Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-0 Man Utd

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Teams

For Everton, James McCarthy came back into the side with Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas shunted to the right flank. Neither wide man pushed up onto his fullback when possession was lost so the setup was 4-4-1-1 with Naismith in the hole behind Lukaku.  Moyes played a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney leading the line with support from Kagawa, Mata and Nani. There was no room in the team for former toffee Marouane Fellaini.

Control

Post match both managers claimed to have controlled the game, with Moyes commenting on his passing dominance and Martinez lauding his side’s counter attacking prowess. Who was right then? Well in terms of creating chances there was only one winner. United didn’t create a chance from open play in our box until the 86th minute, and overall their output in this respect was derisory, creating less than half the chances  (6v13) compared to ourselves.

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For us, the gameplan was similar to the Arsenal webbing as we seemed fairly happy to let United have possession, preferring instead to win the ball back in our half and break quickly. Our route to goal was characterised by being first to the loose balls and then igniting quick counter attacks with sharp, long passes – we made a third more long passes than United- and by breaking in numbers.

We looked particularly menacing down our right side with Moyes seemingly keen to prove he’s not a negative misery guts by pairing the comically bad Buttner with Kagawa, who afforded his bungling colleague little protection.   Nobody won more loose balls than  Mirallas – as was the case in the Arsenal game – with the Belgian making a game high 8 recoveries, all in his own half.  Mirallas interaction with the relentless Coleman – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – was our key attacking weapon with the duo combined superbly for our second goal with Mirallas slotting home after some shoddy positioning from Buttner who kept him onside.

By this time of course it was already 1-0 after Baines cooly dispatched a penalty following Phil Jones handball of Lukaku’s goalbound shot. The move that led to this had come about from another long pass, this time from Barkley, and more good link up between Lukaku and Naismith. The Scot was again at the centre of all that was good for Everton. He featured in the build up to both goals, got in some great positions -and should have scored at least one – but it was his link up play which was the main feature of his game. Much is made of the mayhem our wingbacks cause in the opposition half, but it was Naismith who was the main out ball for their marauding with passes from the flanks infield from Coleman to Naismith (9) and Baines to Naismith (8) the most frequent from players in a blue shirt.

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After the break United again played a high line and had more of the ball in our half but still looked out of ideas in terms of how to pull us out of our defensive shape and penetrate in behind, even when Distin was forced off due to injury. Yes, United were not great but they do have the best away record in the league and to restrict them to such few chances – their first shot on target in our box came on 76 minutes – was very impressive.

Moyes did try and mix things up with Valencia moving to right back, Smalling moving inside and further forward Rooney dropped deeper and Hernandez, and later Welbeck, became the  main targetmen but there was to be no change in the dynamic of the contest.

In Conclusion

Our general approach here was to sit deep, invite United onto us and then regain possession and start quick counter attacks.  Yes, United had bags of possession and territory but they never looked like scoring and got picked off at will once we’d evaded the initial press – something which is a feature of the Martinez approach v Moyes. It was the Spaniard’s third win on the spin against his predecessor – all without conceding a goal. At the sharp end there was a lot of similarities with the Arsenal game and in particular with the speed in which we scored each goal after crossing the halfway line. In the end it was something of a comfortable victory and certainly the least nervy against United in many, many years.
EB

 

 

 

Sunderland Deconstruction & Palace Preview

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Sunderland

After the euphoria of Sunday’s potentially pivotal crushing of Arsenal came a much more humdrum looking tussle with North East bottom feeders Sunderland.

With 1 win in 9 at home, the Black Cats descent into the relegation mire has looked more ominous by the week. From the outside looking in, racist harbouring, archetypal snide Poyet gives off more than a whiff of a gulag oppressing tyrant who’d piss through your letterbox and send you jiffy bag samples of his own excrement for no apparent reason.

Tactics wise, you could say his attempt at shoe horning a 3 at the back system midway through a relegation battle he previously seemed to be winning was a risky one. Whilst it indicates Poyet has confidence in his methods he is tripped up by kopite levels of delusion and after an initial spike in results their form has recently gone to pieces. Given the power and pace we showed in wide areas last week it would have been a bold move pursue this approach with wingbacks pushing up field and leaving space in behind, as Eriksen exposed so ruthlessly against them for Spurs. Unsurprisingly then, Poyet  moved  to a flat back four.

As for the Blues, Roberto Martinez made one change  with Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas. Setup wise, Lukaku returned to his central role with Deulofeu taking his normal spot as right sided forward. Formation wise for me it was 4-2-2-2ish with Naismith and Osman central, particularly when we had the ball, in front of the Barry/McCarthy axis.

With no real left sided midfielder Bardsley was Sunderland’s main out-ball, receiving and making more passes than anyone for Sunderland and his combination to Johnson was the most prolific pass of the game. On the opposite flank, Sunderland looked to start attacks from long kick outs from Mannone to Wickham’s head down our right side and this represented Sunderland’s second most frequent passing combo. Wickham struggled to link play, though, and was well shackled by the burgeoning talents of Stones who again impressed, repeatedly blocking shots and not going to ground when faced with direct running from Johnson or Borini. As well as his obvious talent on the ball – he is in the top six for pass completion of centre backs in the league – it’s also worth noting that Stones has made just 3 fouls in his 17 displays this season- the best ratio of any Everton defender this campaign.

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EFC Passing Grid

Going forward it was difficult for us. Long passing moves in the first half were predominantly ended by Bardsley or Johnson fouls, and Sunderland’s commitment and harassing when we had the ball in their half was impressive. Either side of half time the best chances fell to the in-form Naismith. Firstly a sumptuous pass from Baines produced an exquisite turn from the Scot, but alas his finish was  crud finish with only Mannone to beat. The Italian stopper who previously appeared as a hit man in the botched whacking of Phil Leotardo then displayed a similar rashness in rushing out of his goal to head the ball into the path of Naismith, who again snatched at his opening and ballooned over with the bar with the goal gaping.

Deulofeu is much more effective in away games when the onus is on opponents to press further afield and he was giving Alonso many difficult moments – beating him 4 times – albeit his final ball was dubious. His composure is often consistent with one so young and the lack of correlation to his 1v1success and creating chances is the reason why it’s likely he’ll be back at L4 next season. He’s an exciting cat, though, and with Alonso again skinned on 78 minutes his cross was diverted past his own keeper by the hapless Wes Brown.

All in all this was a fairly scrappy game lacking in quality from both sides and a draw probably would’ve been a fair result. The win sees us beat our best ever points total since the inception of the ‘epl’ with 5 games to spare, which to be fair is very, very impressive and sees us move clear of Arsenal into the top four, which Sky have now rebadged as the top three. Our run-in is more tricky than Wenger’s but the momentum we have coupled with the increasingly toxic atmosphere at the tear ridden Emirates gives us a great chance of getting 4th spot.

