Scout Report: Lille

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 Odds (To win group) 8/1 (originally 4/1)  Odds (to qualify) 7/5 (originally 11/8)  Current form: LDWDDLWDLL

With 4 points bagged from our opening two games we now enter the crucial double-header against Ligue 1 heavyweights Lille, with the first tussle this Thursday over in France.

Since being turfed out of the Champions League qualifiers our French rivals have lost their top goalscorer and having briefly led the division a miserable run of 1 win in 7  has seen them fall 10 points off the summit. This analysis will take a look at what we are up against and whether we can get the 3 points which should be enough to see us through to the knockout phase.

At the back…

Lille boss Rene Girard won the French top flight 1 in 2012 as Montpellier boss, pipping money thunderspunkers PSG at the death in one of the closest run title races in french football history. He did so with the best defence in the division, conceding just 34 goals in 38 games, and his approach at Lille has been similarly pragmatic.

He inherited the defensive nucleus of Rudi Garcia’s 2011 title-winning side, albeit stripped of the attacking heavyweights Sow, Hazard, Cabaye  and Gervinho. Since the title success Lille have become less of an irresistible force and more of an immovable object – partly due to financial implications with their Arsenal style stadium project and partly due to Girard’s cautious approach.

Last season their keeper Enyeama kept 21  clean sheets which was more than any keeper in the top 5 European leagues as Lille comfortably recorded the best defensive record in the top flight. This defensive frugality has continued into this season, particularly at home where they have kept 11 clean sheets from their last 14 games and their defensive options were further boosted in the close season with the acquisition of highly rated Danish covering centre half Simon Kjaer from group rivals Wolfsburg.

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Kjaer is a monster in both boxes for Lille; at the back he can get tight and cover equally well, winning more aerials and making more clearances than any Lille player. At the other end he is a danger from set plays and is Lille’s joint top scorer from open play with 2 goals.

We could be facing them at a decent time, though, as this defensive frugality has been called into question in recent weeks; initially last week they were tonked 0-3 at Lyon and this was followed up with a similar horror show at home to Guingamp this weekend. Let’s take a look at the footage from both games for clues…

Utility man Franck Beria - Equally shite at right back or centre back.

Utility man Franck Beria – Equally shite at right back or centre back.

In the Lyon game above their right back Corchia gets caught not tracking a run from his flank early on but gets away with it, however the warning was not heeded. Pace and power seem to be an issue in the centre of Lille’s defence, especially when their chief enforcer Kjaer isn’t playing as was the case in Lyon. It’s likely he’ll be back for our games but in this fixture his physique and aerial prowess is sorely missed. Looking at the Lyon goals, for the opener chief liability Franck Beria is barged off the ball too easily and then on goal #2 Lille fail to defend a straight forward cross into their box. Goal #3 occurs when their 34-year-old ex Newcastle defender David Rozenhal switches off at a crucial moment.

In their most recent game this weekend at home to basement dwellers Guingamp (below) Lille looked to reshuffle the faltering backline, with Kjaer coming back and Beria shifting to right back and Corchia moving ahead of him to right midfield. The switch failed to restore order, however, as they duly lost 1-2. Weak link Beria was caught out for both goals;  firstly in the air he is outmuscled from a wide delivery into the box and then he fails to track his runner and in doing so attempts a comedy offside trap for goal two.

Going forward….

Girard has shifted between using 1 and 2 forwards this season, sometimes setting up in a 4-3-1-2 and sometimes going with 4-2-3-1. He generally favours a medium defensive block, not looking to press too much with controlled possession in the middle of the pitch his preferred form of keeping the opposition at bay. Neither full back is great going forward and this lack of width is probably an area we can look to expose.

Going forward it’d be fair to say that, despite having some great approach play, they struggle for goals and their return of only scoring more than once in two of their fourteen games this season highlights this problem. They created the 4th most chances last season in their domestic league but were the lowest scorers in the top half of the division and are further weakened by the defection of top scorer Kalou to Hertha – he got 46% of their goals last season. The problem was laid bare in the weekend defeat to Guingamp when 29 shots yielded just 1 goal. Libepwel’s new buy Origi (now back at Lille on loan) bagged just six last season and has scored just twice in open play this season- he’s also very erratic and has been the most dispossessed player in the french league this season.

They have plenty of options in the attacking midfield slots including the ageing Ben Kingsley lookalike Florent Balmont, a good crosser who polled the most assists for Lille last season. He is joined by right footed playmaker Marvin Martin who a few seasons ago claimed 17 assists in just 1 season at Socheaux and who has 15 French caps to his name. Other notable players who can cause damage in the final third are Nolan Roux , onloan Man City star Marcos Lopes and the pacy Ryan Mendes.

Bong Prediction: I fancy the game in Lille to be a low scoring affair, either 1-1 or a narrow 1-0 win for the Toffees. At Goodison we should win but again it won’t be a big score, probably 2-0.

