Sunderland 0-2 Everton – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Teams & Tactics

We made several changes from the excellent Swansea win with Heitinga rightfully restored  to the back line despite Jags ace display at the Liberty Stadium. Gueye also came in on the left for Pienaar and Fellaini returned to midfield with Neville switching to right back. Sunderland welcomed back influential duo Sessegnon and Cattermole whilst calamity ex Kopite Sotiris Kyrgiakos coming in for John O’Shea at the heart of the Mackems back four. Both sides were pretty much 4-4-1-1.

2. Blues Hit Ground Running

The Toffees were out the traps very quickly and immediately hurting our host’s zonal marking strategy twice with the usually military marked Cahill repeatedly finding space from corner situations. The opening goal wasn’t far away though as a slick move led by the commanding Fellaini witnessed the marauding Belgian drive into the space between Sunderland’s defensive and midfield lines before playing it wide left to Gueye who struck a superb zipped ball into the Mackems box which Jelavic dispatched with aplomb. The Croatian is looking a really great buy and he has the cool head and lethal finishing in the final third we haven’t really seen since the Yak’s first season.

The Blue’s midfield was bossing proceedings with Fellaini pressing and Gibson sitting back and moving the ball quickly out to the flanks when we regained possession.  On the wings Gueye was superb and Osman was showing the hallmarks that make him such a top player;  two great feet and toes twinkling past his marker repeatedly. The pint sized schemer was instrumental in the Blues creating almost double the openings of our hosts and hitting 8 shots on target to the Black Cats 1.

3. O’Neill Looks to Change Things

On the hour mark O’Neill switched things around with Kryiagkos given the hook for David Vaughan, with Bardsley moving inside and Gardner switching to fullback. Vaughan is actually a really good passer of the ball who hurt us at Bloomfield Road last season but few could predict just what an instant impact he would have on the game.

Fellaini was again pressing constantly and his aggression forced Sunderland backwards and culminated in Jelavic going one on one with Mignolet before pulling the ball across Sunderland’s goalmouth which Vaughan, with no blue shirt anywhere near him inexplicably contrived to take one touch before miscuing his second into his own net. O’Neill’s next change was to send on Campbell for Wayne Bridge and a move to 4-3-3 but with the Blues now in lockdown mode it would prove fruitless.

4. Blues close things out

With the 2 goals in the bag the Blues retreated and afforded superb protection to Howard, who was only forced into a single one on one situation when Campbell got clear. With the game as good as won the Blues basically did to Sunderland what our hosts did to us for the final 45mins at Goodison, sitting back and snuffing out the plethora of crosses which were increasingly coming from poor angles ideal for our defenders to gobble up. The Jag came on to sit between defence and midfield and nozzle the threat of Sessegnon which he did well in the short time he was on the pitch.

5. Final thought

Whereas in the game at Goodison we struggled to break down a well drilled outfit there was always going to be more space here as our hosts simply had to open up more on their own patch. Sunderland’s endeavour wasn’t in question but they ultimately lacked the subtlety to breakdown a side that is in their element closing out leads.

This was a richly deserved win for the Blues in a game we dominated from start to finish. Each member of the side won their individual battles and the result could have been a lot more convincing given the chances the Blues spurned. We now head to Wembley for a showdown with old foes Liverpool in a very winnable game and then face a potential final with either Spurs or Chelsea;  2 sides the Blues have beaten in the last few months. COYB!

Deconstructed: Moyes 3 Phase Strategy for defeating Swansea

Team News

The Blues drafted in Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka as like for like replacements for Fellaini and Heitinga. With rumours abound that he had been sacked by the club, Royston Drenthe was not in the match day squad and was replaced on the right flank by Osman with Gibson taking his spot in the centre. The Swans set up in a 4-2-3-1-ish system with Graham leading the line supported by the key danger man Sigurdsson.  Moyes tactical plan could be broken down into 3 key phases;

Phase 1 – Containment

Our hosts had most of the ball (62%) kept it better (86% v 76%) and made more passes (585 v 359) but pre match we had an idea this would be the case given Swan’s excellent style in keeping the ball.  The key factor was whether we could disrupt their fluidity in playing through us. Swansea’s key man this season has arguably been Leon Britton whose 93% pass completion is the best retention rate in the top flight. He is key to Swansea’s rhythm and linking defence to midfield. Our game plan from the off was to position ourselves to block off the angles from Vorm to the defenders with Osman and Pienaar positioning themselves high up the pitch. Cahill was asked to basically stand on Britton’s toes and ensure the midfielder had no space or angles to distribute forwards when the ball was played into him. This tactic really frustrated their key midfield man and one of the key themes of the first half was him constantly moving around the midfield zone looking for space, closely followed by Cahill. Unsurprisingly the duo covered the most – and almost exactly the same – distance in the first half from players on either side; Britton 2.78 miles and Cahill 2.76 miles respectively.

Phase 2 – Possession and Goals

The Bainaar axis was key to us getting a foothold in the game in the second period. The below graphic shows the players average positions and their font size demonstrates the volume of touches they had of the ball (the bigger the font the more touches). This shows the importance of Baines and Pienaar.