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Palace

You know what you are getting with Tony Putrid. Since moving to London he may have upgraded his shiny white rucanor’s to saucony, but there was never a chance that a few mincy trips down shoreditch high street would result in him ditching his volvo in favour of a miniature tricycle nor lead him to compromise his Moyes-uncensored view of football.

That said, he has resurrected Palace’s fortunes dramatically. From cannon fodder under the Holloway omnishambles – when they looked as rudderless as any top flight team in living memory – they have since accrued 1.47 ppg under Pulis – a figure good enough for 8th place in the current table. The fact they are safe with five games to spare is testament to the job he’s done and it’s hard not to respect the impact he has made especially without any obvious Dean Whitehead style hatchet man to carry out his tyranical savagery.

At home they’ve been robust with clean sheets aplenty, but away from home points and goals have been harder to come by with just 5 points from their last 21 on the road – failing to score in 5/7 of these games – a fact not helped by them having the worst goals scored output in the league.

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh

It’s at the back where they have really transformed the season. After previously conceding more than 2 goals per game under Holloway they have conceded 0.78 per game under Pulis – that figure would put them in between the benchmark Chelsea and ourselves as the league’s second tightest rearguard. We know all about this from recent games at home against Pulis  previous employers Stoke  with the last 4 miserable meetings at L4 finishing 1-1 1-0 0-1 and 1-0.

To break down sides who will basically line-up on your 18 yard line in two banks of four with no space in between or behind to run into a certain approach is needed and a sinister deviant streak to drag defenders into areas they don’t want to go to is key. You’ve only got to look at McGeady to know he is a deviant whilst Naismith – previously a straight laced operative – has had his  inner deviant coaxed out of him by Martinez this season.

In his teamsheet for the postponed game vs Palace, Martinez went with his principal deviant arl arses Pienaar, Osman, McGeady and Naismith who were preferred to the youthful, more pacey – and more impatient – alternatives Mirallas, Deulofeu and Barkley . Clever minds to find space and compromise rigidly shaped defensive units rather than searing pace and prolific shooting then appears to be the order of the day and for this reason I’d fancy Osman, Mirallas and McGeady to get the nod behind Lukaku.

Such is the infectious belief you get from Martinez that we automatically expect to win all the time now irrelevant of who the opposition is, but it will be a really big ask to break Palace down. Whereas in the previous regime Moyes would have you making your egg and cress sandwiches in bulk  for the working week ahead on Sunday evening, Martinez free and easy approach means opponents don’t know what’s on your plate or when its coming. Personally I’ve been re-conditioned to the point that some days I don’t even have lunch and on other days I just say fuck it, I’ll have a beef brisket burrito and worry about the consequences next week. It’s that kind of thinking that will see us edge Palace 1-0.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Newcastle 0-3 Everton

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The preamble 

We came into this fixture on the back of three home wins on the spin but in the knowledge that our away results this year have been shite even if our displays have – barring one – been very good. Away form in the last 2 seasons after the turn of the year has generally been iffy – we’ve averaged 1.6 points per game away from home in the 1st half of the season and just 0.6 per game in the 2nd half of season.  Newcastle’s home form was not exactly worrying, though, and going into last night’s game they had scored just 2 goals in their last 6 at St James and without Cabaye and Remy they’ve looked increasingly toothless in the final third.

Teams

Everton made 2 changes from the Swansea win with Osman and Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas and McGeady. Shape wise it was a bit different too, with more of a 4-3-1-2 look about it with Barkley in behind Lukaku and Deulofeu. Our wing backs completed just 8 final third passes in the game (compared to 22 in the reverse fixture) and had more of a defensive brief to allow the likes of Deulofeu and Barkley to remain in dangerous positions ready for turnovers in possession to unleash hell. Newcastle lined up in more of a 4-4-2 with Cisse and de Jong up front.

First half

Although Newcastle initially had the upper hand in the first few minutes we soon began to take a foothold in the game.

Osman was the game’s key man and his role was quite interesting from a tactical standpoint. Predominately he would occupy a central role next to Barry and McCarthy against Newcastle’s midfield two. As one of either Tiote or Anita would come to press him, this then vacated the space they were controlling and afforded Barkley bags of room to operate in dangerous positions close to Newcastle’s box in the first half. By way of example, Osman played in Barkley 9 times in the first half which was our most frequent pass combination. Osman was finding spaces at the sharp end too, and his delightful threaded pass provided Lukaku with a one on one that he should have burst the net with in what was our first clear-cut opening of the game.

Barkley and Deulofeu hadn’t started a game in the league together prior to last night and whilst both are raw they were ideally suited to an opponent who, at home, were always going to come onto us regardless of whether it was in their best interests to do so. This was evident in the data, as Newcastle won double the amount of loose balls in our half than we did in theirs. Whilst their approach was to attack from the front, ours was to lie in wait and act as an insurgent, and on 22 minutes we showed why.

After a Newcastle corner was cleared by Stones, a deft touch from Deulofeu enabled Barkley to run from his own half, evade some limp challenges and slot superbly with his supposedly weaker left peg. It was a truly sublime goal and the first time he’s scored in back to back games for the toffees.

Second half

After the interval we wasted no time in putting the game to bed and the role of Osman was again crucial. The diminutive schemer again found bags of space to receive from Lukaku before spreading play to the Kanchelskis like Deulofeu. The Spaniard tore past the hapless Dummett before teeing up Lukaku for a nice finish.

Deulofeu’s role was particularly eye-catching and he was involved in all 3 goals as well as  beating his man a whopping 6 times. Defenders don’t want to get too close to him as they know he’ll burn past them whilst if they drop off this widens the pitch and gives us more space to operate between opposition line of defence and midfield. In a nutshell it s a win-win situation.

With Alan Partridge banned from the stadium it was left to microwave pizza loving shitehawk John Carver to roll the toon army dice on the hour mark, sending on Ben Arfa to the right flank for the anonymous De Jong. Martinez responded by switching McCarthy to the left of the midfield 3 to keep an eye on him with Osman shuffling over to the right. Whilst Newcastle had their ‘moments’ it was us who would have the final say and against it was Osman who was at the sharp end of things. After more good work from Deulofeu to pick out Lukaku, the Belgian then squared it to Osman who was able to pull out one of his finest monte cristo’s from his smoking jacket and puff a fat one right into Krul’s overused net.

Conclusion 

This was a well deserved win against a capable opponent. In general we looked more ruthless than in any of our previous 3 goodison wins were opponents have sat deep and denied us space in behind. The Arsenal draw certainly makes things interesting now in the ‘race for 4th’ particularly with City next up for them with us travelling to lowly Fulham. If results go in our favour we’d overtake them with a win at Goodison in a fortnight and we still have that game in hand too. Obviously this is Everton so that sequence of events won’t happen, but after last nights performance it’s made us dare to dream at least.
EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-2 Swansea

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The preamble

This weekend  Swansea rocked up in the final sterile instalment of Everton’s bottom feeder trilogy at L4.

