn from his career in retail, and as well as currently building their new stadium he has pumped truck loads of liquid cash into the academy, with his ‘mission statement’ being to organically grow a fully home based Krasnodar team in the coming years.

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Their manager Aleh Konanau has a 61% win rate since taking charge at the start of last season, which is significantly better than his two predecessors. He has experience as a player in Russia and Belarus and also worked as a coach in Moldova with title holders Sheriff before becoming a boss in his own right with Ukrainian Premier League club Karpaty Lviv  where he impressively qualified for the 2010–11 UEFA Europa League,after knocking out Galatasaray  on the way. Their squad has plenty of experience with 5 of their regular starters 30 or over –  they even have a 40 year left winger! In keeping with a lot of clubs from Ukraine and Russia nowadays they are flooded with foreign players with 3 of their main attacking threats in Wanderson, Joaozinho and Ari all hailing from Brazil.

Like Lille, they are arguably better at the back then going forward, with 8 clean sheets in their first 13 competitive games of the season. This frugal defence is marshalled by former Wigan man Granqvist and Icelandic Sigurdsson, a solid partnership who were picked up for just short of 8 million euros. Creating this defensive stonewall has probably been the Belarussian’s finest work since taking the helm last summer. When he joined they were known for being easy on the eye but had one of the leakiest rear guards in the league which was swiftly remedied by his acquisition of experienced fullbacks Jedrejczyk and Kaleshin. His subsequent molding of them with the two centre backs has enabled Krasnadar to now have arguably the best backline in the Russian league. I would say that Kaleshin at full back could be a weak link given his age and often rashness in the tackle when challenged with pace.

Despite tightening up at the back their brand of football remains easy on the eye, playing a short passing game and in truth they don’t really have a big grok style forward to play long balls into. They keep it on the deck with more emphasis on creating space in the final third through short passing and intricate movement between the forward four, mostly looking to slide through balls between defenders rather than pumping crosses into the box.

Chief creators of mayhem are 2 of the aforementioned Brazilian’s,  Joaozinho and Wanderson, picked up for a combined £1.5m and now worth at least 10 times that figure. Left footed Joaozinho will start on the left of the three attacking mids but will cut in and sometimes play centrally. His final third scheming is crucial – he created the most chances per game in the Russian league last season and has recorded a colossal 23 assists in his last 2 campaigns. His compatriot is the dynamic right footed striker Wanderson who top scored for the club with 9 goals last season. Ari completes the samba forward line-up although he has been more on the periphery this season. Other notable players include the Uruguayan playmaker Pereyra and the trio recruited from Anzhi in the summer; midfielders Ahmedov,  Burmistrov and Bystrov.

Strongest Team: (4-2-3-1) Sinistyn, Jedrejczyk, Kaleshin, Sigurdsson, Granqvist – Gazinskiy, Ahmedov – Bystrov, Pereyra, Joaozinho – Wanderson

Key player: Joaozinho

Bong Prediction:Arguably the strongest of all sides from Pot 4, their Brazilian duo have been an attacking force in Russian football for a couple of years now and with the tweaks Konanau has made to the defence they are now capable of going after teams and not getting caught out at the other end. It’ll be tricky but I think we can get a point at their place and then, if needed, we should get the win at Goodison in matchday 6 – but in all honesty I think things will be settled by then.

New Picture (92)Lille – Odds (To win group) 4/1 Odds (to qualify) 11/8  Current form: WWDDWLWLDW

Lille boss Rene Girard won the French top flight 1 in 2012 as Montpellier boss, pipping money thunderspunkers PSG at the death in one of the closest run title races in french football history. He did so with the best defence in the division, conceding just 34 goals in 38 games and his approach at Lille is along the same lines.

He inherited the defensive nucleus of Rudi Garcia’s 2011 title-winning side, albeit stripped of the attacking heavyweights Sow, Hazard, Cabaye  and Gervinho. Since the title success Lille have become less of an irresistible force and more that of an immovable object – partly due to financial implications with their arsenal style stadium project and partly due to Girard’s cautious approach.

Last season their keeper Enyeama kept 21  clean sheets which was more than any keeper in the top 5 European leagues as Lille comfortably recorded the best defensive record in the top flight. This defensive frugality has remained this season, conceding just once in their opening five games and their defensive options were also boosted in the close season with the acquisition of highly rated Danish covering centre half Simon Kjaer from group rivals Wolfsburg.

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Girard favours a 4-3-1-2 setup, not looking to press much and he will look for his side to control possession as the best form of keeping the opposition at bay. Neither full back is great going forward and this lack of width is probably an area we can look to expose.

Going forward it’d be fair to say that, despite having some great approach play, they struggle for goals They created the 4th most chances last season in their domestic league but were the lowest scorers in the top half of the league and have been further weakened by the defection of top scorer Kalou to Hertha – he got 46% of their goals last season. Libepwel’s new buy Origi (now back at Lille on loan) bagged just six last season and has scored just once in open play this season.  This profligacy was exposed in the ECL playoffs recently as they failed to score home and away against a Porto who are not all that.

They have plenty of options in the attacking midfield slots, including the ageing Ben Kingsley lookalike Florent Balmont, a good crosser who polled the most assists for Lille last season. He will be assisted by right footed playmaker Marvin Martin who a few seasons ago claimed 17 assists in just 1 season at Socheaux and who has 15 intl caps to his name. Other notable players include skipper and French International Rio Mavuba, forward Nolan Roux , onloan Man City star Marcos Lopes and the pacy Ryan Mendes.

Strongest Team: (4-3-1-2) Enyeama – Corchia, Beria, Kjaer, Basa – Mavuba, Gueye, Balmont – Martin – Origi, Roux

Key man: Marvin Martin

Prediction: Defensive solidity will be crucial to Lille getting into the next phase of the competition. Their key issue will be whether they can score enough goals to see them turn possession dominance and draws into wins in the tighter games. I could see the double header against them next month being tight affairs with both sides looking to dominate the ball. The game at their place should be a low scoring encounter, probably a draw and I’d back us to shade it at L4 in the return fixture . They are unbeaten in 9 games on the road, though,  so it won’t be a given.

In conclusion…

7 points from 18 should be enough to get us through and I think our home games alone will take care of that. It’s a tough group though – arguably the toughest of all 10 groups – and if we win it’s unlikely we’ll face anyone as good quality wise in the first knockout rounds.

The bookies certainly fancy us to progress to the next round – the best price currently available for us to qualify is 4/9 with Bet Victor with Bet365 offering our best outright group winner odds at 15/8. If you don’t have much to play with you could pick 4 group winners to widen the odds – for example a fiver stake on us along with  Spurs (4/6)   Fiorentina (5/6) and Metalist (2/1) will return around £130.

Finally, for the uber optimists amongst you the toffees are currently best priced 28/1 with Coral to lift the trophy!

