Everton 1-4 WBA

Lineups

As expected, Louis Saha’s inept display on Monday night was rewarded with the axe as Yakubu took on the role of misfiring forward. The other changes involved a new look right side with Anichebe preferred to Coleman and Hibbert deputising for the injured Neville. The Blues setup with Heitinga playing level with Arteta and Cahill advanced alongside Yakubu, in short 4-5-1 without the ball and 4-4-2 with the ball. West Brom’s key man Chris Brunt passed a late fitness test and took his place on the right side of midfield.

Early Exchanges

Everton were on top in the early stages of this game, with Distin close to connecting with Baines free kick and Anichebe looking lively after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. This early pressure quickly subsided though as Mulumba and Brunt took control of the game. Brunt’s starting position was on the right side of midfield but as Diagram C shows below his average position was more central, often coming inside with the ball to give WBA an extra man centrally. The Irishman has great quality on the ball and registered an assist and a stunning goal today. With Cahill playing high up field and Brunt cutting in,West Brom swamped the centre of midfield and Everton couldn’t handle this.

Diagram C

Heitinga occupies the right side of Everton’s central midfield area (with Arteta on the left) and he had a truly inept afternoon and was culpable for allowing West Brom the space on the inside right of midfield. This was in complete contrast to his opposing number Mulumbu who had a stormer, making a succession of key tackles and interceptions whilst also successfully completing 37 passes. Heitinga in comparsion made no interceptions and no tackles, making just 12 passes.  For a player occupying the position the Dutchman does this is simply not good enough ( shown in Diagram D)

Diagram D

As a general point of interest, Arteta’s emphasis as an attacking force has been questioned by many of late, but as the left sided central midfielder he is restricted by the Baines/Piennaar attacking leftside. As Diagram E shows below from the Sunderland game, with Pienaar coming inside at advanced positions and Baines often the highest man up field, Arteta is often dragged into a defensive left sided position to cover these players. Everton’s midfield balance would really be better playing the more defensive Heitinga on the left side and Arteta on the rightside which is much more solid defensively with Neville/Coleman usually providing better protection.

Diagram E – Arteta covers left side

Poor Pressing

Despite the scoreline, Everton created enough chances to win this game but were undone by poor defending and woeful pressing when West Brom where in possession. Diagram’s A & B show the build up to West Brom’s first two goals, and importantly how poor Everton’s pressure on the ball was.  Brunt’s goal was superb but Jagielka’s poor marking for the opening goal was inexcusable. Despite this, Everton got back into the game thanks again to the Baines-Cahill partnership, with the Aussie talisman slamming a great header in from a trademark Baines corner. These two were probably the only 2 to survive this game with their reputations intact and how Everton will cope when Cahill leaves for the Asia Cup is anyone’s guess.

Everton started the second half with real resolve and looked to be turning the screw on West Brom, with Anichebe swopping wings with Pienaar. However, a red card for an Arteta stamp on Jara would leave the Blues with a mountain to climb. Granted, play should have been stopped for an earlier foul on Baines and Jara made 4 fouls in this period of play and somehow didn’t get a booking but as a senior player  Arteta should have showed more proffesionalism.

Beckford was to have a big impact from the bench, getting into 4 scoring opportunities, 3 of which were clear cut chances.  The frontman clearly has confidence shown by him choosing to take Hibbert’s cross first time on the volley when he had the opportunity to control and slot, but his composure is questionable. In this way he is the polar opposite to Saha who lacks the desire and movement to get into these scoring zones but does have the capability to finish. West Brom’s movement and incision were far superior to ours all afternoon and the clinching 3rd and 4th goals were a microcosm of this ability, neat work and a cool finish from Tchoyi followed up by an excellent team goal from Mulumbu which went in off Distin.

Conclusion

A truly dire day for all concerned with Everton. The continued selection of Heitinga is something which needs to be addressed, but in truth only Cahill and Baines could say they put in a shift in an abject day for the Blues.

Although we later went on to create numerous chances the red card was a key moment in the game and ultimately cost Everton the chance of getting at least a point. The application and desire of the players and not necessarily the tactics and formation were the key reasons for this defeat.

