West Ham Utd 1-1 Everton

 Some away draws in the Premier League can constitute the stock phrase of ‘a useful point on our travels’. This was not one of those games. Visiting a team who have been marooned to the bottom of the league with the worst defensive record in the league simply has to produce a three point haul if we have any greater ambition other than being in a relegation dog fight.

 Line-ups

 From the off we looked like a team with a somewhat confused shape with Tim Cahill playing the role of lone forward and Jack Rodwell playing Cahill’s role as the advanced midfielder in a 4-5-1 setup. West Ham adopted a more orthodox 4-4-2 system giving us the extra man in midfield, contributing to us having more than twice as many successful passes than the Hammers with a whopping 429 to the hosts 205.

 Blue dominance of the ball

 Having possession is one thing, but actually doing something with it is quite different. Despite this massive domination of the ball, the shots chalkboards below show that we only had 11 shots from inside the box to West Ham’s 10. The shooting accuracy form both sides was woeful as discussed in the match preview, with Tim Howard not forced into one save all night. Rob Green was only pressed into action on 2 occasions.

 The Games Key Chalkboards from left to right – West Ham stronger in the tackle while despite our passing dominance the chances we created output is very similar to West Ham’s

 A  WHU Tackles                   B  WHU Shots                           C Everton  shots                              

Tackles won in blue, lost in red. Shots on target blue /offtarget red/ blocked in grey

Square pegs in round holes

The problem with Everton’s selection of Rodwell as the advanced playmaker role is that whilst he is a composed on the ball, he is not a dynamic number ten who will create chances or can score in the final third like for instance Fabregas does for Arsenal or Van Der Vaart does for Spurs. Rodwell’s natural tendency is to hold his midfield position and retain the ball. This is not an issue when playing the holding midfield role or in central midfield, but when playing advanced as the playmaker there is a real onus on creativity and providing close support to the striker.

 This is by no means an attack on Rodwell who will always do a job for the team. More so, it is another example of square pegs being placed into round holes in team selection, especially when you have a £9m Russian International who is a natural in this position on the bench. The below chalkboard demonstrates this from Rodwell and Fabregas’ last two outings, games in which their teams have dominated possession. Whereas Rodwell is tidy in possession, notice how Fabregas plays 10% more of his passes in the final third, which resulted in 2 assists and 1 goal for the Spaniard schemer.

 Rodwell role – passing heatmap v West Ham compared to Fabregas v Chelsea

 Back to the game…..

 Everton settled the better of the sides but where rocked back on their heels when a speculative cross by the Hammers resulted in Tony Hibbert putting through his own net. The goal was against the run of play but led to West Ham’s only real period of dominance with Obinna and Upson also going close to strengthening West Hams grip on this game. Slowly but surely the Blues began to re assert control with Arteta getting more of a grip on the game and Pienaar showing for the ball with greater regularity. Just on the stroke of half time, Arteta picked out Cahill down the left and his centre found the impressive Coleman who rifled right footed into Green’s net to leave us all square at half time.

 Second Half dominance

 The second half began like the first half concluded with Everton in the ascendancy. Everton where now in complete dominance of the ball but not creating much in terms of clear cut chances. We had a growing look of a team not particularly confident they where going to find the net. Pienaar tucking inside was causing West Ham problems and when the South African surged through on the break down the centre Blue hopes where raised that we could get a winner. Alas, as was the problem all night the gap between Everton’s midfield and attack was such that Pienaar was outnumbered when he reached the 18 yard line and the move broke down.

 On the hour mark Yakubu  was introduced for Rodwell with the Nigerian moving up top with Cahill sat behind. The change didn’t really make much difference in truth with Yakubu only having one shot, which unsurprisingly went wide. The forward did have one close call later on but as he was poised to strike in the 18 yard box the excellent Scott Parker made a superb tackle to deny him. In fairness to West Ham they where sharper in the tackle all evening, shown by the above chalkboard, winning 38 and losing 22 of the tackles. Despite introducing Beckford and Billy, the game then drifted to its inevitable conclusion and thoughts turned to the long journey home.

 Conclusion

 The final game of 2010 provided a microcosm of the fundamental issues which have plagued our season to date. Dominance of the ball was undermined by a lack of creation and failure to capitalise on the chances created. Our tenth draw of the season leaves us mid table but a lot closer to the drop zone than the European places.

Apologies for the poor quality images in the above post – been having some IT issues. Normal service will resume for the Stoke game.