Key stat: Prior to the weekend there had been just 8 goals scored in Lille’s 7 previous home games this season.

Bong’s recommended bet: Under 1.5 goals in the away game is 9/4 at Willie Hills

EB

Tactical Deconstruction – Everton 3-0 Aston Villa

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Teams

In terms of changes, the much maligned duo Alcaraz and Osman joined injured trio McCarthy, Coleman and Barkley in returning to the side that lost in Manchester a few weeks ago. Out went Hibbert, Stones, Besic, McGeady and Pienaar in a line-up which had more of the look and feel of the regular setup from last season. Villa opened up in a 4-3-3 with their headline team news being the return of Benteke after a lengthy injury. The Belgian was joined by one time Everton target N’ Zogbia on the left and serial toffee tormentor Agbonlahor on the right.

First Half

 Villa sat very deep from the off with a low block on our 18 yard line, seemingly lying in wait to draw us on and then launch quick fire counters   when possession was regained. This tactic basically enabled us to dictate play 20 yards from their goal and the lack of pressure on our defenders  in the first half was crucial in allowing us to build momentum in the Villa half.

With no pressure on him Jagielka was able to bring the ball out of our half and play in Baines (the most frequent passing move of the game) thus enabling the left wing back acres of space to receive play and drill forward passes into the Villa final third. This was the source of all our early pressure on Guzan’s goal, with Osman and then Lukaku both going close from Baines passes.

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For large passages of play in the first half Villa where submerged under a torrent of Everton passing moves, with our possession share swelling to 69% in the first 20 minutes. With Villa teetering on the brink, Barkley’s enterprising play forced 2 corners and the second of these resulted in Jagielka scoring the opening goal following a short corner involving Barry and Baines.

There are usually moans and groans when corners and free kicks in the final third are taken short, something Martinez always favours over the direct delivery. The positive impact it has is in pulling well drilled and organised defenders out of set positions and this is exactly what happened here. That said, the goal was aided and abetted by shocking marking from Cissokho, whose defending throughout was inept.

Villa did have some ‘moments’ prior to the half time whistle,  with one counter attack catching Baines up field and resulting in a brilliant last-ditch tackle from McCarthy on Cleverley . The Man Utd loanee midfielder was linked with us in the close season and was one of Villa’s better players on the day; his link up play with Hutton down our right was both Villa’s most frequent and dangerous passing combination, with the duo linking up 27 times.

Off the ball, McCarthy regained possession 10 times - more than any efc player, crucially at either side of half time at both ends of the pitch.

Off the ball, McCarthy regained possession 10 times – more than any efc player, crucially either side of half time at both ends of the pitch.

Second Half

Villa looked to change things around in the second period, with Richardson moving to the left of midfield and Agbonlahor moving central alongside Benteke in more of a 4-4-2, however it did little to turn the growing tide against them.

The return of Barkley and his refreshing blend of pace, power and close control was a great shot in the arm for us, and he played a significant role in our second goal.

After McCarthy picked NZogbia’s pocket in the centre of midfield, two quick one touch passes from him and then Barkley took us to the Villa 18 yard line, resulting in Lukaku’s left footed drive eeking over the line with some help from Guzan. It was Barkley’s first actual assist in the top flight.

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With Pienaar introduced for Barkley, Villa now had a further problem as the South African along with Osman and Baines were all buzzing with intent down their beleaguered right side.

After McCarthy snuffed out a Villa throw in their own half a slick 13 pass move ensued with Villa’s shadow chasing ending with Weimann hacking the South African schemer 20 yards from the Villa goal. With the quick thinking Osman realising Hutton and Weimann had turned their backs on the ball, he swiftly freed Baines whose centre was duly despatched by fellow wingback Coleman.

If you take a look at the goal again have a look at Kieran Richardson taking a look over his shoulder at Coleman running past him and doing absolutely nothing – it was comedy defending of the highest order and enabled the Irish marauder to ghost past Cissokohno. Take nothing away from Baines, though, he teed up six of our twelve chances and took his assist tally to 7 in all competitions for the season, already his best yield since the 11 he bagged in 2010/11.

All that was left was for late cameo’s for Eto’o and Gibson and a final laugh as Joe Cole’s protracted career demise entered its latest insignificant chapter, as he replaced Benteke who had been well shackled by Alcaraz throughout.

This was a much-needed return to winning ways for the Blues, with both the result and performance excellent and hopefully it’ll act as the vital re-boot our season required.

EB

Everton v Aston Villa – Tactical Preview

 

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Poor form at both ends of the pitch compounded by a severe injury crisis has led to an appalling start to the league campaign for the toffees. Next up is this weekend’s tussle with the cunning and often tricky to predict Aston Villa at L4.

The Birmingham outfit started the season well with 3 wins and a draw from their openings 4 games, although in 3 of those games they actually had fewer shots and possession than their opponent. Their Machiavellian approach has since yielded no wins or goals from their last 3 games, and they will come into this one arguably as low in confidence as ourselves.

