Everton v Liverpool – Tactical Preview

Saturday sees us take on neighbours Liverpool in what is always a well contested fixture. This short preview will take a look at the red’s strengths and weaknesses and investigate what our own strategy will be on derby day…..

Improvement down the flanks

Last season Liverpool’s  tactical deficiency was a lack of width – something of a hangover from the Benitez regime . They have clearly targeted the flanks in their recruitment policy since the US Takeover; Enrique provides quality down the left while Downing is able to play on either wing – as his man of the match display last season at Goodison playing on the right showed – hopefully ‘King’ Kenny hasn’t seen the dvd of this game.

Suarez is clearly the principal attacking hub. He likes to play from centre to the left and his partnership with the roaming Jose Enrique needs to be monitored. A quick glance at Enrique’s passing chalkboard (left) from last weeks win at Wolves shows he is often the principal supply for number 7 Suarez – 35% of his passes go to the Uruguayan with one of them being a direct assist on the goal

Liverpool Weaknesses

Liverpool ‘s new buy Charlie Adam has already bagged a couple of assists and been a key-man so far this campaign. However, as was shown at Goodison last season, pressuring Adam in possession can pay dividends.

In the above screenshot Fellaini presses  him which leads to a misplaced ball from Adam and our opening goal.  Adam can certainly be caught on the ball – most recently this happened at Spurs when his passing completion slumped to almost Stoke levels at 54% – some 22% below his average.  His frustration boiled over with the sending off later on in this game which isn’t an isolated incident –  he averages more fouls per game (2.7) than any other Liverpool player so far this campaign

Further back, Carragher’s decline has continued this season with error ridden displays now commonplace . His display in this fixture last season was laughable and this weakness will need to be exploited if we are to get a result. ‘Carra’ can still compete aerially and will relish a physical battle if Cahill is selected or any striker who comes deep – but if you can run at him things will happen.  He is likely to start on the right of the centre back partnership so if Drenthe starts wide left we could certainly get an advantage if he can run into the veteran’s channel.

Our Approach

I would expect a completely different display to last weeks defeat at Eastlands. Our personnel and style means we are more proactive at winning the ball than Liverpool through pressing high up the pitch. In theory this should stand us in good stead for the derby – typically a fixture low in quality and high in energy and tempo. We are setup well to gain possession in more advanced positions. – shown by the fact we have made more interceptions per game than any other side in the division.

I’d expect Drenthe to come into contention for this one – we’ve already seen the good and bad from him in his cameo displays from the bench – a great goal against Wigan and then the misplaced pass which led to City’s second. This high tempo fixture should suit his style and with our lack of options in forward areas his quality could be vital.

Prediction

This should be a well contested tussle and for me the outcome will be decided on who uses the width better.  if Downing is selected on the right he will get space to operate in with Baines pushing on as he always does.  With Downing on the right though its likely Adam will play left but tucked in – this will engineer decent 2 on 1 offensive scenarios for the Blues down our right side.  I’m going for us to win 2-1.

Leighton Baines v Jose Enrique – Statistical Showdown.

The role of the fullback in modern football as the most important position on the pitch is a view regularly put forward by this blog. Last season I rambled about this in great length in a comparative study of our own left sided marauder Leighton Baines and the league’s premier  fullbacks Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra. In Saturday’s Merseyside derby another left back, Liverpool’s Jose Enrique, a player that embodies the key attributes of the modern fullback, will be on show. This short post will look at the strengths and weaknesses of Baines and his opposite number Enrique;  a player who interestingly enough was bought by Sam Allardyce at Newcastle after the portly former Toon boss  failed in an attempt to sign his number one target  Leighton Baines from Wigan.

Defensive

This season Enrique has made more tackles and clearances per game than Baines. Last season Enrique had a better tackle completion (81%) than Baines (74%). Last season, Enrique was also culpable for fewer mistakes which directly led to goals (1) than Baines (2)  Baines has made more interceptions than Enrique this campaign (Everton have recorded the highest interceptions per game in the league so far)   Last season, Baines  won more 50/50 challenges ( 55% v 51% ) than his Liverpool opponent. On aerial challenges last term Baines  also won comfortably 63% to Enrique’s 32%.