West Ham Preview

Following the Birmingham postponement Everton head to Upton Park looking for consecutive victories in the Premier League for only the second time this season. Following a 3-1 win at Fulham on Boxing Day their opponents West Ham will be in buoyant mood which sets things up nicely….

West Ham Recent Form

The Hammers come off the back of an impressive win at local rivals Fulham and will be full of confidence going into this encounter.  Their home form is pretty patchy befitting a side who have spent the bulk of the campaign at the bottom of the table. Thus far they have won 2, drawn 3 and lost 4 of their 9 home games. At the back they shown great naivety bordering on ineptitude with the worst defensive record in the league with 32 goals shipped already. Even with our poor strike rate we would have to fancy our chances of slotting at least once.

West Ham Strategy & Intel

West Ham have adopted a 4-2-3-1 system for the bulk of the campaign, with an occasional variance to 4-4-2 when in possession. In their last outing the Hammers played with Carlton Cole as the main target man with Freddy Piquionne playing less advanced and the attacking width supplied by Stanislas and Sears. Scott Parker and Radoslav Kovac provided the anchor function in midfield. In defence Danny Gabbidon and Tal Ben Haim, 2 centre backs by trade, occupied the fullback slots and whilst the Hammers looked fairly solid because of this, neither player provides a threat in the opposition half as say, Leighton Baines does for us. You can see from the Hammers most recent home game below, both fullbacks play withdrawn with neither player’s average position across the half way line.

Diagram A – West Ham average position from last home game – fullbacks number 3 & 20 have a limited attacking brief.

The Hammer’s recent home games have averaged 273 passes per game which is a fair bit below our season average passing per game marker of 350. Grant’s outfit play some decent stuff and will create opportunities, shown by the fact they are rated 8th in the Premier League’s table of shots per team. Their accuracy is poor however and they are ranked 19th in terms of shots on target with an accuracy of 34%. In comparison our average is around the 40% with Manchester United leading the way with an impressive 47%.

In Scott Parker they have a classic old school midfield general, equally adept at the defensive and attacking sides of the game. This is in contrast to the modern delineation in midfield duties between a defensive midfielder or the ‘Makelele’ role and the attacking midfielder whose role is to create like Arshavin. Parker is the Premier League’s top tackler with an impressive 61 tackles won this campaign. Going forward, he also has four goals and 2 assists to his credit. The below chalkboard shows his passing in the most recent home game. Notice how he travels all over the pitch which is a reflection of his box to box style.

Diagram B Scott Parker: Box to Box Midfielder


Everton strategy and approach

With Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar both back in contention we certainly have options in terms of selection. We have a great record at Upton Park with 4 consecutive wins with Louis Saha having a great record against the East Londoners with 5 goals in his last 4 outings against this opposition. I would expect us to face early pressure and we will need to quell this and impose our passing game as soon as possible. West Ham’s defenders are not the most comfortable on the ball, and I would expect us to attempt to capitalise on this by pressing high up the pitch. If we can do this well and dominate, I expect us to get a positive result

Prediction

This will be an entertaining encounter with both sides liking to get the ball down and play. West Ham will give us time and space to play and this should give us the chance to go at them and get the 3 points. I’m going for a 2-1 victory for the Blues.

Birmingham Preview

Line-ups

After Monday’s moral boosting victory at Eastlands, Everton go into this Boxing Day encounter with renewed optimism chasing a league double over rivals Birmingham. Injury and suspension means David Moyes will have to change a winning team, with Jagielka missing the entire festive period through injury and Anichebe serving a ban for his red card. We are boosted by the return of  Arteta, and I would expect him to come straight back into the team in place of Jack Rodwell.  I would also expect Hibbert to slot in at centre half and Louis Saha to lead the line. Birmingham’s team selection is pretty consistent and they will play a fairly rigid 4-4-2 with Larsson and Fahey providing the width down the flanks and Zigic partnering Cameron Jerome up front.

Recent Form

Birmingham’s away from is not great. Nine games on their travels thus far has yielded no victories. All bar one of their away defeats has been by a one goal margin so the outcomes have been tight with 5 draws supplementing the 4 defeats.  Our own form at home is not too impressive though, with just 2 wins from 9 including 4 draws and 3 defeats. We have only scored 10 goals at Goodison this campaign, averaging just over 1 goal per home game. This places a big pressure on the defence to keep a clean sheet in order to take the 3 points.

