2014/15 Europa League A-Z

New Picture (87)

*PLEASE NOTE THE UPDATED VERSION OF THIS POST IS AVAILABLE HERE*

In advance of our return to Europe next season EB has collated a Europa league nerd database to assist you with your excursions. This is just a starter for ten really, a ‘one dig approach’ if you like, so If you’ve visited any of the stadiums or have any local knowledge about hostels, shortcuts, decent boozers or salubrious hangouts please let us know and and we’ll stick in the detail.

A

Apollon Limassol enter at the playoff stage.The team’s current stadium is the 13,000 seater Tsirion Stadium, also known as the Olympia Stadium. Monarch fly direct from Manchester to Larnaca or you can fly to pathos and drive the last 100km.

Limassol fans in good spirits

Limassol fans in good spirits

FC Atromitos (enter at Third qualifying round) Capacity of the Peristieri Stadium is just 10,200. Ground is located in western Athens – you can fly direct from Manchester / London Gatwick with Easyjet

The Peristieri Stadium

The Peristieri Stadium

Astra Giorgio (enter at Third qualifying round) play at the 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 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, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 and arriving in Munich at 07:10 next morning. Then go from Munich to Budapest by air-conditioned Austrian RailJet train, leaving Munich at 09:34 and arriving in Budapest Keleti at 16:49.  For the final leg of the journey go from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister, leaving Budapest Keleti at 19:10 and arriving Bucharest Nord at 12:10 next morning.

B

Betting- The toffees have been installed as 4th favourites at a best priced 20/1 with sky bet. Inter at 16/1 are favourites. We’ll keep an eye on the best odds and also any world cup free bets we can find.

New PictureBorussia Mönchengladbach enter at the Playoff stage. 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.

New Picture (89)Brondby (enter at Third qualifying round) are Copenhagen’s top side but could only muster 4th place in their domestic league last season. They play in the 29,000 capacity and innovatively titled Brondby Stadium. Direct flights can be booked from Manchester / London Stansted to Copenhagen with Easyjet or go via Malmo and train it. This hotel is decent and right next to the railway station.

C

Co-efficient – Currently our UEFA co-efficient rating is 24.9 ( at the top of pot 3) which should see us in pot 2 barring the unlikely scenario where everyone from Pot’s 1 & 2 get through to the group stage. Bert Kassies guide to the Europa League is pretty definitive for co-efficient rankings and is worth bookmarking. Based on Bert’s data the 4 pot scenario currently looks like this….

New Picture (97)

 

We could end up with an ideal scenario (in terms of aways) with trips to sizeable grounds and more than likely low home crowds at Inter, Sociedad and Lech Poznan. The doomsday scenario would probably be Villareal, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Estoril.

Champions League teams – In the group phase 10 losers from the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League play-off round enter the fray. In the last 32 they will be joined by the 8 third-placed teams from the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League group stage. Six teams who have dropped out of the ECL have gone onto win the Europa League; 12-13 Chelsea / 09-10 Atletico Madrid / 08-09 Shaktar Donetsk / 04-05 CSKA Moscow / 01-02 Feyenoord / 99-00 Galatasaray

New Picture (90)Club Brugge enter at the Third qualifying round. 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 to via Brussels in 3 and a bit hours. 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 for a couple of euros.

Beautiful Bruges

Beautiful Bruges

New Picture (91)Chornomorets Odessa (enter at Third qualifying round) The Capacity of the Chornomorets Stadium is 34,164.Should we get them in the group, tickets for this one will be hard to come by – Odesa had one of the highest average crowds (24,140) in last seasons competition. A hyrbid of KLM / Ukraine Airlines will take you from Manchester via Amsterdam and Kiev to what is arguably the most edgy of the potential trips into the unknown. There’s no cheeky Nandos here lids.

If you have time and fancy multi stops a 3-4 day train trip is possible. First travel from London to Brussels by Eurostar, then onwards to Cologne by ICE high-speed train Next up travel from Cologne to Warsaw overnight on the Jan Kiepura EuroNight sleeper train, leaving Cologne at 22:28 and arriving at Warsaw Centralna at 12:15 next day.   From there travel from Warsaw to Kyïv on the Kiev Express leaving Warsaw at 16:50 every day and arriving in Kyïv at 10:35 next morning. A daily fast train (train 9) leaves Kiev at 14:40 and arrives in Odessa at 23:00.  Alternatively, a daily high-quality sleeper train (train 105) links Kiev and Odessa, with 1st class 2-berth and 2nd class 4-berth sleepers link. It leaves Kiev at 22:05 arriving Odessa at 06:55 next morning.

D

Dates (Group and beyond)

Match-day 1 – 18th sept
Match-day 2 – 2nd oct
Match-day 3 – 23rd oct
Match-day 4 – 6th nov
Match-day 5 – 27th nov
Match-day 6 – 11th dec
19/26th 1st knockout rounds
12/19th march 2nd knockout rounds
16/23 april quarter finals
7/14 may semi finals
27th may final

The Khimki Stadium

The Khimki Stadium

New Picture (92)Dynamo Moscow (enter at Third Qualifying Round) Secured their place by virtue of a fourth placed finish in their domestic league this 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 places.

 

 

Draw (for the group stage) takes place on the 29th August 2014

New Picture (95)

Ermis Aradippou are a Cypriot club based near Larnaca. Their ground The Ammochostos Stadium has a capacity of 5,500. Monarch fly direct from Manchester to Larnaca or you can fly to Pathos and drive the last 100km.

 

New Picture (87)Estoril -4th placed finish last time round in Portugal’s top flight secured them an automatic berth in the group phase. Their stadium only holds 5,000 fans and is a 20 minute drive from Lisbon. Whatever you do, don’t stay in the Lisboa Bungalows.

 

F – FlightsSky scanner is a pretty good site for securing minge bag flights.

New Picture (94)Fiorentina - 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 including a couchette.  Change in Milan for a high-speed train to Florence.

G – Group Phase (this is where we enter the tournament) ….A total of 48 teams play in the group stage: 7 teams which enter in this stage, the 31 winners from the play-off round, and the 10 losers from the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League play-off round. The 48 teams will be allocated into four pots based on their 2014 UEFA club coefficients, with the title holders being placed in Pot 1 automatically. They will be drawn into twelve groups of four, with the restriction that teams from the same association cannot be drawn against each other. In each group, teams will play against each other home-and-away in a round-robin format. The group winners and runners-up will advance to the round of 32.