The duo combined superbly down the left in the second period and one of their signature moves culminated in the Swan’s key defender Williams upending Pienaar. From the resulting freekick Baines curled home a superb effort into the top corner of Vorm’s net. Pienaar and Osman were at their impish best on either flank; setting up 6 chances between them as the Blues missed a host of other chances before Jelavic – having just missed a sitter after another Pienaar run – was able to slot home after Fellaini’s physicality enabled him to turn away from Williams who was now being ragged all over the pitch. The Belgian had come on just before Baines opener and provided more of a threat than Cahill who lacked shattered after his tireless running in the first half.

Phase 3 – Lockdown

With the goals in the bag we looked to shut up shop, get men behind the ball and restrict Swansea from creating openings. Howard was incredibly well screened and only had one save to make in the 90mins as the Blues shape meant that Swansea couldn’t get behind our back line and were resorted to making speculative efforts from long range with 64% of their efforts pot shots and 0% from inside our 6 yard box. This image shows this (Swans left, Everton right) . In total the Blues made a huge 20 interceptions from deploying this tactic of cutting off forward angles. This great positional play and strong shape also enabled the Blues to conserve energy for the most part as Swansea’s possession was mostly confined to their own half and often broke down before reaching the final third.

As the game drew to a close we continued to look threatening on the break and were unlucky not to add to our tally. Stracquilarsi was snarling on the touchline and ready for action and on 82 minutes Moyes unlocked the key to his cage and as has become custom the belligerent Argentine galloped onto the pitch like a tiger who had been kept in a pen against his will and in need of some meat to satisfy his hunger. Straight away he was sharpening his claws on unsuspecting prey Williams and Caulker – making  as many fouls in 8 mins as any of teammates had done in 90mins. He should have scored at least once – perhaps twice if I’m being tough – but 2-0 was the final score in what was a terrific display from the Blues. In the case of the last 45minutes it was arguably our best offensive display of the season against a side who have rarely been brushed aside with such ease….Bring on Sunderland!!

Swansea v Everton – 5 Point Tactical Preview

1. Swansea’s season so far…

Brendan Rodgers has rightly been lauded for the way his side have lightened up what has been a very stagnant and average quality Premier League season. They have been so good that even the wooden tops on motd have ushered the immortal words of condescension previously reserved for Hull and Blackpool of  ‘they’re like a breath of fresh air’

The Swans have played some terrific stuff this season with a fluid short passing offensive game harnessed by a great work ethic and intensive pressing in the defensive phase of play leading to them keeping 12 clean sheets so far. Since the turn of the year they have been more free scoring too thanks to the superb loan acquisition of Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim, who Rodgers worked with previously at Reading.

The best thing about their style is that it shows you don’t have to play the direct, dour percentage football adopted by other sides that have come up such as Pulis or the run blocking, tactical fouling model of O’Neill.

2. How to play them?

Against a side who keeps the ball like Swansea do there is perhaps a plan A and Plan B you can use. ‘Plan A’ is to let them have the ball, conserve energy by only pressing when they approach 20 yards from your goal. Plan B is to stop them playing from the source – their top keeper Michel Vorm – recruited from Utrecht as much for his ability on the ball as for his goalkeeping prowess. In midfield, Leon Britton has the best ball retention stats in the top flight with a 93% pass completion and 1574 successful passes in total – the 3rd most in the top flight.

If you opt for plan B than Stracquilarsi would appear a certain starter given the similar job he did in the recent game against Chelsea. Given the small squad and the more important game on Tuesday I’d doubt very much if Moyes would adopt an energy sapping tactic like Plan B and will instead adopt Plan A and look to stand off, narrow the passing angles to Swansea’s defenders and push them to play longer.

3.Previous Meeting

The Blues won 1-0 in a very entertaining game at L4 just before Christmas. Swansea had the bulk of possession ( 54%) and kept the ball better than the Blues (82%) but we looked more incisive in the final third than our opponents and secured the points when Osman rose ‘like a salmon’ to head home Drenthe’s delicious cross. As per point 2, Moyes looked to close out passing angles from Vorn to Swansea ’s defensive distributors.

If there is a critique of the Swans its that their domination of the ball is mostly in their own half and they lack penetration to force their way into the final third. Crucially, in the game at Goodison of the successful passes made 27% of ours were made in the final third whilst only  16% of Swansea’s occurred in our final third. The below image shows the average positions of the players in this game…Everton in blue obviously…

 4.Team News

I think Moyes will certainly shuffle his pack for this one given the looming cup game on Tuesday night. I’d expect Stracquilarsi, Anichebe and perhaps Gueye to get run outs whilst Pienaar is cup tied for Tues so will probably start also. I’d imagine Cahill, Jelavic and possibly Drenthe will all be rested whilst at the back it wouldn’t be a surprise if Distin was rested for the Jag. Swansea will probably adopt a similar 4-4-1-1 with Sigurdsson in ‘the hole’ behind top scorer Graham. Centre back Williams is their only injury doubt heading into this one.