 Attacking/Passing

Enrique has averaged more passes and more dribbles per game so far this campaign. This is an area Enrique bossed last season also, recording 65 to Baines 26.   Despite Everton averaging more long balls per game than Liverpool, Enrique has averaged more long balls per game than Baines. Everton’s no.3 is also fouled more than Enrique.

The Blues fullback’s trademark is his crossing – last season his cross completion was slightly better than Enrique. In terms of creating goal scoring chances for colleagues, Baines has led the way this season as he did last season when he managed 74 which led to 11 assists, with Enrique creating 30 with just 1 assist.

Conclusion

 Both men will be key players come Saturday. Enrique’s quality lies in his ability to beat his man, strength in the tackle with a slight weakness being his ability aerially. Baines qualities lie in his superb range of delivery through crosses and dead balls. His ambition in getting forward has been targeted by opposition manages in recent seasons, specifically in counter attacking situations and would be his principal weakness.

Many thanks to opta and whoscored.com for the statistics used in this article.

Man City 2-0 Everton – 5 Tactical Points

 

  1. Formation – City played their usual 4-2-3-1 – with an interchangeable forward 4 players at times it becomes 4-2-2-2 with Nasri and Silva tucked in behind Aguero and Dzeko . To combat the threat of City we played a defensive 4-4-2 with 2 banks of 4 in close proximity to deny space between the lines of our midfield and defence. Offensively, Cahill and Fellaini playing further upfield – the Belgian’s role also required him to shuttle into mdfield when the Blues where not in possession.
  2. The display was undoubtedly defensive – City’s depth of attacking talent is ridiculous –  however our play was more offensive than in last seasons win at Eastlands . Yesterday we had more touches of the ball  (575 v 558)… had more shots (6 v4)  …better pass completion (79% v 73%) ….and more possession (37% v 31%) in comparison to last seasons win.
  3. David Silva has created more scoring opportunities than any other player in the division and Moyes view was that he required specific attention with Rodwell  given a specific man marking brief on David Silva – as he did last season at the Emirates on Fabregas. It was a role Rodwell excelled and he showed great focus and discipline throughout. Silva eventually provided an assist for Milner’s goal but for the most part he was subdued.
  4. The gameplan was clear – 2 banks of four with our fullbacks tucked in to block out the centre of the pitch and get as many men behind the ball as possible – the above shot shows all 10 outfield players behind the ball. City play through the middle and don’t have great width with nasri and silva preferring to tuck inside – with Clichy & Richards not providing the width required  from fullback  a lot of City’s breaks where intercepted by the Blues 10 man rearguard.
  5. The gap between our midfield and attack was too much – our 2 banks of four where repelling City’s attack well but when we got the ball long punts to Cahill and Fellaini in the hope of winning freekicks seemed to be the only real attacking strategy – unfortunately we couldn’t engineer enough of theses situations to build any sustained period of pressure in the City half.

Conclusion

Moyes pre match comments about our strategy being akin to ‘taking a knife to a gunfight’ where chillingly accurate. Some will say we should have gone more offensive but you have to play to your strengths – in Moyes we have a manager who has great defensive strategy  and we have major issues in personnel in forward areas – so keeping things tight and looking for a 0-0 or sneaking a win was the best approach. As the stats show we where less adventurous when we won last season’s fixture – there is no shame losing to a side like City  who will challenge for the title this season no doubt.

 

Man City v Everton – Tactical Preview & Statistical Analysis

The Blues head to Eastlands in Saturday’s early kick off for a showdown with old foes Man City in a fixture which has brought the best out of the Toffees in recent years….

The game will represent a contrast of tactics and strategies between two managers who have come to blows physically and verbally in recent seasons –City’s short passing game and our own modified style with an emphasis on pressing and direct play following the departure of our two best passers this year.

Despite not making a cash buy on a  player in the last 6 transfer windows and City splashing over £300m, the Toffees have  bossed their cash savvy neighbours of late; winning 8 of the last 9 against City including 4 on the spin at Eastlands. Whilst we can compete with City in a one of basis there is no hiding the fact that there has been a 30 point swing in the last 2 seasons between the clubs in City’s favour which has seen them emerge as true title contenders – so its going to be a massive ask to get a result but one which Moyes has done before, which brings us nicely onto….

