Everton 1-1 Chelsea

Line-ups

Everton made 3 changes from the team that drew with West Ham with Billy coming in for Osman on the left side and Jack Rodwell  playing off Saha in a 4-4-1-1 system with Anichebe and Beckford benched. Chelsea played their usual 4-3-3 system with one change from their rout at the Reebok seeing our nemesis Frank Lampard replacing Mikel with Essien playing as anchor. Everton’s strategy was to press Chelsea high up the pitch, regain possession and get the ball into the box as often as possible. Everton played with Fellaini, Arteta and Rodwell in the centre of midfield to go like for like with Chelsea’s midfield 3 of Essien, Lampard & Ramires. Rodwell had a really good game and played the more advanced of the 3 when Chelsea were in possession although Fellaini was also pushed forward to lurk on the edge of the Chelsea box when we were in possession to meet diagonal aerial balls pitched in for him.

First half stalemate.

The first half was something of a stalemate with only one real clear cut chance for each side.  Everton’s steady run of form (just 1 defeat in 10 games) has coincided wih Marouanne Fellaini hitting top form and the big Belgian was again instrumental today. His energy was superb and it was his persistent pressing up field that led to our best chance of the first half when his harrying of Frank Lampard (screenshot A) and then John Terry (screenshot B) forced Chelsea back 40 yards before he finally wins possession allowing Saha to tee up Jack Rodwell who shot straight at Cech.

Screenshot A


Screenshot B

Chelsea were always a threat on the break and almost opened the scoring soon after when Heitinga was caught square by Malouda’s through ball enabling Anelka a clear run at the Blues goal but luckily Howard was equal to his shot and the game was goalless as the half time whistle went.

Blues take control

Whilst the first half was fairly even the Blues started the second sharper than their opponents and deservedly took the lead when a trademark Baines corner was met by Saha whose clever movement inside the 18 yard box enabled him to lose Terry and tuck into Cech’s net. Saha deserved the goal for a textbook display, his work rate has been rightly questioned this season but today his effort particularly outside the box was a real boost to the Blues. It was also the 8th assist of Baines productive season. The Blues could have had a second when good work again from Saha led to Baines putting in a great cross which was first met by the excellent Coleman’s head and then after Cech had spilled it Coleman went in to smash it home with his right foot only for a truly superb tackle from Essien to deny him. As well as playing well when with the ball we also showed great focus when Chelsea had the ball, keeping our shape well with few gaps between our defence and midfield (circled in red) making it hard for Chelsea to play through us.

Mikel Arteta was another who was playing with more confidence today, with good ball retention and also taking on two long range efforts which went close. His free kick delivery was also improved, whipping in one quality free kick for Fellaini whose header was repelled by Cech. The midfielder was guilty of ball watching on the equalising goal though. As Anelka broke down the left the Spaniard got sucked into the centre allowing Kalou to make a curved run behind him before dragging a shot past Howard who was slightly unsighted by Distin in front of him.

There was still time for both teams to almost win it late on, firstly when Ramires struck a post with a long range drive and then when substitute Jermaine Beckford fizzed a half volley which was well saved by Cech, who had a great game in goal for the West Londoners.

Conclusion

There were plenty of positives to take from this cup tie with our midfielders in particular on top form which enabled us to win the key battle in the centre of the park. It was a display of great courage and endeavour mixed with good quality from the Blues and we were unlucky not to progress. A replay at a ground we haven’t won at since 1995, the year we last won the trophy will be a tough ask but with the form we have shown against the top sides and with Cahill back there is no reason why we can’t go there an give them a game. The only worry for me was the way we let Chelsea back into the game, the 9th time we have lost a lead this campaign.

Chelsea FA Cup Preview

Saturday sees our attention turn to the FA Cup and a showdown with the Cup Holders from West London at Goodison. We head into the game in decent form with just 1 defeat in 9 but we are up against a seemingly resurgent Chelsea side who demolished Bolton 4-0  in their last match on Monday night.

