Recruitment & Selection: The Everton Way

 

The landscape in which the Blues recruit players from academy to senior level has changed dramatically in the last five years in keeping with the globalization which encapsulates modern football. This article will look at the key factors which have developed our scouting network in recent times and look to the future pools of players which the Blues could be looking to recruit from….

When David Moyes took over he inherited an ageing squad from previous incumbent Walter Smith. Scouting strategy at youth level was mostly local based whilst senior wise the average squad age was amongst the highest in the division with veterans like Gazza and Ginola coasting towards retirement on inflated wages. What now prevails is one of the biggest scouting networks in world football in a local, national and international context.

“In the past we have mainly looked at home for players, We have looked in the lower leagues and brought in players like Joleon Lescott, Andrew Johnson and Tim Cahill, and we will continue to do that. But now we have to spread our wings to make sure that we get the best players in. There will be extensions to the scouting department that can hopefully help us in that way.When I came here more than five years ago there was a plan to lower the age of the squad, make sure Everton weren’t relegation fodder and to try to make Europe”

 David Moyes, Everton Manager, 2007

  Academy Scouting

 The Blues have a strong network of 200 scouts examining talent domestically and abroad. The current academy is still stocked predominantly from local players sourced by Merseyside based scouts.  The local net spreads 1.5 hours from the clubs Finch Farm base so covers areas such asManchesterwhere Hallam Hope was sourced. Whereas in years gone by the Blues academy and reserve squads would be made up exclusively of local lads, 48% of the squad is now recruited from outside Merseyside.

The below chart shows the location the Blues have recruited the players currently making up the non senior squads (i.e. academy and reserve)

 

 Overseas, the Blues have shown in the past few years with youth recruitment fromGermany,SwedenandGreecethat they are widening their net in terms of youth recruitment. Our connections inPortugalare enhanced by our former player and then scout Nuno Valente (now working at Sporting Lisbon) who recommended Joao Silva and more recently Eric Dier to the Blues.

Senior Recruitment

Gone are the days of signing a player like for instance Duncan Ferguson (2nd time round) for a fairly hefty fee representing minimal chance of sell on value. The club in general seems to have a recruitment policy to buy in players who can be the future stars of tomorrow. Although signings such as Ruddy and  Jutkiewicz failed, both were moved on for a profit. Magaye/Velois (combined £1m) were recruited on comparatively low wages to English players but both would represent a strong chance of high sell on value given their quality and age.  The Blues aren’t the only club adopting this strategy. Man United’s purchase of Berbatov was their last such ‘marquee?!’ signing of a player for £30m aged 25+ representing zero sell on value.

“Everton are interested in younger players with a resale value and who have the potential to be moulded, improved and developed in a way older players can’t be.  We focus on a narrow band, based on age, quality and price”

James Smith, Everton’s Head of Technical Scouting

The Blues have shown through their partnership with Sega and their Football Manager product, as with the Prozone deal, that they are innovative in their methods of sourcing new talent. As a lifelong Football Manager addict as many of you probably are too, you will be aware that the database of players is immense as is the level of detail with regards to specific player attributes.

 The use of Prozone for researching future opposition is well known, but less well known is its recruitment module of which the Blues were one of the pathfinder clubs to deploy. It works through clubs selecting the skills and attributes they want in a player, e.g. for a goal scorer you would be looking at composure, acceleration and finishing. The database then assesses the scouted players measuring him on the criteria the club has selected.

 Moyes used Prozone analysis to compliment the feedback from his scouts during the purchase of Tim Cahill back in 2004. Now Prozone has developed its product to add a module dedicated to recruitment enabling the club’s scouts and management team to use objective performance data to profile and benchmark potential transfer targets against existing players across all levels of the club.

 “The depth and objectivity of the player data offered by Prozone Recruiter sits perfectly with Everton’s ethos. We believe in using the very best performance and player analysis tools to enhance every aspect of team, player and club development. Our close working relationship with Prozone allows us to do just that.”