Moyes Winning Eastlands Formula

It will be interesting to see how Moyes starts up. Last season, despite the Blues being in torrid form and City heading for the summit, Moyes surprised everyone by sending out the Blues to attack City on their own patch – leading to us going 2-0 up in 20minutes. With the goals in the bag the Blues retreated – more so following the Anichebe dismissal – we went compact showing City out to the flanks where they are less potent and grinded out a victory in the face of intensive City pressure in the second period.

The hero of the win as has been the case on numerous occasions against City was our Aussie talisman  Tim Cahill– he has struck 4 match winning goals on City’s home turf and the sight of the Aussie does appear to cause havoc in the Eastlands defence. Comfortably winning 1-0 at Goodison last campaign, the entrance of Cahill swung the balance in our favour, with 2 goals in the 10 minutes following his introduction as a second half sub.

It will certainly be a clash of styles; on average 17% of our passes this campaign are long balls compared to City’s 8%. When in possession we will look  to play to our strengths; get the ball out wide and whip balls into the box  –  we have won  60% of aerial duals this campaign– the highest % in the divison. The shifting skillset of our midfield also means that we are now better equipped to press than pass.

Man City Intel – Strengths & Weaknesses

City boast the best pass completion in the top flight (86%) – enabling them to complement their solid defensive game of the last few seasons with penetration in the final third. The chalkboards (Left) show games against Dirty Arry’s Spurs mob this season (top)and last season (bottom) – notice how this season more balls are being played into the opposition 18 yard box. Not surprisingly because of this, City have averaged more shots (9) and dribbles (11) per game than any team in the top flight this season.

Nasri has settled in well and has the ability to go inside (like Silva) but also outside.  The Spurs win was based on Nasri, Silva & Aguero playing between the lines – something Dirty Arry failed to grasp by playing no anchor man. Moyes won’t make this mistake  – I wouldn’t expect Fellaini or Rodwell to cross the halfway line on Saturday.

The image above is from last season’s fixture – the Blues are compact forcing City out to the flanks safe in the knowledge our superior aerial game will repel any crosses into the box – this is shown by the stats that in the last 2 games at Eastlands we have mustered just 6 crosses compared to City’s 48 – yet it is the Blues who have reaped the rewards with goals from wide areas – and notably Cahill.

City can certainly play then, but they do have a weakness – and in particular from crosses. Cahill’s goals invariably come from the Baines supply line, which led Mancini to  deploy Milner as a tornanti to track Baines runs in the reverse fixture at Goodison last season– it worked initially but Everton simply focused attacks down the right flank with our 2 goals  coming from  – yes,  you’ve guessed it – crosses. Lescott and Kompany then are not flawless. Neither is especially blessed with vision or the ability to bring the ball out of play and both will look to keep things simple and move possession out to the fullbacks.  For this reason the centre backs pose no threat offensively and do not need to be pressed – the fullbacks however will build attacks so expect a 4-2-3-1 with Coleman and Drenthe pressing City’s fullbacks as soon as the ball goes to their feet.

Prediction

I would expect few goals in this one – Mancini’s side are looking more offensive this campaign but Moyes has got the better of him in all 4 matches they have gone head to head. I would expect a clash of styles and a tight game. 1-1.

 

Everton 2-2 Aston Villa – Tactical Deconstruction

Line ups

The Blues switched things around, bringing in the fresh legs of Coleman and Rodwell for Heitinga and Barkley with Cahill replacing Anichebe up front and Hibbert deputising for Neville at fullback in a 4-2-3-1. Our core strategy was to play more direct balls from back to front and aim to win the second balls and start play from there. Villa’s started off in a 4-2-3-1 with N’Zogbia behind Bent, but the winger moved back to his natural wide berth following Heskey’s injury and the introduction of Bannan. Villa also played quite direct but more long driven balls aiming to exploit their pace in wide areas.

 Blues Passing

It is clear that with Pienaar and Arteta now departed we don’t have the tools to pass teams to death. For example, last season’s early season defeat to Villa was suffered despite the Blues dominating  play – that day we made 597 passes in total (10% of which where long balls). Yesterday we made just 455, with almost double the amount (18%) of long balls. Jagielka is perhaps the best example of the change in strategy – in last season’s game he hit just 8 long balls and averaged 77% pass completion – this season it was 20 long balls and 51% completion.  We can certainly mix it though,  and the opening goal followed a period of sustained pressure with some great passing by the Blues culminating in a tidy slot by the excellent Osman. The assist was provided by Cahill and the Aussie led the line well throughout – he picks up invaluable free kicks around the box  and  was our most fouled player winning 3 free kicks in total. He offers a great hold up outlet enabling us to maintain possession in the opponents half.