Chelsea Intel

Chelsea will most likely line up in their accustomed 4-3-3 system with probably the same personnel that destroyed Bolton on Monday night with Frank Lampard perhaps being the only inclusion at the expense of Ramires if he can shake off injury. Florent Malouda is instrumental for Chelsea and statistically creates more chances than any other EPL player by some distance, averaging 3.6 chances created per game. Chelsea are strongest down the left side with Malouda tucking inside to create space and Cole playing high up the pitch. Their romp on Monday night owed much to their intensive pressing high up the pitch with Malouda’s tackle for the first goal teeing up a blockbuster from Drogba. Essien will provide much of the energy in midfield with Mikel’s great passing accuracy ( 88% pass completion for the season)  ticking things over for them in the midfield anchor position.

Baines v Cole Comparison- England’s 2 best left backs will be going head to head this weekend.

Previous Meetings

Everton were triumphant the last time the 2 sides met at Goodison, although this was the first time we had beaten the West Londoners in many years either home or away.  The victory owed much to our hard work off the ball with quality pressing shown by the 32 successful interceptions made by the Blues (chalkboard below) as Chelsea lost despite making 207 more successful passes and averaging a higher pass completion rate of 77% compared to our 66%.

Chalkboards (left) Shows Baines quality delivery into the box which led to our equalizer through Jermaine Beckford at the Bridge this season and (right) shows our pressing intensity making 32 successful interceptions against Chelsea at Goodison last season with most of these central which backs up the belief that Chelsea can play quite narrow at times.

Our previous meeting at Stamford Bridge this season witnessed a really spirited second half fightback from the Blues after recovering from Phil Neville’s inexplicable gift which led to Drogba’s opener. The key tactical change which occurred here was Pienaar switching more central as the game went on which dragged his marker Bosingwa inside and with Chelsea not playing with a right midfielder this allowed Baines to often play as almost a left winger. Such was Baines dominance down the flank the beleaguered Bosingwa was replaced by the slightly more defensively resolute Ferreira. With Pienaar now gone the option’s here are Osman or Billy. As mentioned in the blog post earlier this week I personally would go for Billy left and tuck Osman inside with Arteta.

Everton strategy and lineup

David Moyes gave a strong hint in Saturday’s post match press conference with West Ham that he is going to utilize Marouanne Fellaini in an advanced role, commenting on the impact the Belgian had after being pushed further forward for the last 20 minutes against West Ham. Formation wise, I would expect it to be 4-4-1-1 with Fellaini behind Saha. As mentioned above, Chelsea will line up with 3 central midfielders so Fellaini would give us the flexibility of being able to go like for like when not in possession (3v3) and then move further forward when we have the ball. The other option it gives us is to concede  2 v 3  in central midfield and by pass the midfield with long, hopeful punts to the curly haired marauder as occurred against West Ham.

On the flanks I would expect to see us focus attacks down the left with Chelsea ’s weakness down this flank exploited well earlier this season. I would expect Coleman’s forays forward to be more restrictive and similar to his man marking brief on Ashley Cole he deployed with great maturity back in December (screen shot below shows Coleman tracking Cole right back to our 18 yard line).

Prediction

It really is hard to see past a draw in this one such is our prolific manner of picking up one point hauls this season. Our form against the top sides this season has been superb with 3 wins, 5 draws and just one defeat in 9 games against the top 7 sides showing we can raise our game for the big occasions. The kick off time and live TV Coverage will significantly dilute the atmosphere which was a key variable in us finally putting to bed our Chelsea hoodoo last season, so a 1-1 is the more likely result here.

Time for Billy to take centre stage?

With Pienaar now departed there has been much discussion on who can fill the creative void left by the South African with names such as Eagles and Kranjcar mooted as potential replacements. There is a player closer to home though who is more than capable of plugging the gap….

No one would doubt Pienaar’s ability or his commitment but often there was no end product to a lot of his good work, particularly in terms of goal scoring. With goals in very short supply from Everton midfielders this campaign, Billy needs to come into contention.