 John Murtough, Everton’s Head of Performance

The future

 Leading players in the world of scouting often pontificate about the ‘next’ countries which will offer the higher quality of player at an economical price.  For example, look at the mass recruitment of Norwegian players to the English League in the 1990’s – the Scandinavian’s costed relatively little and had an ‘English’ mentality: contrast this with Brazilians who at the time were regarded as over priced and as far removed from the English mentality as could be.  

In a recent column for Calcio Italia, former Bayer Leverkusen scout and respected journalist Tor-Kristian Karlsen (who scouted players such as the Brazilian skipper Lucio) talked about Slovenian players currently being amongst the most fertile for would be suitors, specifically for Serie A clubs in terms of affordable quality.

Slovenia has produced brilliant talents for a long time. However, the past few years they have been particularly prolific. Maybe clubs are exaggerating a bit now after the success of the Palermo pair. There’s a lot of ‘trend scouting’ in football, now Slovenia are in fashion

Karlsen, Calcio Italia Magazine, Feb 2011

With the Blues limited financial clout it will be interesting to see if this is an area we look to further spread our net .

 Socio Economic factors also dictate where the likely stars of tomorrow will be found. In the excellent ‘Why England lose” book, Szymanski and Kuper discuss how, with the game becoming more global and knowledge exported from continent to continent (such as Holland to Korea with Hiddink) that the future landscape will see countries such as Japan, USA & China as hotbeds for developing talent. TheUSAis the obvious example here in terms of money invested at youth level with excellent facilities producing good players at fairly low prices. Moyes has shown in the pats with the signings of McBride, Peterlin, Arnoux & Donovan  that he has a network in place to tap into youth and senior players stateside.

 Final thought

It will be interesting to see the incomings and outgoings at L4 this summer, but I would think that some of the above quotes from figures within the club give a decent insight into the kind of player we will be looking to recruit.

 New on the Blog today:Wigan v Everton Tactical Preview

Wigan v Everton Preview

Saturday sees us make the short trip to the DW Stadium for a winnable fixture with a Wigan side with a woeful home record and in a fixture the Blues usually do well in.

Wigan Strategy and Intel

 The Latics have the joint fewest home wins in the league (4) and only Blackpool have conceded more goals and picked up fewer points than Wigan in home games this season.

 Wigan’s key creative influence will be Charles N’Zogbia, who has 5 assists to his credit this season from the 53 goal scoring chances he has created for teammates. Based on his game time that is a chance created every 47 minutes. Goal scoring has been a problem all season, although Rodallega is a decent finisher with good movement inside and outside the box he has registered just 8 goals this campaign. His shooting accuracy is decent, currently standing at 44% for the season, averaging a shot on target every 64 minutes.

The Latics will most likely line up in something between 4-1-4-1 and 4-5-1. Their defence is led by Alcarez who has decent pedigree having played at the last World Cup for Paraguay. He is partnered in defence by Caldwell with fullbacks most likely to be Boyce and Figueroa. In midfield, Ben Watson has been in decent form recently, patrolling the lines between defence and midfield and will presumably be given a brief to stop our advanced midfielders in this area if as I expect we revert to 4-2-3-1.

 James McCarthy will play central midfield but further forward to Watson with advanced wide support coming from Cleverley and N’Zogbia with Rodallega up front. In Wigan’s recent win atBlackpool a feature of their play was for N’Zogbia to start on the right and make diagonal runs in behind the Tangerine’s right back area which is something of a weak link for Holloway’s men. It will be interesting to see if Martinez deploys a similar approach to our defensively vulnerable left side with N’Zogbia potentially starting on the left and making diagonal runs to the right (our left).

 Recent form and past meetings.

Wigan are on a decent run of form in context to their season, with 2 wins,1 draw & 2 defeats from their last 5 games, although they shipped 4 goals to a Sunderland team last week who have been awful for months. Our 7 game unbeaten run in the league was halted last week at Old Trafford but we should still be in good spirits heading into this one. The Toffee have only lost 1 of their 5 games at the DW, recording 3 wins, one of which came last season from a familiar source; a Baines corner and Cahill bullet header. 

 Everton strategy and selection

 Last week’s display at Old Trafford at least showed that defensively we are back to our old selves with just 1 goal conceded now in the last 270 minutes of league action.  With Cahill pushing for a start the big call Moyes needs to make is how you accommodate the Australian. I think the mostly likely outcome is that he will replace Billy and Osman will switch to the left to accommodate Cahill in the centre in the only change.

 Whilst Anichebe did better in his 45mins than Beckford last week, Wigan is a completely different proposition and for this reason I hope Moyes sticks with Beckford as he will get chances in this fixture for sure. Beckford and Coleman’s pace will be key -Wigan’s two centre backs are not exactly speed demons so accurate balls into the channels to test them on the turn or by manipulating 1v1 situations could be profitable for the Blues.

 

Prediction?

Wigan’s form has been patchy all season and whilst they need the points more than we do Moyes has a knack of getting his players to recover well from defeats; from our 8 losses this season we have won 3 and drawn 5 of the subsequent fixtures, so I’m going for 2-0 to the Blues, Coleman getting one of the goals.

Man Utd 1-0 Everton

A solid defensive show from the Blues characterised by some heroic defending was undone by a late goal from Hernandez as the Blues unbeaten run deservedly came to an end at Old Trafford.

Line-ups

United opened up with in a  4-4-2 deploying Rooney  just off  Javier Hernandez. To cope with United’s wingers, the Blues dropped their 4-2-3-1 system in favour of a 4-4-1-1 with Coleman restored to the right side of midfield and tasked with doubling up with Neville to counter United’s main creative force Nani.

Blues park the bus

The Blues showed good defensive cohesion in the first half with 2 banks of 4 containing United fairly well for the most part.    Defensively, our strategy was clear; let United have the ball and only press when they got 30-35 yards from our goal.

Attacking wise we had hardly any threat; our midfield and specifically our 2 centre mids defended deep meaning Beckford was isolated on the half way line and thus balls played up to him where mostly long and aerial. Hibbert has played well in recent weeks but he looked shaky defensively and when on the ball he opted for long balls – his passing completion of 57% was well below our team average of 72% – this meant that when we did get the ball on the right possession was quickly surrendered.

As most opposition sides have done have done this season, United were focusing much of their passing down our defensively vulnerable left side, with Valencia’s cross for Nani which almost led to the opening goal an example. Anderson was the games stand out performer with his  84% pass completion well above United’s team average of 76%.

Aerial weakness

The worrying issue for the Blues as the first half reached its conclusion was our inability to force any sustained period of possession in the United half – we didn’t make a successful pass into the United 18 yard box until the 35th minute! One of the key reasons for this is that the ball wasn’t sticking up front and enabling us to bring midfielders into play and occupy the United half.

Beckford has shown this season that he is Premier League standard inside the box but Championship (at best) outside the opposition 18 yard box. This was the key reason Moyes switched things at half time bringing on the stronger physical force of Anichebe and Cahill. This worked well, resulting in the Blues having their most sustained period of play in the United half after the interval.

Looking at the stats, in the first half Everton won 2 out of 11 aerial challenges in the Man Utd half (18%) compared  with 8 out of 16 (50%) following the introduction of Anichebe and Cahill. Anichebe in particular did well when coming on, winning 4/4 of his aerial duels and offering more in behind than Beckford had done in the first half.

United attack down the flanks.

As noted in the preview, United under Ferguson always setup with 2 attacking wingers playing high up the pitch. The Blues seemed happy for United to have the ball in wide areas, confident we could repel crosses with our aerial power at the back  (only 3 of United’s 35 crosses connected with a United player). Of course, the winning  goal came from a cross but was a  result of Distin’s error and consequently being dragged out of position leaving us a man light in the box.  Despite United’s overwhelming possession and territorial dominance, it was one of the few moments in the match Everton’s defensive shape had been compromised, but ultimately it would prove decisive.

Conclusion

This was a solid defensive display by the Blues – ultimately we couldn’t keep the ball when we got it in the United half which led to wave after wave of United pressure culminating in the winning goal. Overall you couldn’t argue with the result – United were the only team who tried to win the game and despite our brave endeavour at the back we didn’t have enough quality in the United half.

Man Utd v Everton Preview


Saturday sees us take our 7 game unbeaten run in the league to Old Trafford for a midday showdown with old foes Man Utd as two form sides go head to head.

 United Strategy & Intel

United are closing in on a record 19th title and could take a 9 point lead with a victory in the weekend’s early kick off. With the ECL semi coming up on Tuesday I think Ferguson will shuffle his pack from the midweek draw at St James and setup something like 4-3-3 with Nani and Valencia playing higher up the pitch supporting Berbatov with Anderson the closest central support. Obviously this would mean that Rooney isn’t selected, but his record against us is pretty tepid, with just 2 goal in 11 starts against his boyhood idols and no goals against the Blues at Old Trafford.

Nani will be the one to watch. Whilst us Blues feel rightly aggrieved that Leighton Baines was ignored at the PFA Awards, the exclusion of Nani from the Player of the Year reckoning was inexplicable. For me, he has been the most consistent performer in the league for the last 12 months, recording  14 assists this season and creating a chance for an opponent every  46 mins. I think he is better on his right cutting in  – 7 of his 9 top flight goals this campaign have come on his left foot- but he will probably start on the left this time to accommodate Valencia on the right.

United under Ferguson are great architects of executing a ‘stretch and compress’ Ajax approach to closing and exploiting space. This basically means that when we attack they will contract and press as a unit, constricting the space we have to operate in. When United win the ball back they will use the wings and make the pitch as big as possible to exploit the space. Ferguson has always built sides on pace down the flanks and this is where they will attack us. As mentioned earlier, Rooney will perhaps sit out Saturday’s game, but in Berbatov they have a striker who has been on fire at Old Trafford this season; the league’s top marksman has registered 81% of his 21 league goals on home soil.

Previous Meetings/Current Form

The stats don’t make good reading for the Blues. In this the 19th season of the Premier League, the Blues have registered just one win on United soil since its inception back in 92/93 when a Peter Beardsley inspired Blues trounced United 3-0. Since then the best we have had is a couple of draws. Indeed, we haven’t won at any of the established top 3 sides (man u, arsenal, Chelsea) for 15 years – a quite frightening statistic. Jermaine Beckford is the caveat to this, having struck the winning goal on this ground last year for Leeds in the FA Cup.

The Red Devils are still unbeaten in the league at home this season, with 13 wins on the bounce in all competitions on their own patch. They also have the best home defensive record in the league with just  9 goals shipped and  have also registered the most goals scored at home. Our away form has been decent though, with only United & Arsenal having fewer defeats on the road this campaign.

Blues strategy

I would expect a slight tweak to our tactics from the setup which has served us well in recent weeks. United will attack us down the flanks so I think we will play 4-5-1 when out of possession and then 4-2-3-1 when we have the ball. In terms of personnel, Coleman is expected to be ready to return and I think his defensive qualities will mean he is preferred to Magaye in the only personnel change. Osman’s form from the centre is certainly too good to tinker with ; 3 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 matches is testament to the vital role he has played and he comes into this game as arguably the leagues form player. The Blues will need to show real mental toughness and focus for the full game – United may not have their best side in terms of quality during Ferguson’s tenure, but they probably have the fittest. Indeed, United have have won more points (8) with goals scored in the last five minutes than any other team in the division.

Prediction?

Whilst our record here is not great we go into the game in a great recent run of form and with absolutely no pressure on the players. United are a fantastic side and we will need to be at our best to thwart them. I fancy us to get something here though, so will be going for a 1-1 draw.

Magaye Gueye: First Impressions…

Injuries to key personnel has given Magaye Gueye the opportunity to take centre stage in recent games . This quick post will look at what the Frenchman has shown so far and what we can expect from the forward in the future….

David Moyes was tipped off about Gueye last summer by former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier who had scouted him during his time at Lyon. Last season Gueye bagged 11 goals from 28 games despite missing several months of the season through injury. He has had to be patient to get the nod after repeated bench assignments in his debut season in England. Part of this is due to the complicated deal which brought him to the club. The Blues paid £900k up front, but could owe a further £600k dependent on appearances, one segment of which being that if he plays 15 games this season a further £300k is owed to Strasbourg. Maybe this is why he hasn’t had more cameo roles from the bench. Anyway, moving on…….

Magaye Gueye goals in breakthrough season for Strasbourg 2009/10 scoring 11 in 28 games.

Our switch to a 4-2-3-1 system, coupled with injuries in the midfield and forward areas has given the young Frenchman his opportunity. More of a forward but also capable of playing as an attacking midfielder, the French U21 International has a question mark over his defensive capability, so the 4-2-3-1 system suits him well with an extra defensive midfielder as cover in behind.

Below: A quick scouting summary on his stats so far for the Blues in league games……

Gueye is heavily left footed shown by the above breakdown of his goals last term, so he is a natural on the left side but is comfortable cutting in from the right onto his best foot.

In his Premier League debut as a sub above , Gueye comes on to pierce a great through ball for Beckford’s ‘ghost goal’ – showing he is capable of dropping deep to create for a striker. He showed in this game his ability to play as a withdrawn second striker, adopting a very direct approach in taking on his opponent 9 times, winning 4 of these take on duels.

This screenshot shows Gueye offering decent anticipation and movement to arrow between 2 Wolves defenders to go clean through when he should have got Everton’s 3rd goal on the day. His display here was impressive, alternating between the 3 attacking midfield positions in a very fluid manner.

In Summary…..

Gueye has certainly shown quality in each of his run outs so far. He has good strength, is direct and can pick a pass. With 6 games to go he will be hoping for more match time and to show the Blues faithful his full repertoire.

Everton 2-0 Blackburn

Lineups

Everton remained unchanged from last week’s demolition of Wolves. An early injury to Jonny Heitinga meant Jack Rodwell came into the team, but the formation remained 4-2-3-1. Blackburn setup in a 4-4-1-1 with former Barcelona man Ruben Rochina playing in behind Santa Cruz with wide support from Olsson and Emerton.

Playmaker Head to Head

The first half was something of a non event. Without Hoilett Blackburn lacked any real penetration or ability to get in behind the Everton defence, shown by the fact they only registered one shot on target in the entire match. Rochina was deployed off Santa Cruz as Blackburn’s principal playmaker and  had some decent touches but there was no real runners in behind our backline for him to pick a pass with –  Santa Cruz is good with his back to goal but less of a threat in behind. We possessed a tad more variety in the final third with the pace of Beckford, power of Magaye and movement of Billy and Osman.

The below chalkboard compares Rochina’s passing with Everton’s principal playmaker Leon Osman. Whilst Rochina had good pass completion figure (74%) which is well above his team’s average of 64%, he fails to register one successful pass into Everton’s penalty box. Compare this to Osman who had a pass completion of 80% (also above his teams average of 70%) but delivers more incision, with 7 of his passes penetrating the Blackburn penalty box. Osman’s goal topped of a great all-round performance as the diminutive schemer again took the plaudits for a stand out display.

Blackburn tire/Blues get goals

The Blues showed more incision in the second period as Blackburn began to fade, fitting in with the belief that Rovers are something of a first half team (before the game based on 1st half results they would have been in a Champions League spot). The % of Blackburn’s overall passes made in Everton’s final third dropped 10% in the second period from 32% to 22% as their forwards looked increasingly isolated with their defensive line dropping as the second period continued. Everton’s second goal was an example of this, as Leighton Baines was able to run 60 yards without being challenged. The full back then rolled the ball into the Blackburn box for Osman to tee up Coleman,  who was  rashly taken out by Phil Jones. It was a leggy challenge which summed up a Rovers side that had run out of steam.