It’s no secret that the stylish Swans struggle against us with Brenny, Laudrup and Gilet wearing Lighthouse Family loving Gary Monk all failing to prize anything from us in their 3 seasons back in the top flight. In the five league meetings all they’ve mustered is a Bryan Oviedo own goal and a miserly point last season in an insipid 0-0 stalemate. A run of no wins in 9 on the road, combined with our ruthless home form, meant a routine toffees win seemed the obvious outcome…

Teams

Martinez main selection poser was who started in the 3 attacking mid slots. With Pienaar out injured, McGeady started down the left with Mirallas moving from the centre to the opposite flank with Ross Barkley in the centre. Swansea started with Bony up front with support from the classy Hernandez in a similar 4-2-3-1 setup.

First Half

Post match there was a fair bit made about Swansea’s possession data with our ball hogging visitor’s swelling 59% of the passing, although this should be mitigated by the fact that for the most part it was they and not us who were chasing the game.

For example, in the first 20 minutes prior to our opening goal the ‘passing stats’ were dead level with us making one more successful pass than Swansea (120 v119). After Baines penalty we then sat back which allowed Swansea to take control of the rest of the half, making 155 passes to our 49 as we were increasingly penned into our own half.Even uber positive Martinez acknowledged this in his post match debrief;

“In the first 45 we were too open. We allowed their possession to be a real danger. We changed that mentality after the break, won the ball in good positions and used possession well.

This danger was realised when McGeady failed to track Rangel who was then picked out superbly by Routledge’s cross field pass. The Spaniard – a Martinez signing during his time in Wales- then teed up Bony who dispatched with aplomb. Bony had a very decent afternoon leading many to make the assertion that he would represent better value than Lukaku in the summer. The Belgian again struggled to hit top form, losing the ball a sizeable 22 times, and data wise was pretty much owned by Bony in every area.

Second Half

After the break there was more intensity to the Blues play and after some decent pressure we re-took the lead through Lukaku although he was aided and abetted by the comically bad Chico. The pony tailed goon had earlier given away the penalty and this time he was caught up field by a Distin block which allowed Lukaku to gallop forward into bags of space. The forward managed to make a meal of the opening however he was able to bring in Mirallas who then teed him up for  the goal with a nice low cross- it was the fifth time they have combined in such a way for a goal this season.

With Swansea rocking, the Blues smelt blood and just a few minutes later the game was effectively over. McGeady, who had some great ‘moments’ after the break, made a purposeful surge forward that resulted in winning a corner down the left side. From the resulting set play, Barkley was able to nod home Mirallas centre for the Belgian’s seventh assist of the season making him the 7th most prolific creator in the league.

McGeady was superb after the break however he is very direct and won’t really look to link play with Baines which is the usual way we initiate the domination of play in the opposition half. By way of example, Baines usually receives 15-20 passes from his mate Pienaar per game, however yesterday he received just one pass from both wide players McGeady and Mirallas. Despite just one assist this season, Baines remains our chief creator of chances and the fact we only created 5 openings in the whole game was mostly down to him being underutilized on the flank.

With the game as good as won the Blues then dropped off more and allowed Swansea to dominate play again. Our hosts will always look to control and thereafter we struggled to instigate any further periods of possession. The Swans crafted the joint most chances (16) that we have conceded all season and their late consolation goal meant the scoreline was given a more accurate reflection of the game.

In Conclusion

This was a decent game and a welcome win against a very competent opponent. In general we didn’t create a lot but in a reversal of roles we were more clinical than the opposition in the business end of the pitch. The display of Ross Barkley was probably the best thing for us as the forward won the opening penalty and scored the clincher. He can still be quite raw in parts – for example he doesn’t release the ball as quickly as he should do – but him returning to peak form gives us hope for the run in.

Quite where we can finish is still up for debate. Taking a look at the latest Premier League odds we are 12-1 to finish in the top 4. Arsenal’s Everton-style derby capitulation means we could close the gap on the Gunners to 2 points if we win our game in hand and then turn them over next month at Goodison. There’s quite a few ‘ifs’ in this equation however, and our away form is the principal barrier given we have accrued just 2 points and 2 goals on the road since Christmas. Over turning this would give us a chance of hitting Martinez 71 point marker to make fourth, but if that’s to happen we really need to find our pre xmas intensity quickly as based on this showing it looks unlikely.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-1 Cardiff

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The preamble

Last time out meat faced ming Malky McMisery’s plot to bore opponents into submission by spoon-feeding them his miserable brand of percentage football diarrhoea was in full flow. Our hosts squeezed out a horrible 0-0 draw, and in the process created just 1 chance  in open play and made only 2 successful passes in our box during the entire game. Insipid stuff.

Whilst we’ve been winning plenty of friends with our pretty football of late, our profligacy at the sharp end combined with an inability to close out clean sheets  - previously a given – means the season has been in danger of descending into despair ‘Terry from Brookside’ style. In truth we’ve gone toe to toe with all the sides above us at some stage this season but sadly those sides just have better players than us and in a nutshell that’s why we’ve tended to be edged out in most of the big games, particularly on the road where traditionally our form dips in the second half of the season. Cardiff on the other hand are the kind of side we usually consume with relatives ease, particularly at L4, and the Bluebirds came into this one on the back of 7 away defeats on the spin having failed to score in 8 of their last 10 on the road.

Teams

Martinez made several changes from the Arsenal cup exit, with Mirallas (central) and Deulofeu (right) starting in the same team for the first time. In order to provide some balance in the attacking mid slots, Barkley was ditched in favour of the more unselfish Osman on the left. Everything else was ‘as you were’.

Cardiff went with for a 5-4-1 with Kenwyne Jones dropping to the bench and Campbell as the lone forward with Cala & Theophile joining Caulker as the centre back trio with Fabio and John at full backs.

First Half

The first half seen us attacking predominately down the right side with Deulofeu the fulcrum of most attacks. Not scoring in the opening period has been a recurring theme of the season and particularly since the turn of the year with only one goodison goal before the break.  It’s particularly difficult when you are not the most potent of sides and you have to find a way through a team as unwilling to compromise their defensive shape like Cardiff, whose keeper Marshall was on top of his game and made  great stops from Lukaku, Mirallas and Deulofeu in the opening half.

Probably the most interesting thing that happened from a tactical nerding perspective in the opening half was Solskjaer ripping up his 3 man central defence plan after just 25 minutes. With a wide man – Mirallas – natually dipping out to the flanks the 3 centre halves invariably only had Lukaku to pick up whereas on the wings they were getting swamped particularly on the right. Cardiff  thus chose to flood the midfield with Noone supporting the left side  and on the right Theophile moved to right back where he shared duties with Fabio against Baines and Osman. Mutch, Medel and Yeung formed a trio in midfield so it became more a 4-5-1 than the original 5-4-1. It didn’t really make a massive impact though and we continued to carve out plenty of openings in the first half from open play (8 to Cardiff’s 1).