Sunderland 2-2 Everton

Line-ups

Everton somewhat surprisingly kept the same starting eleven which rather limply lost out to Arsenal last week, with Saha retaining the role as misfiring striker. Heitinga’s positioning and the depth he plays in the anchor role often depends on the opposition formation and to a lesser extent Everton’s game plan.  With Sunderland playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 and no player between the lines of defence and midfield the want away Dutchman played level with Arteta almost as an orthodox central midfielder, albeit both where noticeably playing deep.

Gyan’s injury for Sunderland meant that Darren Bent came straight back into the starting line-up to partner Welbeck up front.  One calamity defender replaced another as Anton Ferdinand took a break from court appearances to fill in for Bramble in the Mackems backline.

Early Exchanges

Everton started the brighter and were in front after just 6 minutes. Classic interplay between Pienaar and Baines down the Everton left concluded with Baines delightful cross being tucked in by Everton’s talismanic Cahill. It is a well rehearsed manoeuvre  which Everton regularly execute superbly, with Pienaar tucking in, sucking the full back inside with him giving Baines the freedom of the flank to expose (shown in diagram below)

Baines/Pienaar interplay

Rather than kick on, Everton began to be sloppy in possession, with countless balls either lashed into touch or to the opposition by Distin in particular, although to be fair Sunderland’s pressing was notably improving.  Just as the left side is Everton’s most attacking weapon, defensively it is alarmingly the Achilles heel. Pienaar’s powder puff challenge on the ageing Zenden was as sloppy as Baines attempted challenge, allowing the former Anfield misfit to slot in the hard working Welbeck who got between Jagielka and Distin to equalize. It was a goal which from a defensive point of view was easily avoidable.

Everton then kicked on, Pienaar coming more inside in advanced positions with the Arteta/Heitinga platform sitting quite deep as protection in a 4-2-3-1. Everton were still dominating the ball and where occupying a higher line than Sunderland, shown by the below diagram which highlights the average position players held during the game. Notice how the majority of Everton’s players occupied positions in the Sunderland half in comparison to their hosts whose average position was on the whole in their own half.

Saha struggling to make an impact

The lack of pace and penetration offered by Everton’s forwards has been a feature of this season, and this was to continue tonight. Yakubu has been pillared in the past for his limited work rate but Saha’s display tonight was truly shocking. In comparison to Welbeck, a player of considerably less quality, Saha’s heinous outing is all the more galling. As shown in the chalkboard below, Welbeck successfully linked play down the flanks and through the middle, completing 24 passes and forcing 5 shots. Saha completed 50% less passes and forced just one weak effort on goal. Evertonian’s will to an extent forgive a striker who fails to score but not one who fails to give 100%.

More problems down the left

Despite Everton having comfortably more of the ball than their hosts as the second half unfolded, they were again hit by a sucker punch with the origin of the goal an all too familiar source. After Arteta had lost the ball in midfield in a similar manner to last weeks second goal against Arsenal, the resulting play led to Welbeck capitalising on poor marking to head home after a good cross from Richardson. Cameras later proved the x box loving wannabe had been in an off side position when he crossed the ball. The goal was the 11TH time Everton have conceded a goal from the left side this season. With 15 goals conceded in total its clear this is a weakness teams are exploiting.

Late Equaliser

Everton threw on Rodwell and then made a double change with Beckford and Yakubu coming on. With pressure mounting, it was Baines again who was instrumental in providing traction to the Blues attack, teeing up Arteta who shanked a ball that didn’t appear to be troubling Gordon until the ‘Scottish International’ Bardsley deflected the ball past his keeper. It was a stroke of luck the Blues deserved given their dominance of possession (55% v 45%) and fighting spirit. It was Baines 7th assist of the season and the 11th of Everton’s 16 goals which have come from the left flank.  We should then have gone on to win the game, as Jagielka’s hopeful last ditch punt down field was met by Beckford who got under the ball and propelled his strike into the stands.

Conclusion

The trend of draws continues as Everton recorded their 11th deadlock in their last 21 games.  Our passing and movement was again of a pretty decent standard but this good work was undone by sloppy defending.  Saying that, Sunderland are a decent side and their pressing when not in possession was generally better than ours. In conclusion, I feel that Improved performances by some of Everton’s more senior players such as Heitinga , Saha and to an extent Arteta  would surely have seen us edge this entertaining tussle.