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: West Brom 0-2 Everton

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The Preamble

West Brom have been a thorn in our side in recent years and Everton wins have usually been hard to come by, particularly at the Hawthorns. Their rigid shape combined with our lack of incision has been a combination which invariably ends in stalemate as both games did last season. This season they are a somewhat different proposition and look to be trying to evolve into a more fluid attacking style, perhaps at the expense of the defensive shape which was the the order of the day under the previous regimes of Hodgson and Clarke.

Like us they were also spanked in their last match and with 24 players either coming or going in the summer their doesn’t seem to be much fluency to their play yet, which I guess is expected with a new manager and so much flux on the playing staff. One crumb of comfort going into the game for us was that Martinez record against the Baggies is pretty good –  just 1 defeat in 9 – plus he’d won both his previous managerial face-offs against former toffee Alan Irvine.

First Half

West Brom started with two up front (Ideye and Berahinho) and their approach of using them was twofold; when we had the ball their job was to occupy Jagielka and Stones, or get “in their faces” to coin a Phil Brown term,  and stop the ball being played out from the back. When possession was regained the tactic was simple, get the ball into the box as frequently as possible.

Lukaku’s stunning right footed curler on 2 minutes actually came from us springing through this high press approach, with Barry dropping in between Stones and Jagielka to twice play the ball from the centre back position into midfield in the build up. Other than that, West Brom’s gameplan worked pretty much as planned in the first half; they won the ball back in our half more than we did in theirs (7 v 1)  dominated territory in our half, and tossed balls into our box with great regularity (20 crosses to our 1).  The aerial bombardment didn’t really yield much, though, and for all their huff and puff the half came and went without our hosts testing Tim Howard once and, with the exception of left back Pocognoli, the Baggies found it hard to deliver precise service to the two forwards.

Lukaku’s goal apart we created hardly anything in the opening 45 minutes.  Dorrans, who was deployed to his twice annual role of minding Baines from the right-wing, did pretty well to stop him. Baines did see plenty of the ball but the forward pass inside (to Naismith) was usually blocked off, meaning the duo combined just 5 times in the opening period (once in the build up to our opening goal), with Baines instead predominantly going backwards to Jagielka.

One area we did get some joy in was in between West Brom’s defensive and midfield lines as without Mulumbu the Baggies had two midfielders more accustomed to forward forays then protecting their back line, meaning there was no real shield to protect a rickety defence. With their defence deep and forwards pressing high a big chasm opened up every time we broke forward, with Mirallas exposing this space just before the end of the first half with a run and shot – it was a warning of what was to come after the break

Still, as the teams went in for half time I think we were a tad lucky to be in front on the balance of play.

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Second Half

After the break it was a different game altogether and it followed a similar blue print to most of our away games last season. Baines was now able to get the ball in more threatening areas and in the opening 20 minutes of the second half he and Naismith combined 3 times more frequently than they did in the entire first half, much to the befuddlement of poor old Andre Wisdom at right back. The Liverpool ressie who was subjected to a similar dry bumming in his previous game against us back in 2012  would eventually be switched  to left back to save him from further embarrassment. By then, however, the damage was done.

The gap we earlier mentioned in between West Brom’s defence and midfield was again evident in the moments leading up to our second goal as Lukaku was able to drive through and unleash a decent shot, this time with his left foot, which was saved by Foster before an offside Naismith uncharacteristically blazed over. Shortly after Mirallas received again from Baines down the left and his shot was allowed to squirm under Foster in true Dave Beasant style for 2-0 which pretty much ended the game as a contest. With our hosts chasing the game more than ever the gaps in their half of the pitch were now even  more obvious, and McGeady and then Osman nearly exposed these holes soon after when a third goal looked imminent.

West Brom sent on Samaras which precipitated more long balls and if there is one slight worry it’s that we looked a bit unsteady at times in dealing with the aerial ball into our box with neither Stones or Jagielka really an aggressive ball-winning centre half. Both are excellent, covering defenders as Stones in particular showed with a last gasp challenge in the second half,  but neither are comfortable winning balls in the air, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Distin is fit again.

Conclusion

This was an away win which followed the same script of many of our away wins last season. In the first half we did ok by getting our noses in front, encountered a tough opponent who closed down our passing space pretty well and on occasion we weathered the storm when needed. As the game went on and West Brom tired, more spaces popped up and we were able to dominate the ball in more dangerous areas and get the crucial second goal, albeit aided and abetted by two comedy clangers from Olsson and Foster. Arguably the key difference was that West Brom didn’t protect their back four and 18 yard line well whereas Gareth Barry did a great job for us in this role, winning back possession expertly and igniting attacks from the back when we regained possession, including on our opening goal. All in all though this was a deserved win for the toffees, a much-needed clean sheet and something to build on as we enter a hectic schedule of fixtures.

EB

Everton 3-6 Chelsea – Tactical Deconstruction

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Is it safe to come out yet? Ok, we shall begin.

The events which transpired at L4 yesterday fitted the narrative that most – myself included – expected when Martinez arrived at the club last season i.e. high scoring games, devilment galore in the final third and a sprinkle of crud defending. That never really materialised last season as presumably the 10 year misery of defensive drills so engrained in the players from the Moyes era enabled us to retain our status as one of one of the top three rearguards in the top flight along with Chelsea and City.

With 10 goals shipped in our first three games, though, something is certainly rotten in the state of Denmark.  Last week’s analysis centred on us being tanked energy wise after back to back 2nd half collapses in the opening games, but after the weary start to the game yesterday is something potentially more putrid is at work?  Lets begin by sifting through the detritus…

The Bad

From the off our pressing was shocking. The game plan appeared to be to win the ball back in Chelsea’s half, however our defensive block was all over the place, sometimes it was a low block and sometimes a medium block, meaning there was acres of space in the middle of the park when Chelsea bypassed our first line of press.

This is something Chelsea did with great regularity in the opening 20 minute spell as they swiftly breezed into a 2-0 lead. The roles of Fabregas and Costa were particularly crucial, with the duo combining for the first goal for which the repugnant Costa despatched well albeit he was aided and abetted by Jagielka’s woeful offside trap. The Fabregas-Costa pass was Chelsea’s most frequent of the game (11 times) and was always ‘on’ due to there being virtually no pressure on Fabregas when he received the ball between midfield and attack. Whereas our opening two games were all about how we can’t see matches out, this time it was our start which put us on a sticky wicket as it meant we had to take increasingly high risks in leaving midfield players up field when we lost  possession, thus playing to Chelsea’s key strengths in terms of pace and speed on the break.

The Good

After 25 minutes we awoke from the slumber which had already taken us to the brink of defeat. Adrenalin levels were raised and our pressing in the Chelsea half improved whilst Matic and Ramires became less able to control midfield and link to the odious Fabregas. Whereas before Chelsea were blocking off our forward passes with consummate ease, now we were moving the ball faster and this was nicely shown in the first goal. In the build up the aforementioned catalan runt threw a snide elbow on Mirallas off the ball, but the Belgian recovered to drive into the box nod home Coleman’s cross after a superb pass into the right channel from McGeady.