5. Prediction

Make no mistake; this is going to be a very tricky fixture for the Blues on a ground where few teams have come away with anything this season. We average less than a goal a game on our travels which puts big pressure on keeping clean sheets in order to get wins on the road. Given the way the derby was conceded its unlikely Moyes will have too many qualms about writing off this fixture also if it means getting an advantage for Tuesday’s season defining tussle at the Stadium of Light. If my head rules my heart I’d go with 1-0 Swansea in this one but I could see defences coming out on top.

 

Everton 0-1 Arsenal – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Selection & Tactics

The Blues made 2 changes from the side which drew the FA Cup Quarter Final earlier in the week; Steven Pienaar came in for the injured Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert replaced skipper Phil Neville. The system was the usual 4-4-1-1 with Cahill initially pivoting between midfield and attack in support of Jelavic. The Gunners only significant change was to bring back the talented Aaron Ramsey from injury with the Welshman deployed in an attacking midfield berth from the left drifting inside onto Hibbert’s left foot– something the fullback struggles to cope with. Wenger’s side lined up in more of a 4-2-3-1.

2.Gunners In the groove

The opening 20 minute spell was a complete non starter for the Toffees. Arsenal, clearly coming into the game with great confidence on the back of recent results, were pinging the ball around with some aplomb and repeatedly carving open a back four which had conceded just 1 Goodison goal in its last 9 hours of action. The hallmarks of the recent slayings of the league’s top clubs were not on show with virtually no pressure on the ball and an increasingly deep defensive line standing off and inviting pressure from the Gunners. The below image shows Arteta unmarked in acres of space in the build up to an early chance which the away side spurned.

Despite some really fluid play it was a corner that witnessed the Londoners take the lead as the ever productive Van Persie whipped in a left footed in swinger which was nodded home by the impressive Vermaelen after he wrong footed his marker Fellaini by fainting to run near post and then angled his run centrally. It was a criminal goal to give away by the Blues but in truth given the opportunities they missed we were lucky to still be in the game at the midway point of the first half.

3. Cahill / Fellaini Switch

With Arsenal and especially our old friend Mikel Arteta swelling possession in the centre the Blues continued to toil which led to Moyes swapping Cahill and Fellaini. The big Belgian is our best presser but in the early stages was out manoeuvred as his aggressive darts were being bypassed by quick triangular passing movements by the Gunners. As Moyes did with 30mins to go in the Sunderland game, Fellaini was pushed forward – playing pretty much as a central striker to occupy the Arsenal centre-backs – with Cahill dropping deep.

The bonus this had was twofold; firstly Fellaini (circled) was able to press the Gunners CB’s to stop them playing out from the back to Arteta and secondly it enabled us to get from back to front quicker using his significant height advantage and upper body strength to hold up play. This enabled the Blues to move further up the pitch and push our defensive line up a tad. The tactic now was to play more direct diagonal balls from Howard and Heitinga to the Gunners right side and specifically Sagna in the hope of winning flick ons or second balls. Sagna is decent in the air and won 14 aerials – 4 more than our team put together – but we did collect a lot of the second balls with Sagna dispossessed more times (4) than any other player on the pitch.

The only negative impact of this was that our bypassing of the middle ground with longer passes negated the offering from Leon Osman who was thus on the periphery of things for most of the evening before eventually getting the hook.

4.Gunners Defensive Line

As noted in the preview, both side’s high lines in the early season fixture at the Emirates led to the most offsides (15) in a prem game this season. The Gunners defensive line was such an obvious tactical approach last night that even the auto-pilot corpse that is Alan Hansen on motd would have been able to pick it out….or not! The Gunners caught us offside a whopping 10 times (average per team per game in the prem is 2). Moyes questioned 5/10 of the calls and it’s clear that Drenthe was at least 2 yards onside when he stroked the ball into  Szczesny’s net following good work from Cahill. The Blues were now at least asking questions of the previously un-worked visitor’s backline. The high line dynamic continued in the second period and despite a greater intensity from the Blues as the game went on the equalising goal just wouldn’t come.

5.Final Thought

This was a strange game that we could easily have been 0-3 down in at one stage yet by the close of play we could count ourselves a tad unlucky not to take a point. Credit to Arsenal, their passing and movement in the fist 20mins was something to behold and we couldn’t handle them. Defensively they restricted us to few clear cut opportunities, albeit with some help from the officials on the Drenthe ‘offside’ goal.

With the momentum of the 9 game unbeaten run now compromised the worry is that our season has already peaked as we head to Swansea on Saturday for a very tricky looking fixture. A positive result would be a real boost before heading to the Stadium of Light on Tuesday for a game which will ultimately define the remainder of the season.

Everton Scout Report: 5 Tactical Points on Arsenal

1. Arsenal’s Season so far….

The Gunners season has taken on 4 phases. The first phase was the opening spell when a summer of transfer woe culminated in them being humbled by the likes of Blackburn and enduring a savage 8-2 beating at the hands of Taggart’s mob. The second phase saw an upturn in results and performances which culminated in the 5-3 rout of Chelsea at the Bridge amidst a run of great form which included a 1-0 win over ourselves thanks to a Van Persie special.