Everton 1-2 Arsenal

Lineups

Everton made 2 changes from the side that drew with Bolton on Wednesday, with Coleman and Heitinga coming back in for the ineffectual Bilyaletdinov and the suspended Fellaini. Saha somewhat surprisingly kept his place at the expense of Yakubu with Everton unsurprisingly sticking to their 4-5-1 system. Heitinga is the only player in Everton’s midfield for whom their positioning changes dependent on the opposition, and whilst many would have expected him to sit in front of Jagielka and Distin and track Fabregas, he played further forward closer to Song. Arsenal brought back Nasri for Rosicky in a fluid 4-2-3-1 setup with Chamakh leading the line with closest support provided from Fabregas.

Everton lack of pressing,

Arsenal began the game in confident mood, strumming the ball around nicely albeit with a lack of penetration against an Everton who were happy to defend deep. Everton briefly rallied, and were unlucky not to take the lead when a trademark dart down the right by Coleman culminated in Cahill uncharacteristically miscuing a header over the bar unchallenged at the far post. Despite this, Everton were clearly not at the races both on and off the ball. With Heitinga stupidly booked for a flurry of early fouls (he had clearly not learned his lesson from his previous meeting with Howard Webb in the World Cup Final) and Arteta having a poor afternoon, Everton were being out passed in the key central midfield battle. Fabregas was dropping in to support Song and Wilshere and bossing this vital area of the pitch. Arteta has generally struggled this season for form, failing to dominate matches as he was in last seasons run in. Diagram A below shows his lack of penetration, with barely any of his 33 successful passes going forward, instead going backwards or sideways, reminiscent of Jamie Redknapp in his Anfield heyday.

Diagram A                                                               Diagram B

Arsenal make Everton pay

The Spaniard was at fault for the opening Arsenal goal. With Arsenal overloading on the right, Arteta failed to press Sagna who was allowed to stroll into the Blues box and lash home after being teed up by Arshavin. To be fair, Heitinga was equally guilty for not pressing Nasri on the edge of the box, almost inviting him to shoot in a move reminiscent to Ben Arfa’s match wining strike early this season. Howard will also feel that he should have done better being beaten at his near post. The Blues display was incredibly sluggish, failing to press Arsenal in their own half and allowing their opponents time and space to build from the back. This is shown in Diagram B, with the Blues only making 2 interceptions in Arsenal’s half in the entire 90 minutes.

With Heitinga now on a disciplinary tightrope following almost incessant volleying of Wilshere, he was replaced by Rodwell for the second half. However, straight from the re-start Arsenal doubled their money after the Blues lazy passing and inability to close opponents was punished in lethal fashion. Piennar’s ball to Arteta was snuffed out by Denilson, who drove through acres of space to feed Chamakh who in turn teed up Fabregas who arrowed a superb strike into Howard’s net. It has been commented on these pages before about Everton’s defensive frailty down the left. Out of the 15 goals Everton have conceded 10 have come from the lef thand side, and it was obvious watching Arsenal’s play that they were targeting this area and getting 2 on 1 scenario for Nasri/Sagna on Baines. Piennar is probably our best player and whilst I wouldn’t ever question his commitment and work rate, his positional naivety when Everton do not have the ball is clearly an area opponents look to exploit, as evidenced by Arsenal’s attack map below (Diagram C) with a staggering 49% of the Gunners attack was channelled down the Blues left.

Diagram C

4-5-1 becomes 4-3-3

Somewhat surprisingly, David Moyes brought off Neville and Arteta and replaced them with Yakubu and Saha, with Coleman and Baines providing the width from fullback areas  in an attacking 4-3-3. Initially the Blues couldn’t get near Arsenal, who effectively had 2 extra players in midfield. However, the system was to trigger Everton’s most threatening period of play, with a mix of long balls into the opposition box and excellent wing play from Coleman/Baines leading to Cahill getting a goal back for the Blues. Piennar and Beckford both went close late on but to no avail. The Blues could look at refereeing decisions by Webb which went against them throughout the game that contributed to this reverse, notably for a handball by Djorou in the Gunners box late on.