Last season at Goodison they were appalling; they offered little going forward and displayed some fairly primitive long ball tactics,  however the ends almost justified the means and it took a late collapse for us to edge it 2-1. Will it be more of the same on Saturday then? or will this showdown result in us shooting ourselves in the foot, or head as with our previous three home league games so far? Lets start by taking a look at last season’s meeting first….

Last season

It’d be fair to say that Villa were one of the worst sides we had the misfortune to witness on our own patch last season – they shared just 29% of the ball and offered up only 1 shot on target, which being against Everton they duly scored from. Their principal tactic on the ball was not one for the purists; bereft of any creativity or dynamism they opted to bypass midfield from Guzan to lumbering grock duo Grant Holt and Christian Benteke.

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Its rare that a goalkeeper will make more touches of the ball than any of his outfield players, yet that’s exactly what happened here with Guzan making more touches than any Villa player. Most of his passes were aimed at the 2 forwards with the plan seemingly for them to win flick ons or hoover up the second balls.

Off the ball they initially squeezed up and tried to play the offside trap against us, resulting in us being caught offside 9 times ( in context Chelsea have been caught offside the most this season at the rate of 2.5 times per game).

As with the game at Villa Park earlier on last season, this fixture  was turned on its head by a combination of Martinez withdrawing young Barkley and Villa tanking in the face of repeated chasing of the ball. Whereas at villa the much maligned Osman came on to both score and create late goals, this result owed much to the emergence of Pienaar who turned the contest in our favour with a 45  minute cameo packed with ingenious incision.

Invigorated by the second half emergence of Pienaar, Baines and Barry the trio's touches of the ball ramps up considerably, including 10 touches in the villa danger area. In contrast Villa had no touches of the ball as a team in our box after the interval

Invigorated by the second half emergence of Pienaar, teammates Baines and Barry’s touches of the ball also ramps up considerably, including 10 touches in the villa 18 yard box between the trio. In contrast Villa had no touches of the ball as a team in our box after the interval

The South African’s impact has been reduced in the last 12 months due to injury, but as we never tire of telling anyone on here he remains our most intelligent player in the final third, and the above chalkboard demonstrates this nicely.

In the second period Villa’s low block and 5 man defence enabled us to dictate terms 20 yards from their goal, enabling Barry to play in Pienaar who in turn beautifully tees up Naismith for the equaliser.

Lambert’s attempt to turn the tide was to switch from a 5 man to a 4 man defence, taking off key defender Ron Vlaar in the process to seemingly try and push their defensive line further up the pitch. However shortly after the switch we deservedly got the winning goal through a Mirallas free kick, and that was pretty much your lot.

Steven Naismith is Everton's top scorer in 2014 with 11 goals in all competitions

Steven Naismith is Everton’s top scorer in 2014 with 11 goals in all competitions, his first league goal in that run coming in the Villa game at Goodison last season.

Villa this season

Villa’s good early points haul has come to something of a shuddering end of late, with a series of 3 defeats featuring 8 goals shipped and none scored.  From looking at the data it shows that they have the lowest possession share in the league,  win the fewest tackles and record the least shots. The stats only partly tell the story, though, so what does this information actually reveal?

Well given that they are low on both passing and tackles its fair to say they are more concerned with shape and solidity off the ball and on it. They’ll not look to draw us on with the ball or commit to press us off it, rather they’ll wait for us to make the mistake in their half and then exploit it with quick counters.

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Villa have polled the fewest shots of any side in the league and their profligacy in the final third is even more alarming when you consider that of the 4 goals they have scored, half of these weren’t from actual assists. Yes they have Benteke to come back, but he only just about scraped double figures last season.

The issue they have had this season is that their erratic forward players are characteristically rich in terms of speed but poor in terms of brains or composure. Indeed its this lack of nouse which has hurt them at the sharp end with a lack of goals and  failure to even threaten the opposition goal being a common feature of their games.

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Martinez has never lost in his 6 top flight games against Lambert including their Norwich v Wigan duels,  with three draws followed by three wins, including a double last season.

Villa’s shot and possession count is appalling and it’s a nap we’ll have 60%+ of the ball and with a full house behind us will try to force the issue, whilst Villa will look to hit us on the counter.  Trouble is, Palace only needed 3 shots to score 3 goals against us and they didn’t even need to create any of their openings.

There are usually goals in this fixture with both teams scoring in the last 8 meetings at Goodison, 7 of which witnessed 3 goals or more. Given our record of late goals against Villa the option of choosing the last goal to be scored after the 75th minute at 10/11 with Paddy Power looks inviting.

Despite Villa’s poor form in the opposition half  it’d be an ambitious punter who goes for an efc or villa clean sheet given the respective defences showings of late, and given how awful villa are data-wise an everton win with both teams scoring wager looks plausible.