The third phase involved patchy league form, an FA Cup exit and an embarrassing 0-4 reverse to Milan in the ECL. In the current phase, the Gunners are now firing on all cylinders as the league’s form side which has solidified their place in 4th and made 3rd spot tantalisingly close especially given the form of old Bagpuss head Arry and his stuttering Spurs. Unfortunately for us our games against them have coincided with the good phases!

2. Gunners Selection, Tactics & Strategy

This season Wenger’s men have mostly resembled 4-3-3 in terms of system. They play predominantly through the middle using their 3 midfielders to service the forwards. Van Persie will obviously lead the line as he looks to continue his machine like season which has seen the dynamic Dutchman plunder 46% of Arsenal’s goals.

Former blue Mikel Arteta will be expected to transport the ball from defence to the flanks and I’d expect him to form a trio with Rosicky and Alex Song who is also enjoying a fine season both in terms of the defensive and offensive phases of play; so far making more successful through balls (17) than any player in the top flight yielding 7 assists.  The key cog in their recent renaissance has been the form of the delightful Tomas Rosicky. The former Dortmund star was the key man in the flagship wins against Spurs, Milan and Newcastle and his runs from midfield will need to be kept in check.

Although they still dominate possession of the ball more than any other side in the top flight there is more of an emphasis on sitting back and using counter attacks on their travels as the recent win at Klanfield showed. Indeed, the Gunners have scored more fast break goals (9) than any other side in the top flight.

In terms of weakness, they are not water tight in defence with Gibbs a borderline liability but its worth noting that both spells of poorer results have come when they were without recognized fullbacks. Their defence looks more rigid now with a settled back four and the excellent Szczęsny between the sticks. A sign of their solidity is that they have conceded fewer shots per game (10.8) than any side in the division.

3.Previous Battles

Whilst we have never won against them at the Emirates we have enjoyed some decent results at L4. Notable wins in the Moyes era came courtesy of Rooney, Johnson & Beattie winners and only a world class last gasp goal from Van Persie stopped the Blues from another triumph in 2009. Arsenal have of course dished out the biggest webbings of the Moyes era with embarrassing 1-6 and 0-7 defeats. In the last couple of seasons Arsenal have had things there own way; we have won none of our last 9 against them.

Earlier this season at the Emirates we played a high line (below) and tried to squeeze the play on Arsenal’s midfield trio stopping them playing through us and feeding the forwards. The results were good to an extent in that we were competitive  however playing this high line did leave us exposed to Arsenal’s wide strikers exploiting the space in behind. Luckily for us Gervinho and Walcott were repeatedly wasteful but with Walcott’s recent return to form the risk with playing a high line is thus a greater worry. With Arsenal also playing a higher line in this fixture it led to the midfield zone being incredibly congested; the offside traps from both sides resulted in a total of 15 offsides in the game which was the most in any top flight game this season. Koscielny has actually caught an opponent offside 40 times this season – only Coloccini at Newcastle has claimed more. The second impact of the side’s high lines was that as the game was condensed into the midfield area, space was restricted and possession was often conceded by both sides with a whopping 44 interceptions taking place.

4. Blues Team and Approach

We are up against Arsenal and Swansea – two of the best sides in the league for ball retention – in the space of 4 days. This will mean a lot of time off the ball which means a lot energy will be required. With the cup seemingly Moyes priority he will surely shuffle his pack with only 2 days rest from Swansea to the Sunderland replay. I’d say it’s more likely he will pick the bigger hitters for this one and then rest them at the weekend so I would be surprised if there was wholesale changes from the cup game with Pienaar probably coming in for Coleman although Rodwell will be pushing hard for a recall.

The Sunderland game was obviously a disappointment in that we dominated proceedings but faced the usual demons of not being able to break down well organized sides that sit and don’t compromise their shape. Added to this you have the usual O’Neill tactics of blocking runs, tactical fouling and the constant hacking of ball players such as Royston. Graft wise, you couldn’t question the application of the players but the lack of incision was there for all to see as was our over reliance again on crosses. With Sunderland happy to sit deep and let us have the ball Fellaini’s pressing capability was minimised so Moyes swapped him with Cahill on 60mins. Obviously with someone of Marouanne’s height it leads to more crosses however some of the angles for the crosses were just stupid. I’d imagine the approach against Arsenal would be similar to the recent games against the top sides, namely to keep a high line, squeeze play in the centre, push them out to the flanks, pack the box, nick a goal and then drop deep and shut up shop.

5. Prediction

Arsenal are a top side and will be a really tough nut to crack but they will come and attack which will suit us. Our best results this season have come against sides that play this way (Chelsea, Man City, Spurs) whereas we have been hopeless against teams with shape such as Stoke & Sunderland. A draw would probably be the best we can hope for in this one and I’d fancy us to open the scoring but Arsenal have recovered more points from losing positions (19) than any other Premier League team this season so could see it ending up 1-1.