Birmingham strategy and intel

Birmingham play a very rigid 4-4-2 system with their emphasis on defence and keeping out the opposition, particularly on their travels. When the opposition are on the ball in Birmingham’s half they are very good at getting players between the opposition player on the ball and their goal. They drop very deep with their fullbacks Carr and Ridgewell tucking in. Bowyer and Ferguson will sit in front of centre backs Dann and Johnson giving a defensive wall of 6 players in their 18 yard box.  This is demonstrated nicely in the below screenshot, with Birmingham defenders in red and midfielders in blue circles.

Birmingham rigid defence Screenshot


With their midfield duo playing so close to the centre backs this leaves a big gap between midfield and attack which could explain why Birmingham don’t carry a big goal threat. What it should also mean is that Arteta and Fellaini will both play high up the pitch.

If you try and go through the middle Birmingham’s wall makes it very difficult to penetrate shown by Chalkboard A below from the corresponding fixture last season Notice how the bulk of the interceptions are in this Birmingham ‘wall’ area.  When you try to go around them on the flanks they have so many bodies in their 18 yard box it makes it difficult to pick out players, shown by Chalboard B where we had 28 unsuccessful crosses pinged into their box. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s not too dissimilar a tactic that we adopted from the 20 minute mark against Manchester City on Monday night.

From an offensive point of view, Sebastian Larsson is their most creative player, contributing 5 assists this campaign and his battle against Baines on the same flank will define this game.

Chalkboard A Birmingham Interceptions        Chalkboard B Everton unsuccessful crosses

Everton strategy

I would expect us to see a lot of the ball and dominate possession. Last season’s corresponding fixture witnessed 420 successful Everton passes to Birmingham’s 238 and I would expect a similar tale in this fixture.  Osman was man of the match in the 2-0 win at St Andrews earlier this campaign and I would expect him to be a key man again, cutting in from the left enabling the man of the season so far Leighton Baines to provide traction down the left flank. We will need to be patient though and I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a sustained period of pressure to break Birmingham down such is their rigidity and passion for the defensive side of the game.

Prediction?

I think this could be a frustrating afternoon with Birmingham coming for a point.  Hopefully our momentum from Monday’s result will see us grind out a 1-0 win here. COYB!

Man City 1-2 Everton

Line-ups

David Moyes sprang a surprise by starting with Victor Anichebe in attack with Leon Osman returning from injury to replace Steven Pienaar on the leftside of the Blues midfield in a familiar 4-5-1 setup. Man City shuffled their pack also with Kolorov coming back from suspension on the left side of defence and the hapless Milner coming in for De Jong in the City engine room in a similar 4-5-1 formation with Tevez playing the ‘Ghost Nine’ role with the narrow support provided by Silva, Yaya Toure & Balotelli.

Early goals boost Blues

Everton where out the traps and right on the offensive, taking the lead after just four minutes when a trademark steam up the left by Baines resulted in the ball switching to the right flank . Coleman beat him man and popped a pinpoint cross to Cahill who did what he does best against City and score. It must be said that he was assisted by some truly comedy marking by Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany.  Everton’s attacking intent was surprising City and the Blues continued to enjoy decent possession in the City half. City’s rightback Zabaleta was off the field receiving treatment for a gashed eye for almost 8 minutes, and this was to prove fatal. As mentioned in the preview, David Silva cuts inside a lot and doesn’t retain his position on the right, and with Milner filling in for Zabaleta Everton played a lovely move with Baines and Anichebe getting a 2 on 1 situation down the left, combining to pass into Cahill who teed up Baines for a right foot curler into Hart’s left hand post. Textbook.

A – Passes                                    B – Shots                                    C – City Crosses

Everton sit back

Content with the 2 goals, Everton then sat back as City began to dominate possession.  Everton where solid through the middle and forcing City out to the flanks where they are weaker, shown by screenshots A, B & C. When City did work a shooting chance they where met by a sea of blue, summed up nicely in screenshot D where Silva is met by 10 Everton players between the ball and goal. This mass of bodies through the middle led City out to the flanks, leading to a staggering 28 crosses being unsuccessfully delivered. This really played into our hands given our aerial edge. City where dominating play, making in total 584 successful passes to our 233 but often their play resulted in poor crossing or shooting from distance. Indeed, of the 34 chances they carved out only 5 required Howard to make saves. The City dominance was aided and abetted by our own tactics with David Moyes seemingly encouraging us to sit back further and soak up pressure, with Anichebe playing more as a left sided player and Osman cutting inside often leaving us with 6 players screening the back four. This was successfully quelling City attacks but it left Cahill isolated as the furthest forward of our players.