Key Stat: Our last six goals against Villa have all come in the final 30 minutes of matches.

Bong Bet: Second half to be highest scoring half – 23/20 Boylesport

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Man United 2-1 Everton

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As 90 minutes goes, this was probably the most Everton game of football that you are ever likely to see.

From striker’s breaking scoring ducks to the goalkeeping master-class at the other end of the pitch, not to mention accruing a long term injury and crucial errors from experienced players, this was as Everton as it gets.

Let’s begin by sifting through the first half detritus.

First Half

With United struggling for defensive cohesion the thought pre match was that we would be on ‘the front foot’ for this one, however that was not the case. Instead we played a low defensive block to invite United on to us, with the strategy seemingly to then try to exploit the space in behind when gaps arose.

The first 10 minutes we controlled well, to the tune 60% of possession, but it was United who looked the more threatening in this period. Two early crosses from Shaw down our right side caused problems in our box and whilst United weren’t exactly opening us up with great skill or ingenuity they were trying to force the issue more directly with long shots and crosses.

Part of the Martinez ideology is that crosses are in essence an imprecise art, so such percentage play or ‘putting it in the mixer’ is discouraged, as we looked for shorter and more precise passing moves to open United up. Our approach was incredibly one-dimensional in the first half, though, so much so that we caused virtually no threat to United. What was most obvious was the gap from our backline to Lukaku with the Belgian cutting an increasingly isolated and frustrated figure in a similar way Anichebe annually did in these fixtures under Moyes.

Anaemic in the final third, our defence rarely pushed up from the low block and the aforementioned gap enabled United the chance to dominate proceedings 20 yards from our goal. Their opener was a good example, as Blind was able to run from his own half and into our final third without so much as a challenge. After Rafael then pumps the ball into our box Mata is able to pick out Di Maria to cushion a nice finish inside Howard’s left hand post. Tracking the goal back to when possession was first turned over, Pienaar  – who looked way off the pace throughout – takes a poor touch and then concedes a free kick by volleying Rafael.

The goal didn’t impact our gameplan much, with Lukaku continuing to be cut adrift with the exception of one superb long pass from Baines down United’s left channel which the Belgian made a hash of.

In general our record buy didn’t seem to be right mentally for me. As early as the second minute you could see him appear rather manic with his finger to his lips, presumably following provocation from McNair who was stood next to him. Then prior to the end of the first half off the ball you could see Barry and Naismith remonstrating with him on United’s 18 yard line, a worrying trend which continued in the second period when Lukaku reacted petulantly to Graeme Jones’ request for him to track back.

On the stroke of half time we had the chance to level after the most fluid move of the game. Following some slick one touch passing between Baines and Pienaar down the left, Barry switches play to Besic whose beautiful flick entices Shaw enough to upend Hibbert in the United box. When Baines missed the subsequent spot kick you had the feeling this wasn’t going to be our day.

Level pegging at half time probably would have been undeserved with United out shooting us 9-1, committing more men forward and generally carrying more of a threat in the final third.

Second Half

With United having edged in front Martinez now had no option but to come out and have a go, and that’s precisely what he did.

Naismith, who in the first half was constantly behind the ball when United had it, was given more freedom to stay up-field meaning that when we regained possession we had more options in the final third.

United’s composure on the ball was poor and they continually struggled to control the game by being able to keep possession –  something which enabled us to make decent gains in their half.

In the 56th minute Lukaku’s toil finally yielded some reward as he won a free kick following a challenge by Valencia, one of six fouls committed by the clumsy Ecuadorian. From the resulting set play Baines played a nice one two with Barry and from the resulting centre Naismith despatched ‘with aplomb’ for 1-1.

Naismith and Jagielka celebrate, with Lukaku's thoughts seemingly elsewhere

Naismith and Jagielka celebrate, with Lukaku’s thoughts seemingly elsewhere

The story of our season so far is that one step forward is swiftly followed by two steps back and within 7 minutes of drawing level we again found ourselves behind. We posed the question a month or so ago during our defensive post-mortem piece as to whether Howard was being unlucky or if he’s just been plain shite. Whether that question is up for debate any longer was put to bed shortly after.

After a rare second half United attack and with Pienaar on the floor injured, Howard chose not to kick the ball either into the Utd half or into row z, instead playing it back to United inside our half. Ten seconds later and with our defence all over the place the ball was nestled in our goal after Falcao expertly converted Di Maria’s miscued shot past the hapless American. The only defence you could serve up for Howard was that Stones was also massively at fault, playing Falcao onside and also ball watching which allowed the Columbian the space behind him.

Martinez response was to withdraw the injured Pienaar, ineffectual McGeady and the tanked Tony Hibbert with Oviedo, Browning and Osman, meaning Samuel Eto’o strangely remained on the bench as we chased a goal.

The substitutions did make the desired impact, however, and the final fifteen minutes were to be our most productive in terms of final third outputs with our shot-count more than doubled in this period.

Such is the way things are going for us at the moment, though, that opposition keeper David De Gea was having a day of days in the United goal. Despite some decent shots by Oviedo and Osman (twice) the Spaniard wasn’t to be denied, making some blockbuster stops and deservedly taking the man of the match award.

Bottom Line

Being as passive as we were in the first half was the games real disappointment from a toffee perspective. Yes we started and finished the second half better, but we only really went for the throat when we were chasing from a goal down. Whether the result would have been different if we’d been more proactive to forcefully win it in the first half who knows, but against a side who are not too cohesive at the back it was a strangely passive approach.

The result leave us 17th and five points behind one of our direct rivals, and with United still some way from hitting top gear it means there is an uphill battle on if we are to threaten the top places. Getting into a winning run in the next batch of fixtures against predominantly basement dweller opponents would now seem essential if we are to make a decent fist of things in the league this season.

EB

 

Tactical Deconstruction – FC Krasnodar 1-1 Everton

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Teams & Tactics

Everton kept the same keeper / defence from the weekend derby draw, however in midfield and attack it was wholesale change from Martinez. Darron Gibson replaced the rested James McCarthy in midfield, whilst Atsu and McGeady started on the flanks with Osman sandwiched between them. Up front Eto’o led the line with Lukaku starting from the bench in what looked at first glance a rather leggy line-up.

Krasnodar started without their two benchmark Brazilian’s, with Joaozinho suspended and Wanderson rested. Their third and less well renowned Samba star, Ari, led the line with Pererya the prominent attacking midfielder and Izmailov and Laborde providing support from wide areas. They were pretty much 4-1-4-1 with Gazinsky anchoring things in the ‘Lee Carsley’ role.

First Half

The first half started and finished badly for us. In the first 10 minutes we were penned in by some prolific, well choreographed pressing from Krasnodar everytime we looked to play out from the back. Jagielka seemed to be pinpointed as the main target for this, and every time he received the ball and took a touch he was swarmed on by the Krasnodar forwards.

The problem this gave us was twofold. Firstly it meant that when Krasnodar won the ball  back it was invariably in our half ,with Gibson (twice) and Atsu guilty of being careless in losing possession leading to our host’s three best openings in the first 30 minutes. Krasnodar’s work rate of the ball was impressive, and they repeatedly closed off angles for us to play the ball out from the back into midfield, making a whopping 27 interceptions. To put that into context Man U average the most interceptions in the prem this season with 19 per game.

Secondly it meant that due to the high press we invariably went back to Howard who would then kick long – overall we made 40% more long passes than we have averaged in the prem per game this season. With 4 of Krasnodar’s 5 main defensive players physically categorised as ‘big groks’  they easily gobbled up Howard’s down-field punts , with the American’s long ball completion at a shockingly bad 20% – the outcome being our possession turned over very quickly.

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Krasnodar packed the centre of the pitch meaning the main spaces were to be had on the flanks, but because of our sloppy play on the ball we couldn’t capitalise. On the left Baines hardly received a pass in the opposition half whilst Atsu, despite having the beating of his veteran marker for pace, was poor and created hardly anything of note. In fairness to Atsu he didn’t see much of the ball due to the problems we were having in manipulating possession into the opposition half.

Gibson was also having an absolutely abysmal half on and off the ball,  and his failure to press the impressive Pereyra just before half time was to prove costly.

The Uruguayan dinked a ball in between Jagielka and Stones which led to our skipper inadvertently playing in Ari to half volley home. Hibbert didn’t cover himself in glory either by not coming inside to cover the space vacated by Jagielka/Stones.  The goal had been coming, though, with Krasnodar having all the possession from 35 minutes onwards.

Second Half

Credit should go to Martinez for being decisive at half time. We’ve criticised his changes, or the lack of them recently, but his call to replace the awful Atsu with Lukaku turned the game in our favour.

With Lukaku on we now had more of a physical threat in the final third to compete for long passes and Lukaku contributed to pushing the Krasnodar back line by 20 yards to where they were positioned in the first half, thus  creating more spaces in between the Krasnodar defence and midfield lines.

Krasnodar back 4 heatmap first half (left) and second half (right)

Krasnodar back 4 heatmap first half (left) and second half (right)

It also meant that in Osman positioning himself more on the left, Baines now had the midfield conduit he needs to service him with passes in the final third, something which happened more and more as Krasnodar ran out of gas as the second half unravelled.

The more the half went on the more easy it was to by-pass Krasnodar’s high press which had previously been every inch the iron curtain we thought it would be pre-kick off. On the 81st minute the permanently up and down McGeady forced a corner after a decent run down the right flank where he was now deployed.  After the subsequent dead ball was repelled by Krasnodar, a full on ‘reducer’ of a challenge from Stones enabled Eto’o to delightfully exchange passes with Baines, culminating in the Cameroon star kneeing in the wing back’s whipped centre.

