Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-1 West Ham

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Teams

Everton’s side was significantly changed from the last game at Sunderland a fortnight ago with key duo Barry and Baines missing out due to injury along with the rested pair Eto’o and McGeady. Twitter fume reached new levels as ‘much maligned duo’ Osman and Hibbert were drafted in by Martinez as their replacements along with Naismith and the returning Mirallas.

West Ham were also besieged by injuries to players pivotal in their recent revival, including influential forward trio Sakho, Valencia and Downing. That meant that lumbering triumvirate Carroll, Cole and Nolan all rolled off the bench for this one.

First Half

The first half had Everton playing the more controlled football (61% possession) and generally having the better of things albeit West Ham had more territory and got the ball into our box with greater regularity.

There was little in terms of subtlety about the Eastenders play in the first half.Much has been made of their more aesthetically pleasing brand of football this season with less emphasis on putting the ball ‘in the mixer’, however such free-flowing football was nowhere to be seen here.

Instead Allardyce appeared to revert to type by pummeling long balls into the rough direction of our centre backs – seemingly it’s an itch ‘Big Sam’ can’t help but to scratch. This meant the Hammers played more than double (59 v 25) the amount of chipped passes than we did, predominantly into ultimo-grok duo Cole and Carroll, who were ably assisted by Kevin ‘hold me back lads’ Nolan.

The use of width by West Ham and our own ploy of playing through the middle was demonstrated by the fullback’s use of the ball; Jenkinson and Creswell fired in 26 of the Hammers 46 crosses whilst Hibbert and Coleman put in a combined 0 of our 6.

New Picture (98)It was a physical challenge which suited Jagielka and Distin and the duo dealt with it magnificently, both in competing for the first ball and then mopping up the second ball. Despite West Ham’s first half huff their wasn’t a great deal to be worried about in terms of their attacking play.

With the exception of one sumptuous early through pass by Barkley to an offside Mirallas there was little threat from us either and the attacking midfield duo quickly swopped flanks before Barkley then moved inside. The changes did little to change the dynamic and we continued to struggle to turn possession into chances against a well drilled narrow back four.

Hibbert’s inclusion attracted the most consternation from the home support with the move deemed by many pre match as a Moyes move by Martinez. You have to balance this out with the fact that if the untried Garbutt would have played he’d have likely been subjected to ‘The full Allardici’ and presumably would have been targeted aerially by one of the two aforementioned groks.

Against such an opponent who pumps balls into the box at will the role of the fullback can often be more about core defensive duties such as assisting CBs aerially in repelling crosses from the opposite flank and dealing with the elbows and general thuggery you get from any side managed by Allardyce. All things considered I think in this fixture Martinez got his selection spot on.

Going forward however we lacked any real width on the left going forward as with Barkley ahead of Hibbert we had two righties on the left meaning everything came inside from Hibbert,  usually to Osman to switch play to the right flank.

Due to the above Osman was seeing plenty of the ball and he was the creator of the only real quality opening carved out in the first half. The veteran midfielder brilliantly dissected the Hammers defence with a pass in behind for Coleman only for the Irishman’s pull back to be ballooned into the Park End by Naismith.

Shortly after we took the lead and again Osman was involved, initially combining with Naismith to tee up Barkley for a shot on the edge of the West Ham 18 yard line. The young tyke then unleashed a half volley which was blocked before the rebound was gleefully lashed home by an offside Lukaku. It was the Belgian’s 20th league goal in his 40th start.

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Second half

After the break West Ham had more of the ball than us (55%) and for long spells pinned us back with their territory based game. This was mostly due to the different type of threat they now offered following a positive double change just after the break. Allardyce replaced the injured Noble and the incompetent Cole with Zarate and Jarvis, and the visitors instantly looked more of a threat due to having more cunning in how they moved the ball into our box.

With our backline way too deep the gap to our midfield was gaping and in Amalfitano and Zarate our visitors were now finding plenty of pockets of space to manoeuvre. Zarate previously scored against us for Birmingham back in 2009 and he was able to repeat the trick after just 5 minutes of coming on as a sub when his shot deflected off Jagielka and over Howard to level matters.

At this point West Ham looked the likely winner as we continued to defend deep and struggled to keep West Ham at arm’s length due to our inability to carve out any sustained periods of possession. Our policy of brinkmanship in defending on our 18 yard line was to pay dividend shortly after, however, and again it would be a substitution which changed the direction of the contest.