Screen shot A Everton happy to let City have the ball in this area

Screen shot B – Fellaini presses and forces City out wide

Screen shot C – As soon as a shooting chance arises, 2 men close it down

Screen shot D – Silva prepares to shoot but is faced by a sea of blue

Second Half.

The second period began as the first ended with City in control of the ball, with substitute Adam Johnson causing problems down our left side and Tevez seeing more of the ball in the final third. We where still playing very deep with Fellaini in particular having a stormer, achieving 100% completion in his passing stats. This tenacity in the tackle was a theme of the evening with the Blues making 16 blocks and 21 interceptions in the game. The game erupted into controvesery midway through the second half when Anichebe was dismissed for 2 quick fire harsh bookings. There was no malice in the Nigerian’s challenges and where more to do with his obvious tiredness just as Moyes was set to replace him for Saha.  City then turned up the heat and after Jagielka unluckily turned Yaya Toure’s cross into his own net, Balotelli then hit the post as City where looking as though they where turning the screw on the Blues.

Saha then make an appearance, along with Billy, for Osman and Coleman in the last 15 minutes . These changes helped to quell the City threat in giving us an outlet further forward as beforehand we had continued to invite City pressure with our resistance tested intensely.

Conclusion

We rode our luck tonight at times but for the shear hard work and determination we showed this was 3 points well deserved. Moyes deserves much credit for tactically getting this spot on. We have dominated plenty of games in terms of possession and chances created this season just like City did to us tonight, so it was glad to be the team who took its chances this time. This win should give us the confidence to kick on and take a decent point’s hall from the Christmas programme.

Manchester City Preview

We head to Eastlands on Monday night for the first of 5 games in 17 days for a testing showdown with old foes Manchester City.  Our opponents have been impressive this campaign with massive investment in their squad over the last couple of years naturally leading to an upturn in their fortunes. In contrast, we are having a challenging campaign and our resources are even more stretched with the loss of Arteta through suspension and possibly our other creative talent Steven Pienaar who is struggling to shake of an injury. We do have a fantastic recent record in this fixture though which should give us the confidence of getting a result…..

City Intel and Strategy

Like most Italian managers Mancini has built from the back and arguably has  more strength in depth defensively than any other coach in Europe.  This will be a battle of two sides playing 4-5-1 systems. City play with 3 central midfielders,  De Jong is banned so Zabeleta could sit as anchor with Barry slightly more advanced to the left and Yaya Toure the furthest forward of the 3. These 3 provide the platform for the more creative wide players, definitely David Silva and either Milner or Balotelli to assist Tevez up front.  City play a ‘ghost 9’ formation with Tevez as the title role. This strategy puts the emphasis on the ghost nine dropping deep and creating the space he has vacated for others to expose in behind.  Therefore I would expect Moyes to set out with us defending deep, leaving no space in behind our back 4.

Diagram A shows that although starting at left back, Kolorov  (13) will play almost as a winger with the defensive midfielders providing cover behind him for his marauding runs down our right side. I would expect the defensively astute Coleman and Neville to cope with this threat though.

Diagram A – City last time out at home v Bolton/Everton last time out away v Chelsea

Growing Influence of David Silva

Despite struggling initially to make an impact, David Silva has emerged as City’s key creative influence since his elegant game changing cameo against Blackpool. The Spaniard will start out on the right side of midfield but will drift across the area between Everton’s defensive and midfield lines.  Diagram B below shows Silva’s passing heatmaps in his last 2 outings. Notice how he drifts across the pitch, left, right and centre. We will really need to track his movement and if Heitinga was fit I am sure he would have been deployed as a man marker as he was with Van Der Vaart at Spurs earlier this season. One final point on Silva is that he will line up on the right side but not hold his position, so with Baines on form this could be our best chance of penetrating City’s mean defence.

Diagram B – David Silva average passing heatmaps

Everton Approach

I would expect us to play 2 deep anchor men in midfield sat in front of the two centre backs. Diagram A above shows the distance between Distin and Fellaini in our last away day and contrast this with the same distance between Kompany & De Jong in City’s last home game. Notice the massive gap our players have between them. If we are going to get anything on Monday our anchor and centre backs will need to be much closer like City’s to deny the space between midfield and defensive lines.