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A lost cat at Goodison yesterday – looks even more terrified than Jagielka.

Going forward our play was increasingly sublime. We created 13 chances from open play –  more than our first 2 games put together – and the movement of Naismith and Mirallas combined with the impish brilliance of McGeady, who created the most chances from open play, were a joy to behold. After Chelsea then went 3-1 – after McCarthy was torn to shreds by an amazing turn of pace from  Hazard – we began to really move through the gears.  McGeady was central to everything good between the lines  and his slaloming run befuddled at least 3 Chelsea defenders before teeing up Naismith to finish brilliantly – it was his third in four starts against Chelsea. As per the recurring theme of the game we were to take one step forward and then two back, as Chelsea swiftly went up field to make it 2-4 as the game went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Mc Geady was replaced straight after the goal by Eto’o and the Cameroon star’s cameo was an exciting one – scoring pretty much immediately after some shoddy Chelsea defending and nearly creating another one shortly after. His link play with Coleman to setup Mirallas at 3-4 was the move of the game and arguably the key turning point of the match, as Chelsea duly went down the other end to pick us off twice more.

To score three goals against a yellow belly like Mourinho, who spends his days worrying about the opposition scoring more than he does about his own team finding the net, was  highly commendable.

The Ugly

Ringmaster of the circus which engulfed our backline was skipper Phil Jagielka, who endured his own personal Clapham-Common moment in the heart of Everton’s defence.

He was directly culpable for Costa’s first  goal and his errors provided two further chances for his troglodyte oppressor.  Jagielka was the worst defender on the pitch by a distance, but he wasn’t helped by a woeful showing in front of him by Barry and McCarthy who afforded him no protection at all – witness the lack of pressure in Matic’s goal as a decent example. Defending also starts from the front and Lukaku’s touch for goal 5 was indicative of his afternoon i.e. dog shit.

The post game debate chiefly concerned whether our skipper is finished and while I’d agree that he is bang out of form, I personally don’t subscribe to this school of thought. In pre season Stones was playing a fair bit and he made plenty of gaffes too, as he did whilst deputising for Jagielka last season, so bringing him in doesn’t necessarily solve the issue for me.  I wouldn’t drop him on the basis of this one game when mitigating circumstances were at play i.e. being 0-2 down after 3 mins meant we had to play in a way that he was afforded no protection. I’d say it’s a problem Martinez needs to address on the training ground and in rebuilding both defensive cohesion and also confidence with some of his trademark positivity

Conclusion

The chaos of the first 3 minutes dictated how we played the remaining 87 with high risk football putting pressure on a creaking defensive unit currently very low in confidence. The end result was footballing mayhem at both ends of the pitch and us conceding 6 for the first time since the Lescott debacle against Arsenal in 2009. We are probably at the point now where we can’t get any worse at the back and as fitness levels improve so to hopefully will the defensive solidity. It also worth noting how good Chelsea are in the final third and that we won’t have to come up against side of equivalent quality every week.

At the other end of the pitch it’s difficult to recall a better attacking showing from us against such a top opponent as we did in the last hour of the game. We comprehensively ragged the league’s best defensive operation all over the place, created spaces at will and scored some great goals and it’s this positive that we should cling onto in the coming weeks.

EB

Everything you need to know about Lille, Wolfsburg & Krasnodar

 

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With the draw now made EB’s exhaustively unnecessary coverage of the various permutations associated with our European excursions rolls on. This time round we deliver some 2 dig analysis on the three sides likely to get snotted all over the place, as we qualify with 3 games to spare setting a new Europa League record for webbings dished out in one season.

The full group stage fixture list will be available 60 minutes after the draw ceremony with matches will held on 18 September, 2 and 23 October, 6 and 27 November and 11 December;

Schedule

Match-day 1 – 18th sept > Wolfsburg (h)
Match-day 2 – 2nd oct    > Krasnodar (a)
Match-day 3 – 23rd oct  > Lille (a)
Match-day 4 – 6th nov   > Lille (h)
Match-day 5 – 27th nov >Wolfsburg (a)
Match-day 6 – 11th dec > Krasnodar (h)

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New Picture (92)Opponent 1 –  Lille (France)

Odds:  40/1  Pint Price: £3.82

Stade Pierre Mauroy holds 50,000 and Lille generally pull in a crowd of between 30-40,000 for home games. It’s very easy to get to with the Eurostar from London only taking a few hours – Eurostar  actually launched a flash sale today for London-Paris/Bru from £59 rtn if booked 28 Aug to 9 Sep for travel 22 Sep-17 Dec. Alternatively you could fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and train / drive the last 60miles or drive it in about 8 hours from the UK should you wish.

Lille had the best defence in ligue 1 last season although were the lowest scorers in top 9. Former Chelsea forward Kalou got 16 of them but is rumoured to be on his way before next week’s closure of the transfer window, whilst £10m libepewl signing Origi got just 6. They have good stock having been Champions in 2011 and having qualified for the ECL then and also in 2012 during the days of Eden Hazard.

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New Picture (82)Opponent 2 – Wolfsburg

 Odds 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25

The 5th placed team in Germany last season and a very capable outfit albeit not of the same vintage of the Grafite / Dzeko vintage which won the Bundesliga a few years back. The VW Stadium holds 30,000 fans and last season their average gate was 28,103 so its going to be touch and go to get a ticket. To get there you can fly to Berlin and then catch a 2 hour train to Wolfsburg. If you’d rather train it you can go  London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47 then go onto Berlin by the City Night Line sleeper train Perseus, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 and arriving Hanover at 06:30 and Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 08:28 next morning before catching a connecting train to Wolfsburg. Check out the Seat61 site for more details.

Inside the ground the ‘Nordkurvensaal’ pub serves Wittingers and Stackmann’s complete with novelty bendy glass, which is nice. Entrance wise, the match tickets are as cheap as 15 euros usually. In terms of further reading, EFW have done a good review of the matchday experience here.

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New Picture (94)Opponent 3- Krasnodar (Russia)

 Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £ 1.50 Based to the  northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk which is dangerously located in the deep south of Russia and around a 20 hour drive from Moscow. It has an international airport but you’ll struggle to find direct flights from the UK. You can fly to Moscow and then get a domestic flight with one of their easyjet equivalents like Transaero or go via Sochi. Total flight time would be around 6 hours excluding the stop off. On the field their ground The Kuban Stadium holds 31,654 and in last season’s EL their neighbours Kuban who also play at this ground pulled in on average 25,392 fans per game.

This is their debut season in the EL, having won 5 out of their 6 games in qualification and impressively scoring 20 goals in the process. They are unbeaten in their opening 5 games of the new Russian League Season with Brazilian Joaozinho and Vladimir Bystrov two of their most potent attacking players, so far scoring half of the sides goals between them with Joaozinho also scoring in the impressive 3-0 win that sent out Sociedad in the play off – a warning that on their own turf they are a side to be reckoned with.