Press, Press & Press!

The Blues worked extremely hard off the ball – last season in terms of interceptions we averaged just 12 per game – the lowest in the league compared to 09/10 when we had highest average per game (22) in the division.  Yesterday we made a whopping 30 (see left chalkboard). We where also extremely combative in our pressing high up field – winning 59%  of our tackles in Villa’s half (see below chalkboard), with our aggressive pressing of the opposition characterized by Fellaini who regained possession 6 times, all in Villa’s half. Clearly, as mentioned above, our passing has become more direct and with more direct passing you will always lose the ball more frequently during the course of a game – meaning we have to spend more time working at winning the ball back – but with high energy players such as Fellaini, Coleman and Rodwell the Blues certainly have the raw materials to play this way.

In the second period Villa played more 4-4-2 with Agbonlahor playing more centrally alongside Bent. Due to the Blues playing quite a high line and compressing the midfield, much of Villa’s attacking moves where based on balls over the top aiming to catch their speedy forwards – most of theses balls either went out of play or led to a Villa player being caught offside which they did 6 times compared to our 0.

Pressing for long periods can ultimately lead player’s energy levels to wither as the game goes on. Petrov’s first equaliser was class but Villa’s second equaliser was certainly avoidable – with Coleman subbed the Blues looked disjointed down the right and a few moments later Albrighton was left in acres of space 1 on 1 with Hibbert, crossing for Agbonlahor to head home and equalise Baines earlier penalty . One slight critique here was that Albrighton is all right foot but in the 3 runs he had at Hibbert he wasn’t once shown onto his left as should have been the case.

Conclusion

We really should have buried a Villa side who specialize in coming back against the Blues. This was the 11th game we have failed to beat Villa in the league on the spin despite taking the lead in 7 of those fixtures. All in all though it was a positive display of high intensity and graft off the ball, mixed with some pockets of real offensive quality and was a glimpse of a more direct and high octane strategy which I think the Blues will adopt this season.

Everton v Aston Villa – Tactical Preview

Saturday sees the post Arteta period commence and the Blues will be looking to get one over on an Aston Villa side they have failed to beat in the last 10 attempts despite the Blues finishing above their opponents in 6 of the past 7 seasons….

Villa Intel and Strategy

Villa will setup something resembling a 4-2-3-1, with their wide men Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia pressing our fullbacks high up field. Bent will lead the line with Heskey the aerial target behind. Last time out at Goodison Darren Bent again showed why he is such a top player – his movement outside the box is first class – the below diagram shows his angled run for his 2nd goal , giving Distin the slip exposing Everton’s high defensive line.

The clubs both play a fairly pragmatic style, although Villa are perhaps slightly more direct in terms of their play so far with 16% of their passes long balls compared to the Blues 14%. Stoke unsurprisingly are way ahead with 26% of their passes classed in the ‘agricultural’ bracket. Big Eck will probably pitch in Alain Hutton at the expense of Australian Chris Herd with other deadline day new boy Jenas potentially starting on the bench

N’Zogbia v Drenthe

One of the most interesting sub plots to the game will be the appearance in the Villa ranks of our number one summer target Charles N’Zogbia – and the man we eventually signed to solve the wide issues – Royston Drenthe. N’Zogbia will work both flanks but will predominantly occupy the right side and look to make runs in behind our defence from right to left. Only Lionel Messi (331) attempted more dribbles than Charles N’Zogbia (301) in the top five European leagues in 2010/11. The dribbles don’t always come off though -N’Zogbia was tackled 304 times in the Premier League last season – a whopping 91 times more than any other player. Winning the ball back and breaking with pace will be a key outlet for the Blues. In Drenthe, the Blues have got someone equally direct – with ferocious pace and bags of creative talent. Royston averaged 2.2 shots per game in La Liga last year – a better rate than most of our strikers – and created a chance for an opponent every 41 minutes – better than any of our existing midfielders – Arteta included. Drenthe will go for the throat at every opportunity and he carries a genuine threat.