In the corresponding fixture last year Everton enjoyed a great victory over their rivals. Moyes strategy, which I expect him to adopt on Monday is to sit deep and soak up pressure.  Diagram C shows City’s passing in the encounter last season. Notice how the bulk of their passing is down the flanks. This was down to Everton’s dominance and pressing when City tried to advance with the ball centrally in our final third. Our anchor’s closed down well and showed City out to the flanks with a confidence that City with Tevez aren’t anywhere near as threatening aerially with the ball coming into the box from wide. This resulted in Diagram D, with City unsuccessfully pinging in 20 crosses.

Diagram C – City passing chalkboard                Diagram D – City unsuccessful crosses

Prediction

I expect City to make all the running offensively and we will need to be extremely focused defensively to get a result here. If we control the space between our defence and midfield and in behind we have every chance of coming away with a result, particularly given that Mancini’s cautious approach and reluctance to abandon his strategy to go for the 3 points. I’m going for a 0-0 draw.

Everton 0-0 Wigan

Line-ups

Everton retained the same starting eleven that claimed a point at the champions last weeks, albeit leaving the man who secured the draw on the bench with the abject Louis Saha preferred. Wigan set up with a narrow midfield 5 with support to the lone striker coming from ghost wingers N’Zogbia & Cleverley.

Early Exchanges

Everton took control of the game in the early exchanges and where making most of the running against a Wigan side who where looking as if they had come for a draw. Baines whipped in a trademark delivery for Fellaini early on which should have resulted in a goal as Everton opened positively. The Latics set up with a deep defensive line, almost inviting the expected Everton bombardment.  Perhaps this tactic was deployed in the confidence that faced with our lack of traction in the final third, soaking up the pressure was a decent bet of getting a point. This approach was combined with some blatant time wasting by the visiting keeper Al Habsi and tactical fouling by the heinous Hendry Thomas.

Second Half

Cahill again was the leading the line in the absence of a real target man and was unlucky not to add to his handsome goal tally after several chances came his way, hitting the post with one majestic leap. The Blues rely heavily on Cahill and when the Aussie isn’t firing on all cylinders we look incredibly toothless in the final third. Coleman started the second half brightly and created several good chances as well as missing a great chance himself with just the keeper to beat.  Wigan’s Hendry Thomas was once again showing why he is emerging as one of the Premier League’s senior hatchet men, rattling Pienaar at regular intervals eventually leading to his customary booking. Although a persistent offender the Honduran does press well and forces opponents into mistakes and this pressing set the trend for the rest of his team. Diagram A shows they made an impressive 25 interceptions.

Diagram A  – Wigan Interceptions                      Diagram B – Everton long balls

Baines’ delivery was again consistent throughout and he put in a solid shift on the left side, almost playing as a winger in the second half as can be seen in Diagram C below where his average position was ahead of Pienaar. The South African started the second period as he had done at Chelsea from a more central zone and he carved out some great openings, with the notable chance setting up for Saha only for the misfiring Frenchman to strike straight at Al Habsi. Despite creating clear cut chances and showing commitment throughout technically this was not a great display by the Blues who struggle to retain play effectively without Arteta. Passing throughout the game was average; Rodwell in particular was guilty of poor connectivity.  The Blues completed just 292 successful passes which is well below the 367 average per game this season.  .

Diagram C – Average Positions Everton in red Wigan in Blue

The injury to Pienaar on 66 minutes suppressed what at the time was a Blue surge. After the left sided schemer departed proceedings due to injury Everton quickly ran out of ideas and the result became a formality. This exit of Pienaar preceded a more direct style of play. This is shown by Diagram B with 40% of passes unsuccessful in the final 30 minutes of the game after he went off, most of these passes being long balls.

Conclusion

Another disappointing outcome in what is becoming a season of pure woe. It was a familiar story after similar tales of misery against the likes of Wolves & West Brom at Goodison.

Again, a lack of a cutting edge was to undermine the performance as territorial dominance and an abundance of chances where squandered to leave the Blues with a disappointing point.  The game was perhaps a microcosm of the season, with a failure to capitalise on clear cut chances resulting in inevitable failure.

There can be no escaping the situation we now find ourselves in. An inability to beat even the weakest teams in the league at home is now the norm rather than a one off occasion. 13 draws in the last 24 games is not a blip, it is evidence of the severity of the problem we are facing which needs addressing if we are to have any ambition other than being involved in a relegation dog fight.