5 Point Tactical Preview: Everton v Sunderland (FAC6)

1.Familiar Derby Woe

The Derby was thoroughly shite as usual. The Blues seem to find new ways to lose embarrassingly at Klanfield every year. Having lost to 10 men on more than one occasion and regularly ‘bottling it’ this time the Blues contrived to give their opponents a head start pre match in terms of selection. True, the side Moyes put out should have done better but a team already missing key men from the recent good run like Gibson and Donovan were further weakened with 6 more benched giving the initiative to Liverpool.

On the pitch there were 2 key reasons for the failure; poor ball retention and ineffective pressing.  We had plenty of the ball and more of it in the RS half than vice versa but tellingly we made too many mistakes on the ball, particularly in the final third. The Blues were either dispossessed or made an error in possession 27 times compared to Liverpool’s 19. End product in the opposition final third is Pienaar’s major defect and whilst he did OK outside the opposition box he continually fluffed his lines when he approached Liverpool’s 18 yard line. In total the Blues made just 1 through ball – compare this with the RS who made 7 and you see the familiar woes of incision. The other key issue was that our pressing high up field wasn’t good enough as a unit. Selection seemed to favour ‘workers’ who could press eg Straq, Rodwell, Coleman rather than ball players such as Royston, Osman & Jelavic. Despite having grafters all over the park Liverpool frequently bypassed our pressure and either lofted balls over the top of our defence or through it into the acres of space we afforded them behind our back four.

Moving on….

2.Blues Line up

Of course, if we can topple Sunderland and get to Wembley few will care about what happened on Tuesday night. I’d be surprised if the team wasn’t the same one that beat Spurs last week, with Drenthe and Coleman probably swopping flanks. The alternative is to stick Ossie left side, Royston right and persevere with Rodwell centre mid, but I’d rather have Ossie central as his interchanging with Cahill last week was a feature of our attacking play.

3.The O’Neill Approach

O’Neill’s sides like width and using pace in counter attacking situations. He will be happy to not be in possession, invite teams onto them and then exploit the space in behind…with an emphasis on wide men whipping balls into the box.

In his first game in charge against Blackburn he put his cards well and truly on the table as his side attempted more crosses than any other side in a single prem game for 4 years, and 92% more than in their previous home game against Wigan, Steve Bruce’s last match in charge of the club. If we take a look at Sunderland’s two games this season against the league’s basement side Wigan the difference is clear. In the home game under the Aberdeen Angus headed Steve Bruce, the Mackems bossed the ball having 53% of possession and lost, compared to when O’Neill took his charges to the JJB and had just 37% but won 4-1. The new Sunderland also pressed less, making just 15 tackles in the away win compared to 30 in the home loss. The direct style is also evident with 20% of their passes long in the JJB win, a 4% increase on the game Bruce was boss.

Moyes record against O’Neill is poor – during his time at Villa O’Neil never lost in 8 league games against Moyes, however Moyes did triumph in an FA Cup 5th Round tie the year we made it to the final. Obviously, this is balanced by the fact that Moyes has never lost to Sunderland home or away in his 10 years in charge at L4, including an FA Cup win here a few years back.

4.How will Sunderland Lineup?

The Mackems have suspension woes with key midfield anchor Cattermole and playmaker Sessegnon both absent. On the flanks former Everton target James McLean has made a big impact since joining form Derry. He is something of an old school winger and like our own Seamus Coleman has great quality in the tackle and in dribbling. Unlike Coleman though,  McClean can also put in a good cross. On the subject of crossing, only Leighton Baines (59) has played more successful crosses than Seb Larsson (56%) in the top flight with the Toffeeman having a marginally better success rate than his Sunderland counterpart (28% v 26%). Midfield wise, Colback and Gardner will more than likely occupy the central slots and may be joined by David Vaughan in a midfield trio if O’Neil decides to go like for like systems wise. Last time out against the RS they were very much 4-4-2 with Bendtner and Campbell upfront but away from home it’s usually been 5 in midfield.

5.Prediction

Sunderland will be a tough nut to crack given their form and momentum. Defensively we are well equipped to deal with balls into our box and if we can keep our shape well to repel what Sunderland can throw at us I’d fancy us to get the goal that takes us through. 1-0 Blues.

Everton 1-0 Spurs – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Teams & Formations

The Blues lined up in the accustomed 4-4-1-1 with Jelavic making his debut through the middle supported by Tim Cahill. Seamus Coleman came in –initially on the left – with Drenthe on the right. There was a welcome return for Leon Osman and his twinkling toes in central midfield meaning that Phil Neville shifted to right back. Spurs played 4-4-2 with Modric and Bale on the flanks and Defoe up front with Adebayor.

2. Jelavic Debut

The Blues had the better chances in the first half and were very aggressive in winning the ball back in Spurs half. Jelavic was ace and had one of the most promising debuts seen at L4 in a long while. On early viewing he appears to be the striker both we and Moyes have craved in ages; he has a thirst for getting in the box and burying chances and is also more than willing to ‘put in a shift’ and lead the line with good movement both inside and outside the box.

This defensive side of his game was particularly good with many longer passes being played in his general zone made to look like great passes given the Croatian’s movement, chest control and winning 3 aerial duels – one of which setup an excellent  chance for Fellaini prior to his goal. He likes to get the ball and shift it onto his right at every opportunity and the goal was an example of how potent he is in the 18 yard box. Baines threaded a superb ball to Leon Osman who did some great work on the left, skinning Kaboul with some nice touches with his right and then threading a delicious through ball with his left which the Croatian (circled below) creates space from his marker Ledley King and cushions the ball out of the reach of Freidel and into the bottom corner.

Ledley King has Jelavic (circled) in close proximity as Osman (arrow) advances into the box…

Jelavic pulls back into the space as Ledley King is attracted to the ball giving him the space to slot.

3.Bale v Coleman Part Two

Last season at White Hart Lane Seamus Coleman was assigned a marking brief from right midfield to track Bale’s runs down the left flank. The ploy of him and Neville doubling up on the Welshman worked well and there was a development of that here. Spurs key danger man Bale started on the right and Coleman, despite being generally uncomfortable with his left foot and having only played about 15 mins away at St James on the left side in his Blues career was moved across to track Bale and support Baines– a seemingly deliberate move.

First Bale took up position on the right, with Coleman (circled) doubling up on him with Baines and blocking off the angle to cut inside on his left foot making him go on his weaker right

With the right flank shutdown Bale swaps to the left flank (circled) towards the end of the first half but Coleman moves across also and doubles up with Neville instead (circled)

Playing on the right, Bale would look to cut in on his left but Coleman’s positional play was such that he blocked off the inside and showed him on his weaker right. It was interesting that whenever Bale swapped flanks with Modric, Coleman and Drenthe followed suit so Coleman was always within 10 yards of Bale. The Irishman has his limitation on the ball but is a real grafter and did this job superbly – no outfield player made more tackles or interceptions combined (7) as Coleman, (3 tackles, 4 interceptions) in total.  After the game Arry pointed to the fact that Bale playing right side penned Baines back – true in that Baines was subdued in terms of not making any crosses which is an area he is usually prolific – but our full back still made the most touches (77) of any of our players and was instrumental in the winning goal.

4.Blues sit deep and grind out.

The second half witnessed Spurs throwing  ‘the kitchen sink’ at the Blues, with their share of possessions swelling to 62%. The Blues visibly stopped pressing Spurs higher up field and only began to engage when they got to 40 yards from our goal, seemingly happy to see out the 1-0.  Modric – who was periphery on the flank – came to life more playing inside and there was more of a flow to Spurs play in the second period as our play became quite disjointed and we struggled to keep the ball. The last 20 minutes seemed like an age as the Blues dropped deeper and deeper and were now lacking the outball of Drenthe over the top as the Dutchman was replaced by Rodwell with Osman – who looked shattered by the end – slotting onto the right flank.

Spurs had some chances but the sheer volume of players we put between them and Howard meant that clear cut chances were virtually non existent. Saha – who had more of a spring in his step than had been seen at Goodison in his last 12 months at the club– had one opportunity whilst Defoe had seemingly countless chances to pull Spurs level. The final whistle signalled that it was just short of 7 hours since the Blues last conceded a goal at Goodison, with Chelsea, Man City and now Spurs included in that run of shutouts.

5. Final Thought

This was a fantastic result for the Blues against a Spurs side who have played some great football this season. Ungracious Arry pointed to the fact that Spurs ‘battered us non stop’ but to be fair we were more than a match for Spurs when we needed a goal up til half time and the sides had the same amount of shots on target (5) over 90 minutes. If Arry was as ruthless with his homework as he is at going back on gentlemen’s agreements he’d see that we only usually need 1 goal to win games at Goodison and despite controlling the ball for long periods Spurs lacked the subtlety to break down what is an extremely dogged and belligerent squad of players when they have the bit between their teeth. It was a fitting end to a game which marked the 10th anniversary of David Moyes tenure and the game provided a microcosm of the key themes which have marked his reign; defensive solidity, organisation, hard work and gaining a tactical advantage where all available in abundance here…plus a match winning goal by a shrewd buy. Lovely stuff!

Everton v Spurs – 5 Point Tactical Preview

1.Form

Since the meeting 8 games ago ourselves and Spurs form in the context of each side’s season has fluctuated. Spurs had only lost twice since their opening fixtures but have since lost 3 games albeit against sides placed in the top 4. The principal factor has been that a defence which beforehand looked watertight has shipped 8 goals in their last 2 league outings. In fairness, with the exception of the last 30mins at the Emirates, Spurs played really well in all 3 defeats. Perhaps their switch to 2 orthodox strikers since Saha has joined has led to them being more gung ho offensively and lighter in terms of midfield control – a consequence of 4-4-2 over 4-4-1-1.

The Blues in contrast have gone 8 games unbeaten since the Spurs defeat and whilst goals are still an issue – only Wigan have scored fewer in the league than the Toffees– we look a lot more durable at the back and able to grind out results –  a key characteristic of the Moyes era.

2.Blues Gameplan

It will be interesting to see how Moyes shapes up for this one. His usual gameplan against the top sides who play narrow – Chelsea and Citteh for instance – is to be solid through the middle and push them out to the flanks to encourage crossing situations and then overload the box to win headers i.e. getting sides to play to our strengths and not theirs. Spurs is potentially a different caper though in that their strength lies in wide areas with the likes of Bale and Lennon who looked against Man Utd last week as if he were coming back to form. Combating this will be key and dealing at the source i.e Modric’s long pass distribution from deep areas. Therefore I’d expect Cahill and Fellaini to take it in turns to press Spurs talisman. Our wide midfielders will also be required to put in ‘a shift’ in either doubling up with fullbacks or blocking off angles for passes to be fed into Spurs wide men. Stracqualursi should also be useful here in hassling the Spurs defence and stopping them playing out from the back which was a feature of Tottenham’s comfortable win against us last time out.

 3.Dealing with Bale

In the fixture at WHL, Bale predominantly played inside as shown by the average position chart (right) – perhaps a ploy from Redknapp to counter Moyes tactic of doubling up on Bale which neutralized his threat last season. With Cahill predominantly deep and midfield flooded there was little room for Bale to maneuver inside and he had one of his least effective games of the season.

4. Key Man for Blues

The Chelsea win was achieved thanks to a solid defensive game plan and also a touch of quality in the final third from Pienaar and Donovan who got a goal and an assist between them. Neither are available for this one and the creative burden will rest heavily on the shoulders of maverick showman Royston Drenthe. Despite starting less than a third of the games this season, nobody has scored more or created more goals for the Blues this season as the Dutchman. Which wing he starts from will be interesting – the bulk of his damage has been done from the right side cutting in on his left side but with Pienaar out and Coleman pushing for a recall after injury the left flank would appear the more likely option.

5. Prediction

Our form at Goodison post Christmas has been superb; we have won our last 3 including wins against Citteh and Chelsea and not conceded in any. Spurs defensive form has dipped a tad but they are still a tough nut to crack. Given the low amount of goals (2.08 average) at Goodison this season at either end – only Anfield sees fewer goals – I’m going for a 1-1 here.

 

QPR 1-1 Everton – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Teams/Tactics/Strategy

Selection wise there were several changes from the Blackpool win with Gibson ‘s injury seeing Neville move into midfield and Hibbert at right back whilst Steven Pienaar returned in place of Magaye Gueye on the left flank. Tim Cahill played his usual pivot between midfield and attack and was decidedly more threatening than the Straq. On the subject of the Argentine, an early observation of him is that he appears a lot more useful against defences who play out from the back with whom he can use his ability to run/hassle. When sides play long from the back and pressure is not required at the front line he is a lot less effective. He’s also not great aerially and holding up play – winning just 1 aerial against the QPR centre back duo’s 6 yesterday.

QPR had a similar type of formation with 2 defensive mids (Derry & Barton) and 3 attacking midfielders in front of them supporting Zamora. Strategy wise, Paddy Kenny was tasked with hitting a lot of long balls up field in the general direction of Zamora (21 in total) with Taarabt and Buzsaky looking to pick up the second balls and provide the key creative spark in the final third. The average position maps are shown (above) with Everton top & QPR underneath.

2. Stop Start

The game really didn’t flow from start to finish, with a silly amount of fouls – 36 in total – breaking down any rhythm and making the game incredibly stop start.  Not surprisingly, of the 22 chances QPR created, 12 came from set pieces with the equalising goal one such example. As noted in last weeks post, Fellaini is up there with the most aggressive midfielders in the top flight and off the ball he committed 6 fouls, 6 tackles and 3 interceptions in this match. QPR’s attention craving skipper Joey Barton was the home side’s most busy player off the ball; the re-brand made 4 fouls, 3 tackles and 1 interception.

3. Drenthe Enigma

With 4 goals and 7 assists nobody has scored more goals for the Blues than Drenthe and -Donovan apart – no one can even come close to him in the creative stakes. I did a short piece on him last month which highlighted his strengths and weaknesses and both were on show yesterday. His goal was sublime, a 30 yard rocket following great pressure from Fellaini to win the ball back from Taarabt. Offensively he has the quick feet, pace and flair for the unpredictable that has occasionally brought to life a rather drab season at L4.

Moyes has been vocal in his distrust of Drenthe defensively and his concerns do carry weight. Its not necessarily the amount of fouls he makes but where he makes them and some of it is pretty basic stuff – i.e only go to ground if it’s absolutely necessary. His foul which led to QPR’s goal yesterday was crazy – especially as he’d committed the same rash foul in the same zone 10  minutes earlier. Hibbert (blue arrow) was on hand to cut off any ball into the box making the foul unnecessary.

In fairness to Royston though, his ball retention was good yesterday and he was only disposessed once compared to Pienaar who had a quiet game and was dispossessed 5 times.

4. Set Piece Defending

QPR’s goal could have been avoided. In the visual below the Blues have an advantage in the box of 8 men to 5 as Buzsaky lines up the dead ball. Before it is tossed in Cahill is marking Zamora sideways on with Neville in front of Zamora to attack the ball (circled)

When the delivery is struck Cahill attacks the ball (and gets under it) rather than staying close to Zamora which affords the former Fulham man far too much space to deflect the ball past Howard, whose own role in the goal is questionable. Credit to Buzsaky though, his shooting was wild at times but he was the games most positive player and his delivery is quality; the Hungarian  damaged us at Goodison earlier this season when he assisted the winning goal and he did the same yesterday.

5. Final Thought

The draw was our third away 1-1 draw on the spin and despite us looking more dangerous early on QPR had much the better of the second period and could argue that they shaded the game overall. We’ve only scored more than 1 goal on our travels on 2 occasions so far this season, and 1 of them was against 10 man Bolton so it was unlikely we would take much more from the game. We would have hoped for better pre match but the point keeps our unbeaten run ticking along with the Blues undefeated in 8 games as we head into next week’s crucial triple whammy against Spurs, Liverpool and the Cup Quarter Final.

Is Marouane Fellaini the Top Flight’s Most Aggressive Midfielder?

Marouane Fellaini has been in great form lately playing a key role in Everton’s annual mid season up turn in form as the Blues close in on a trip to Wembley. This post will take a look at the Big Belgian’s aggressive style, his strengths and weaknesses and ponder if the club’s record signing is the league’s most aggressive ball winner from central midfield….

 Strengths

Fellaini’s unquestionable talent is in terms of his physical stature and aggression to win the ball back from opponents. As shown below, he makes a tackle every 30minutes which is the most of any midfielder at the club. Fellaini is very much the club’s number one presser; the curly haired general is ranked 6th highest central midfielder for tackles in the league (63), and makes more fouls per game (2.4 )  in the top flight. He is also joint top with  Blackburn’s N’Zonzi in the top flight for aerial duels won by a central midfielder. Due to his physique he offers great protection when he wins the ball and is capable of shielding it securely so if you don’t get to the ball first opponents are best served by standing off him and narrowing the angle for the pass.

The below table shows his stats compared with his central midfield partners Darron Gibson and Jack Rodwell this season…

 Fellaini’s athleticism is there for all to see; he is in the top 1% of midfielders in terms of energy and distance covered during matches. He has the 4th highest average distance run per game in the top flight, clocking up a whopping 6.65 miles per match. His notable marathon matches this season include 7.5 miles in the derby defeat and 7mile+ outings in the away games at Man City and Fulham.  He is also more than useful in the opposition box despite often playing quite deep….he made it into double figures for goals in his first season on Merseyside and has scored in all 3 competitions this campaign. Perhaps the biggest impact he makes in the final third though is in terms of attracting the attention of several markers / blockers and causing general chaos particularly at set pieces.

Weaknesses

His aggression in positioning can sometimes leave ‘the back door’ open as Mikel Arteta found last season in having to do more defensive shifts than perhaps he would have liked to cover Fellaini’s aggressive pressing up field. Gibson more so than Rodwell seems happy to sit and allow Fellaini to press the opposition further up field. There is perhaps a question mark over the Belgian’s motivation when you see the way he can dominate big games (Arsenal away last season) and yet be less influential against some of the league’s lesser lights. I guess this focus and discipline will develop more as he matures as a player in the coming years.

There is strong evidence that the weak points in Fellaini’s game have been remedied this campaign. On the ball, he can make mistakes; for example he has been dispossessed more times (42) than any other player in our squad.  Due to his frame he was often an easy target for shorter more mobile players to dribble past, especially in his debut season when he was dribbled every73 mins by opponents This campaign it takes 92 minutes for an opponent to dribble past him – a marked improvement. He is still the most dribbled player at the club though, having been bypassed 21 times this season. His pass completion since he came to the club prior to this season has averaged at 75% whilst this season it has been steady at 79% – again, a tidy improvement. I would still say this is an area of his game he could improve – he is never going to be a Pirlo or Modric style regista – but there is certainly room for improvement in terms of his longer range distribution and incision in passing rather than playing the easy ball.

 Press-ometer

Do these qualities make Fellaini the most aggressive presser in the top flight then? The below ‘Press-ometer’ is based the amount of pressure ‘contacts’ a central midfielder makes in a match. Pressing contacts are divided into 4 key areas;  ground tackles, aerial pressure (headers won), Interceptions made (in terms of pressing the space) and also fouls committed. For each one of these a player makes per game on average they get 1 contact. Obviously there are a lot of caveats which need to be included here; none of which I can be bothered going into in any detail so I’ll let you judge for yourselves….

Verdict

The press-ometer may have Marouanne in 2nd spot in terms of aggression from the centre of midfield but Fellaini is certainly the main man in Everton’s midfield engine room and with his year on year improvement there is no doubt his aggressive playing style will again be pivotal in Everton realising their key targets at the business end of the season.

EB