Still, it wasn’t great from the Blues with the Mirallas in ‘the hole’ experiment not really working. Whilst he has some great attributes like shooting and dribbling, he’s at his best when he’s going in behind defences and he has little interest in coming short into the space between the defence and midfield blocks of the opposition.

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EFC Passing Grid

Barkley has the ability to do this and Osman is adept at finding pockets of space but playing the role of link man is not really Mirallas bag and for me he should start wide or not at all. As an example, yesterday he registered just 1 pass to Deulofeu and 3 to Lukaku before he was subbed off. With 2 direct wide forward’s who prefer to go beyond, Lukaku’s supply-line wasn’t great although he did little off the ball for the team; in total he won none of his 9 aerial battles and failed to buy any fouls from his marker all afternoon.

Second Half

Questions have been asked over Pienaar’s application this season but the his scheming with Baines remains our best attacking outlet and without him the left side’s dynamism and ability to maintain pressure on defences in dangerous areas for prolonged periods is nowhere near as potent. Osman is a class player too – although as we know he’s more effective through the middle – but he doesn’t have the linkage of Pienaar and more often than not yesterday he was dispossessed – more so than any player on the pitch infact.  Whereas Pienaar is usually the most prolific distributor to Baines in deep areas as the grid above shows Distin fed Baines the most – and predominantly in non threatening areas around the half way line.

The combination did have an impact on the opening goal, however, as Baines received from Distin and played in Osman down the left flank. The much maligned veteran in turn quickly released Deulofeu – seemingly miffed at the ball not coming over to his flank in ages – and the winger then skinned Demel before drilling past Marshall who was finally beaten with the aid of a deflection.

The joy was short-lived though as Cardiff quickly hit back from a Whittingham set play that was bundled home by Cala.

Deulofeu had his moments in the game  – certainly more than Mirallas who was also subbed- and perhaps should have been kept on longer but he was swiftly hooked after the goal with McGeady and Nasimtih coming on. McGeady did play very well though and his ferreting down the flanks in the last ten minutes was rewarded in the dying moments of the game.  Barkley sensibly switched play to him down the left and McGeady put in a superb cross to the back post which was re-directed by Barry for Coleman to comically slice home. Coleman has now scored more goals than any other Everton right back in a single season (thanks to Gavin Buckland for that gem).

Conclusion 

Cardiff will argue that luck was against them and no one could argue our goals where both fortuitous. However, despite our visitors playing very well and making it more of a game than the early season match they have a dependency on set plays and didn’t engineer much. We created plenty of chances from open play (14 v 4) and the fact we tend to score so late in games in nearly every home game perhaps alludes to the control and ‘death by a thousand cuts’ mantra of Martinez being at work in wearing opponents down rather than simply being lucky.

The win means we are now in line for 69 pts based on our average per game, which would give us our best finish in the top flight since the inception of the Premier League. Personally, 5th spot, the prospect of trips to the unknown back waters of Europe and seeing Moyes fail will keep this misery happy over the summer months. And all three are very achievable. A look at our points totals of seasons when we competed in the Europa League  would also show that with good management and a sprinkle of additions to the squad that we can be competitive at home and abroad.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 1-0 West Ham

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After some decent displays on the road which have yielded minimal gains, the first of three home games on the spin against sides from below stairs in the table commenced with the visit of West Ham.

The preamble

The Hammers have been on the wrong end of some inexplicably bad tonkings at L4 down the years – even conceding a 5 and a 6 under the coma inducing pragmatism of Walter and Archie.

Serving up a monster webbing to the Hammers was distinctly unlikely given our recent profligacy in front of goal combined with our visitor’s key strengths lying at the back.  Allardyce’s mob have kept more clean sheets than any other team in the League (13) including four shut outs in their last five – four of which they secured wins in despite an average possession share of just 36%.

Clean sheets, second balls and territory are Big Sam’s currency and swinging in crosses from Downing and Jarvis on the flanks are central to his evil plot.  You always get the sense with the league’s benchmark food trough extractor that even if he found a few hundred million in his oversized pantry he’d probably still play the role of the stubborn underdog.

He is also a keen advocate of ‘teck-nolo- geh’ although prefers to use his prozone data for the purposes of evil, like knowing the most effective position on the pitch to volley Pienaar up the arse – a tactic the slack jowelled misery has used repeatedly down the years. You could well imagine him and his golfing oiks Moyes and Coyle at the back row of the LMA conference shouting ‘gimp’ and flicking bogies whilst blue sky self facilitating media nodes like Martinez and Brenny deliver their end of term seminar on ‘The power of visions in the post modern epl’. Anyway, I’m going way of subject here.

Teams

West Ham dodged a bullet with Traore and with the freakish lunk seemingly dead and Lukaku – who got the winner in the return fixture from the bench – only fit for the bench, Naismith kept his place at 9. At the back,  Stones came in for Jagielka. Managing expectations specialist Allardyce named an unchanged line-up for the fourth game on the spin with Jack Fulton tinned burger loving fiend Kevin Nolan ensconced behind Carlton cole in a 4-2-3-1 ish setup.

1st Half / West Ham Approach

It’s hard to imagine someone who represents the antithesis of the Hammers style more than the rotund misery guts of ‘Big Sam’. Noble, a decent ball player, was predominantly tasked with picking up Barry when Howard got the ball to prevent him playing through into midfield – a tactic which worked as Barry didn’t receive once from Howard.

Despite us having a plethora of shots (22 in total) most where wayward and it’s easy to see how our visitor’s collate so many clean sheets such is the amount of bodies they get between the ball and their keeper.

A reluctance to not compromise their shape meant they created virtually nothing in open play and mustered just one shot on target in the entire game – that coming from a long shot. With the emphasis clearly on not being caught out numbers wise the Hammers committed minimal numbers forward  meaning Carroll was an isolated figure for the most part.  Our visitors top passing combination was the keeper to Carroll – who played only 60 mins – and it was indicative of a flawed approach based around containment and territory.

The gargantuan geordie is a colossal threat though,  and one that Barry and McCarthy supported the back four with superbly when the ball was punted downfield in the general area of John Stones. Gareth Barry won all 8 of his headers and competed superbly in the air whilst McCarthy was adept positionally in picking up the loose second balls – winning 6 – which was more than any of his teammates.

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What changed in the second half?

It’s all well and good moaning about negative tactics from the opposition, but being able to find a way through such well organised defences is something we need to become better at doing.

Given the way we play i.e the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach of controlling games and wearing opponents down, we are always going to come on stronger in the second period of games. This is shown by the fact that 21 of our last 29 league goals have come in the second half of games and so it proved again here.