Mirallas looked way off the pace throughout; he was languid in possession and late in the tackle and his replacement by Eto’o should arguably have happened sooner than it did. Within seven minutes the leather shorts wearing Cameroon star had made his mark as a rapid counter attack led to him brilliantly teeing up Leon Osman for the winner. The move came after Clattenburg had played an advantage after benchmark yard-dog Collins clotheslined Lukaku in the centre circle.

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For Osman it was a fitting finale to a game which he had for long spells controlled from a deeper position than he has usually been deployed since Martinez took over.The schemer’s ability to find space, receive play and link in the final third has always been a feature of his play and it was again evident here, but in this fixture his ability to show and quickly switch possession was arguably more crucial.Osman created the most chances, had the most touches of the ball and found his man more accurately than anyone else on the pitch. Credit must also go to beer swilling, tinned spam eating goon Kevin Nolan who kindly watched and admired the Eto’o pass rather than track Osman’s run to the back post.

Allardyce referred to the goal afterwards as “one punt up the middle” but the great work from Naismith in intercepting play to supply Lukaku and the quality of how we moved the ball so quickly and accurately from our 18 yard line to goal was superb.

In the words of Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano “some people are so far behind  they actually believe they’re leading

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Sunderland 1-1 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

In terms of changes, Roberto Martinez made 3 from the side that emphatically dismissed Lille on Thursday night with Coleman, Barkley and Eto’o coming in for Osman, Naismith and Hibbert. Barkley started on the left of the attacking midfield trio behind Lukaku, with Eto’o in the number ten spot and McGeady in his usual position on the right in more of a 4-2-3-1.

Sunderland also strayed from their usual line-up with Cattermole’s suspension meaning Bridcutt came in to play the anchor role, with Johnson (right) and Wickham (left) in the wider attacking roles in support of lone forward Steve Fletcher. System wise the Black Cats lined up in a 4-1-4-1.

First Half

The Toffees started the game at a high tempo and in the third minute  Eto’o combined brilliantly with Lukaku in a series of quick fire one-twos in Sunderland’s final third. Sadly the Cameroon forward’s finish was uncharacteristically lacking in composure and his wayward effort ballooned into the home crowd.

Top Passing Combinations (First Half)

Top Passing Combinations (First Half)

Moments later we received a huge blow when a snide challenge from Gomez ended Barry’s afternoon with the midfield general seemingly suffering a bad knock above his ankle. Darron Gibson came on and although he is right footed was deployed in Barry’s left sided anchor slot.

The injury didn’t derail our momentum, though, and in the first 30 minutes of the first half we were on top to the tune of a 63% share of the ball. Aiden McGeady was motoring after his assist double on Thursday night and he  was our star turn in a first half that was high in  possession but low in end product. The Irish winger’s first contribution was to fizz in one great cross that was deserving of a forward runner and he then combined nicely with Barkley prior to the youngster blazing high and wide. Haphazard finishing was a theme of the half with Gibson blasting 10 yards over the bar shortly after from a decent position on the edge of Sunderland’s 18 yard line.

At the other end Sunderland initially only threatened sporadically with most of their attacks springing from long Pantilimon kick outs to Wickham down our right with Gomez and Fletcher moving to that side to create overloads.  This meant that McGeady – who usually stays further forward when possession is turned over – was having to track back and support Coleman, something which he did pretty well.

If Gareth Barry is out for a while then it’s a problem. The portly Gibson is an equal to Barry in terms of passing short and long, but defensively his positioning is suspect. The protection he offers the backline is incomparable to Barry and an example occurred just prior to half time when he dithered on the ball in his own box, a situation which resulted in Howard having to make a smart stop. The home side did have more of the ball at this point and applied greater pressure on us as the half unfolded but luckily Distin was having his best game of the campaign alongside Jagielka.

Second Half

After the break the game became more stretched and clear-cut chances began to present themselves more frequently.

Lukaku was presented with a great chance on 50 minutes when Bridcutt horribly miscued a pass to inadvertently play the Belgian in 1v1 with Pantilimon.  Sadly the Belgian was enduring a torrid afternoon and his second touch was awful which enabled the gormless looking keeper to easily reclaim the ball at Lukaku’s feet.  Shortly after Lukaku was played in again, this time after McCarthy brilliantly regained possession and played in Eto’o down the Sunderland left. The Cameroon forward was at this stage completing running the game and his slide rule pass to Lukaku led to his strike partner beating his man but rather than go across the keeper he got his angles all wrong and  the ball sliced into the side netting.

The next couple of substitutions would play a significant part in swinging the game first one way and then the next.

On 64 minutes Buckley came on for the inept Adam Johnson and the former Brighton midfielder’s positive runs would give a much-needed shot in the arm to the home side. Within 4 minutes of his arrival he drew a foul from Baines which presented our hosts with a free kick in a dangerous position. With Howard giving Larsson the entire goal to aim at, O’Shea’s nudge on Barkley enabled the Swede enough space to ping the ball through the wall and into the corner.

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The next change seen McGeady – who was arguably our best player to this point – replaced by Naismith. The Scot had little impact on the ball but his positioning inside meant Coleman, whose space on the flank had previously been inhibited by McGeady, now had the full flank to steam into.

For the last 20 minutes Coleman ran his fullback ragged and along with Eto’o was our most enterprising attacking player. On 72 minutes Eto’o,  who made more final third passes than anyone on the pitch, picked Coleman out in the box expertly only for the Irish marauder’s pass into Lukaku to be intercepted. Sunderland didn’t heed the warning and a minute later Eto’o repeated the same trick, this time releasing Coleman a few yards closer to goal which resulted in him being wrestled to the ground by Wickham for a penalty. It was an opportunity for redemption that Baines took with both hands, tucking his penalty under Pantilimon for 1-1 with 20 minutes to play.

Sunderland were by now increasingly ragged with 11 men, and you could make a pretty good case given how most of our away games have unfolded under Martinez that the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach would probably have yielded another goal should Gomez, Wickham or both had been dismissed.

That said, we had McCarthy to thank in the final minute for a goal line clearance at the other end from Brown’s header from a Bridcutt delivery. The free kick which initially led to this opportunity came from an error from Lukaku in the Sunderland half and this gaffe was a microcosm of the striker’s afternoon. Against Lille his touch outside the box was much better, playing a part in 2 of the three goals, but here it was abysmal. He lost possession more than any player on the pitch and this invariably led to him then conceding clumsy fouls in trying to atone for the errors. I guess the only way he will improve his back to goal game is by playing more games (and making more errors) but we maybe need to come up with a way in the meantime of mitigating this weakness and playing more to his strengths i.e getting the ball to feet and running at goal in wider areas where this is more space.

In Conclusion…

Given the fact that this game pitted the two sides who had conceded the most goals from individual errors in the league it was appropriate that both goals came from awful defensive challenges.

This was a game we could and probably should  have won given the amount of possession we had in Sunderland’s half and the frequency of openings we had in comparison to our hosts.

The away form in general is good, though, with only Chelsea and Man City having picked up more points on the road than us. If we can get our home form back on track we might be able to start really climbing the table but until that time arrives we will remain marooned in midtable and unfortunately based on our league displays thus far we probably don’t deserve to be any further up the table than we currently are.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-0 Lille

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Teams and Tactics

After their final third toils in Lille, Martinez switched around the forwards for this one with slots for Osman, Naismith and Lukaku in the starting line-up meaning that Eto’o, Pienaar and Barkley were ousted to the bench. Everything else was pretty much ‘as is’ from the bore draw over in France. Lille kept the same 4-3-3 system, but shuffled the pack personnel wise with Beria and Rodelin benched for strike duo Mendez and Frey who joined Origi in attack meaning Corchia switched to right back.

First Half

The key feature of the first half was the movement and application of our forward foursome who were all heavily involved at the sharp end of things. Lukaku (central) and McGeady (right) looked to maximise their pace in behind which stretched the Lille defence back to their 18 yard line meaning big spaces were emerging between the French outfit’s defence and midfield lines. The key beneficiary of the gaps were the more intelligent space finders Osman and Naismith, who dovetailed nicely  either side of Lille’s principal midfield anchor Mavuba.

It’s fair to say that Aiden McGeady’s outputs have divided opinion amongst the fanbase this season, with support for the erratic wideman increasingly in short supply at L4.  Data wise data this season McGeady’s shots and chances created per minute are both up on last season’s figures, whilst his dribbles have gone down, suggesting there is perhaps a bit more end product to his play.