Whilst he didn’t directly contribute, the presence of Lukaku was enough to attract the attention of two Krasnodar defenders which allowed Eto’o to stroll into the space behind for our equalising goal.

Bottom Line

This was a really good point for the Toffees with the main positives being the second half cameo of Lukaku and  Barry / Stones impressive propping up  of their midfield and defensive partners. It wasn’t a great display by any stretch of the imagination, however. There are certainly questions that need to be asked,  with squad filler like Atsu and Gibson perhaps demonstrating again if it was needed that after our first 13-14 players the squad isn’t particularly strong in terms of top quality meaning that ‘rotation’ invariably doesn’t work.

On the plus side the  result means we have now manoeuvred our toughest home and away games in the group pretty well, accruing 4 points, putting us in the box seat of the group. Given that last season no side failed to qualify from the group phase with 7 points or more its conceivable that we only need 1 win from the next four games, which is nice.

EB

 

Tactical Deconstruction: Liverpool 1-1 Everton

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Teams & Setup

Potentially fearing a tonking after last season’s shellacking and this season’s defensive problems, Martinez deployed a more cautious looking side from our last league game.

Tony Hibbert started at right back with John Stones deployed at centre back meaning Distin was left out of the squad altogether. Besic came in for his league debut on the left side of a sort of midfield diamond with McCarthy right, Barry in between and Naismith at the attacking point. Lukaku and Mirallas started as the wide forwards on the left and right respectively. Libepewl played something like 4-2-3-1 with Lallana playing off Balotelli with Sterling (left) and Markovic (right) in the other attacking midfield spots.

Whereas last season we played a high line and left the space in behind for Liverpool to run into, this season the approach was to defend deeper, pretty much on our 18 yard line, and look to play on the break with quick, direct passes into the channels for Lukaku and Mirallas. The approach was a bit strange given that Liverpool –  with the exception of Sterling – lacked any real pace in their forward positions and that other sides have made decent gains against them this season by capitalising on this by pushing up and squeezing them in their own half.

First Half

Off the ball our defensive game plan was put under pressure by a frantic first 20 minutes from the home side. Despite having 2 defensive minded midfielders either side of him, you would have to describe Barry’s first half output as ‘extremely iffy’ to coin a tactical term. Booked after just 2 minutes, he gave away daft fouls in dangerous positions with Balotelli doing a good job at unsettling him when in possession  leading to him losing the ball a fair bit in dangerous areas. It’s hard to remember our midfield arl arse having a worse game in a blue shirt. Barry apart I thought we did ok to repel Liverpool in the first half with Stones looking assured and covering well when Liverpool did threaten to get in behind us.

They’re clearly not the side they were last season and without the racist they find it hard to pull defenders out of positions which makes it easier to keep them at arm’s length. Yes they had 20+ shots but the majority from Balotelli were not really in great positions and clear-cut chances were few and far between. Sterling was the only player who really seemed capable of unlocking us with his ingenuity, giving Hibbert his second roasting in a week after Swansea’s Montero tore him apart in midweek.

On the ball we created virtually nothing in the first half, or the entire game for that matter. Baines received hardly any decent service in the Liverpool half, and struggled to get into the game in an attacking sense. The most frequent pass of the game was Besic to Baines (20 times) however the bulk of these where in our own half where he could do little damage. On the right Hibbert didn’t want to get too far up the pitch for fear of not being able to get back and mostly focused on trying to get the ball down the flank to Lukaku. The Belgian did have the physical beating of Moreno on the right however the service to him was few and far between, and with the exception of a few bulldozing runs the usual shortcomings of his game in terms of linking play were again laid bare.

Second Half

Prior to halftime our task going forward became more complex when Kevin Mirallas  – one of the few who usually turns up in derbies – succumbed to a hamstring injury, much to the pleasure of the Libepewl faithful. With creative duo Pienaar and Barkley both injured too we were now without our first choice attacking midfield trio, and it showed.

Martinez seemed to be fairly happy with a point –  Moyes style – and showed no signs of making any attacking tweaks to his system or personnel. On the hour mark Liverpool brought off the anonymous Markovic and deployed Coutinho through the middle with Lallana moving to the left and Sterling to the right.

Gerrard, now unable to influence games in any capacity other than deadball situations, was then given his opportunity to make his mark.  Balotelli forced Barry into another mistake on the edge of the centre circle and the Italian then collapsed in a heap under a seemingly timid challenge from Baines. As is usually the case against us, Gerrard didn’t miss his opportunity and then went on a bizarre celebration reminiscent of Bill Murray in Kingpin.

With Liverpool now buzzing, Hibbert was again done up like a kipper by Sterling, this time resulting in Howard getting something on Balotelli’s goal bound shot.  Martinez was finally sprung into action, replacing Hibbert and Besic with the fresher more attacking legs of Browning and Eto’o.