It’s perhaps stating the bleeding obvious but getting Baines into the game  more in the second period was crucial. In the first half he was fairly peripheral, creating minimal and a victim of the ball tending to sway more to the right flank which would invariably culminate in a Deulofeu dribble or shot. The Spaniard did ok with Pienaar his main support passes wise, particularly with one mazy run that turned Collins in knots but overall he was well shackled by the competent McCartney.

In the second period the amount of passes from Pienaar to Baines more than doubled and this enabled Baines to make the most attacking third passes from either side in the second period which led to him creating 5 chances from open play after the break – more than West Ham fashioned in the 90 minutes. The duo fashioned two good openings  just after the break, with Downing switching off in front of Demel enabling Pienaar two decent chances, both of which he should have scored from.

The introduction of Lukaku was an added tonic given that our delightful approach work has been undermined since the turn of the year by bluntness at the sharp end of the pitch. When Pienaar found Baines on 81 mns the wing back was able to pick out Lukaku who would slot for his first goal in ages. It was also Baines first assist of the season. West Ham’s defence – which had been ruthless all afternoon – where guilty here of defending too deep with Collins and Tomkins leaving Lukaku far too much space in the area to pick his spot.

Conclusion

This was one of the more insipid games we’ve seen at Goodison all season and the Hammers were even less adventurous than the inexplicably negative Aston Villa. Whether it be the six pint pre match haul in the newly refurbished Winslow or ‘other factors’, for large periods the game seemed to drift with virtually nothing happening as we went from flank to flank in search of picking a hole in a well organised defence.

Despite not being on top of their game the Blues had enough players who were ‘at it’, no more so than the driving force of McCarthy who week in week out delivers the great combination of regaining possession and moving it onto the more attacking minded players, and his application was again a key factor in the win.

In summary this was a deserved win achieved in difficult circumstances against a stubborn opponent and sets us up nicely for an altogether different proposition next week at Arsenal.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Chelsea 1-0 Everton

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The Tactical Preamble

Saturday’s early kick off gave us the unenviable task of trying to kick-start our increasingly iffy away form against a bubbling Chelsea side.

The West Londoners deservedly top the table –  unless of course points are given for games lost to dark forces / corruption – and have dropped just four points at home all season which is the best record in the top flight. In Mourinho they also have the league’s best tactician and man-manager, and also perhaps also the most irritating.

For Mourinho enthusiasts, even when he loans out arguably his best striker its some kind of brilliant insurgent strategy designed to undermine rivals, whilst bullying a geriatric french pensioner is intelligence worthy of Alain De Botton. He’s clearly not in the same league as Tony Soprano however, as this scene demonstrates.

Anyway, I digress.

Martinez dilemma was whether he sticks to the rigid deep defensive line and limited pressure on the ball that brought us a 1-0 win against the same opposition earlier this season and concede space between the lines for Chelsea’s fluid attacking midfield trio to turn and run at us. Or does he try and play more aggressive further up the pitch and nip Chelsea’s attacks in the bud around the midfield zone as citteh did pretty well in the cup last week.

From a defensive point of view our win in the corresponding fixture was a bit more of a Moyes style grind-off than the brown brogue free love approach of Martinez. Our blue sky thinking boss did engage in some tactical jousting in the second period to counter Mourinho’s switch to a 3-5-2 by replacing Jelavic with McCarthy. This was designed to get more bodies in deep midfield areas and use Mirallas as the outball through the midde with Nasimith playing a key role on the flanks to win diagonals in the air.

Taking control of this game was going to be tricky but not insurmountable. Our passing share v top sides on the road has been impressive (54% average). This ball hogging against the big sides has yielded just 2 goals on the road though and with just 1 goal from open play in our last 4 away games it was clear we had a job on in terms of scoring, particularly with Chelsea having the best defensive record in the league.

Team News

Chelsea’s preferred back four was re-united with Ivanovic and Azpilcueta in the fullback slots and Cahill and Terry in the middle. Matic and Lampard played as the midfield shield with the attacking midfield trio of William, the impish and industrious Oscar and star man Eden Hazard behind benchmark mercenary Eto’o.

With no Lukaku the big ‘selection dilemma’ for us concerned who would lead the line with Traore, who showed on his debut he can be ace and cack in equal measure, initially preferred to the more consistent if less shiny Steven Nasimith, however due to an injury in the warm up the Scot got the nod.

The Game

Whilst Chelsea settled the better in the first ten minutes Everton then completely took control and bossed the remainder of the half. The combination play was particularly good down the left side with Barry – who along with McCarthy was immense throughout – finding Baines at will, who in turn was threading some nicely angled forward passes into Naismith who was linking play superbly with on rushing midfielders. Indeed, the two best chances of the game at this stage came from such scenarios with Naismith teeing up first Osman and then Mirallas.  After such a dominant display in the opening 45 mins there was more than a whiff of the Spurs defeat at half time as despite bossing possession and territory we had amassed just one shot on target.

Chelsea opted to not get sucked in by our passing and instead dropped off to be more compact in their own defensive third. Going forward our hosts produced virtually nothing with Oscar well shackled and Hazard frustrated by Coleman and ending the half on the right flank.

In the second period Ramires was brought on for Oscar, who having made a few fouls since his earlier booking was in risk of being sent off and was generally below par. Ramires added more intensity and Chelsea played a bit more of a direct 4-3-3.

Going forward the attacking dynamic of Barry > Baines > Naismith was much less of an option after the break,  going from 20 combinations in the first half to just 4  in the second period. Naismith looked a tad more isolated and whilst he did his best he struggled in the air against Terry and Cahill, winning just 3 of the 18 aerial duels he contested.

Indeed, with the exception of a deflected effort from Osman we hardly created anything after the break with just 6 chances created in open play to our hosts 13 over the 90mins. Attacking midfield trio Barkley, Deulofeu and McGeady all came on and with Chelsea now in the ascendancy it seemed the strategy was to hit Chelsea on the break but as with the Spurs game the subs provided nothing. Barkley was particularly poor and frequently lost possession although with the 90 minutes now up it seemed that we were going to get the point we deserved.

Chelsea had been on top after the break and in their search for a goal the comically bad Torres was brought on with the specific instruction of squealing like a pig at the referee at every opportunity. Luckily for Chelsea, the malignant forward is an expert in such situations from his time served across the park. Ramires, a player adept at ‘engaging contact’ with opponents won more fouls than any other player in the 90 mins and after a coming together with Jagielka it was Cheslea who were to have the game’s  final opportunity deep into injury time. As Lampard sized up the free kick and our defensive line retreated way too far back there was a feeling of inevitability about what followed as the presence of the odious Terry led to the previously excellent Howard being caught in 8 minds and forcing the ball over his own line.