Billy can get you a goal from nothing as was the case against Man Utd and Portsmouth last season.  Whilst he isn’t blessed with pace he has clever feet and can beat a player and shift the ball from one foot to the other as shown for Russia in the WC Playoff against Slovenia last season.  He is more direct and this is something we have lacked this campaign with our matches characterised by an abundance of possession but no end product with creating chances and goal scoring holding us back. Billy possesses great delivery from wide areas and a great shot.

Billy v Piennaar – Stats from when Billy joined the club.

It was clear from Moyes post match press conference on Saturday that he is tempted to push Fellaini forward for next weeks Cup tie with Chelsea after the impact he made in the final 20 minutes against West Ham. Moyes  started with Osman on the left against the Hammers as whilst he doesn’t quite have the technical ability of Pienaar, he certainly has the intelligence and movement to tuck in and enable Baines the freedom of the left touchline. If Moyes does wish to go with Felli advanced against Chelsea I would deploy Arteta as anchor, move Osman inside (in my opinion his best position) put Billy on the left and Fellaini playing off Saha. My only fear is that we are going to over use Fellaini and revert to an overly direct style of play.

My opinion is that we need Billy in the team, but in what position? Lets have a look at the options…….

Naturally a left footed player so can and has done a job  here in the past. Positives are that he can provide quality delivery and is capable of cutting in and shooting with his right foot which doesn’t pack as good a punch as his left but is still decent.  Negatively, he prefers to play on his left foot so would prefer to stay on the flank rather than tuck in on his right which was the key ingredient in Pienaar’s relationship with Baines. This season the left side would appear his most likely chance of first team selection.


The bulk of his goals have come from central positions, notably the strike against Portsmouth on the final day of the season but he also shows great composure inside the box – often deployed for the Russian national team in this role . Playing in a more advanced position would relieve him of greater defensive responsibility which comes further back in the field. Playing in this Riquelme style role, pace isn’t key so it would suit him well. He is also adept at threading balls through to a central striker, on average creating 1.5 goalscoring opportunities per game. With Cahill due back from international duty soon it is unlikely he will be given an opportunity here. Moyes has also stated in the press that he doesn’t see him being deployed here anytime soon.

Cutting in on his preferred left foot, right midfield would be his most natural position in terms of the style we play with wingers cutting inside. As was shown with the goal against Man United last season he is lethal in this area and can get a goal out of absolutely nothing.  The form of Seamus Coleman this season would probably inhibit his chances of getting the nod here but long term I would say this is the best bet to get the most out of Billy.

Everton 2-2 West Ham Utd

Line-ups

As expected the Blue’s retained the same 11 that took a point at Anfield with a 4-4-2 system when in possession with Anichebe coming into the left side of midfield and Osman tucking inside when not in possession to be a bit more like 4-5-1 . The Hammers have shifted their formation and players with great regularity this campaign and today went with a more orthodox 4-4-2 system. This game was quite close to an old fashioned 4-4-2 battle with neither team designating a real holding midfielder or ‘Makelele’ role. As well as this, neither side used a player in the hole behind the striker. With nobody playing in these areas it meant there was a lot of open space between the lines of defence, midfield and attack.

Average positional diagram of Everton players in the 90minutes


West Ham strikers on top

Everton were out of the traps quicker and came close to taking the lead when Arteta smartly played in Beckford whose shot was snuffled by Green. Unfortunately it was not a sign of things to come as our visitors began to assert control on the game with two key factors behind this. Firstly they took advantage of the space afforded to them by Everton as shown in the below average position diagram. The Hammer’s ball retention from their their strikers was also superior to ours. Beckford’s ball retention was a poor 51% with Anichebe’s even worse at 48%. In comparison the impressive Hines racked up a tidy 88% with Piquionne also registering a solid 71%. Saha’s introduction at half time helped redress this with the Frenchman holding up play much better with 81% completion.

Screen Image of the build up to Spector goal- Notice Heitinga (circled) is caught upfield which makes Neville have to cover his position and Coleman is thus left one on one tracking Boa Morte’s run (white arrow) onto Noble’s through ball (red line)


The Hammer’s pressed home this advantage when Jonathan Spector slotted after good work down the left from Luis Boa Morte. The above screenshot shows how Jonny Heitinga gets caught out of position in the build up, stepping out of defence to press  Noble who then bypasses him to feed Boa Morte down our usually defensively resolute right side weakened  by Neville who is covering  the out of position Heitinga.  The following 10 minutes could have seen the Hammers out of sight. Firstly when Piquionne headed against the post following Heitinga’s slip and then when Hines broke into the acres of space between our midfield and defence (screenshot below) which led to Boa Morte’s disallowed goal.

Screen Image of gap between Everton defence and midfield – too big a gap in my opinion and this was something which West Ham exploited well with forward runs from midfield.


Moyes took decisive action in the second half, firstly by bringing on Saha for Beckford and then by shifting Fellaini further forward for the last 20mins with Osman tucking inside and Bilyaldedtinov playing wide left. Moyes is often lamented for his substitutions but to be fair they paid dividend today with both scorers and assists for the 2 goals coming from players affected by his personnel/positional shifts. Following a cross Fellaini won a header to allow Bilyaledtinov to hit a low half volley into Green’s right hand corner. In a game low in quality the Russian’s body movement and technique for the goal were truly world class.

Everton where now on top with the style of football becoming increasingly direct. In what was something of a microcosm of the season, just as things were looking as if they were turning for the better Everton took another 2 steps back. Sloppy defending from a delicious Wayne Bridge cross enabled the lively Piquionne to nestle a great header inside Howard’s right hand post.

Pass Completion Diagram Everton v West Ham


As the above passing graph shows, West Ham’s pass completion falters badly in the closing stages and with their target man out-ball Piquionne dismissed for his goal celebration their defensive clearances kept on hitting a Blue shirt. We eventually made them pay when good work by Osman fed the ball into the box for Rodwell whose flick found Fellaini and the big Belgian capped a fine second half display with a great finish past Green’s outstretched right hand.

Conclusion

With 12 draws this season Everton are looking increasingly likely to break the Premier League ‘most draws in a season’ record of 18 – Not really the kind of record we were looking at breaking back in August. Our poor form at Goodison has been the key factor. Only Wigan have won fewer games on their own patch than ourselves and our leaky defence again cost us today. Moyes post match comments about the effectiveness of Fellaini  further up field I believe will see us start the next game with him advanced and a more direct style of play. This will be to the detriment of our passing style but Moyes may feel it is worthwhile if it can get us ‘winning ugly’ again. COYB.

West Ham Preview

Life at a post-Pienaar Everton begins with a winnable looking fixture against a West Ham team seemingly in turmoil on and off the pitch.

Everton Approach

With just 1 defeat in 8 games we are looking a bit more resolute with the torrid November run which yielded no victories nearly out of the mindset. I would expect us to line-up with two strikers again on Saturday, although I am still not entirely convinced that this is as major a factor in our recent form as has been made out. The win against Spurs was, for me, more down to the intensity of pressing high up the pitch as was the case against Liverpool at Goodison earlier this season in a supposedly 4-5-1 setup with Cahill in the side.

Either way, our best results this campaign have come when we have shown this intensity to our play by getting at opposition defenders early and by delivering the ball into the opposition’s 18 yard box as often as possible. We missed Louis Saha on Sunday with the ball not sticking in attack and possession being conceded particularly in the first half. The Hammers will allow us to play and I would expect us to build from the back and down the left side with Leon Osman’s movement inside key to releasing Baines down the left flank. This area will probably be patrolled by Ben Haim who tends to start in the Hammer’s away games as he offers greater defensive solidity than Faubert.  West Ham’s last awayday resulted in a 0-5 thumping at The Geordie Nation, and the most glaring factor in this rout was the gap between their defence and midfield along with a gap down their left side with Noble often tucking in leaving Newcastle a free run down this side. This is shown in the below average position map

West Ham Average Position Map v Newcastle with red circle showing the gap between their defence and midfield, a gap which players like Osman and Arteta need to exploit.