Guingamp (Enter at Group Stage) French cup winners who play at the Stade du Roudourou – a ground which holds 18,000 (last season’s league average gate 15,000). Seven hour train journey from London on the Eurostar or fly from Liverpool to Nantes and drive the remaining 2 hours.

New Picture (93)I  – Internazionale (enter at Playoff stage) Milan behemoths qualified by virtue of a 5th placed finish. The San Siro holds 80,000 so shouldnt be problematic tickets wise. Ryanair fly direct from Manchester.  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 including a couchette.

Ironi Kiryat Shmona (enter at Third qualifying round). Capacity of the Municipal Stadium is 5,300 – they averaged a gate of 1,983 in their last Europa league campaign,  roughly 3,000 down on the capacity. Its located in the North District of Israel on the western slopes of the Hula Valley on the Lebanese border. Logistics wise this could be a tricky one. flying to Beirut could be a goer with Pegasus Airlines flying from London Stansted.

K

Kyiv (Dynamo) – Ukrainian cup winners. Home ground is named after their celebrated ex boss the ‘Valeriy Lobanovskyi’ Dynamo Stadium and holds 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

L

Lokeren (enter at Playoff stage) Belgian cup winners – their ground has a capacity of 9,560. Its a 45 minute drive from Brussels.

Lokomotiv Moscow (enter at Playoff) finished 3rd in the Russian top flight. Capacity of the shiny new Lokomotiv stadium is 28,000  although their average gate in the league last season was only 12,000.

New Picture (94)Lyon (enter at Third qualifying round) Finished 5th in France’s top flight last season. Their stadium holds 40,000 and is 5 1/2 hours on the Eurostar from London. Alternatively fly with Easyjet from Liverpool via Geneva.Should we get them in the group, tickets for this one will be hard to come by – Lyon had one of the highest average crowds (29,045) in last seasons competition.

New Picture (88)

  Mainz

(enter at Third qualifying round) German outfit who finished 7th last season in the Bundesliga. Their ground holds 34,000 although  average crowd for their Bundesliga games last season was 30,983 so it will be tough to get tickets. To get there its a 45 min train journey from Frankfurt. This excellent article give some great tips on Mainz logistics, food and beer.

New Picture (93)Metalist Kharkiv

(enter at Playoff stage) Ukranian outfit who we visited a few years ago. Finished 3rd in their domestic league last time out. Capacity of their ground is 40,000. 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.You can either fly direct from London or fly to Kiev / Moscow and train the remainder.

Midtjylland (enter at Playoff stage) Danish 3rd placed side with a 12.000 capacity. Fly in-direct with SAS to Billund (via Oslo) and then drive / train the remainder. Alternatively fly to Aarhus (although its a bit more £££)

Nacional (enter at playoff stage ) Portuguese 5th placed side. Capacity of their ground is a limited 5,000. You can fly direct to Madeira from Manchester with Jet2.

New Picture (95)P – Parma (enter at Third qualifying round) Finished 6th in this season’s Italian top flight. Capacity of the ground is 23,045 although their average league gate last season was just 12k, so tickets in the home end won’t be too hard to come by. You can fly direct to Bologna from Manchester with Ryanair then either train or drive the final 100km.

PAOK (enter at Playoff stage) Greek outfit who finished 3rd in their domestic championship. Capacity of the stadium is 28,704. In last seasons competition they only pulled in 12,587 per game on average so nabbing a seat in the home end won’t be difficult. Easyet fly direct from Manchester to Thessaloniki.

Prize Money  

A group stage participation in the Europa League awards a base fee of €1.3 million. A victory in the group pays €200,000 and a draw €100,000. Also, each group winner earns €400,000 and each runner-up €200,000. Reaching the knock-out stage triggers additional bonuses: €200,000 for the round of 32, €350,000 for the round of 16, €450,000 for the quarter-finals and €1 million for the semi-finals. The losing finalists receive €2.5 million and the champions get €5 million.

  • Base fee for group stage: €1,300,000
  • Group match victory: €200,000
  • Group match draw: €100,000
  • Group winners: €400,000
  • Group runners-up: €200,000
  • Round of 32: €200,000
  • Round of 16: €350,000
  • Quarter-finals: €450,000
  • Semi-finals: €1,000,000
  • Losing finalist: €2,500,000
  • Winners: €5,000,000New Picture (82)

PSV (Third qualifying round) Dutch heavyweights who finished 4th this season. Ground capacity is 35,000 however last season PSV averaged only 15,000 per game in the europa, so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. Trains from Amsterdam to Eindhoven depart every 30 mins with a journey time of 1hr 20 mins or fly from Manchester to Eindhoven with Ryanair.

New Picture (83)R  – Real Sociedad (enter at Third qualifying round) 7th placed in la liga was enough to qualify the San Sebastien outfit. Potentially an immense awayday. Capacity 32,200. Fly to Bilbao or alternatively fly/Eurostar from UK to Paris then catch the train to Hendaye on the Spanish frontier by high-speed TGV, leaving Paris Montparnasse > Hendaye.   Then travel from Hendaye to San Sebastian by Euskotren.  Train time from Hendaye to San Sebastian Amara station is 37 minutes.

Rio Ave (enter at Third qualifying round) Portuguese cup runners up. Capacity of their ground is a limited 12,815. Its a 20 minute drive from Porto airport which can be reached directly from Liverpool.

Rostov(enter at Playoff stage) Russian cup winners with their ground holding a capacity of 15,840 – their average gate in the Russian league last season was 11,545. Fly to Moscow with Easyjet, then get one of the Russian minge bag carriers (Ural or Transaero) to take you the remainder to Rostov.

New Picture (84)
New Picture (96)Rapid Wien(enter at Playoff stage) Secured second place in the Austrian championship this time round. Capacity of the Gerhard Hanappi Stadium is 17,500 although for the Europa games they often switch the matches to the larger Ernst-Happel-Stadion. This ground is more than double the size with a 50,000 capacity  – their average for games in the Europa last time out was 34,499  which was one of the highest in the tournament. Fly from Liverpool to Bratislava then catch a 1.5 hour train to Vienna

S

Sevilla - Europa League winners in 2014, their stadium has a sizeable capacity of 40,000 – ideal for match day 1. Direct flights go from Manchester or fly to Malaga and do the remaining 100 miles by train or car. I’d recommend this hotel

Sevilla's delightful Alcazar

Sevilla’s delightful Alcazar

Sivasspor (enter at Third qualifying round) Capacity is limited to 14,998. Turkish Airways fly from Manchester with a stop off in Istanbul. Currently managed by Roberto Carlos.