Conclusion

Arsenal shaded this game and it would be hard to begrudge them the points. Everton were let down by below par displays from some of the more senior players, in particular Arteta and Heitinga. Everton defended very deep to counter act Arsenal’s notorious strength on the break. This didn’t really work though and it gave Arsenal too much space in between the lines, as shown with Denilson’s run for goal number two. Defeat means Everton have won only 3 of their opening 13 games, albeit with a lot of draws in that sequence. The left sided issue clearly needs to be addressed, as does the recurring theme of lack of goals from strikers. Overall this was a disappointing day at the office for the Blues.

Everton 1-1 Bolton Wanderers

Lineups

Everton made 3 changes to the team which drew with Blackpool on Saturday, with Saha, Fellaini and Bilyaledtinov coming in for Yakubu, Heitinga and Coleman. The three replacements were all like for like so the Blues retained a fluid 4-5-1 setup. Bolton opened up with a more orthodox 4-4-2 system, with Lee and Taylor providing decent width for the bruise brothers forward line of Davies/Elmander.

Early exchanges

Everton were in dominant form early on, with a stranglehold of possession leading to a flurry of early corners as the Blues looked to press home their advantage. Firstly Saha went close and then Bilyaletdinov chose to cut in on his better left foot when put clear on his right by the industrious Piennar. A lot was expected from the Russian this campaign after impressive cameo’s last season, but thus far he has endured a wretched campaign. Everton simply do not have the resources to have a £9m winger with limited pace and no right foot sit on the bench week in week out. For their part, despite creating little going forward Bolton are a much more aesthetically pleasing team to watch under Owen Coyle. The Scot has harnessed the bruising capabilities of the Allardyce/Megson stalwarts such as Davies with players like Lee and Holden who can provide enterprise without having to resort to unnecessary gamesmanship. The early misses continued for the Blues in the second half as the game continued the early season trend of high level possession (65% v 35%) yielding 27 shots. However, with just 5 shots on target (Diagram A below) It was a case of déjà vu after a similar poor return of 4 on target from 21 at Bloomfield on Saturday. Clearly, Everton’s 5 offensive minded players are adept at creating chances, but failure to take these opportunities and kill off unglamorous opposition is a glaring issue which is undermining the Blues season.

Diagram A

Changes make an impact

Coleman’s introduction for the hapless Bilyaletdinov on the hour mark gave Everton a renewed attacking impetus. The pace and traction of the Irishman was clearly unnerving Robinson who had looked more comfortable with the Russian who prefers to cut inside to make things happen. The introduction of Klasnic and Beckford late in the second half would have a significant impetus in the balance of power in this game first one way and then the other. Whilst looking dangerous going forward, Seamus Coleman is still something of a work in progress defensively and he was caught out twice in quick succession by Bolton’s Taylor. First the former Pompey winger escaped his marker to head onto the bar from a corner, and then after Jagielka’s woeful control following an Everton corner, the American Holden fed Taylor who powered past Coleman to put in an unmissable cross which Klasnic duly converted. Luckily for the Blues, Jermaine Beckford picked an ideal time to lay down his claim as the potential solution to Everton’s striking woes with a superb solo effort following great industry in the corner from Baines. The rangy striker has often looked out of his depth at this level, but this was a great strike and will hopefully give the forward the confidence he has looked in short supply of in recent run-outs. Sandwiched between the two goals was a stupid red card for Fellaini, given his marching orders for kicking out at Paul Robinson. The chunky Bolton fullback was booked also for his troubles, and on close inspection he bears a striking resemblance to Desperate Dan or a fat Brian Laws. For Fellaini it was a blight on what was an assured all action midfield display in which he had marginalised his midfield opponent Holden well throughout.

Conclusion

Everton stretched their unbeaten run to 7 games in the EPL but, as with Saturday’s game against Blackpool, the chances the Blues missed will mean this is very much 2 points dropped than a point gained. Including the run in to last season it is now 10 draws from 19 games. Clearly, the difference between draws and victories is goals but these are a commodity in short supply for the Blues. Yakubu and Beckford have both scored in recent weeks but Louis Saha is still to register this season in a goal drought which has seen him register just 4 goals in open play in the last 12 months. If Everton are to start turning these 1 points into 3’s and thus putting pressure on the teams above them they desperately need to improve their conversion rate in front of goal.