West Ham Intel

The Hammers arrive at Goodison with the joint worst defensive record in the league with 41 goals shipped in their 23 games as well as having the joint worst goal scoring record on their travels with just 8 goals on the road this campaign. Scott Parker is their main man and with 82% pass completion and 55 interceptions he is the Hammer’s best passer and presser.  His dual with our engine room and on form enforcer Marouanne Fellaini will be the games key dual with their key stats shown in the below table. Creativity wise, one time Everton target Victor Obinna is their main inspiration having created 36 goalscoring opportunities with 4 of these resulting in goals for teammates although he will be missing on Saturday through suspension. In terms of goalscoring, Freddie Piquionne is their most potent striker with 5 goals and a conversion rate of 14.7%, much better than often striker partner Carlton Cole at just 7.5%

Parker v Fellaini


West Ham Approach

West Ham have changed their formation with great regularity this campaign. Earlier on they adopted a 4-2-3-1 system , with an occasional variance to 4-4-2 and in their last game 4-3-3  with Sears & Hines playing as wide strikers with Cole through the middle and a compact 3 man midfield. With Piquionne back fit I would expect him to play just off Cole in a 4-2-3-1 setup. Defensively neither of their fullbacks advance past the halfway line much and with the exception of Sears they have little width offensively. £90k a week Wayne Bridge endured a calamity debut and was at fault for all 3 of Arsenal’s goals in their last outing. Bridge failed to win a single tackle in the game and looked sluggish throughout. Seamus Coleman must be fancying his chances of giving him another torrid afternoon after his subdued outing at Anfield last weekend.

Verdict

We are looking more clinical in front of goal in recent weeks and the confidence we take into this matchup against a side with a leaky defence such as the Hammers should see us take 3 points here. I am going for a 2-0 win for the Blues.

Pienaar: Some thoughts on his departure

Steven Pienaar’s transfer saga finally came to its inevitable conclusion today when theSouth African signed a big money move with Dirty Arry Redknapp’s Spurs.

Much has been made of the wage the pint sized schemer has been demanding and it looks as if the wage will top what we offered by £20k per week from the £50k that was on the table from us. Whilst his decision is by no means a surprise (if boyhood Blues like Jeffers & Rooney won’t stick around what chance a South African who probably hadn’t heard of Everton til he signed) it is sad that someone who has been pivotal in our evolution from  a hard working, organised team into one that plays more expansive, passing football is leaving to what will probably be a squad role at Spurs.

Pienaar could really play and his interplay with Baines has been our best attacking weapon for the last 3 seasons. Even though he hasn’t contributed one direct assist this season the movement he makes inside to create the space for Baines to bomb up the touchline to get his crosses in has led to Baines accruing 7 assists this campaign. He is a team player who had the rare combination of sublime skill matched with great determination and application, even during the latter days of his Everton career . The only thing you could perhaps level against him is that there is a lack of end product and he could be questioned positionally from a defensive point of view as opposition managers have exploited to our detriment.

The stats show that with him in the team in Premier League games we have a win rate of 37% whilst without him the figure is 40%, so I wouldn’t say he is as integral to us as, say Mikel Arteta whose win rate in the team is 44% compared to 37% when he isn’t featuring.

its going to be very hard to replace the South African especially given the poultry sums David Moyes will be given from Kenwright, probably a couple of quid and some complimentary tickets to a West End show will be the extent of our transfer wedge leaving us lagging behind even the likes of Stoke noawadays. To replace him in the current market you are looking up to £10m. Players linked so far include Eagles at Burnley which is hopefully just speculation. If we want to keep our left sided strategy we will need someone who can tuck in and play inside, not someone who will hug the touchline and look to get crosses into the box. We have Billy of course and he is surely going to be given the nod until the end of the season at least.

In conclusion, it’s going to be very hard to replace the South African midfielder. He gave us some great memories and was a joy to watch, but no player is bigger than the club and we need to move on quickly.

Liverpool 2-2 Everton

Lineups

Everton were without Louis Saha due to injury and Steven Pienaar after the South African schemer informed David Moyes that he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play with his impending move away from the club. Everton thus tweaked their setup slightly from the Tottenham game with Osman coming in like for like with Pienaar and Anichebe coming in but playing more towards the left side than Saha. Liverpool setup a more orthodox 4-5-1 with Jay Spearing playing slightly ahead of Leiva and behind the more attacking Meireles in a 3 man Liverpool central midfield.