Saint-Étienne (enter at Playoff stage) Fourth placed finish in their domestic league this season secured their place in the playoffs. Ground holds 35,000 and is a 7 Hour journey from London on the Eurostar.

T

Tickets  – You can  make a decent judgement on how hard its going to be to get tickets for the aways by looking at the capacity / average gates noted on these pages. At a push there is always the ticket exchange sites like Viagogo and StubHub although they will charge a fair wedge in terms of mark up on the listed prices. For the final, this season the respective sides got 9,000 tickets each (around 20% of the capacity) so with Warsaw’s 58,000 capacity its going to be more like 12,000 each . Alternatively you can enter Uefa’s ballot via their online portal with tickets priced between 45 and 150 Euro’s.  Uefa’s ballot opened this year on the 27th Feb.

Torino enter at the playoff stage. They play on the site of the former Comunale, renamed Stadio Olimpico di Torino, or simply, Stadio Olimpico. It has a capacity of 28,140 seats, 38,000 less than the original Comunale (in accordance with modern safety standards), and has hosted all Torino home games since 2006. Last season’s average league gate was just 17,000. The club are based in Piedmont so fly to Milan and train or drive the remaining 100km.

Trainsthis site is worth bookmarking, as is this one which gives great tips on suggested routes and ticket deals.

Twente (enter at Playoff stage) Dutch outfit whose ground holds 30,000. In their last outing in the Europa in 12/13 Twente only averaged only 19,773 per game which is 10,000 down on capacity so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. The city itself is just two hours on the train from Amsterdam or you can get the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and then train the remainder. This post from European Football Weekends gives a good flavour of what to expect,  but be warned, the home team come out to the tune of You’ll never walk alone

Trabzonspor (enter at Playoff stage) 24,000 capacity ground. Last season Trabzonspur only averaged only 15,298 per game, (just under 9,000 short of 24,000 capacity) so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. Turkish Airlines fly from Manchester via Istanbul.

V

Victoria Plzen (enter at Third qualifying round) Czech outfit who finished third in their division this time round. Capacity is only 11,700 and they averaged a gate of 10,766 in last seasons competition so tickets will be few and far between. If you don’t fancy flying then travel from London to Brussels by Eurostar and then onto Cologne by ICE high-speed train  from Cologne to Prague by City Night Line sleeper train, leaving Cologne daily at 22:28 and arriving in Prague’s central Hlavni station at 09:27 the next morning.

New Picture (88)

Fly to Prague from Manchester or with Easyjet from Bristol / London Stansted. Cheaper from East Midlands to Prague with Jet2.

Villarreal (playoff) – 6th placed team in Spain, a mission to get to – for flights go via Valencia.capacity 24,890

Visas (Russia) Budget £100 and get them sorted early as can take 2 months to process. Online app takes around 40mins to complete.

W

Warsaw - The Stadion Narodowy is the location for the final (Also see ‘T’ for tickets)

Wolfsburg (Enter at Group Stage) 5th placed team in Germany last season. The VW Stadium holds 30,000. Fly to Berlin then catch a 2 hour train to Wolfsburg.

Y

Young Boys (enter at Third qualifying round) ground has a 32,000 capacity. Last season Young Boys averaged only 22,798 per game, (just under 10,000 short of the capacity) so getting a seat in the home end may be a problem. Fly to Basel from Manchester / London Gatwick direct with Easyjet, then its a 1 hr drive.

Z

Zwolle (PEC) (enter at playoff stage) Dutch outfit with a stadium capacity of 12,500. Its a 1hr 30 min train journey from Amsterdam.

Zurich (Playoff) Swiss cup winners, their ground has a 25,000 capacity. Direct flight from Manchester with Swiss Air or from London Luton / Gatwick with Easyjet.  Alternatively it’s quite straight forward to train it from London to Basel or Zurich.  Take Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord in just 2 hours 20 minutes, then a direct TGV-Lyria high-speed train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel in 3 hours 03 minutes or Paris to Zurich in 4 hours 03 minutes.  London to Basel or Zurich starts at £62 one-way, £115 return, city centre to city centre, no baggage fees, no check-in fees, no extra to pay to travel to and from airports.

EB

The Bong Index 2013/14

New Picture (99)

With the last ball of a phenomenal season  now kicked its time to reflect on some of the unbelievable moments which have defined our incredible season. And we’ll try to keep the Martinezm’s to a unique minimum.

The executive summary will show that we pulled in 72 points from 38 games which is the best ever by any toffees manager in their 1st full season in office (1.89 puts per game) plus its been our best points haul since winning the league in 87. Factoring in goal difference it was also a record haul for a team to  not finish in a Champions League slot ….Everton that.

At the sharp end we scored more goals than we did in any season under Moyes and only on one occasion in the Scot’s reign did we accrue more clean sheets than we did this season. 

Thems is the facts.

But what about the players who have delivered these outcomes, who contributed the most, who improved the most and who could have done better? This ramble will chew through each player’s individual contribution and judge their importance to the season in order of importance.

How does the Bong Index work?

Each player has been reviewed against five key criteria (mins on pitch, win rate, direct involvement in goals* performance rating**& clean sheets***each of which carries a maximum of 20 points… 20 for the top scoring player and 1 for the lowest in each category. Their score out of 100 will then determine where they finish with #1 at the top and #18 at bottom.

* direct goal involvement counts as either a goal or assist
** performance rating according to opta data via whoscored.com
***clean sheets can be accrued by goalkeeper, defenders and defensive mids (Barry/McCarthy) only

The Index is by no way definitive, its merely colossal nerding and there are a few selections in there that I’d completely disagree with, so don’t get too cross if the order doesn’t match up with your own thoughts….