Conclusion

There was a lot of similarities with the Spurs defeat here. A first half that we dominated with several decent chances was followed by a second period in which we created little and then got stung by a set play. There was plenty of positives to take from the game , however, notably the way we controlled possession as well as the attacking passing combinations in the first half along with some great defending from Jagielka and Distin.  As mentioned at the start, getting a goal was always going to be difficult and ultimately the lack of a cutting edge has again cost us. League wise, three home games now follow – all against crud sides we should web everywhere – so all is not lost dear readers.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Spurs 1-0 Everton

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The preamble

Last time out at Goodison Spurs completely suffocated us, taking a 0-0 draw and but for their profligacy in front of goal would have taken all three. Particularly in the first half, Spurs squeezed us when we had the ball in our own half with the now departed Holtby pressing well and then repeatedly finding spaces between lines of our defence and midfield, notably from passes made down our left flank. In the second period we had more ball but it was mostly sterile dominance i.e not in danger zones with a crud yield of just 1 shot on target and the fewest clear cut chances created figure we have posted in any game this season.

Since then plenty has happened at White Hart Lane. After some televised sherlackings,  faux clever businessman Levy duly dispensed with ‘the avb project’ as it hit exception status. Levy replaced him with Tim ’200%’ Sherwood – a man whose closest previous experience to any managerial hot seat was changing Arry’s colostomy bag at half time. The Gilet-snood wearing snide can come across as something of a bloated shitehawk badger and he could count himself somewhat fortuitous to inherit an already huge squad who in the summer thunderspunked a figure double  what it cost us to assemble our entire squad.

Since his arrival Spurs have tinkered between a 4 and 5 man midfield. £20m man Soldado has usually been rolled out against bottom feeders like stoke and palace at home whilst Sigurdsson has come in as an extra midfield body against ball hogging outfits like Swansea and City. In the 8 league games he has overseen prior to this one Spurs have scored in each and accrued 2.1 points per game – a tally which would have them above us and the RS in the table should he have been there since day one of the campaign.

Unsurprisingly given the above, Sherwood went for a midfield 5 for this one with Erikson, Dembele, and supposedly Lennon, providing forward support to Adebayor. For us, McGeady and Barkley were both benched in favour of last week’s match winning duo Naismith and Pienaar with Coleman also coming back in for Stones.

First Half

The opening exchanges seen the aforementioned Naismith playing as a kind of left sided forward with Mirallas keeping his width on the right which enabled Osman and Pienaar  to exploit space created by the wide forwards pulling their markers out wide. It’s a strategy that seemed to surprise Sherwood and resulted in Osman having 4 very decent openings within the first eight minutes of the contest with the first coming after just 2 minutes following a nice bit of play from the returning Coleman.

Osman was finding plenty of space between Spurs lines of midfield and defence and his service from Coleman down the right flank was our top passing combination in the opening half, with Osman receiving 8 times from Coleman.

Going forward, Spurs were anaemic with most of their attacks nipped in the bud by the superb James McCarthy. The Irish presser made 7 tackles in the opening half – more than Spurs defensive mids Bentaleb and Paulinho put together and the half ended with Spurs failing to have any strike on target and only one chance created from open play to our five.

There was a nagging feeling however that we had missed a trick in terms of making our superior final third play pay.

Second Half

After the break its fair to say we didn’t show up in an attacking sense.

Naismith’s endeavour to put in a shift had been commendable in the first half; he made good runs into the channels, won  more free kicks than anyone from either side and generally gave opposition defenders a problem with his pressure play.

This time however, Naismith got a bit too tight on Bentaleb leading to a Spurs free kick just inside our half.  Clattenturd sportily allowed Spurs  to take it 10 yards from where the incident took place and Barry – whose skills off the ball as an arl arse snide are never usually found wanting –  doesn’t stand on Walker which enables the gaming enthusiast to take a quick free kick. From the resulting dinked pass, Adebayor nips in between Coleman and Jagielka to ruthlessly fire past Howard for the games opening goal. Like Villa last week, Spurs had scored with their first shot on target.

Post-match Sherwood explained the half time dynamic which supposedly changed the game;

‘We managed to sit them down, have a little chat and decided that we needed to put some more pressure on them higher up the field which was the gameplan originally.We were nice and compact in the middle of the park but we were far too deep and if you give them space, they have good players who will open you up and that is what they did in the first half. So in the second half we stepped into them a little bit, made them play quicker and they gave us the ball back. They never had a shot at goal in the second half and we looked like we were going to score.’

Whilst Sherwood was incorrect with his assertion that ‘we gave them the ball back’ – our passing accuracy actually went up in the second half   – Spurs aggression further up field did inhibit us and trigger more backward and sideways passes. By way of an example, Coleman – who had found Osman the most in the first half – combined just twice with the schemer after the break.  It’s such occasions when having a big hard galoot who can shield the ball upfront gives you the ability to make longer passes count but with Lukaku injured and Traore seemingly not ready our options here are a tad limited.

Saying that, our bench looked a lot healthier than it has done in recent weeks and Martinez looked to kick start a blue revival with three of the attacking four replaced in the hope fresh eyes would be able to pick a pass through a tiring Spurs rearguard.  Barkley failed to instigate any mischief, McGeady huffed and puffed and Deulofeu generally got outmuscled whenever he cut inside with none of the trio carving out an opening between them.  Rather than resuscitate the Blues the changes seemed to create  less rhythm and the expected onslaught was confined to an iffy looking penalty shout which was never going to be given with the hair plugged meff officiating.

In Conclusion

A lack of a cutting edge was put forward by most as the main reason for us not taking anything from the game and it’s hard to argue with this. Our shooting accuracy was 33% – the third worst total we’ve posted this season – and whilst our forward play was very good in the opening half we created virtually nothing in the second period. Still, we were well worthy of at least a point and Spurs will rightfully wonder how the fuck they won this game.  Our away form is costing us at the moment with a run of just two points from twelve on the road making it increasingly unlikely we will be able to kick on any further in terms of a league position. Things can change very quickly, however,  and a win against Tony Putrid’s Palace on Wednesday would be a very good start.

EB

Transfer Wipe

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The narrative leading upto the transfer window was the usual media guff about player departures and the now painfully boring jokes about our loan deals, however the first piece of business was the excellent permanent acquisition of wing schemer Aiden McGeady from Moscow. Not a man to be light in his praise, Martinez unsurprisingly described the deal as ‘an unbelievable moment’ for the club and player.

New Picture (123)The Scotland born wideman’s key attributes are as a dribbler and particularly as a creator of goals; in the 3 seasons which preceded his move to Russia he created 50 goals for teammates at Celtic, but this figure dropped to 29 in four seasons in Moscow. McGeady’s time under Trappatoni for Ireland and the setup at Moscow has improved his defensive and positional awareness and fostered a more professional approach in terms of preparation, training and tactics. The deal improves our increasingly limited options in the forward 4 positions and he could cover right midfield allowing Mirallas to be played through the middle or play off Lukaku enabling Barkley to drop into a deeeper role, or in the pivot, if you speak bell-end.

In terms of concerns, his heading, crossing and tackling could all be better although its his mental frailty which perhaps raises the most question marks. A dressing room row with Gordan Strachan, a six game ban for vollying a dressing room door and more recently being suspended from training for not complying with instructions in training and matches culminated in advice from his previous employers to seek out a psychologist.

For me, McGeady’s signature represents a low risk capture for the club and the acquisition of a decent if albeit patchy performer. His ability to commit fullbacks 1v1 is the key attraction for Martinez along with his ‘arrogance’ in the final third but there are flaws, namely this suspect mentality and a question mark over his ability to deliver consistently in a competitive league.

The rise of the idiots was well under way at Sky where flagship ball bag Jim White had amazingly been given his own transfer show where he interviews a variety of awful humans about transfers that will never happen. Amongst his esteemed guests include ex palace owner Simon Jordan – comical owner of the UK’s last remaining highlighted centre part – who comically used the show as partridge style forum to insist that he ‘had the last laugh’ on <insert name of unscrupulous owner/agent>.

Back to transfers that happened, and food trough extractor Steve Bruce swooped to take fan favourite and serial goal shy striker Nikica Jelavic to Hull in a deal which meant we had somehow recouped £40m for last season’s physical but empty headed forward line of Fellaini, Anichebe & Jelavic.

Another striker who used to score goals, the dangerously dense Jermaine Defoe, was also on the move as he ‘closed in’ on  a move to Toronto by greeting his new fan New Picture (124)base with the classic welcome of ‘I’m made up to be in America innit’. Going back to Jelavic, whilst a fan fave and initially a hit the Balkan bomber has regressed spectacularly since 2013 and has been dreadful for a long time now. Many theories have been put forward for Jelavic’s descent into woe, ranging from poor service to psychological problems, but the crux of the matter is that he simply couldn’t get it up anymore. Crucially, his honest back to goal battering ram style was just too functional for the brown brogue sophistication advocated by the new world under Martinez which emphasises movement, comfort in possession and crucially the ability to commit defenders as key requisites in the final third. That said, nobody could fault his application and he provided some great times.

With one in and one out,  attention turned to a short term replacement for Arouna Kone. ‘Media outlets’ including the Guardian broke the news that Everton were sweet on goal shy Trinidadian forward Kenwyne Jones. The knee jerk social media reaction was of fury, ala Gibson, Barry etc. Jones isn’t this bad really but his approach has always been a tad too laid back to really make a decent fist of his career. The striker was eventually sent to Cardiff in exchange for morally repugnant transfer window favourite Peter Odemwingie – and will probably score 3 in his first 6 games then disappear without trace.

Horse-loving cock-tip amputee Dharmesh Sheth and the gimp that sky employ despite having suffered a violent stroke which forces him to talk slower than a Stoke counter attack reported that  ‘Big Sam’ was looking to save his position as the world’s 13th highest paid manager by signing  man mountain Ivorian Lacina Traore.  The left footed forward has bagged 58 goals and 22 assists in a 152 game career to date although has a reputation as something of a hot head.  Just as the forward was preparing to sign on the dotted line at subhuman scum bros Gold and Sullivan’s east london den of iniquity,  the striker was whisked up to L4  quicker than Fat Sam could demolish a little chef olympic breakfast. The deal did actually take a bit longer than that but as rotund scriber Alan Nixon from the Mirror would testify, you should never let truth get in the way of a good story. More on that cat later.

New Picture (125)Traore, our new ‘hitman’ is known as a one man attack and his back catalogue of goals seem a mix of six yard box tap ins and driving runs through rubbish defenders. Positionally, he can dribble and play as a deeper forward potentially behind Lukaku or instead of him or on the left of a forward three. When looking at his youtube montage there was more than a whiff of  those Jo ‘the happy clapper’ videos we all swallowed a few years back. With Lukaku completely out of sorts of late, Traore provides some serious competition for the number 9 spot and if he can get back to the level he was at a couple of years ago it’ll be good business.

It is a bit of a longshot though and the fact he is injured makes it all a bit meh. Aside from being injured and not very good in the air for somewhere taller than Peter Crouch *flashback to Sean Flynn out jumping Brett Angell*  there is also the mental bundle of a player acclimatizing and being able to hit the ground running. Last season he was sent off in a Europa League for diving and took an early bath three times in two seasons in Romania. His disciplinary record, with 24 yellow cards already, is hardly impressive and in his last six games for Anzhi he contributed no goals or assists but totted up 3 bookings. That said, with Lukaku out of form and now out of the picture due to injury, the outcome of the season could hinge on this loan being a fruitful one.

Arguably the best business was done with existing players. With kenwrong carrying the can on twitter after the disappointing recent results, it emerged that Baines had signed a new deal and that young Barkley was also ‘close’ to tying down a new deal. All this despite Baines earlier ‘demanding man United move’ according to Wallace at the Independent and Beech over at the Mirror.

Flip flopping turd worm Nixon and Mirror football in particular took a shellacking in this window. After their golden goose story regurgitated over 3 years to take Baines to United went awry, they then incorrectly revealed we had ‘swooped’ for Valencia midfielder Canalas – another non starter – and haphazardly speculated that we were ready to sell Coleman for Joe Allen money.

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Brian Beard from Sport Direct News also revealed Jagielka was going to the Theatre of Screams and Deulofeu was also supposedly crossing the park  to Liverpool via fellow purveyor of human excrement Caught Offside. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, James Robson from the MEN trumped them all by revealing Moyes was ready to blow £50m on Barkley – a player who he didn’t see fit to consider in the last 2 years at Goodison.

Jim White and his sky shitehawks reported the news that former really cool turned figure of ridicule Davey Moyes was set to make the biggest move of the deadline. The ‘ledge’ presenter ambitiously predicted  that bringing in Juan Mata would ‘ be sure to set off a chain reaction in the market”. Errrrm, it didn’t.

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The transfer frenzy certainly didn’t involve Liverpool who ended the window two men down after Johnson and the sit sniffing weasel faced colon biscuit Lucas succumbed to longish layoffs. They also missed out on Basle winger Salah, who moved south to Chelsea- with John Aldridge blaming this one on the interference of both Howard Webb and also Mourinho for trying to sabotage their title tilt. Bruce Grobellar meanwhile blamed the National Front. The club who have spent the most money since the inception of the premier league continued their quest for ‘da champyans leeeeg’ by trying to sign a long named £20m Russian winger but the deal crumbled. If the deal had gone through then presumably he would have been the new Ronaldo, or Anthony Le Tallac if you’re Chris Bascombe.

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On the subject of ‘da reds’ probably the most comical transfer that didn’t happen involved one of their ex players as race hate enthusiasts Lazio courted race hate gesticulator Nicolas Anelka – a player renowned for his low moral fibre. If ever a match was made in hell it was this one.

'Any movement today arry?'