It was developing into an ending nearly as horrific as the one in  Requiem for a Dream for Everton fans when , before you could utter the words UP YOURS MICK QUINN,  Phil Jagielka controlled a loose second ball and unleashed chaos with a 25 yard blockbuster into the roof of Mignolet’s net.

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40 minutes after the final whistle

In Conclusion

This was as far removed as you could possibly get from the flamboyant Everton we have seen going forward this season, albeit our offensive options were severely limited by injuries. As an attacking force we were awful, as was the manager with his tactics and inability to really jump-start us to life with any changes from the dugout.

At the back, however, we were much improved and the shape seemed more solid with the extra defensive midfielder to support the backline. Finding a balance between the two has been Martinez major problem this season and we still don’t seem any closer to finding it, however this was a good point given that Liverpool were the better side and based on how little we created in the final third.

Hopefully this can now be the catalyst for us to go on a decent run, starting in Russia later this week.

EB

Analysing Martinez and Everton’s defensive blind spots

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With the weekend trip to the tin mine almost upon us many Toffees will be wary of being on the end of another derby shellacking, especially given our recent defensive form.

Whilst we’ve been comically bad this season at the back, our rearguard record against the top sides has been poor since the turn of the year with Arsenal and Liverpool each putting four past us, City three and Chelsea six. In total we have shipped  17 goals  in 7 games this season which marks us down as the worst defence in the league and whilst some will pin point blame on individuals such an alarming change in fortunes surely can’t be down to any one player?

This brief analysis will look at ten themes which have contributed to our unravelling defensive predicament and try to judge if this is merely a momentary blip or if more deep-rooted ‘spooky’ trends are emerging.

1. Pressing effectively as a team

 Defending starts from the front of course, and Chelsea’s opening goal was a good example of what happens when you don’t press effectively from the top backwards as we allowed the league leaders to go from their 18 yard line to our net without so much as a challenge.

A quick look at our pressing data over the last three seasons shows the amount of times we press opponents and win the ball back is on the wane, maybe due to having more possession or maybe not. The amount of times we won the ball back from opposition per game in 12/13 was 34.5 dropping to 32.6 per game in Martinez first year in charge and this season dropping further to 25.6 per game.

Our three-year ‘tackles lost’ data gives an indication of our increasingly powder puff defending

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

2.Conceding shots in more dangerous areas

In terms of shots conceded our figures per game is actually less than last season which is encouraging given our goals conceded figure was comparable to the best in the league last term. However, there is a spike this season in where we are conceding these shots. Whereas in 12/13 and 13/14 the % of shots conceded in our 18 yard box was fairly steady at 54% this season the figure has risen to 59% which would indicate we are not defending the ball into our box well enough.

3.Losing the ball in the wrong areas

Moyes grand plan of playing a high line with 2 solid banks of four was that if you lost the ball you usually did so in the opposition half where it is less dangerous than in your own half.

Martinez on the other hand plays a more possession orientated game in our own half of the pitch, will look to pull opponents out of position and then exploit the space. This has been a contributory factor in what has made us not only successful but also a team that is easy on the eye and has more control of their own destiny.

Perhaps this is obvious given the bags of goals we have been scoring, but a  look at our ‘passes forward’ data this season shows just how much more positive we have been on the ball compared to last season.

Everton Forward passes per game 3 Year trend

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

The risk here from a defensive perspective is that the more offensive you play, particularly against sides adept at regaining possession, the more it poses risks when possession is turned over in your own half. Besic, arguably Martinez most defensive minded recruit, has epitomised this in the minimal gametime he’s had so far. First he lost possession in his own half leading to Chelsea’s sixth goal and then with his first touch against Swansea recklessly conceded the ball on his own 18 yard line which should have led to Swansea’s opening goal.

4.Concentration & Individual errors

This is probably the most obvious and important factor in our recent descent into defensive madness.

Errors have been aplenty, from Jagielka’s indecision to Howard’s flapping and most recently in midweek  Distin’s fear of using his right foot. Jagielka has made the most errors (3) and his own confidence is certainly a contributory factor here. England’s calamity World Cup bid was undone by poor defending and our skipper was the only defender to have been dropped from the disgruntled Owl’s backline in the recent round of internationals. Its more than possible that this mental doubt – a factor which can often precipitate mistakes – has sneaked into his psyche.

Confidence can be restored fairly quickly, though, and this spike in errors doesn’t worry me too much as a long-term factor for our season.

Everton Defensive Errors per game 3 Year Trend

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

5. Communication & Sniding

Martinez conceded this week that communication has been a problem for our defence –  a factor highlighted by the penalty conceded against Palace and the lack of a shout for Osman in the same game.

Gareth Barry we know won’t think twice about volleying someone up the arse when it’s needed, but he’s in the minority in the current crop with our fouls per game data below showing this.