Liverpool better in final third

Despite a fairly even start the ball was sticking a lot better on the red side’s attack, with Torres successfully completing 12 of the 14 passes he made in the first half; more passes completed than Anichebe and Beckford combined (10 successful from 18 in the first half). Anichebe’s passing was terrible all afternoon with 7 from 18 giving him the worst pass completion from any player on the park.  The main reason for Liverpool’d first half superiority was two fold, firstly their pressing enabled them to win 14 of their 19 tackles in the first half hour, while as their pass completion graph shows below, they where consitstently the better team in terms of pass completion throughout.

Pass Completion Graph


Torres outlet was the key factor in the first half, consistently giving Liverpool an out ball in the channels which led to him forcing 5 shots on Howards’s goal, again more than Anichebe and Beckford compared who mustered just 3. After hitting the post early on and with us bizarrely standing off him at numerous occasions Liverpool eventually went in front when Kuyt’s shot was saved only for Meireles to smash home from the edge of the box with Arteta and Baines guilty of ball watching as the move ensued. In the build up to the goal Neville was again guilty of standing off his opponent and allowing him time and space to cross in a similar way he did with Etherington at Stoke on New Years Day. The half time whistle came at a good time as we where increasingly rocking with Distin in particular having a torrid time against Torres in the face of persistent Liverpool pressure.

Key Chalkboards Left to right

Left – First half Torres ball retention 85% first half compared to Victor Anichebe’s 20%, enabling Liverpool a platform for attacks, middle chalkboard shows Liverpool’s dominance in the tackle in the first 30 mins, winning 73% of tackles and Everton’s similar dominance in the first 30 mins of the second half with 72% of challenges victorious. The far right chalkboard shows Fellaini’s improved second half display with his ball retention improving 24% from the first half.


Blue Revival

Whatever David Moyes said to his players as half time did the trick. Everton’s more potent left side clicked with Anichebe playing more wide high up the pitch, Osman coming more inside to help out Fellaini and Arteta who had been outnumbered against Liverpool’s 3 central midfielders in the first half, and Baines getting his usual game together advanced down the left.   Just as Liverpool’s pressing gave them the platform to play in the first 30 minutes, the same factor witnessed  the Blues take control in the second half with 16 of the 22 tackles won by the Blues in the first 30mins of the second period.  Marouanne Fellaini was emerging from his subdued first half display and as the above chalkboard shows he was much more potent in the second period, going from 60% to 84% pass completion either side of the interval. The  big haired midfield general’s play is usually a good barometer of our play in general.

The left side again was key to our revival, with Arteta’s out swinging corner headed home by Distin who made amends for his first half horror show  getting us back in the game. Liverpool were rocking and we duly capitalised with the impressive Osman teeing up Beckford inside the Liverpool 18 yard box to tuck a lovely strike over Reina’s outstretched left hand. Everton where rampant and were completely in control  at this stage and should really have put Liverpool to the sword. Our hosts are pretty formidable at home though and despite their lack of substance after the interval were still able to get back into the game on 68 minutes when Rodriguez was unnecessarily hauled down in the box by Howard which allowed Kuyt to slot from the penalty spot. Both managers seemed happy with a point at this stage with Moyes switching to a more orthodox 4-5-1 with Vaughan on his own up front and Liverpool holding their own 4-5-1 with no real ambition to kick on for the victory from either side.

Conclusion

It was the proverbial game of two halves here with both sides having spells of possession in either side of the interval but neither team really dominating for a sustained enough period to claim themselves worthy of a 3 point haul. Liverpool will probably see this as more a point gained than ourselves given that 2 of their 3 big hitters where on the sidelines and given the euphoria which surrounded ‘King’ Kenny’s return. My own belief is that Liverpool where here for the taking at kick off but given the predicament we found ourselves in at half time this was probably a point earned than 2 lost