Conclusion

Another good win for the Blues who  have now taken 17 from the last 21 available points.  Inspired by Osman and playing in a system which seems to suit the personell we have available at the moment, it was a fairly routine win against a Blackburn side who suffered from a below par second half display.

Everton v Blackburn Preview

Saturday sees us take on Blackburn with the Blues finding their usual great end of season form with 4 wins and 2 draws from our last 6 games, underpinned by solid home form at Goodison.

Blackburn strategy and Intel

Over the past 2 seasons, Rovers have been a solid outfit on their home turf and poor travellers. In this period they have accrued 71% of their points on their home patch and conceded on average of 2.1 goals per game on the road – only Wigan possess a worse defensive record away from home. The one notable recent exception being their clean sheet at the Emirates a few weeks back. More often than not though, they are a soft touch away from Ewood, shown last season when an Everton side bang out of form and confidence rolled them over 3-0.

Blackburn Fact of the Day: Based on half time scores, Blackburn would currently be occupying a Champions League Spot.

Creativity wise, Pedersen is their principal playmaker. Out of the 45 chances he has created for opponents 6 have resulted in assists, averaging a chance created every 52minutes. The speedy Hoilett has been impressive in recent weeks – the Canadian can play on either flank, but I would expect him to play right side on Saturday to accommodate Pedersen on the left. These will be the likely wide men in a 4-1-4-1 setup.  The other midfield berths are likely to be filled by Jermaine Jones, Emerton & the more creative David Dunn. Phil Jones has been allotted to midfield in the above tactics board but with Nelson today being ruled out for the season its likely he will be deployed at centre back.

Up front, Kalinic, the match winner in the reverse fixture, is their most prolific forward having registered 5 goals this campaign, averaging a shot on target every 102 mins. He is currently out of favour though, with Santa Cruz likely to start as the lone striker. The Paraguayan International has failed to score in 467 minutes of football but has a good goal scoring record at Goodison Park .

As is the case with any team assembled by previous boss ‘Big’ Sam, Rovers are physically imposing and will try to force you out to the wings to cross the ball, safe in the knowledge they have plenty of big guys to repel any aerial threat. Samba is a huge presence but if you can play the ball around him he is easily isolated and you can get real joy here

Everton likely line-up.

The Blues have non of their big hitters due to return for this one so will continue with the same team which routed Wolves last time out in a 4-2-3-1 setup. This system basically means a delineation of the midfield duties into either ‘defend’ or  ‘attack’, so you have 6 defenders and 4 attackers. Heitinga and Neville will screen the back four and then a fluid 3 in front of them of Osman, Gueye & Billy will support Beckford.

Everton Fact of the Day: With Leon Osman in the side Everton’s win% this season has been 35%, without him it drops significantly to 25%.

I blogged this week on Osman’s great recent run of form and the key role he has played of late, and the midfield schemer will again be central to our chances of success on Saturday.

More direct approach from Blues

The Blues biggest win of the season last week was achieved despite recording our lowest amount of passes made/pass completion figures of the season. Our strategy is more direct than the possession based game we started the campaign with,  mainly due to the personnel options, but this is not to say we are playing long balls (why would you with nobody above 6ft in your midfield/attack?!). We are just getting the ball forward into the striker’s feet a lot more rapidly than we have been doing and playing more counter attack approach.

Game Plan

As mentioned earlier, Rovers will try to get us to play down the flanks to cross the ball into the box where they have an aerial advantage. It’s important we show patience and stick to our own game and keep the ball on the ground, be patient and try to bring Rovers onto us and then hit them on the break. The only issue here is that whilst Wolves attacked us from the off last week leaving massive gaps in behind their high defensive line, Blackburn won’t be so adventurous, and thus we will need to be patient.

Prediction

This will be a tough match up for the Blues and its important we stick to our game plan and don’t get influenced by Rovers physicality. If we can do this I’m confident the goals will come. 2-0 Toffees.

Player Focus: Leon Osman

Leon Osman has been a mainstay of the Moyes regime at Goodison, chipping in with 25 assists and 36 goals during his time at the Blues. He is a player who has often divided opinion at L4, with some questioning his lightweight frame. For me, Ossie is a top player; he has two quick feet, possesses vision, great touch, can score goals and always puts in a shift. In a national game like ours obsessed with physicality and pace, Osman  is something of an oddity.

The last month has seen the diminutive midfielder take a central role in the absence of a lot of our key midfield players. The stats below show the important impact he continues to have for the Blues, particularly in the final third where his vision has been integral, claiming 3 assists and 2 goals in his last 6 starts.

“Everton’s winning percentage with Osman in the side this season is 35%. Without him it drops significantly to 25%

Osman has more assists than any other midfielder at the club despite missing a large portion of the season. The local lad has benefitted from playing really high up the pitch where he is a best deployed – with his movement and interplay against Wolves on Saturday being integral to the win.

The below table is based on league games this season

It is also interesting to note from the stats that Osman averages a shot on target more rapidly than Tim Cahill, despite the Aussie often playing right up top as a forward this campaign. Osman has always had a nack of finding the net, his 2 goals at Villa Park in a game crucial to our 4th place finish in 2005 was memorable in a season were he got 7 goals, bettered only by Cahill.

His versatility has often been a double edged sword, enabling him to play in more games but often out on the right wing were he can sometimes be periphery.  On the left he has played some great games, but it is through the middle or as a second striker where he has always been most productive. His thunderbolt v Larissa in the Europa League (above) was majestic and arguably came around his most consistent spell in the team, playing centrally as the Blues went 13 games unbeaten,  a run which included Osman running half the length of the field to finish in the 7-1 win against Sunderland – a truly superb strike.

Ossie will certainly be key in the run in to this season, and I for one am really enjoying watching this underrated talent playing some great stuff at the moment.

Wolves 0-3 Everton

A 25 minute first half goal whirlwind from the Blues was enough to secure the points after the Toffees had to brave an early onslaught by their hosts in an interesting 4-4-2 v 4-2-3-1 battle….

Wolves intensity pins Blues back

Wolves started off with a real intensity to their play with 2 out and out strikers deployed by Mick McCarthy in a 4-4-2 setup (a variance to their usual 4-1-4-1 system). As a result Everton were really under the cosh in the opening period, finding it difficult to get the ball out of our own half as Wolves had us pinned in. 29% of the goals we have conceded this season have been from headers, the highest proportion of any team in the division, and McCarthy clearly targeted this as a succession of crosses and corners were rained into the Blues box – 31 in total during the game. The Blues weathered this early storm though, with Jagielka and Distin winning all but one of their aerial challenges.

Whilst Moyes would have been worried by the constant pressure, he would also have been enthused given that Wolves were playing a really high defensive line with bags of space to be exploited once we could get some possession (something we rarely get at Goodison when teams sit back and defend their 18 yard line).

Blues midfield comes up trumps

Everton played a 4-2-3-1 system today, with Heitinga and Neville anchoring the midfield and in front of them Billy, Osman and the debutant Magaye alternating in positions between the Wolves midfield and defensive lines. With Wolves playing a more orthodox 4-4-2, Henry their usual anchor who plays between these lines was further up field. As a result of this, Billy, Osman & Magaye were constantly finding pockets of space and alternating between their positions. For the crucial period we got our first two goals Osman was instrumental from the right this time, crossing for Beckford and then in the build up to Neville’s shot and also putting Magaye through one on one when he should have scored

Have a look at the below screen of the Blues 4-2-3-1, where Magaye is out left, Osman inside and Billy on the right with Heitinga and Neville anchoring them. (defensive mids in orange attacking mids in blue)


Then have a look at the next screen below where Osman swops to the left with Magaye central in the run up to Billy’s goal….Billy then comes in from the right to a central position. This fluidity between the 3 was key.

.

Everton playing on the counter

The passing stats of Everton’s season are very interesting. Yesterday we completed just 164 of our 280 passes – our lowest figure of the season and our lowest pass completion of the season at 59% . Wolves made more than double the successful passes we did, but crucially we had the incision and used the space better. In what is our best run of form this season, we are making considerably fewer passes and our pass completion has been 66% – considerably lower than our 72% season average. What we can read into this is the Blues, without Pienaar and now Arteta, are playing a more direct counter attack game in contrast to the possession based game we deployed in the first half of the season.

Conclusion

Everton’s great run of form continued in what was an interesting tactical matchup between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1. The key difference was that Everton used the space between the lines of Wolves defence and midfield better than our hosts did, despite their greater possession and passing completion. With 14 points taken from the last 18 and with Leon Osman on top of his game the Blues will be looking forward to the run in with great optimism.

 

 

Wolves v Everton Preview

Saturday sees us travel to the black country to face Mick McCarthy’s struggling Wolves, currently amidst a relegation scrap and looking to climb out of the bottom three with a win in the days early kick off.

Wolves strategy and Intel

The Molineux outfit play something of a 4-1-4-1 system and predominantly attack down the flanks. Whilst at the back they are not too shabby, its going forward where they have struggled this campaign, registering the second fewest shots (264) with only shot shy Birmingham having mustered less.

Going forward, with Kevin Doyle on the sidelines the chief goal threat will be Sylvain Ebanks Blake who scored in the reverse fixture earlier this campaign. The formed Man United academy graduate has 7 league goals this term and averages a shot on target every 74 minutes. He will be looking to the flanks for the supply with Jarvis and ex Kopite Hammill likely to occupy the wing spots. Both play on their natural foot so expect them to provide genuine width and look to get crosses in rather than cutting inside. Jarvis is the most creative man in the Wolves ranks with 5 assists from the 51 chances he has crafted for an opponent this campaign – that’s a chance created every 50 minutes.

Whilst Wolves away form has been disappointing they are a match for anyone on their own patch, with impressive wins against Chelsea, both Manchester clubs and a draw against Spurs evidence of a solid home record. Indeed, with 7 games won at Molineux, they have recorded more home victories than any of the bottom 9 clubs, as well as ourselves.

Blues strategy and likely line-up

The one change from last weeks team which David Moyes will be pondering is giving Magaye his first start for the Blues. The French U21 International was superb in his second half cameo last week and with Seamus Coleman not 100% fit this represents an ideal opportunity to blood the direct winger /forward. There isn’t really much else in terms of options for Moyes, with last weeks bench not possessing a single premiership start and only Jack Rodwell of the injured players close to a comeback at this stage. As noted in last weeks Villa report though, Moyes is often better when his options are reduced in terms of offensive players, as was shown earlier this campaign when we had all our big hitters available and yet struggled to find any form.

One of the key battles will see our inform Leon Osman up against Karl Henry. The Wolves midfield anchor plays quite a rigid role between the midfield and defensive lines similar to the role Lee Carsley used to occupy for the Blues. Osman is in great form with 2 goals and 2 assists from his last 5 league starts and has looked the most threatening player for the Blues since coming back into the side. Aside from that, expect the usual threat from the Blues, with Leighton Baines looking to get forward at every opportunity and add to his mammoth 11 assists this campaign.

Whilst I would be confident that the Blues will score, its defensively where we still look vulnerable. We haven’t kept a clean sheet on the road since October last year and even last week when we had 7 defenders in the starting line up the nature of the goals we gave away where very avoidable. This campaign we have kept just 6 clean sheets – thats just a 19% chance then of keeping Wolves out. Compare this to the season we reached the cup final in 2009 when the figure was 45%. As a defensive coach, this is something which must be giving Moyes sleepless nights this campaign.

Prediction

The Sky pundits will no doubt trot out the usual ‘Wolves need it more than Everton’ line before tomorrow’s match, and nobody would deny Wolves position is perilous. However, after the season we have had its vital that we cling onto this current momentum and at least finish the campaign on a high. Wolves are a solid outfit, especially at home, and they will compete for everything. If we can match this endeavour I am confident we can get a result, although it might be another draw. 1-1.