Teams and Tactics
Roberto Martinez made 3 changes from the team that lost narrowly to Man City last week, with the side named looking a lot less leggy. In came hip young gunslingers Barkley, McGeady and Naismith with veteran triumvirate Hibbert, Eto’o and Barry stepping aside.
QPR had top scorer Charlie Austin suspended and perhaps to combat our expected midfield dominance Arry retreated from his usual 4-4-2 and deployed an extra midfielder, with Barton anchoring the engine room. Fer and Mutch played in front of Barton, Phillips and Hoilett occupied the flanks and Vargas was deployed on his own up front.
Without Barry, Osman, Pienaar or Eto’o in the starting line-up there was certainly a feeling that brain wise there wasn’t much going on and that when we did make the breakthrough it’d probably be the result of brawn rather than brains.
Our midfield trio is usually a 2-1 triangle with Barry and McCarthy at the base and then 1 further forward. For this game the triangle was flipped to a 1-2 meaning Besic played a central anchor role with Naismith and Barkley playing either side of him but slightly further up the pitch. The role suited Besic well as he was predominantly consumed with breaking down play and supporting the wingbacks defensively, something he did doggedly, with the Bosnian attempting more tackles (9) than anyone on the pitch. As noted in previous posts, the midfielder can take too many chances in possession in his own half, plus he could do with spending the summer in Smokey Mo’s beefing up on ribs and zagnuts, but he has plenty of qualities that can help us.
Likewise, Barkley was enjoying his new deeper role. Unlike Barry or McCarthy’s approach, Barkley won’t look to release the ball to his wingback and then cover whilst they bomb on. Instead he’ll look to pick out the most advanced forward or simply bulldoze through midfield on his own. This was perfectly demonstrated in the first half, firstly when he pinged a great 40 yard pass to put Naismith clear in our first threatening move of the game.
Then on 32 minutes Barkley collected a pass from Besic on the halfway line and smartly exchanged passes with Lukaku before shellacking a brilliant 60mph exocet into the roof of Green’s net with his weaker left foot. A special mention should also go out to Joey Barton who kindly presented the ball to besic in the first place.
The self facilitating media node then served up further L4 Christmas cheer shortly before half time, this time jabbing a brainless elbow on Naismith 25 yards from the qpr goal. From the resulting dead ball Kevin Mirallas goal bound twister violently rebounded off Vargas and wrong footed Green for 2-0. It was our 7th goal from outside the box this season – a league high – and given the passivity of our visitors in the final third it was pretty much game over.
QPR have conceded the most shots on target in the top flight and you can see why.
On 52 minutes a horrendous kick out by the hapless Green triggered a chain of calamitous events which would lead to goal #3. With Dunne unable to deal decisively with the first ball, Mirallas was able to feed McGeady and the wingers sublime jinking run was duly dispatched by Naismith via a kind deflection.
With the third goal in the bag the grim state of Arry and his decomposing grid on the sidelines was palpable. The hatchet faced old mess delved into his tactical playbook of 25 years of football management and selected his tried and tested 4-4-2, meaning an aerial onslaught ensued.
This being Everton however there is never such thing as a routine victory and our momentum would be checked by a trio of incidents which all threatened to spoil what had been a relatively successful afternoon to this point.
Firstly QPR pulled a goal back when a combination of crass keeping from Howard and ball watching from Baines enabled Zamora to tap home for 1-3.
A nasty looking ankle injury to Kevin Mirallas was then compounded by comedy booing from sections of an edgy crowd seemingly unimpressed by one back pass too many. There’s clearly a section of the home support who remain unimpressed by the tantric methods of Martinez and who perhaps long for the quick knee trembling model of his predecessor, but the booing achieves nothing.
What it does achieve is eroding confidence and makes defenders already jittery in possession go with the safe option of a back pass or forced punt forward rather than the pass into midfield which is what they should be doing.
For what it’s worth I think when Stones returns to the line-up our forward passing from the back will improve considerably. The absence of the youngster has been most accentuated in games when visiting sides only play 1 up top which puts the onus on the unmarked centre back to step into midfield with the ball, something Distin struggles to do when the opportunities arise.
This was a much-needed win which takes us back into the top half, albeit it was against arguably the worst side in the league.
The display of Barkley was probably the most positive note of the evening, with Besic’s work rate to cover the gullies behind both him and Naismith also admirable.
The critique would be the lack of fluidity in our play. With Osman rarely deployed from the start thesedays and Pienaar’s recent cameos hinting that his decline could be terminal, Baines is increasingly a spare part on the left. Passing combinations and overloads down his flank have been crucial to us controlling games and crafting chances in the opposition half and without this we don’t create enough chances or engineer enough shots on goal.
Whilst this display won’t exactly have struck fear into sides in the top half – and we’ll need to up our game considerably to get anything at Southampton this weekend – it was a step in the right direction and hopefully it can be the start of an upturn in results and performances.