Everton Fouls Committed per game – Last 3 Seasons

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

 

Arguably the fact we have no bell-end personalities – a strength – is also an inadvertent weakness here. You couldn’t imagine Distin, Jagielka or Baines sniding an emotionally vulnerable opponent such as  Balotelli. Coleman’s incident with Costa in the Chelsea game when Jagielka looked the other way was a pointer as to how our skipper looks to avoid conflict at all costs with Howard the only player to assist his teammate in the resulting melee.

Whilst only a marginal factor, being a tad too quiet and nice to play against isn’t helping us at the back.

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The Old Guard: Moyes attack/ midfield  players tended to be willing to put in a shift & were defensively aware, often at the expense of technical quality

6.Changing qualities

In terms of qualities on the ball, the previous regime would look to sign attackers for their ability to defend from the front. The Straq, for instance, was complete dog shit on the ball not to mention being blunt in front of goal, but he would toil relentlessly off the ball and stop defenders being able to play a pass through our forward and midfield lines. Similarly Moyes liked midfielders to buy into ‘putting in a shift’ for the team or quite often playing defenders in midfield to over compensate. The key emphasis was that players were subservient to the defensive needs of the team.

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New qualities: The players Martinez has brought in tend to be technically gifted, setup to beat their men, often at the expense of defensive or physical qualities

The more the offensive playing staff have turned over in the past 12 months the less defensive capability has resided in the midfield and attacking positions. The players Martinez wants are those who will cause their opponent’s problems, who will go for the throat of a defender and not be scared to take on their marker. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but its an indicator of why we are more open.

7.Different shape

Probably the most startling observation from the latest instalment of defensive misery against Swansea in midweek was how easy it was for our hosts to waltz through our midfield and defensive lines with consummate ease. At 0-2 Shelvey strolls 20 yards to our 18 yard line without so much as a challenge. Two minutes later fellow world beater Marvin Emnes does exactly the same, this time dealing a fatal blow.

This is the best move I could have hoped for. The manager has faith in  me. Some of his ways are totally different. He doesn’t want me to track back. Those were the instructions I received for games against  West Ham, Stevenage and Villa. My natural instinct is to track back and I started to do it a few times. But he told me to stay up  the pitch and let the opposition worry about me. It’s different from other managers I’ve had in the  past.”

We’ve trotted this quote out before but its pertinent to this point. A by-product of the changing qualities in the playing squad is a more open shape off the ball when possession is lost. We know in the 4-2-3-1 Martinez prefers that wingers push on to fullbacks rather than the 4-4-1-1 when they will retreat and support their fullbacks. Put simply, our fullbacks are afforded little protection which has resulted in opposition sides making decent 2v1 gains down our flanks.

8.Bad luck?

 The data shows then that we are conceding less shots per game than last season (12 vs 13.1) however opponents are being ridiculously ruthless against us. There’s 2 ways of looking at this I guess. Theory #1 is that Howard’s form is costing us big style, whilst theory #2 is that we’re having rotten luck . As with most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.

The below ‘saves per goal’ data shows how limited Howard has been in repelling opponents in the league this season

2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

9. Transition

The combined average age of our first choice keeper, defence and defensive midfielders is now the wrong side of 30 and its conceivable that less than half of these 7 players will be considered a regular starter come the end of next season.

It’s fair to surmise, then, that our rearguard is in a state of flux. The  transition of Stones into one of the centre back berths alongside Jagielka will continue this season, but whilst he is clearly ace he is also inexperienced and will make mistakes as he cuts his teeth and the new defensive unit is moulded together.

It’s reminiscent of the seasons before Jagielka came in to partner Lescott when for a few years we experimented with various combinations with the likes of Stubbs, Weir, Ferrari, Kroldrup and Yobo all dipping in and out which led to a lack of certainty between goalkeeper, defence and midfield.

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10.Lessons Learned

Whilst burying your head in the sand is a valid strategy in dealing with many life situations, Martinez failure to heed previous errors is not.  He isn’t one to learn from his mistakes defensively;  he’s an idealist and won’t compromise his approach for anyone. In  2010 for example his Wigan side conceded 8 against Chelsea and then a further 6 against the same opponent just three months later. The weekend game was the third Crystal Palace manager he’s faced in 12 months and the third time he’s failed to record a win or even a decent performance.

Yes, Martinez has rightfully earned our respect and is lauded for what he has achieved in such a short space of time since taking over, but surely the hallmark of a great manager is learning from your mistakes?

In summary…

The bottom line is that whilst we have become a lot more easy on the eye we have lost something at the other end. Leaving more gaps is probably expected to an extent given Martinez approach of placing more emphasis on what we do with the ball rather than without it, but becoming a soft touch (which we currently are) is certainly not.

You don’t suddenly become crud overnight, though, and whilst it could quite easily get worse before it gets better I’m sure Martinez methods of controlling games and introducing a new back line will see us return to winning ways soon. This in turn should restore confidence and reduce errors. However, as some of the trends we have rode through in this article shows, the days of rock-like defensive solidity and racking up clean sheets may have gone for good.

EB

 

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