New Picture (87)#1 Seamus Coleman – Bong Index Rating : 78.6%

Performance Rating:  7.32 (Last Season 7.09)

Win % with 56% / Win % without 50%

The season’s stand out performer at both ends of the pitch, Seamus has truly been in an unbelievable moment since Day 1 of the campaign at Norwich when he scored one and created another. As well as being directly involved in 8 goals, Coleman’s relentless surges from deep have given a sharper edge to our sometimes slow build up play. On the ball he has improved so much in the last 3 seasons; his pass completion figure is up for the third season on the spin from 78% in 2012 to 88% this campaign. He’s also been pretty ace at his day job as part of a defensive unit that has picked up 15 clean sheets – appearing in every one and only missing two games all season. Ace.

#2 Gareth Barry- Bong Index Rating: 72.6%New Picture (91)

Performance Rating 7.31 (Last Season 6.95)

Win % with 63% /  Win % without 17%

A fine season from arguably our most consistent performer, Barry is someone who possesses a ‘unique set of footballing skills’. Passes wise  only Yaya Toure,  Arteta and Stevie G la made more passes than our dependable anchorman this campaign. Barry combines a great range of passing and good cover for Baines’ attacking forays with being able to do the dirty side of things – something he isn’t scared to do as his bookings haul will testify. The only worry is his age and in some games at the end of the campaign  – particularly against Southampton –  he carried the look of a post-session Jan Molby as quicker, more nimble customers buzzed in and around him. Still well worth a 1 year deal.

#3 Leighton Baines – Bong Index Rating: 70.5%New Picture (80)

Performance Rating:  7.26 (Last Season 7.39)

Win % with 53% / Win % without 67%

Baines has had another consistent and productive season despite missing a chunk of games pre xmas. Going forward he has directly contributed to 9 goals; scoring 5 and assisting a further 4. He has adjusted to a different role in the side with our more patient build up play meaning crossing are no longer his raison d’être, and this has been reflected in the volumes of chances he has created, falling from 116 last season to just 49 this season. That’s a drop in his creation of our overall % of chances from 25% to 8%. His involvement also drops considerably when Pienaar – and to a lesser extent Osman – is not in the side, with players like McGeady and Deulofeu more interested in going for goal than with combination play. Also weighed in with 13 clean sheets and whilst he can sometimes be at fault in failing to cut out crosses he continues to be a huge player for us.

# 4 Tim Howard – Bong Index Rating: 69.7%New Picture (94)

Performance Rating 6.89 (Last Season 6.68)

Win % with 54%/ Win % without 100%

Howard registered another decent campaign particularly in adjusting admirably to the Martinez ‘philosophy’ of playing out from the back. His long kicks have been reduced by  shorter passes (length of distribution last season 40km / this season 33 km).

His pass accuracy has gone up for the 3rd season on the run (47%-60%) and overall he  is ranked #5 in the division for distribution. Has accrued 15 clean sheets – his second best return at L4 since the 17 in 08/09. In relation to his fellow keepers, Howard ranks #3 for saves and less impressively at #21 for claiming crosses. In terms of costly gaffes, he made 2 errors which led to goals which is down on the 4 last season.

#5 Romelu Lukaku – Bong Index Rating: 66.5%New Picture (90)

Minutes Played: 2468 Performance Rating: 7.29 (Last Season 6.94)

Win % with 62% / Win % without 33%

Scorer of the most goals (15)  in a season by an Everton forward since Yakubu’s 2008 haul although there is a feeling that he didn’t quite fulfil his early promise with his strike rate dwindling after he initially bagged 7 goals in his first 8 games.

He was particularly important against the top sides, scoring home and away against both Man City and Arsenal as well as plundering 2 vs the RS. His absence in the Spurs, Chelsea and RS away games all ended in high possession for the Blues but no cutting edge  in front of goal.

He has bags of ability particularly in beating his man with searing pace and due to his size he can win his fair share of headers. However, he doesn’t move his feet very quickly for aerial runs on goal and his link play can often be a tad Anichebe. Also, for someone so big he can be way too easy to mark and hasn’t improved his ability to do the hard stuff such as buying fouls and unsettling rubbish defenders etc.

Lukaku  is still young, though, and whilst he’s nowhere near as good as he thinks he is he’s still as good a forward that we’ve had for a few years.

# 6 Sylvain Distin – Bong Index Rating: 66.5%New Picture (85)

Performance Rating: 7.25 (Last Season 7.16)

Win % with 61% / Win % without 20%

Senior statesman of the back line and arguably had his most consistent season since joining the club, making the most appearances and committing the fewest errors of any of our centre backs .  The narrative pre season was that he would struggle with the increased emphasis on playing out from the back, but he has embraced it and has rarely been caught out with his passes per game up from 33 last season to 47 per game this season. Still as good a covering defender as you will find in the top flight and his ‘phenomenal physicality’ shows no sign of relenting.

#7 James McCarthy-  Bong Index Rating: 64.2%New Picture (96)

Performance Rating:  7.14 (Last Season 6.91)

Win % With 58% / Win % Without 43%

A key cog in the defensive midfield clamp with Gareth Barry. His capacity to get up and down the pitch has been vital as has been his ability to regain possession high up the pitch, crucially missed in the first half v Palace at Goodison. Provides excellent cover for Coleman and despite not being a great tackler has the engine to wear opponents down with his relentless pressing and has  blocked more shots than any of his teammates.

Also very efficient in retaining possession albeit he could be more forward thinking at times with his passing. Despite only showing flashes of dynamism in the final third so far he has the tools to get a lot better in this area, and perhaps just  needs to believe in himself a tad more. A great first season.

#8 Phil Jagielka –  Bong Index Rating: 56.5%New Picture (81)

 Performance Rating: 7.25 (Last Season 7.17)

Win % with 46%  / Win % without 75%

Club skipper missed the best run of results in the season due to injury. In the 11 games missed after Christmas  we conceded slightly more with him in the side (1.11 per game v 0.81 per game). Despite this he would still be one of the first names on the teamsheet and whilst Stones has been very good he is still quite raw and makes mistakes so expect Jagielka and Distin to remain ‘first picks’ next season.

# 9 Kevin Mirallas – Bong Index Rating: 54.0%New Picture (83)

 Performance Rating 7.06 (Last Season 6.98)

Win % 46 %with /  Win % without 70%

Mirallas had a hugely productive season, being directly involved in 16 goals from 28 starts (an improvement on last season;s figures of 9 from 23) due largely to his outputs from set plays. In comparison to his peers he has created the fifth most goals from an attacking midfielder in the league, and has directly assisted a third of Lukaku’s goals.

After being subbed in nearly every game last season his fitness levels have improved and many of his key contributions have come in the latter stage of games. His best performance in a blue shirt  was in the demolition of Arsenal at Goodison and this should be his benchmark for next season.

#10 John Stones – Bong Index Rating: 53.6%New Picture (97)

 Performance Rating:  6.83 (Last Season N/A)

Win % with 67 %  / Win % without 48%

One of the stand out young performers despite only getting a regular run in the second half of the season. Against his defensive peers in the league he is ranked 7th for pass completion and beats his man more than any other centre back in the division. His tackling ability is particularly good, very rarely going to ground and making just 3 fouls all season – the lowest of any defender in the league. It’s also worth noting that he had the best aerial success of anyone in the squad. There are still plenty of areas to work on in terms of positional play, and his 4 errors was the most per game   but overall in terms of his  ‘footballing maturity’ he  is well ahead of schedule.

# 11 Ross Barkley – Bong Index Rating: 47.9%New Picture (93)

Performance Rating: 6.97 (Last Season 6.45)

Win % with 56%/ Win % without 54%

Barkley has emerged as a key performer for the Toffees with some virtuoso displays mixed with some crud ones, often showing the inconsistency you’d expect of someone so young. The stats don’t really do young Barkley justice as his key skills, namely his touch to receive in tight areas and drive into space, isn’t really quantifiable by the data, nor is his ‘genuine footballing arrogance’ .

He is the 5th most fouled player in the division which gives an indication of how opponents look to deal with him –  3 of these fouls led to us scoring a set piece goal. Has also weighed in with some truly magnificent goals of his own and individual moments of brilliance on the ball with both feet. If there is a criticism other than his youthful impulsiveness it’s that he sometimes holds onto the ball too long and can make the wrong decision – perhaps a development area for next season –   but that’s being really picky on the young scamp.

#12 Leon Osman – Bong Index Rating: 47.6%New Picture (88)

Performance Rating: (Last Season 7.20)

Win % with 59 % / Win % without 45%

Long serving Osman has had to adapt to a different and less significant role in the squad this campaign (his minutes played is well down on last season) although he has played a part in every single game. Has adapted brilliantly and is still one of the most useful players in the squad at finding space in the final third particularly late in games when opponents tire. He has played a more attacking midfield role as second fiddle to Barkley and his chance created per min rate has duly gone up to a chance created every 80 minutes from last season’s 127 minutes.

#13 Steven Naismith – Bong Index Rating: 47.1%New Picture (89)

Performance Rating 6.58 (Last Season 6.40)

 Win % with 62% / Win % without 52%

Martinez has said Naismith was too concerned with the defensive side of the games last season and since the turn of the year he has been a different proposition to what we had  seen under Moyes when he was predominantly asked to ‘do a job’ at right midfield. Has been positionally and tactically flexible, playing in all 4 of the forward berths and has been directly involved in seven goals (including 4 as an impact sub)and bagged the winner vs Chelsea as well as a vital goal in the win over Arsenal and a  pivotal display in the home win vs Man Utd.

Has the second best goals per minute ratio behind Lukaku and his display in the second half at Fulham was as good as you will ever get from a substitute. Decent in the air with good vision and (when playing as the out-and-out forward)  puts in a great shift in respect to the donkey work, always working defenders and winning free kicks – Lukaku take note. Unquestionably the most improved player this season.

#14 Bryan Oviedo – Bong Index Rating: 44.7%New Picture

Performance Rating: 7.38  (Last Season 6.15)

Win % with 63% / Win % without 53%

Came into the side during Baines injury and did himself proud during arguably our most fluid period of the season and was directly involved in 4 goals including the winner at Old Trafford. His tackling win rate (68%) has been the best at the club this season.

#15 Gerard Deulofeu – Bong Index Rating: 43.2%New Picture (82)

Performance Rating 6.60 (Last Season N/A)

Win % with 67% / Win % without 52%

Deulofeu has been brilliant and awful in equal measure,  often in the same game. Generally afforded the luxury of playing as a wide forward with no defensive responsibilities, he has been very ‘head down’ in his forward play and due to his age is impulsive with poor judgement and composure.

His link up play with other forwards has been pretty much non-existent, posting the 8th fewest passes per game of any player in the league although his output in the final third has been good, directly involved in 6 goals making him the joint most prolific assister per min with Mirallas. Can often slow down attacks and despite his superior pace he  struggles physically against fullbacks; he is the most prolific dribbler in the squad but has the worst dribble completion rate in the squad at 46%.  Likely to be back at L4 next season.

# 16 Aiden McGeady- Bong Index Rating: 37.0%New Picture (84)

Performance Rating 6.50 (Last Season 6.80)

Win % with 75% / Win % without 53%

Introduced at the mid way point of the season and has shown some promising flashes in the games he has appeared in, notably in creating crucial goals against West Ham and Fulham. Very good in 1 v 1’s – he’s attempted the  second most dribbles per 90 mins (4.25) – and looks like a decent option from the bench and for the Europa League next season.

#17 Steven Pienaar –  Bong Index Rating: 33.5%New Picture (92)

Performance Rating 6.80 (Last Season 7.13)

Win % with 37% / Win % without 74%

Has been less involved this campaign due to injury and a shift in our attacking approach, creating a chance every 61 minutes to last season’s 42. Is perhaps a victim of our slower build up play and the reduced emphasis of his left sided axis with Baines. Still a crucial cog to us sustaining pressure in the opposition half and in bringing the best out of Baines in dangerous areas. His age is against him but hopefully he can contribute a significant chunk next season and Everton are still a much better team with him in the first eleven.

#18 Antolin Alcaraz – Bong Index Rating: 18.0%New Picture (86)

Performance Rating 7.04 (Last Season 6.97 )

Win % with 20% /  Win % without 61%

Struggled in the few occasions he got onto the pitch, notably in the derby hammering and in the crucial Southampton game when he put through his own net. Decent cameo’s against Man Utd at Goodison and is a semi-competent ressie. On the negative side he has  only started 13 games in last 76  due to his various  injury problems and like an ageing  horse it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was taken out to the back yard and shot in the head during the summer. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

The rest….

Work shy strikers Lacina Traore and Arouna Kone managed no league starts between them although it would appear both are in Martinez plans for next season. Whilst Traore’s injury is relatively minor it is Kone’s second major op and you wonder what kind of state he will be in when he comes back. Joel Robles made 1 sub and 1 full appearance in the league, being pretty much redundant in one and letting in a clanger in the other, although it’s his flap-attack in the cup at Arsenal he will be most remembered for. Darren Gibson managed just 27 minutes of league action all season and whilst he was initially ace for us it remains to be seen if he has the correct mentality to push himself back into first pick territory with the bar well and truly raised since Martinez took control. Ressie-ressie full backs Tony Hibbert and Luke Garbutt each made one substitute appearance.

Thats all for now.

Enjoy the summer!

 EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-0 Man Utd

New Picture (94)

Teams

For Everton, James McCarthy came back into the side with Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas shunted to the right flank. Neither wide man pushed up onto his fullback when possession was lost so the setup was 4-4-1-1 with Naismith in the hole behind Lukaku.  Moyes played a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney leading the line with support from Kagawa, Mata and Nani. There was no room in the team for former toffee Marouane Fellaini.

Control

Post match both managers claimed to have controlled the game, with Moyes commenting on his passing dominance and Martinez lauding his side’s counter attacking prowess. Who was right then? Well in terms of creating chances there was only one winner. United didn’t create a chance from open play in our box until the 86th minute, and overall their output in this respect was derisory, creating less than half the chances  (6v13) compared to ourselves.

New Picture

For us, the gameplan was similar to the Arsenal webbing as we seemed fairly happy to let United have possession, preferring instead to win the ball back in our half and break quickly. Our route to goal was characterised by being first to the loose balls and then igniting quick counter attacks with sharp, long passes – we made a third more long passes than United- and by breaking in numbers.

We looked particularly menacing down our right side with Moyes seemingly keen to prove he’s not a negative misery guts by pairing the comically bad Buttner with Kagawa, who afforded his bungling colleague little protection.   Nobody won more loose balls than  Mirallas – as was the case in the Arsenal game – with the Belgian making a game high 8 recoveries, all in his own half.  Mirallas interaction with the relentless Coleman – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – was our key attacking weapon with the duo combined superbly for our second goal with Mirallas slotting home after some shoddy positioning from Buttner who kept him onside.

By this time of course it was already 1-0 after Baines cooly dispatched a penalty following Phil Jones handball of Lukaku’s goalbound shot. The move that led to this had come about from another long pass, this time from Barkley, and more good link up between Lukaku and Naismith. The Scot was again at the centre of all that was good for Everton. He featured in the build up to both goals, got in some great positions -and should have scored at least one – but it was his link up play which was the main feature of his game. Much is made of the mayhem our wingbacks cause in the opposition half, but it was Naismith who was the main out ball for their marauding with passes from the flanks infield from Coleman to Naismith (9) and Baines to Naismith (8) the most frequent from players in a blue shirt.

New Picture (95)

After the break United again played a high line and had more of the ball in our half but still looked out of ideas in terms of how to pull us out of our defensive shape and penetrate in behind, even when Distin was forced off due to injury. Yes, United were not great but they do have the best away record in the league and to restrict them to such few chances – their first shot on target in our box came on 76 minutes – was very impressive.

Moyes did try and mix things up with Valencia moving to right back, Smalling moving inside and further forward Rooney dropped deeper and Hernandez, and later Welbeck, became the  main targetmen but there was to be no change in the dynamic of the contest.

In Conclusion

Our general approach here was to sit deep, invite United onto us and then regain possession and start quick counter attacks.  Yes, United had bags of possession and territory but they never looked like scoring and got picked off at will once we’d evaded the initial press – something which is a feature of the Martinez approach v Moyes. It was the Spaniard’s third win on the spin against his predecessor – all without conceding a goal. At the sharp end there was a lot of similarities with the Arsenal game and in particular with the speed in which we scored each goal after crossing the halfway line. In the end it was something of a comfortable victory and certainly the least nervy against United in many, many years.
EB

 

 

 

Sunderland Deconstruction & Palace Preview

New Picture (98)

Sunderland

After the euphoria of Sunday’s potentially pivotal crushing of Arsenal came a much more humdrum looking tussle with North East bottom feeders Sunderland.

With 1 win in 9 at home, the Black Cats descent into the relegation mire has looked more ominous by the week. From the outside looking in, racist harbouring, archetypal snide Poyet gives off more than a whiff of a gulag oppressing tyrant who’d piss through your letterbox and send you jiffy bag samples of his own excrement for no apparent reason.

Tactics wise, you could say his attempt at shoe horning a 3 at the back system midway through a relegation battle he previously seemed to be winning was a risky one. Whilst it indicates Poyet has confidence in his methods he is tripped up by kopite levels of delusion and after an initial spike in results their form has recently gone to pieces. Given the power and pace we showed in wide areas last week it would have been a bold move pursue this approach with wingbacks pushing up field and leaving space in behind, as Eriksen exposed so ruthlessly against them for Spurs. Unsurprisingly then, Poyet  moved  to a flat back four.

As for the Blues, Roberto Martinez made one change  with Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas. Setup wise, Lukaku returned to his central role with Deulofeu taking his normal spot as right sided forward. Formation wise for me it was 4-2-2-2ish with Naismith and Osman central, particularly when we had the ball, in front of the Barry/McCarthy axis.

With no real left sided midfielder Bardsley was Sunderland’s main out-ball, receiving and making more passes than anyone for Sunderland and his combination to Johnson was the most prolific pass of the game. On the opposite flank, Sunderland looked to start attacks from long kick outs from Mannone to Wickham’s head down our right side and this represented Sunderland’s second most frequent passing combo. Wickham struggled to link play, though, and was well shackled by the burgeoning talents of Stones who again impressed, repeatedly blocking shots and not going to ground when faced with direct running from Johnson or Borini. As well as his obvious talent on the ball – he is in the top six for pass completion of centre backs in the league – it’s also worth noting that Stones has made just 3 fouls in his 17 displays this season- the best ratio of any Everton defender this campaign.

New Picture (99)

EFC Passing Grid

Going forward it was difficult for us. Long passing moves in the first half were predominantly ended by Bardsley or Johnson fouls, and Sunderland’s commitment and harassing when we had the ball in their half was impressive. Either side of half time the best chances fell to the in-form Naismith. Firstly a sumptuous pass from Baines produced an exquisite turn from the Scot, but alas his finish was  crud finish with only Mannone to beat. The Italian stopper who previously appeared as a hit man in the botched whacking of Phil Leotardo then displayed a similar rashness in rushing out of his goal to head the ball into the path of Naismith, who again snatched at his opening and ballooned over with the bar with the goal gaping.

Deulofeu is much more effective in away games when the onus is on opponents to press further afield and he was giving Alonso many difficult moments – beating him 4 times – albeit his final ball was dubious. His composure is often consistent with one so young and the lack of correlation to his 1v1success and creating chances is the reason why it’s likely he’ll be back at L4 next season. He’s an exciting cat, though, and with Alonso again skinned on 78 minutes his cross was diverted past his own keeper by the hapless Wes Brown.

All in all this was a fairly scrappy game lacking in quality from both sides and a draw probably would’ve been a fair result. The win sees us beat our best ever points total since the inception of the ‘epl’ with 5 games to spare, which to be fair is very, very impressive and sees us move clear of Arsenal into the top four, which Sky have now rebadged as the top three. Our run-in is more tricky than Wenger’s but the momentum we have coupled with the increasingly toxic atmosphere at the tear ridden Emirates gives us a great chance of getting 4th spot.

New Picture (105)

Palace

You know what you are getting with Tony Putrid. Since moving to London he may have upgraded his shiny white rucanor’s to saucony, but there was never a chance that a few mincy trips down shoreditch high street would result in him ditching his volvo in favour of a miniature tricycle nor lead him to compromise his Moyes-uncensored view of football.

That said, he has resurrected Palace’s fortunes dramatically. From cannon fodder under the Holloway omnishambles – when they looked as rudderless as any top flight team in living memory – they have since accrued 1.47 ppg under Pulis – a figure good enough for 8th place in the current table. The fact they are safe with five games to spare is testament to the job he’s done and it’s hard not to respect the impact he has made especially without any obvious Dean Whitehead style hatchet man to carry out his tyranical savagery.

At home they’ve been robust with clean sheets aplenty, but away from home points and goals have been harder to come by with just 5 points from their last 21 on the road – failing to score in 5/7 of these games – a fact not helped by them having the worst goals scored output in the league.

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh

It’s at the back where they have really transformed the season. After previously conceding more than 2 goals per game under Holloway they have conceded 0.78 per game under Pulis – that figure would put them in between the benchmark Chelsea and ourselves as the league’s second tightest rearguard. We know all about this from recent games at home against Pulis  previous employers Stoke  with the last 4 miserable meetings at L4 finishing 1-1 1-0 0-1 and 1-0.

To break down sides who will basically line-up on your 18 yard line in two banks of four with no space in between or behind to run into a certain approach is needed and a sinister deviant streak to drag defenders into areas they don’t want to go to is key. You’ve only got to look at McGeady to know he is a deviant whilst Naismith – previously a straight laced operative – has had his  inner deviant coaxed out of him by Martinez this season.

In his teamsheet for the postponed game vs Palace, Martinez went with his principal deviant arl arses Pienaar, Osman, McGeady and Naismith who were preferred to the youthful, more pacey – and more impatient – alternatives Mirallas, Deulofeu and Barkley . Clever minds to find space and compromise rigidly shaped defensive units rather than searing pace and prolific shooting then appears to be the order of the day and for this reason I’d fancy Osman, Mirallas and McGeady to get the nod behind Lukaku.

Such is the infectious belief you get from Martinez that we automatically expect to win all the time now irrelevant of who the opposition is, but it will be a really big ask to break Palace down. Whereas in the previous regime Moyes would have you making your egg and cress sandwiches in bulk  for the working week ahead on Sunday evening, Martinez free and easy approach means opponents don’t know what’s on your plate or when its coming. Personally I’ve been re-conditioned to the point that some days I don’t even have lunch and on other days I just say fuck it, I’ll have a beef brisket burrito and worry about the consequences next week. It’s that kind of thinking that will see us edge Palace 1-0.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Newcastle 0-3 Everton

New Picture (95)

The preamble 

We came into this fixture on the back of three home wins on the spin but in the knowledge that our away results this year have been shite even if our displays have – barring one – been very good. Away form in the last 2 seasons after the turn of the year has generally been iffy – we’ve averaged 1.6 points per game away from home in the 1st half of the season and just 0.6 per game in the 2nd half of season.  Newcastle’s home form was not exactly worrying, though, and going into last night’s game they had scored just 2 goals in their last 6 at St James and without Cabaye and Remy they’ve looked increasingly toothless in the final third.

Teams

Everton made 2 changes from the Swansea win with Osman and Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas and McGeady. Shape wise it was a bit different too, with more of a 4-3-1-2 look about it with Barkley in behind Lukaku and Deulofeu. Our wing backs completed just 8 final third passes in the game (compared to 22 in the reverse fixture) and had more of a defensive brief to allow the likes of Deulofeu and Barkley to remain in dangerous positions ready for turnovers in possession to unleash hell. Newcastle lined up in more of a 4-4-2 with Cisse and de Jong up front.

First half

Although Newcastle initially had the upper hand in the first few minutes we soon began to take a foothold in the game.

Osman was the game’s key man and his role was quite interesting from a tactical standpoint. Predominately he would occupy a central role next to Barry and McCarthy against Newcastle’s midfield two. As one of either Tiote or Anita would come to press him, this then vacated the space they were controlling and afforded Barkley bags of room to operate in dangerous positions close to Newcastle’s box in the first half. By way of example, Osman played in Barkley 9 times in the first half which was our most frequent pass combination. Osman was finding spaces at the sharp end too, and his delightful threaded pass provided Lukaku with a one on one that he should have burst the net with in what was our first clear-cut opening of the game.

Barkley and Deulofeu hadn’t started a game in the league together prior to last night and whilst both are raw they were ideally suited to an opponent who, at home, were always going to come onto us regardless of whether it was in their best interests to do so. This was evident in the data, as Newcastle won double the amount of loose balls in our half than we did in theirs. Whilst their approach was to attack from the front, ours was to lie in wait and act as an insurgent, and on 22 minutes we showed why.

After a Newcastle corner was cleared by Stones, a deft touch from Deulofeu enabled Barkley to run from his own half, evade some limp challenges and slot superbly with his supposedly weaker left peg. It was a truly sublime goal and the first time he’s scored in back to back games for the toffees.

Second half

After the interval we wasted no time in putting the game to bed and the role of Osman was again crucial. The diminutive schemer again found bags of space to receive from Lukaku before spreading play to the Kanchelskis like Deulofeu. The Spaniard tore past the hapless Dummett before teeing up Lukaku for a nice finish.

Deulofeu’s role was particularly eye-catching and he was involved in all 3 goals as well as  beating his man a whopping 6 times. Defenders don’t want to get too close to him as they know he’ll burn past them whilst if they drop off this widens the pitch and gives us more space to operate between opposition line of defence and midfield. In a nutshell it s a win-win situation.

With Alan Partridge banned from the stadium it was left to microwave pizza loving shitehawk John Carver to roll the toon army dice on the hour mark, sending on Ben Arfa to the right flank for the anonymous De Jong. Martinez responded by switching McCarthy to the left of the midfield 3 to keep an eye on him with Osman shuffling over to the right. Whilst Newcastle had their ‘moments’ it was us who would have the final say and against it was Osman who was at the sharp end of things. After more good work from Deulofeu to pick out Lukaku, the Belgian then squared it to Osman who was able to pull out one of his finest monte cristo’s from his smoking jacket and puff a fat one right into Krul’s overused net.

Conclusion 

This was a well deserved win against a capable opponent. In general we looked more ruthless than in any of our previous 3 goodison wins were opponents have sat deep and denied us space in behind. The Arsenal draw certainly makes things interesting now in the ‘race for 4th’ particularly with City next up for them with us travelling to lowly Fulham. If results go in our favour we’d overtake them with a win at Goodison in a fortnight and we still have that game in hand too. Obviously this is Everton so that sequence of events won’t happen, but after last nights performance it’s made us dare to dream at least.
EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-2 Swansea

New Picture (93)

The preamble

This weekend  Swansea rocked up in the final sterile instalment of Everton’s bottom feeder trilogy at L4.

It’s no secret that the stylish Swans struggle against us with Brenny, Laudrup and Gilet wearing Lighthouse Family loving Gary Monk all failing to prize anything from us in their 3 seasons back in the top flight. In the five league meetings all they’ve mustered is a Bryan Oviedo own goal and a miserly point last season in an insipid 0-0 stalemate. A run of no wins in 9 on the road, combined with our ruthless home form, meant a routine toffees win seemed the obvious outcome…

Teams

Martinez main selection poser was who started in the 3 attacking mid slots. With Pienaar out injured, McGeady started down the left with Mirallas moving from the centre to the opposite flank with Ross Barkley in the centre. Swansea started with Bony up front with support from the classy Hernandez in a similar 4-2-3-1 setup.

First Half

Post match there was a fair bit made about Swansea’s possession data with our ball hogging visitor’s swelling 59% of the passing, although this should be mitigated by the fact that for the most part it was they and not us who were chasing the game.

For example, in the first 20 minutes prior to our opening goal the ‘passing stats’ were dead level with us making one more successful pass than Swansea (120 v119). After Baines penalty we then sat back which allowed Swansea to take control of the rest of the half, making 155 passes to our 49 as we were increasingly penned into our own half.Even uber positive Martinez acknowledged this in his post match debrief;

“In the first 45 we were too open. We allowed their possession to be a real danger. We changed that mentality after the break, won the ball in good positions and used possession well.

This danger was realised when McGeady failed to track Rangel who was then picked out superbly by Routledge’s cross field pass. The Spaniard – a Martinez signing during his time in Wales- then teed up Bony who dispatched with aplomb. Bony had a very decent afternoon leading many to make the assertion that he would represent better value than Lukaku in the summer. The Belgian again struggled to hit top form, losing the ball a sizeable 22 times, and data wise was pretty much owned by Bony in every area.

Second Half

After the break there was more intensity to the Blues play and after some decent pressure we re-took the lead through Lukaku although he was aided and abetted by the comically bad Chico. The pony tailed goon had earlier given away the penalty and this time he was caught up field by a Distin block which allowed Lukaku to gallop forward into bags of space. The forward managed to make a meal of the opening however he was able to bring in Mirallas who then teed him up for  the goal with a nice low cross- it was the fifth time they have combined in such a way for a goal this season.

With Swansea rocking, the Blues smelt blood and just a few minutes later the game was effectively over. McGeady, who had some great ‘moments’ after the break, made a purposeful surge forward that resulted in winning a corner down the left side. From the resulting set play, Barkley was able to nod home Mirallas centre for the Belgian’s seventh assist of the season making him the 7th most prolific creator in the league.

McGeady was superb after the break however he is very direct and won’t really look to link play with Baines which is the usual way we initiate the domination of play in the opposition half. By way of example, Baines usually receives 15-20 passes from his mate Pienaar per game, however yesterday he received just one pass from both wide players McGeady and Mirallas. Despite just one assist this season, Baines remains our chief creator of chances and the fact we only created 5 openings in the whole game was mostly down to him being underutilized on the flank.

With the game as good as won the Blues then dropped off more and allowed Swansea to dominate play again. Our hosts will always look to control and thereafter we struggled to instigate any further periods of possession. The Swans crafted the joint most chances (16) that we have conceded all season and their late consolation goal meant the scoreline was given a more accurate reflection of the game.

In Conclusion

This was a decent game and a welcome win against a very competent opponent. In general we didn’t create a lot but in a reversal of roles we were more clinical than the opposition in the business end of the pitch. The display of Ross Barkley was probably the best thing for us as the forward won the opening penalty and scored the clincher. He can still be quite raw in parts – for example he doesn’t release the ball as quickly as he should do – but him returning to peak form gives us hope for the run in.

Quite where we can finish is still up for debate. Taking a look at the latest Premier League odds we are 12-1 to finish in the top 4. Arsenal’s Everton-style derby capitulation means we could close the gap on the Gunners to 2 points if we win our game in hand and then turn them over next month at Goodison. There’s quite a few ‘ifs’ in this equation however, and our away form is the principal barrier given we have accrued just 2 points and 2 goals on the road since Christmas. Over turning this would give us a chance of hitting Martinez 71 point marker to make fourth, but if that’s to happen we really need to find our pre xmas intensity quickly as based on this showing it looks unlikely.

EB