 

Thanks for reading.

EB

Analysis of all 35 potential Everton Europa League Group opponents

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So the playoffs are over and the draw for the Group Phase draw will soon be with us. In typical Everton fashion we missed out on Pot 2 by the finest of margins, less than 500 coefficient points to be precise, but on the plus side it means were likely to play 2 big sides which is good for fans looking to travel and get tickets for games on the continent. The below table shows the x4 pots for today’s draw which takes place at 12 O’clock UK time and can be watched live on the uefa website. The full group stage fixture list will be available 60 minutes after the draw ceremony. The matches will be held on 18 September, 2 and 23 October, 6 and 27 November and 11 December.

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So in today’s draw we basically have the chance to meet any side from Pot 1,2 or 4, minus Tottenham as nation states can’t play each other at this stage. Here is the lowdown on each potential opponent;

New Picture (100)Aalborg (Denmark) Pot: 4 Odds: 250/1 Pint Price: £1.04 Danish chumps are based in northern Denmark which is a bit more tricky to get to than Copenhagen in the south. You can fly there with Norwegian Airlines from Gatwick with 1 stop in Copenhagen. Danish trains are the most expensive to ride on in the world so if you are going to use them book in advance. On the pitch, Aalborg are the lowest ranked side in the EL Group Phase and were walloped 5-1 on aggregate in the ECL playoffs by the mighty APOEL. Their finest hour in recent times in European competition was in 2009 when they reached the ECL Group Phase, finishing 3rd in their group with just 1 win, against Celtic. They have just 1 win from their opening 5 games in the new Danish league season.

New Picture (99)Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) Pot: 4 Odds: 200/1 Pint Price: £2.50 Limassol’s home is  the 13,000 seater Tsirion Stadium, also known as the Olympia Stadium. They qualified in impressive style for the EL group’s, shlacking  Manuel Fernandes Lokomotiv Moscow 4-1 on their own patch last night. Travel wise, Monarch fly direct from Manchester to Larnaca or you can fly to Pathos and drive the last 100km.  Jet 2 also fly to both destinations from LeedsBradford Airport. In terms of what to do when you get there, Lonely Planet report that there are two sides to the city;

The second-biggest city in the country, Limassol (Lemesos) has several reputations: ‘the city that never sleeps’ is one, and the cliché is thanks to the tourist area’s exuberant nightlife, rivalled only by that of Agia Napa; another is ‘sex town’, with the many ‘cabarets’ (basically brothels) that dot the area around the Rialto Theatre, recently reclaimed from the pimps and rebranded for respectable theatre-goers. Some see Lemesos mainly as an industrial and commercial centre with little to recommend it. But if you like a city that’s rough around the edges, with great places to eat and drink, plus several spots for beach parties and fantastic sights, then pay a visit to Lemesos.’

New Picture (95)Astra Giorgio (Romania) Pot: 4 Odds: 250/1 Pint Price: £1.10  The Romanian’s play at their 7,000 capacity Stadionul Marin Anastasovici. To get to Romania fly from Manchester – Bucharest via Amsterdam with KLM, then its a 1 hour drive from Bucharest.  If you fancy taking in the sights of Europe to Bucharest then a 2 day train trip starts from London to Paris by Eurostar, then go from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia. Then go from Munich to Budapest before the final leg of the journey from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister. On the pitch they pulled of the biggest scalp of the playoffs as they knocked out Lyon on away goals after a 2-1 win on French soil.

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Asteras (Greece) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A Pint Price:  £2.90 Greek side who play at the 7,600 capacity Kolokotronis Stadium. Arguably the biggest underdog of the qualifiers having dumped out the capable German side Mainz and European regulars Maccabi Tel Aviv on the way to reaching the Group Phase for the first time in their history.

 

New Picture (96)Besiktas (Turkey)  Pot: 2 Odds: 50/1 Pint Price: £2.49  Slaven Bilic’s Istanbul based side currently play their hone games at the 75,000 capacity Ataturk stadium whilst their own ground is being rebuilt. As they showed against Arsenal in the ECL play-offs they’re very good at the back with their  keeper Zengin recording the most clean sheets in the league last season. However they are less potent in the final third where Demba Ba , who twice turned us down in the past, leads the line.

New PictureBorussia Mönchengladbach (Germany) Pot: 2 Odds: 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25  Their Borussia-park stadium has a 54,000 capacity. Tickets would be hard to come by, Borussia have a hard-core local support and the last time they took part in 12/13 had the 4th top average gate of 44,431 from their 4 games although that’s 10,000 light of their  capacity.To get there, fly to Dusseldorf or Cologne from Manchester (or Easyjet from London Gatwick – Cologne-Bonn) . Then catch a train from Cologne-Bonn to Monchengladbach which is a 1hr 15min journey. Jet 2 also fly to Düsseldorf from Leeds Bradford Airport.Match tickets are as cheap as 10 euro’s a pop and the fanbase located next to the ground is supposedly a great place to have a cheap pre game sup.

New Picture (85) Celtic (Scotland) Pot: 2 Odds: 100/1 Pint Price:£2.75 Celtic are under new management this season with little known Norwegian Ronny Deila taking the reigns of the Glasgow east-enders. Their limp exit 1-6 on aggregate to mid table Legia showed how far they have fallen since beating barca in 2012. After being given a reprieve they then fell to Maribor 1-2 on aggregate.  Top players have left and not been replaced whilst their domestic league has zero competitive edge with the demotion of rangers and relegation of the Edinburgh clubs. Having worked up there I’d say the Jurys Inn is cheap and cheerful n terms of a bed for the night,  plus its right next to the central station you’d arrive into (from liverpool this would be with First Transpennine) and which you can also get to Celtic’s ground from. You can also fly from Manchester to Glasgow for a few quid more.

New Picture (90)Club Brugge (Belgium) Pot: 2 Odds: 66/1 Pint Price: £2.97 Their Jan Breydel stadium has a capacity of 29,473 and is just a short bus ride from the city centre. In their last outing in the competition Brugge only averaged only 16,833 per game, (13,000 less than capacity) so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. To get to Brugge the Eurostar will take you from London StP via Brussels in 3 and a bit hours. Eurostar are actually about to launch a flash sale  – London-Paris/Bru from £59 rtn if booked 28 Aug to 9 Sep for travel 22 Sep-17 Dec. This hostel is ideal;  its cheap, clean and has a nightclub in the basement. Plus, there is a nice cafe a few doors down which will do you a massive flemish stew and a duvel for a couple of euros.

New Picture (97)Copenhagen (Denmark) Pot: 1 Odds: 100/1 Pint Price: £5.04 Play at the Parken Arena which holds 38,000 fans and is located fairly central to the city. Would be a good side to come up against given the quality of player they currently have, especially as they somehow managed to squirm into Pot 1. In a recent poll ex captain Tobias Linderoth was named as one of their most popular ever players.Direct flights can be booked from Manchester / London Stansted to Copenhagen with Easyjet or go via Malmo and train it across ‘The Bridge’. This hotel is decent and right next to the railway station and city hall where Troels Hartmann worked in the first series of ‘The Killing’.

New Picture (98)Dnipro (Ukraine) Pot: 2 Odds: N/A Pint Price:£0.80p Second top scorers in last season’s Ukraine Championship and only lost the title by 6 points. Brazilian Matheus was their top scorer with 13 goals with lanky Yevhen Seleznyov bagging the same number. The Dnipro Arena holds 31.000 although their average crowd last season for EL games was only just above 50% at 16,456. They have decent stock having qualified for the EL in 2010,2011, 2012 and 2013. They’ve finished 1st and 2nd in the group phase in their last two cracks at the trophy, going out in the first knock out round both times to Basle and Spurs. As far as I know there is no direct flight to Dnipro from the UK, so you’ll need to head to Kiev and change there.

New Picture (102)Dinamo Minsk (Belarus) Pot: 4 Odds:Pint Price: £0.62p  Minsk is a 3 hour flight from Gatwick with Belavia Airways, a round trip usually costing around £300. The Belarus outfit can also be reached via a 2 day train trip from London to Brussels, then onto Cologne and  Warsaw via overnight sleeper train Jan Kiepura. On Day 2 travel overnight by sleeper train from Warsaw to Minsk. Their Traktar Stadium holds a modest 16,500. They are already 21 games into their domestic championship and sit 2nd in the table with just 3 defeats.

New Picture (92)Dynamo Moscow (Russia) Pot: 4 Odds: 66/1 Pint Price: £4 Secured their place by virtue of a fourth placed finish in their domestic league last season. The Khimki Stadium holds 18,636 although their average crowd in the Russian league last season was 7,826 so tickets won’t be hard to come-by. Having recently visited I’d recommend this hotel – if there are 3 of you it works out around £30 per night and its a decent standard, centrally located for the metro, grounds and tourist stuff. For ale, I went to a few of the ones recommended on this site. On the pitch they are a direct outfit who will look to swing in crosses and put opponents under an aerial bombardment. The focus of their approach is one time toffee target Kevin Kuranyi and they also have towering goon Chris Samba in their ranks. Former Man Utd left back Alex Buttner also joined up in the summer but their key player is  Russian International midfielder Alex Kokorin. Currently they sit 2nd in the Russian league with 4 wins from their first 5 games.

New Picture (103)Fiorentina (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds: Pint Price: £3.60- Fourth placed team in Italy and slayers of the toffees a few years ago, with the away leg one of the wettest and most grimmest matches in living memory, not helped by over-zealous policing. Direct flights go from Liverpool Airport to Florence or for a cheaper deal go to Pisa and then train it. Or you can train it from London via the afternoon Eurostar from London to Paris (from £40), then jump on the overnight Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan from just €35 then change in Milan for a high-speed train to Florence.  Further details can be found on the excellent Seat61 website.  Lonely Planet have also done a decent review of the best restaurants on offer. On the field, their attack will be spearheaded by ex Man United goal getter Giuseppe Rossi who weighed in with 16 goals last season and former Bayern monster Mario Gomez. In midfield Borja Valero is the creative hub along with £20m ex-kopite Aquilani who will sit deeper in their midfield engine room. Columbian World Cup trickster Juan Cuadrado also players for these cats.

New Picture (9)HJK (Finland) Pot: 4 Odds:  Pint Price: £4.64 Helsinki based club and are the most successful Finnish  club side in history with 26 Championship titles. Norwegian Airlines fly direct from Gatwick and Finnair likewise fly from Heathrow. They play at the Sonera Stadium which holds a modest 10,300. Ex Birmingham forward Mikael Forsell – who once failed a medical at L4 – is their top scorer with 7 goals in their domestic championship which they lead after 24 games. In terms of pedigree, they qualified for the Group Phase after turfing out Rapid Vienna and this was quite a leap after they were knocked out of both the ECL and EL qualifiers in each of the last 4 seasons.

 

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Map of all Europa League sides 2014/15

New Picture (73)Internazionale (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds: Pint Price: £4.24 Probably the biggest name in Pot 1 is Inter Milan, who elder Blues will recall knocked us out of the European Cup in 1963. The current roster of The Nerazzurri is a far cry from the  treble winning crop of 2010 nor is it close to the all-star Vieri/Ronaldo vintage of the 90’s and 00’s. Indeed,  a glimpse at their best eleven shows how far they have sunk and in their last few excursions into the EL they’ve not exactly shown an appetite to succeed. Argentine World Cup forward Rodrigo Palacio is their key man, weighing in with 17 goals and 7 assists last season. His countryman Ricky (linked with a loan deal to Sunderland) provided the main creative output whilst they have also recruited the likes of  Vidic, M’Vila and Osvaldo in the summer. The Milan behemoths qualified by virtue of a 5th placed finish in Serie A last season. The San Siro holds 80,000 so shouldnt be problematic tickets wise especially as last time round in this competition they averaged crowds of only 18,000. Ryanair fly direct from Manchester and you can also get there from various other UK airports.  Alternatively you can train it from London via the afternoon Eurostar from London to Paris (from £40), then jump on the overnight Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan from just €35 which includes a couchette.

New Picture (89) Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) Pot: 1 Odds: 66/1  Pint Price: £1.01 Ukrainian cup winners and old school European kingpins. Their home ground is named after their celebrated ex boss – the ‘Valeriy Lobanovskyi’ Dynamo Stadium and holds just 16,800. For the big games they use NSC Olimpiyskiy Ground which holds 70,000. Airfrance fly from Manchester to Kiev with 1 stop off in Paris or go direct with BA from Heathrow.  Hotel Opera is a smart place to stay in Kiev, but not cheap. The Khreschatyk (think adelphi) is right in the thick of things (and has it’s own casino) for those on a tighter budget. Dynamo Kiev have got out of the group phase in 3 of their last 4 EL excursions, with their best performance being in 2011 when they were defeated by Braga in the quarters. Key man Andriy Yarmalenko is their most famous current player with the chief goal threat coming from Dieudonne “Brzi” Mbokani Bezua.

New Picture (99)Krasnodar (Russia) Pot: 4 Odds: Pint Price: £ 1.50 Based to the  northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk which is located in the deep south of Russia and around a 20 hour drive from Moscow. It has an international airport but you’ll struggle to find direct flights from the UK. You can fly to Moscow and then get a domestic flight with one of their easyjet equivalents like Transaero. Total flight time would be around 6 hours excluding the stop off. On the field their ground The Kuban Stadium holds 31,654. This is their second season on the spin in the EL, and last season they turfed out Feyenoord in the playoffs before finishing 3rd in the group with 1 win from 6 games. They are unbeaten in their opening 5 games of the new Russian League Season with Brazilian Joaozinho and Vladimir Bystrov two of their most potent attacking players, so far scoring half of the sides goals between them with Joaozinho also scoring in the impressive 3-0 win that sent out Sociedad in the play off – a warning that on their own turf they are a side to be reckoned with.

New Picture (92)Lille (France) Pot: 1 Odds:  N/A Pint Price: £3.82- Stade Pierre Mauroy holds 50,000 and Lille generally pull in a crowd of between 30-40,000 for home games. It’s very easy to get to with the Eurostar from London only taking a few hours, or you can fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and train / drive the last 60miles. You could alternatively drive it in about 8 hours from the UK should you wish.Lille had the best defence in ligue 1 last season although were the lowest scorers in top 9. Former Chelsea forward Kalou got 16 of them but is rumoured to be on his way before next week’s closure of the transfer window, whilst £10m libepewl signing Origi got just 6. They have good stock having been Champions in 2011 and having qualified for the ECL then and also in 2012 during the days of Eden Hazard.

New Picture (93)Lokeren (Belgium) Pot: 4 Odds: Pint Price £1.27 Qualified by virtue of winning the Belgian cup , Lokeren play their home games in a stadium with a capacity of just 9,56o which is just a 45 minute drive from Brussels. Finished  5th in last season’s Jupiler League and possess the league’s golden boot winner in Tunisian ‘hitman’ Hamdi Harbaoui, who plundered an impressive 22 league goals last time round. They narrowly lost in the play off to the very competent Plzen last season but had a bit too much for Hull this time round, winning their play off on away goals.

New Picture (93)Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine) Pot: 1 Odds:  25/1 Pint Price: £0.40p  Ukrainian outfit who we visited a few years ago play in front of a 40,000 capacity stadium. In 12/13 metalist averaged 37,857 in the Europa league from their 4 games which was the sixth highest so tickets could be tricky to come by as like last time round.You can either fly direct from London or fly to Kiev / Moscow and train the remainder. Trains are incredibly cheap to ride on – in fact they’re the second cheapest in Europe behind Georgia or bus it – it’s the cheapest in Europe in terms of coach travel. The Kharkiv club qualified from the EL groups in their  last 3 attempts, getting to the quarters once. Perennially the bridesmaids in the Ukraine league, they have never finished outside top 3 in the last 8 seasons but have never took the title – they finished 3rd again last season. They are  weakened by last season’s top scorer Marko Devich defecting to Rubin Kazan in Russia. Have won 2 and lost 2 of their first four games in the Ukraine league.

New Picture (93)Napoli (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds:  20/1 Pint Price: £1.69- Last season I was lucky enough to take in a game at the San Paulo with some pals and it was a great trip. We stayed in a fairly basic hotel near to the train station (Hotel Ideal) which worked out to around 15 quid each per night – cheap and cheerful but not more than that really.  There is no train route from the Airport so bus or taxi is your best option. There is a train that runs from the centre of town to the ground though should you wish to take it. The San Paulo holds 60,000 and in last season’s competition the average gate was just over 40.000 in the EL. Eating and drinking was v cheap if you like pizza. We went to plenty but the best one was definitely Da Michele but you need to get there early, we went on Monday morning at 11am and the queue was right around the block. On the field, Clown Kecks rotund tactician Rafa Benitez outift is spearheaded by Argentine forward Higuain and they also have the likes of Hamsik, Mertens and Michu in their ranks. Fatty is currently feeling the heat after a thrashing in the ECL playoffs by Bilabo.

New Picture (97)Panathinaikos(Greece) Pot: 2 Odds:  50/1 Pint Price:4.35  Athens based club who play their home games in the 16,000 capacity Apostolos Nikolaidas stadium. They had hoped to move to a new 45,000 seater stadium but due to the credit crunch plans were put on  hold.Star man is Swedish star Markus Berg and who was both top scorer and creator in their domestic championship last season.

New Picture (83)PAOK Salonika (Greece) Pot: 2 Odds: 50/1 Pint Price: £3.39 Greek outfit who finished 3rd in their domestic championship last season  who play in a stadium with a capacity of 28,704. In last seasons competition they only pulled in 12,587 per game on average in the EL so nabbing a seat in the home end won’t be difficult. Easyet fly direct from Manchester to Thessaloniki.

New Picture (112)PSV (Holland) Pot: 1 Odds: 40/1  Pint Price: £1.69 Dutch heavyweights who finished 4th in their domestic league last season. Ground capacity is 35,000 however last season they averaged only 15,000 per game in the Europa League, so again getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. You could fly to Amsterdam and then jump the train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven (trains depart every 30 mins with a journey time of 1hr 20 mins)  or fly from Manchester to Eindhoven with Ryanair. On the field,  PSV reached the 1/4 finals of the EL  in 2011 and the round of 16 in 2012 but just as their league form has withered in the recent years so has their form in the EL, failing to progress from average groups in 2013 and 2014. Dutch International Memphis Depay weighed in with 12 goals and seven assists last season and has 5 already this season – plus he’s just signed a new contract after being linked with Spurs. Luuk de Jong – once touted as the next top Dutch ‘number nine’ during his FC Twente days – has also joined after a disappointing spell at Newcastle United which yielded 0 goals. Currently sit joint top of the Dutch league with maximum points and 12 goals from their opening 3 games.

New Picture (105)Qarabag FK (Azerbaijan) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A  Pint Price: £2.00 Founder members of Azerbaijan Premier League in 1992 and won their first league championship a season later. They play at the 31,000 capacity Tofiq Bahramov Stadium and have qualified for the Europa League 4 times before but this is the first time they’ve made it past the qualifiers. Their win in Twente was one of the most impressive results of the qualifiers and will be something of an unknown quantity to most sides. Their key man is Brazilian forward Reynaldo, who scored 22 times in their domestic league last season.

New Picture (96)Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) Pot: 1 Odds: 50/1  Pint Price: £1.98 Play in the 31,000 capacity Red Bull Arena in Salzburg. Last season they averaged gates of 17,000 in the competition, so it should be ok to get into the home end. Ryanair fly direct from London Stansted fairly regularly. Or you could take a late afternoon Eurostar to Paris, then head to Munich via the City Night Line sleeper train then take a connecting train to Innsbruck or Salzburg next morning.  This is the simplest & most time-effective way to go according to the Seat 61 site. Their star player is former Barca dynamo Jonathan Soriano who has plundered a sackful of goals since arriving a couple of years ago. They’re a decent side, won their league last season and also got a perfect 18 points from last season’s EL group phase, then impressively demolished Ajax in round two before narrowly succumbing to Basle.

New Picture (96)FC Rijeka (Croatia) Pot: 4 Odds:  250/1  Pint Price: £1.60 Croatian side located on the Adriatic coast who play their home games at the Stadion Kantrida, which holds just  10,600. Last season they also qualified for the group phase and averaged 7,340 so tickets could be tricky to come by. Although they finished last in the group they achieved commendable draws against the likes of Betis and Lyon along the way. Their 3-0 win at Moldovian European regulars Sheriff in the playoff was a very good result, and was inspired by Andre Kramaric, the leading scorer in the Croatian league and key man for Rijeka.

New PictureSevilla (Spain) Pot: 1 Odds:  20/1 Pint Price: £1.27- Europa League winners in 2014, their stadium has a sizeable capacity of 40,000 and would be ideal for match day 1. Direct flights go from Manchester or fly to Malaga and you could then do the remaining 100 miles by train or car. I’d recommend this hotel which I stayed at a few years back which is just round the corner from the cathedral. In the close season they lost their key player with Croatian Ivan Rakitic – who slotted 12 goals and 10 assists last season – jumping ship to Barca. They still have dangerous due Gameiro and Carlos Bacca in their attack – the pair bagged 29 goals between them last year.

New Picture (95)Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A Pint Price: £0.88p  You can get to Slovakia’s capital from Stansted with Ryanair or you could fly to Vienna and then either take the train to Bratislava (15 euro one way) . Or, for a nicer view, try the fast Twin City Liner river boat, from city centre to city centre along the scenic Danube which costs around 30 euro one way.  The only down side is that their ground only holds a modest 11,591. Last season’s Slovakian Champions  Bratislava won their domestic league at a canter by 12 points. This was mainly due to their bruise brothers strike duo of Robert Vittek and Pavel Fort, both of whom are six footers and who both got into double figures last season. Their best showing in the EL was in 2012 when they finished bottom of the group with just 1 point, so not very good then. They also got taken apart 1-5  in the ECL playoff by BATE.

New Picture (95)Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) Pot: 2 Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £1.00 Play at the Generali Arena which holds 19.416 and they pulled in 15,037 average crowds in last season’s competition so tickets could be hard to come by. Sparta have a decent pedigree having qualified from the group phase twice in the last 4 seasons, going out on each occasion in the first knockout phase to English opposition.  Prague is pretty easy to get to with Jet2 and Easyjet both flying there from Manchester, or you can train it through France and Germany. In terms of cultural pursuits you could bathe in premium Czech lager whilst drinking it in Prague’s Pivni Lazne Bernard (pivnilaznebernard.cz/en) Beer bathing in the Czech capital apparently dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was believed to be good for your skin.

New Picture (84)Standard Liege (Belgium) Pot: 2 Odds: 80/1 Pint Price: £1.30 Knocked us out of the equivalent competition a few years ago although their current side is nowhere near as good as that vintage, something that was proven as they were well and truly humbled 4-0 on aggregate by Zenit in the ECL qualifiers this week.  This was all the more alarming given that it was their rigid defence rather than their attack which won them their domestic league last season. They have also lost top scorer Michy Batshuayi, who has jumped ship to Marseille. In terms of travel, Liege is pretty easy to get to via the Eurostar or fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and then train the remaining 50 miles.

New PictureSteaua Bucharest (Romania) Pot:2  Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £1.25 The reigning Romanian Champions also currently sit top of their domestic league. They play their big league games and European matches at the Arena Nacionake which has a 55,634 capacity and last time they were in the EL they averaged 46.330 per game. Their legendary players include Hagi and Iordanescu whilst their current key man is arguably striker Claudio Keseru – top scorer in their domestic league which including a record breaking sixgoal haul in one match. They once famously won the European Cup in 1986 and libepewl football club loved it so much they put a banner on the kop.

New Picture (95)Trabzonspor (Turkey) Pot: 2 Odds: N/A Pint Price: £2.00 Their ground has a capacity of 24,000 although they only averaged 15,298 per game in the EL last season so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem should you wish. If you are travelling via air, Turkish Airlines fly there fairly regularly from Manchester via Istanbul. They qualified by virtue of being the 4th placed side in the Turkish League and won through to the group phase after a 2 leg win over Russian also rans Rostov.

New Picture (76)Villarreal (Spain) Pot: 1 Odds: 25/1 Pint Price £1.67- Our conquerors of 2005 is  a bit of a mission to get to – for flights head to Valencia or check out the Skyscanner website for other options. Villarreal have made a comeback since relegation a few years ago and finished 6th last term in La Liga, albeit a whopping 31 points behind champions Athletico Madrid. Nigerian striker Ucho and Giovani Dos Santos were their top scoring duo last season although the real key men were probably Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio  and midfield general Bruno. Stadium capacity is still 24,890.

New Picture (82)Wolfsburg  (Germany) Pot: 2 Odds 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25 5th placed team in Germany last season and a very capable outfit albeit not of the same vintage of the Grafite / Dzeko vintage which won the Bundesliga a few years back. The VW Stadium holds 30,000 fans and to get there fly to Berlin and then catch a 2 hour train to Wolfsburg. Inside the ground the ‘Nordkurvensaal’ pub serves Wittingers and Stackmann’s complete with novelty bendy glass, which is nice. Entrance wise, the match tickets are as cheap as 15 euros usually. In terms of further reading, EFW have done a good review of the matchday experience here.

Enjoy the draw and if you have any other travel tit bits you’d like to share let us know and I’ll add into the above.

EB

Everton Collapse #2 – Poor defending or fatigue?

 

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‘Is Steve Tashjian there please? Asking for a friend’

For the second successive week Everton let a first half lead slip culminating in a loss of 4 valuable points. The post match narrative on social media was of Everton’s seemingly dis-jointed pre season and subsequently poor fitness levels coming back to haunt them. Would it have happened under the Moyes era when we ran through rainforests wearing tyres for fun? Or was it just shoddy defending? As with most things the answer is probably lies somewhere in between.

Here are the Martinez post match quotes on the fitness issue;

“I just felt that certain individuals, and as a team, we dropped our energy levels and we couldn’t control it. When you do that, you have to score that third goal or you allow Arsenal to get one all of a sudden and it becomes momentum and you have something to lose.The disappointment is the result – there are no two ways about it. But the performance was phenomenal. It gave us exactly what we wanted; a clear direction of where we have to work because it was an early part of the season performance where we couldn’t maintain it for 90 minutes, but for long spells of the game it was one where we deserved the three points. We’re frustrated but we now know where we need to work in order to get those performances to last 90 minutes.”

So lets firstly take a look at how we have fared in 15 minute splits on and off the ball in the opening games.

Off the ball – Taking a look at our pressure off the ball there is perhaps a significant collapse in terms of the last 30 minutes in the Arsenal game as our pressure seems to drop off quite a bit after the initial fifteen minute spell after the start of the second half.

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On the ball – The collapse in terms of our ball retention is clear in the Arsenal game as our pass completion plummets the longer the game goes on from a high of 90% to less than 60%.Increased errors on the ball are a by-product of tired legs.