‘Any movement today arry?’

Arch phony Jonny Heitinga, very much from the Paul Ince school of manufactured hardmen, finally buggered off as the deadline drew close.  Heitinga’s chances of getting in the first team looked bleaker than a setting from The  Bridge and word must have finally got to him that Christian Benteke had checked in at the malmaison prompting the utility man to finally leave- to Fulham on a free – in a deal which funded the purchase of a Czech youth keeper even the footy manager cats hadn’t heard of. Mario Suarez – a defensive midfielder with a good range of passing and an equally iffy disciplinary record – was mooted as a later arrival as were a couple of other unknown forwards but the word coming out of the club was that Martinez would rather save his coin for the summer

We know already that Martinez only looks at windows ‘one at a time’ and generally by bringing in older players on shorter deals it’s fair to question the longevity of his transfer strategy. What he has skilfully done though is engineer a different tactic to cracking the ‘glass ceiling’ by augmenting an already solid squad with some great individual flair in the final third. Improving on previous league finishes was probably unlikely by pursuing the previous regimes approach in the market. After all, nobody improves by repeating the same experiences. I guess only time will tell if it’s for the good of the club long term. Given the mad money being spunked on utter guff its potentially a shrewd move for various reasons but principally because the quality isn’t available at the moment.It also means that kenwrong will take the bullet from the fans should the current dip in form continue.

As the window drew to a close throbbing retard barrel Jim White and the gang of media fuck sticks led by prime mail meff Neil Ashton circled QPR’s training ground once more in the faint hope that Arry  spoon feeds them some final scoops of diarrhoea, but it wasn’t to be. And that’s basically the end of this long winded and frankly unnecessary review of cyber media nonsense.In the end even White’s elephant man Harry Redknapp couldn’t save him as his big transfer window blockbuster sank without trace.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: West Brom 1-1 Everton

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The Preamble

West Brom have been a stubborn thorn in our side in recent meetings between the clubs. In 2 of the last 3 meetings they have stopped us from scoring, with the most recent occasion in Martinez first game in charge on Goodison soil – a 0-0 stalemate. Indeed, with 17 draws between us this fixture ominously pitted together the two most prolific draw specialists in the division.

Possession has usually been plentiful for us in each of these 3 games however there hasn’t been a correlation into us creating genuine goal scoring opportunities. This has been due largely to ‘The Baggies’ rigid defensive shape with their back four one of the league’s most settled defences along with our own.

Given this fact, it was a big loss to lose chief creative spark Steven Pienaar to injury with the South African ‘schemer’ replaced by Bryan Oviedo who moved to the right flank. Leon Osman duly came over to the left side to enable both to tuck in on their better feet to deliver better passing angles into the forwards. Sylvain Distin also returned for the Blues in place of Stones. Our hosts went 4-4-2 making 4 changes in Pepe Mel’s first game in charge, with Lugano, Yacob, Gera and Vydra coming in for McAuley, Mulumbu, Amalfitano and Long.

Prior to the game Mel implied there would be subtle changes to the approach of the rather rigid setup preferred by onion headed predecessor Steve Clarke, speaking of a ‘more aggressive approach’ with more focus on ‘creating goalscoring chances’ which would imply less emphasis on shape and higher pressure in the final third.

First Half

For the first half we controlled the game although created minimal in front of goal. Like Norwich last week, West Brom went with two strikers to press us high up and forcing us to go long. Indeed, our 3 best openings of the first half all came from long Distin punts downfield in behind Lugano, who wasn’t having an A1 day. Firstly on 5mins Distin teed up Lukaku with a ball over the top for a decent opening before again on 11 mins finding the Belgian who this time played in Oviedo to fire wide. The third time the Blues finally made it pay with Lukaku heading down Distin’s pass for Mirallas to nip in behind the lumbering Lugano to smash home. In Martinez post match press conference he mentioned that his knowledge of Mel’s strategy led him to rightly believe he would press high up – thus giving us a chance in behind, and so it proved.

West Brom’s best opportunities came from Anelka who was making decent gains by first pulling out wide onto the left flank in behind pockets of space vacated by Coleman and then dropping off centrally to play passes through the our centre backs for Vydra.

In terms of final third control we dominated, making double the amount of passes in West Brom’s defensive third than they did in ours, and we deservedly left the field at half time 1-0 up.

Second Half

After the interval Everton simply didn’t turn up and it was a dreadful and disjointed second half display.

Martinez mentioned the state of the pitch being a contributing factor and this combined with West Brom’s pressure from the front to led to us playing 21% of our passes long – that’s close to double the season average of 13%. The loss of Barkley was particularly crucial here and without his ability to receive in tight areas, turn and drive through midfield and commit defenders meant we had little coming from the middle of the pitch.

We certainly struggled to find any rhythm on the ball with pass completion dipping from 79% in the first half to 75% in the second- way down on the season average of 83.6%.

In the final third it was even more depressing with just 2 chances created in open play after the break and no shots on target in the entire half.  Lukaku’s display was particularly insipid both on and off the ball. West Brom got touch tight on him which he doesn’t like and between them arch grocs Olsson and Lugano to put it bluntly ‘had him off’ in every 50-50. Sometimes the ability to ‘buy’ a foul to enable teammates to move up the pitch by 20 yards can be crucial when under pressure, and he won none. On the ball, he constantly failed to make the ball stick and bring in attacking midfielders with his pass completion down from a season average of 65% to Anichebe levels of 46%.

On the subject of Anichebe, the misfiring forward was by now in the thick of the action and quickly looked to execute his signature and perhaps only manoeuvre of  sticking his backside into the opposition centre back and pressing reverse until one of them falls over. The introduction of the former boo boy favourite did make an impact – he was much better than Vydra – and to be fair he did more damage than in 45mins than Lukaku did in 90.  West Brom were by far the better team after the interval and turned the tables on us in terms of attacking third passes making double our figure and also having more possession, territory and chances created from open play. They deservedly pulled level when some powder puff defending from Baines and McCarthy allowed the ball to come in from the flank for the comically bad Lugano to bury an Andy Gray style header past Howard.

In Conclusion

This was a fairly crud games for the Blues which got worse as it went on. After initially having the upper hand in the first half, we appeared to have done the hard work by getting our noses in front against a stubborn opponent. The thought heading into the second half was that next steps would be all about us dominating the ball in our half, drawing them onto us and then hitting them on the break with some dynamic counter attacks. Unfortunately our three most dynamic midfielders  messrs Barkley, Pienaar and Deulofeu were all unavailable and whilst Mirallas had some decent moments the two flank players Osman and Oviedo began the game on the periphery and got gradually worse. With each injury the levels of fluency and arrogance in our forward play has waned in recent weeks and we desperately need to get the trio back soon if we are to do more than merely hold our own and actually be able to force the issue  - as we have done all season – in the upcoming games against our key rivals.

EB