Blues Intel and Strategy

The Blues have few selection headaches – Anichebe’s injury means we now have just 14 senior outfield players in our Premier League squad until Christmas – comfortably the smallest in the divison. Baines is expected to be fit and I would imagine Cahill would return meaning Osman  moves across to the left flank where his quick feet got plenty of joy against the limited movement of Collins at Goodison last season. Rodwell is also pushing for a start and his better attacking qualities should give him the edge over Heitinga for this fixture. This quote from Drenthe would imply that he won’t start the game on Saturday but could well make an impact from the bench  “I’ve still got some pain in my ankle but I’m good. The manager wants me to be prepared, and to figure not for this game (on Saturday against Aston Villa) but probably the game after that (against Wigan Athletic at Goodison).”

Verdict

Villa certainly have something on the Blues in recent years – they have picked up plenty of points against us but the games are often tight – mostly draws – and invariably decided by the one goal. I think it will be more the same here – McLeish has already got hold of Villa’s defence which was awful last season – keeping 2 clean sheets in 3 outings –I can see this being tight and a 1-1 draw

Arteta: The Final Analysis

Yesterday witnessed the dramatic exit of a cult figure at Goodison who has been a key cog in our development as a club over the past 7 years. This article will take a look at his career at the Blues and investigate what the fallout will be – will he be missed? – will it affect how we setup in terms of style and strategy this season? Read on…..

Nobody Better

There is no doubting how pivotal Arteta has been to the Blues cause since arriving from Sociedad – we have averaged 61 points per season with him in the team and 51 points without him –  notably down to his creativity – since 2005 he has on average created 2.7 chances per game ranking him 5th in the top flight in terms of creation. The stats below show this:

Arteta with and without (above table produced Jan 2011)

Arteta’s passing is consistently quality and rarely dips below 80% completion– he has the ability to dictate games and the combined loss of him and Pienaar will hit us in terms of ability to retain possession.  Set plays and crosses aside, MA is our most creative player possessing great vision and technique – a skill set which (with the potential exception of Barkley) doesn’t reside elsewhere in the squad despite the ability Osman possesses.

Arteta 3 Year Stats (produced Jan 2011)

Our playing style became more direct from January onwards last season, coinciding with Pienaar’s departure; however this was met with an upturn in results and goals  per game, improving from  1.05 to 1.66 per game . With both gone and no like-for-like players coming in, our game will change to a more direct, pressing game I fancy, using the pace and youth of the likes of Coleman, Rodwell, Fellaini & Drenthe.

Reduced Impact

Arteta’s importance to the club has been reduced in last 3 seasons since his cruciate injury, leading him to only be available for half the games in this period. Pre-injury the team was built around him but since Baines has become the pivotal player in terms of strategy and creative spark; in the last 2 seasons Baines has mustered 20 assists with Arteta just 6 – way short of his vintage of 13 assists back in 2006/7.

Last season MA struggled playing further back as more of a deep lying playmaker where he often had to sit and cover the left for the Baines/Pienaar forward axis. Indeed, last season we won just 31% of the games Arteta played in, compared to 44% of the games he didn’t figure in. I’m not saying we are a better team with Arteta not in it – quite the opposite – but clearly we can pick up points with him absent as we have had to do with great regularity in the last 3 seasons with his injuries.

Whilst he improved later on in the campaign (notably Newcastle away) on the flanks and was still one of the first names on the team sheet, he simply wasn’t the force he once was. Moyes at times seemed unsure on where to deploy him for the best, playing him on the left, right, anchor and in a no.10 role.

Conclusion

 

Mikel Arteta has been one of the best players I have seen play at Goodson. He has great passing technique, delivery, vision and composure. In his earlier years he also possessed a tidy turn of pace and the ability to beat players on the flanks.

My view is that unlike with the Rooney transfer, we have got great value from Arteta and we certainly witnessed his best playing days. My sadness at his exit is more about sentimentality of what has gone before than what could happen in the future.

The timing of the transfer has left us no time to buy a replacement and short term we will have to re-adjust tactically. However, as mentioned above, MA is no longer the man the team is built around and, close to his 30’s,  £10m represents decent value. I’m sure he will give Arsenal good service and fit in with their style of play.

Thanks for the memories Mikel!

 Click here to view previous articles about Mikel Arteta

Click here to view articles about new faces Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi