5 Positives from Tim Cahill’s Departure

1. Icon Status Assured

Most importantly, Cahill walks away from the club with his status as an icon very much intact. Granted, he had considerable limitations to his game in comparison to other icons in the club’s history- particularly with the ball at his feet – but he was able to consistently bridge this technique deficit with a ferocious competitive edge. He had sublime agility and aerobic fitness as he showed notably at Bolton and Chelsea with scissor kicks of the highest order. His spring and movement in the box is what he will be most remembered for and he consistently ‘showed up’ in the big away games – something few have done in the Moyes era – regularly scoring at the grounds of all the top sides and becoming the 4th highest goalscorer from midfield – and the top scorer with his head – since the inception of the premier league.

It’s the competitive edge fans loved most about the talismanic Cahill, reminiscent as it was of the man who schooled him in what it means to play for efc, Duncan Ferguson. Like his predecessor, even during times of dire displays and struggle, you always felt we had a chance with Cahill in the side. Opponents feared him also and with the exception of Drogba, the likes of Vidic and Kompany never looked more uncomfortable as when they were up against the Aussie and his repertoire of elbow’s and general snide behaviour.

2.Finance

Whilst the transfer fee of around £1m doesn’t leave us flush it does shift around £7m in wages/add ons off the wage bill over the next 2 years. Whether we will see any of this cash remains to be seen but given Moyes end of season talk about being able to trade it would appear he will be allowed to redistribute some of the cash towards  new players or in tying younger players to longer deals.

The removal of this £8m from the clubs balance sheet must surely precipitate some kind of re-investment in the squad in areas it is most required. With the Yobo deal nearly done there should be enough breathing space to bring in Pienaar and one more. For me, it has to be someone who can offer what we most lack;  speed, the ability to dribble, create chances and – given the age composition of our squad –  someone ideally between the age of 22-25. Hoilett at Blackburn would spring to mind as an ideal buy however his wages are a major issue.

3. Fellaini off the leash

Cahill struggled this season as the stats above show and he had the look of a player  who had given everything he had to the cause and had little left in the tank.  Tellingly, for the second season running our win % was greater with Cahill not in the side than it was when he was present. The limitations of his game on the ball meant dropping back into a deeper midfield slot was never going to work given that he is neither a deep lying midfield playmaker or is particularly strong in the tackle to play the role of destroyer.

When Fellaini has started in Cahill’s midfield – forward pivot role last season we scored 2.3 goals per game with the Belgian scoring or assisting 5 goals in the process in these games alone. The team’s goals per game ratio drops to just 1.1 goals when Fellaini hasn’t played there. Cahill has played this role with significantly less end product ( just 2 goals and 2 assists for the season in the league).

4. Style of Play

Cahill moving on gives us the chance to develop our playing style. With Cahill, we are often stuck in a rigid 4-4-1-1 given the fairly specific role he played.  With this no longer a factor there is more scope to develop a blend between 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 with attacking midfielders such as Pienaar, Osman, Naismith and long term Barkley  - all interchangeable and capable of playing left, right or centre.  With Cahill in the side the option was always there to play more direct and his limitations in terms of vision in the advanced midfield role meant we struggled to create chances  against sides who come to Goodison looking for a point. Whilst his spring was superb he lost more headers than he won so the tactic was often to play for second balls or win free kicks – which is quite a reactive strategy.  We now have the opportunity to play a more fluid, proactive game feeding Jelavic on the ground.

5. More time for the pups?

Cahill was one of the veterans of the squad along with Neville and Distin and as we discussed on EB towards the end of the season, of the older players in the group the Aussie probably provided the least in terms of output. The age composition of the squad is lob sided – bags of in experienced youth and a lot of older heads  - and given the finances we can’t simply go out and spend £20m on replacing this trio so it has to be done incrementally. Cahill’s departure means the likes of Barkley and Junior can expect more game time this season which has to be seen as a positive.  Cahill was a massive presence off the field at the club and has talked in the past about how he has educated younger players about the clubs history and traditions in the same way Ferguson and Stubbs did for him when he arrived back in 2004. This should give the opportunity for players in the mid age group such as Fellaini, Baines and Hetinga the chance to take on more responsibility.

EB Verdict

The deal is beneficial for both the club and player and gives us over a month to enhance the squad prior to the transfer deadline.  On a sentimental note, it’s sad as Cahill was one of our own and a great servant who understood what it means to pull on the blue shirt, however sentimentality won’t get you 10 goals this season. After 68 goals and nearly 300 appearances for the club, Cahill leaves with his head held high with his position in the clubs history secure.  I’ve no doubt he will take the MLS goalscoring and ‘most fouls’ charts by storm in equal measure.

 

Deconstructing the Phillips / Coleman Swap Deal

One of the week’s more complex transfer rumours centred on a potential swap deal with our Irish International Seamus Coleman and Blackpool’s prolific forward Matt Phillips. EB has decided to probe the logistics to see if there is any mileage in such a deal or if this is merely agent mischief making…..

Matt Phillips Strengths / Weaknesses

John from the ace Blackpool tactics website Tangerine Dreaming has watched the starlet develop at close hand since his move from Wycombe and is familiar with the speedy striker’s strengths and weaknesses. On his strengths, John observes “If a team lets Phillips impose himself on a game, then he will…let him turn and give him five or ten yards and he will hurt most defences in any English league. He can score and create from anywhere in the final third. When he starts, he lines up in the wide left forward position and seeks to cut inside to get his shot away. Very few players will beat him for pace.”

Blackpool usually deploy 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 with wide forwards and whilst Phillips has mostly been deployed wide left he can also fill the wide right and central striker role and with 18 goals and 6 assists last season he is unsurprisingly a wanted man. Whilst his versatility will be seen as a plus by Moyes there are weaknesses to his game as John points out “Phillips has issues with confidence or belief in himself which affects his game from time to time. Whilst not being overly dominant at this stage of his career, it is likely to affect him more and more should he fail to develop the mental side to his game. This emanates less so in his tendency to ‘drop his head’, but more so in the way that he tries to force things in order to prove that he can do the almost impossible. He can be stopped a little too easily when teams get tight to him, stop him from turning and he has little in his skill set to be able to effectively turn and beat a man.

His touch has also been identified as a problem area. John continues “To the casual observer his touch may not be questioned, however, he has a noticeable flaw under closer scrutiny. In wanting to keep his head up he doesn’t always watch the ball on to his foot, which in itself isn’t a major issue, top players don’t need to watch the ball on to their foot, but they must use their all round sense and technique to keep the ball under control.”

Thoughts on Coleman

Coleman’s impact in 10/11 and particularly his goals output led to raised expectations that he could go on to become a top player at the club. Whilst his rawness was a positive then it was equally a negative last season when he more closely resembled the £60k rookie than being our answer to Gareth Bale. He is clearly lacking in certain areas mostly due to the standard he played at until he arrived on Merseyside but he does possess qualities which could still make him a good squad player in the coming years. His pass completion last season rose form 78% to 82% and his key passes / cross completion also improved, however other areas of his game withered.

His previously unpredictable dribbling became predictably unsuccessful particularly against physical full backs that could outmuscle him. His rash tackling which led to Liverpool ‘s winner at Wembley also underlined that he can be a liability which is perhaps why Moyes is reluctant to pitch him in at right full back. As the season developed Moyes seemed to have less and less confidence in the Irishman but would his concern lead him to want to cut ties with a player he only recently rewarded with a bumper new contract?

 Money Talks

The big doubt I have with this potential deal is regarding the financials. For starters, Coleman’s improved terms see him take home £24k per week at L4. Blackpoolhave a wage cap plus their top earner Barry Ferguson is on a fair bit less than the Irishman. The Seasider’s frugality is as well known as ours and for this reason I couldn’t see them stumping up the wages or envisage Coleman trading places and taking a pay drop. In contrast we could probably afford Matt Phillips wage – he currently takes home around £10k per week – but even a ‘double your money’ pay hike would cost £10m over 5 years including the touted £5m transfer fee. Fellow attacking target Junior Hoilett is a more polished version of Phillips but his wage demands of 50k per week plus a £2m compensation fee would cost £15m over 5 years.

EB Verdict

In conclusion I’d say this deal is as likely as Man Utd spending £20m on a fullback with no resale value to fill their central midfield void. Whilst Moyes remains unconvinced of Coleman being able to step up his game I don’t think he is ready to give up on the Irishman just yet.

As for Phillips, he’s unquestionably a good player in the making but we already have a tall pacey left sided forward in Magaye Gueye. Moyes looks to his width principally to provide creativity, predominantly from crossing situations (Drenthe/Baines/Donovan) or subtlety and the ability to thread a pass like Osman or Pienaar. Neither are key strengths of Phillips game. Nor do I think Moyes would invest £5m we don’t have for a striker to warm the bench to provide cover for Jelavic.  If Pienaar does sign on this week as expected I think Moyes would look for another new face that can operate in the wide attacking berths but Hoilett would seem more suited to the specification than the Blackpool man.

 EB

Is Rodallega the right man for toffees?

The word on the street is that Colombian forward and free agent Hugo Rodallega is looking to pitch his tent at Goodison Park next season. This post will take a quick look at the pros and cons associated with any potential deal….

Strengths

Rodallega’s key assets are his pace, composure & ability to play on the shoulder of defenders to engineer goal scoring opportunities on his preferred right foot.

As is a requisite of any efc signing, Rodallega can ‘do a job’ in more than one position. He can play the lone centre forward and can also play down either of the wide striking alleys; either cutting in on his right from the left flank or breaking down the right flank to get a shot in on his right peg. He is a cool customer 1 v 1 and would give us a decent option from the bench when additional pace is required in matches, especially away from L4. Here is Rodallega’s 3 year form….

 

The data above shows over 3 seasons he averages 36% for aerials won which is higher than jelavic , straq and anichebe last season and comparable with cahill (37%) so he is capable of leading the line. He would provide us with more flexibility in terms of formation which is crucial. Moyes usually adopts 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 but last term experimented with 4-3-2-1 with the 2 wide players in the closest support to the forward. At Newcastle in particular, this strategy was deployed to soak up pressure and then break at pace through Drenthe/Coleman on the flanks. In (potentially) Pienaar and Rodallega he would have two players who would probably be able to deliver this strategy more effectively. The below diagram shows how it could work;

Weaknesses

As the stats show, he is vulnerable to being caught offside. In 2010/11 he was sprung the 11th most in the top flight. Also, his goalscoring exploits at the JJB cooled somewhat last season although in fairness his game time was restricted and when deployed was often used in a wide berth. Di Santo was Martinez’s preferred option possibly because he is a more authentic target man with his stats for doing the dirty work eg  winning fouls, tackles etc much better than Rodallega’s last season. This leads nicely into my gravest doubt about Rodallega  - his attitude. All great strikers show a level of selfishness to get goals but the Colombian’s terrible attitude when Wigan scored the winning goal against Bolton in a crucial relegation six pointer towards the end of last season would concern me.  Was his petulance and refusal to celebrate just because he didn’t score the goal the attitude of a team player? Does it risk upsetting the apple-cart of what we are regularly told is one of the tightest knit squads in the top flight? Or maybe I’m just reading too much into this.

Verdict

Again, this move would represent a fairly low risk purchase by the club given that there is no transfer fee and the wage element will potentially be covered by Anichebe’s switch in the opposite direction. Given that he has averaged 7 goals per season in a dire side you would imagine that with the craft of players such as Gibson and Pienaar that he would be able to at least match this figure. In conclusion Rodallega’s  versatility, pace and eye for a goal could be invaluable over the course of the season and it would appear a punt worth taking if we can keep his attitude and workrate in check.

EB

Pranjic Likes Toffee

Talk of Croatian international Daniel Pranjic closing in on a move to L4 is gathering pace some six months after Moyes first tried lure the midfielder from Bavaria. This post will take a closer look at the Croatian’s potential signature ….

The End of Baines?

Many fans are questioning whether the move for Pranjic signals the end of Leighton Baines time at the club.  Granted, Pranjic is a left sided player who is good at crossing, deadballs and getting up and down the flank which does sound like a worryingly similar skillset to Baines.  I would say Pranjic and Baines could definitively feature together – after all Moyes tried to sign the Croatian in January so would have envisaged pairing them together in the same side. We also have no like for like player for competition/cover for Baines and this move would satisfy both criteria.

If the approach next season is to continue with Fellaini as the advanced central midfielder – and the data from last season shows it should – then there is a more withdrawn left of centre midfield berth available alongside the right footed Darren Gibson. Sadly, given his injury record you can’t bank on Rodwell being available for more than 15 games.  I would therefore see Pranjic’s role more as a midfielder than as a full back.

Versatility

Pranjic is clearly a versatile player and is equally competent in central midfield or on the left flank.  After leaving Dynamo Zagreb, his standout season at Heereneveen in Holland produced a tidy output of 16 goals and 8 assists which would give the impression that he is more comfortable in an advanced midfield position with limited defensive responsibilities. Pranjic has spent the last 3 seasons at Bayern where he alternated between numerous roles, equally comfortable in a defensive or attacking central midfield role, left midfield or as a roving left wing back.

The average position chart ( left) from his final game at Bayern last season against Stuttgart shows him (circled 23) playing in an advanced central midfield role. During the Euro 2012 tournament he was used sparingly and only started the final group game against Spain where he was preferred for his defensive qualities as Bilic’s charges attempted to press the eventual champions into submission – a tactic which almost paid dividends. The average position visual (circled, 6) shows him during this game playing in a left sided midfield role.

 

Proactive

 

Pranjic is comfortable on the ball and that will be needed if we are to kick on in and proactively set out to win games more next season. At Bayern his pass completion in 2010/11 was 82% and last season 86% which is comfortably better than our team average of 77% from last season. As a caveat his stats from 11/12 are dubious given that he only played in a handful of games and only completed 90mins once for Munich in the ECL defeat at Man City. In the previous season (2010/11) when Van Gaal was still coach Pranjic was a key player; he registered 6 assists from 22 starts with a decent 23% crossing accuracy, creating 18 goal scoring chances for team mates in the process. He also takes a mean penalty, although his compatriot Jelavic will most probably have ownership of spot kicks for the forthcoming season.

Verdict

Pranjic would be a decent buy and add  great experience, versatility and quality on the ball to the club should the move materialise. Also, there would be no transfer fee involved and the player is keen on the move. With the club now appearing to be in a ‘can-do-go-situation’ in terms of player recruitment this certainly looks a goer…

EB

Introducing Steven Naismith – Stats & Analysis

The club today announced the free transfer signing of Scottish International Steven Naismith on a 4 year deal from Glasgow Rangers. This post will take a look at what the new boy will bring to the table and analyse the pros and cons of the move…..

1. Where will he be deployed?

Naismith is an ideal Moyes purchase given his versatility and capability to be deployed into various roles. Many will envisage him partnering Jelavic upfront and whilst he is comfortable either playing through the middle or as a second striker, Fellaini’s impact in the advanced role during last season’s run in would indicate the Belgian occupying this role when the new season is upon us. More likely is Naismith filling in on the flanks and specifically our problem right side– a void we have tried and failed to fill in the recent seasons. The below image shows how I think our forward 4 (should Pienaar sign) will shape up in a 4-4-1-1 /4-2-3-1 with Naismith starting right side and then attacking the space created by Fellaini.

We predominantly attack down the left and with Naismith’s quality in the air he will be looking to come off the flank and get on the end of crosses – something he is more than capable of doing against the best in the world as he showed here against Spain. Naismith has also featured on the left flank for club and country and at Rangers he has been used as a central midfielder. He certainly has the tactical acumen and team ethic to comfortably occupy any of the forward /midfield berths.

2. Understanding with Jelavic

Naismith already has a decent playing relationship with our top striker Nikica Jelavic from their time together at Ibrox. These images  show the duo in action against Dunfermline with Jela (circled yellow) and Naismith (blue) showing intelligent movement as a duo to switch roles with Naismith’s favoured move from the right channel inside complimented nicely by Jelavic dragging his marker into the right channel to create the space for his colleague.

Naismith is also a good creator and averages an assist every 8 games, teeing up 5 of Jelavic’s 36 goals for the Gers.

3. Goalscoring Record

Naismith has a 1 in 3 goals to games ratio, although as noted in the earlier points he has often been used in midfield roles and in teams managed by Walter Smith where goals are often a rare commodity. Before injury curtailed his last campaign he hit 10 goals for club and country; 5 on his preferred right foot, 3 headers and 2 with his less potent left.

4. Winning Fouls

Naismith is more than willing to ‘put in a shift’ – a basic requisite of any player courted by Moyes. He is prepared to do the hard work off the ball and work the channels and run selflessly for the cause and battle for every ball. Winning free kicks in and around the opposition’s 18 yard line is a crucial factor in enabling teams like ourselves to relieve pressure on the back four and move from the defence to offensive stages of play . In 2010/11 Naismith was surprisingly the most fouled player in the Champions League and over his career averages 1.8 fouls won per game which is top 10 territory for fouls won per player in the premier league.


 5. Weakness?

Cruciate injuries can be extremely difficult to recover from and Naismith has suffered from 2 in 5 seasons. Players like Arteta and Jagielka have successfully recovered from this type of injury for us in recent times but to come back from two is more tricky – just look at Micheal Essien who at 30 looks a spent force. Hopefully at 26, Naismith is young enough to fully recover and the complex medical process prior to his switch to L4 would mitigate such risk and also  indicate that the bloke who delivered Danny Williamson’s medical is no longer on the club’s payroll.

Verdict

This is a low risk acquisition for the club and Naismith will bring much needed versatility and a cutting edge in the final third. He appears a level headed grafter who is willing to earn his corn, supplemented with decent ability / big game experience and these qualities should make his transition from ibrox to goodison a fluid one.

EB