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Now lets take a look at the goals conceded yesterday.

Goal1 – There are bits of fatigue on show in the way that Coleman invites Arsenal into our box in the next two screen shots following an Arsenal throw. The positioning of McGeady (circled) is interesting too. Last season he revealed how Martinez basically told him not to track back in order to keep his fullback in their own half and give us a better option on the break. Its a very bold move especially when you are two up against a very good side. The problem it creates is that Coleman is left isolated and can’t really commit to a challenge.  As Cazorla is allowed to encroach to within 18 yards of our goal Ramsey ghosts in behind a ball watching Osman to stab home.

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Goal 2 – For the second goal Chambers plays a great 30 yard pass which completely dissects our left flank but we really shouldn’t have let the pass go through our midfield. The gap between McGeady  (now been shifted to the left to accommodate Atsu) and Osman both circled – is far too wide. Arsenal then play in two crosses, Jagielka gets caught under the ball on the second one and Giroud bullies Distin to head home after a nice ball from Monreal.

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Conclusion

I think fitness is a problem although I’d say it doesn’t explain the story fully. Wenger’s introduction of Giroud certainly changed the game in Arsenal’s favour. I thought we were comfortable with Arsenal’s short game in the first half and we did a job on them going forward with Naismith’s link play in the air and on the deck superb throughout. With Giroud on, Arsenal pumped more balls into the box and we simply didn’t defend them well enough – Giroud in truth should have scored at least one more before his equaliser.

On the positive side we have played very well in spells of both games and going forward we have looked capable of scoring freely before the final stages of games. Were still unbeaten and the fitness will keep on improving, however the defensive lapses need to be nipped in the bud pronto especially with Chelsea due at L4 next week.

EB

Scout Scribbles #2 – Arsenal

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Roberto Martinez will be looking to engineer Everton’s first win of the new campaign as a re-run of our most complete performance of last season sees Arsenal visit L4 in the Saturday tea time kick off.

We played the Gunners three times last season with each game throwing up talking points and tactical tit bits, although it’s the blueprint of the 3-0 win in April which Martinez will be revisiting most in the build up to Saturday evening’s match.

So lets follow suit…

The win was unquestionably the best of the season and the first time we have really webbed a top quality opponent in recent times –  in terms of the scoreline anyway.Whereas wins over the league’s better sides under  Moyes were based on a rearguard action with fans invariably biting nails to the last minute to close out a 1-0 win, this was as emphatic as you can get and principally down to an offensive approach which centred on the forward trio of Lukaku, Mirallas and Naismith, all of whom got on the score sheet. This is pretty much how it worked…

Kevin Mirallas principal job was to expose Arsenal’s right side by drifting inside and out.  He would drift into central positions to create the space for Baines to exploit on the flank by his forward runs which effectively gave Baines a 1v1 run at Sagna due to Arsenal’s right midfielder playing narrow and not helping out. With Sagna pre-occupied it basically meant we had a 3v3 situation in the final third with Mirallas, Naismith and Lukaku v Mertesacker, Vermealen and Monreal. Mirallas clever running outwards towards the by-line also had the impact of shunting Mertesacker across to cover this side of the pitch leaving gaps through the middle.

Romelu Lukaku was schooled in the reverse league game by Mertesacker and perhaps with this in mind Martinez looked to play him on the other side of the pitch against a physically weaker opponent (Monreal). Here there was more space to operate and enabled us to play to his strengths of being able to plough through with runs from outside inwards.

Lukaku stayed high up the pitch on that side as a right-sided forward  looking for quick transitions when possession was regained, mostly from the opposite flank by Mirallas.  Vermaelen was worried about his presence and was successfully dragged across to the flank as Mirallas did on the opposite side with Mertesacker. This meant both Arsenal centre backs where being dragged into the corners meaning big gaps opened up for Naismith through the middle.

New Picture (99)

Sandwiched between Lukaku and Mirallas was arguably the key player of the trio, Steven Naismith. His starting position was quite withdrawn, almost as an advanced midfielder with his brief being to tempt the centre halves out of position with decoy runs so that the wide forward duo Mirallas for Lukaku could steam into. Naismith also got on the scoresheet and he’s made a habit of producing in the big games in his short spell at the club, scoring against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal at L4. What all this meant was Arsenal’s defence was all over the place and we exploited it superbly.

Arsenal

Repeating the trick won’t be easy though, after all Arsenal won more away games than any side in the top flight last season and are on a run of 6 straight wins since the aforementioned humbling.

Arsenal travelled to Besiktas in midweek meaning we’ve had 6 full days to prepare compared to Arsenal’s probable 1 which could impact on who starts for them and also how much they press, given that they have the return game to come next week. Whilst an inferior opponent, Wenger will also be mindful that the Turkish league doesn’t start til the end of the month so Besitkas will have more time to rest up before the return leg.

Former Toffeeman Mikel Arteta was crocked in that game and is likely to miss out again, probably replaced by hatchet-man Flamini. The only other significant absentees for the Gunners are Walcott and at left back where Gibbs will be replaced by the awful Monreal. Arsenal’s three World Cup Winners are supposedly ‘in contention’ for this one, which is nice.

Bong Prediction

We know Wenger is an idealist, stubborn and will rarely re-shape his approach to suit an opponent, nor will he compromise his philosophy and go long over an opponent who floods the midfield. Therefore we will probably impose a high press to combat Arsenal’s favoured game of passing triangles in the middle of the park.

The big question for Martinez is whether to go with the same game plan / side as last time and thus potentially drop last week’s star man Steven Pienaar and goalscorer McGeady. Mirallas played his best game in a blue shirt in this fixture last time round and came through a warm up game through the week and I think he will definitely start in place of McGeady. I think leaving Pienaar out would be harsh and I don’t see why he can’t play on the left side of a three man midfield in the slot Osman/Barkley played in last season’s game.

In terms of shape I think he’ll go with the same 4-3-1-2 that won the game last season. So this would be Barry at the base and McCarthy and either Osman/Pienaar alongside him in midfield. Naismith would play a similar role to last week and drop off  the front with Mirallas &  Lukaku in the wide forward positions. Off the ball, both Lukaku and Mirallas would drop back to defend the wide zones meaning we would be 4-6-0 without the ball.

Possible Line-ups;

Everton; Howard, Coleman, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Pienaar, Mirallas, Naismith, Lukaku

Arsenal; Szczesny, Debuchy, Monreal, Chambers, Koscielny,  Flamini, Wilshere, Ramsey, Sanchez, Oxlaide Chamberlain, Giroud

Martinez v Wenger Head to Head > Games Played: 12 Martinez Wins: 3 Draws: 2 Wenger wins: 7  Martinez Goals: 13 Wenger Goals; 28 Average Goals per game: 3.4

Recommended Bet: 3 goals or more: 17/20 BetVictor

EB