We identified Lille left back Souare as the weak link in our preview to the first game a few weeks ago and McGeady had the beating of him 1v1 in this fixture. The Irish winger helped make the pitch big by hugging the touchline in an advanced position, and pinged in 5 accurate crosses in the first half which is pretty impressive given that Baines averages the most successful crosses per game for us (1.4) this season.

Our first goal was from the aforementioned source and was a corker, with Barry initially zipping a nice pass into Lukaku whose first time touch with his left foot to play in McCarthy was superb. The midfield kingpin was then able to play in McGeady down the right flank and his compatriot’s centre was expertly dispatched back into the opposite corner from fellow boo boy favourite Leon Osman.

In terms of ‘the pass before the pass’ i.e. the pass prior to the assist in our goals this season, McCarthy has chalked up 4  which is more than any of his teammates and shows he has an equally vital role going forward as that of his day-job in mopping up midfield mess.

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It was one of McCarthy’s trademark tackles which was to set us on the way to goal number two just before half time, with Naismith latching onto it only to see his goal bound effort repelled by the Lille keeper. From the resulting corner, McGeady put in a brilliant dipping delivery which was nodded home by Jagielka with Lille’s defence and Basa in particular ‘at sixes and sevens’ or, more succinctly, anaemic dog shit. It was well deserved for McGeady who claimed his third assist of the season and he could have had another two but for Lukaku and Nasimith’s finishing.

It was a half we had total control of to the tune of 64% possession, but unlike the Swansea game it was incisive rather than sterile dominance of the ball.

Indeed, one of the key features of our passing this season had been the positivity we have shown on the ball . We make the 3rd most forward passes in the league behind Chelsea and City, with a sizeable 45 more forward passes per game than last season and a whopping 76 more pg than in Moyes final season. Here we made 182 forward passes to Lille’s 86 in the opening half with Jagielka supplementing his goal by making the most forward passes.

Second Half

The tricky blues continued where they left off after the break and swiftly finished off any ill-judged hopes of a Lille fight back. First Lukaku went close with a free kick after his graft outside the box had impressively won a deadball on the edge of the Lille box. The Big Belgian was looking as dangerous and edgy as Creepy Brenny’s web browser history, and the final blow to Lille’s hopes of a comeback was now only just round the corner.

After an 18 pass move from back to front Lukaku picked up the ball down Lille’s right side and played a perfectly weighted pass into Baines whose delivery was typically ace for Naismith to smash home left footed. The Scot had been setting fire to tears all night and richly deserved his 5th goal of a blossoming campaign.

Lille then made a load of pointless substitutions with Roux, Beria and Rodelin coming on for Mendez, Frey and Corchia. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever with Lille by now having thrown in the towel. With the exception of the bald runt Balmont they created nothing, with Origi’s head down running and finely tuned tactic of losing possession with nobody near him a joy to behold. Hopefully Libepewl’s latest costly recruit can take solace by the fact that winning is so passe thesedays and that its moral victories that we should now all aspire to achieve.

Martinez also made a raft of changes with fringe trio Atsu, Gibson and Besic replacing  Barry, McCarthy and McGeady. The only real moment of note after the Naismith goal was a sweet move  instigated by another excellent forward pass from defence from Jagielka. Receiving the ball in the centre circle, McCarthy then played  a delicious defence splitting pass to Lukaku who thwacked home. Sadly the forward – who had an excellent game particularly outside the box – was wrongly ruled out for offside.

The win takes us to 8 points which pretty much guarantees qualification – no team with 7 points didn’t qualify from the group phase last season – and this was as balanced and complete a display as we’ve seen all season from the toffees.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Burnley 1-3 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

Everton made a raft of changes from the side that gallantly grounded out a stalemate in Lille on Thursday night. In defence Distin and Hibbert made way for Alcaraz and Coleman whilst in defensive midfield McCarthy came in for Besic. In the attacking midfield slots  Naismith and Osman both returned with Lukaku deployed upfront and Samuel Eto’o in behind. Burnley played a 4-4-2 of sorts, with ex toffeeman Jutkiewicz playing the target man role with Ings looking more to go in behind.

First Half

The opening 15 minutes was excellent from us from back to front. In terms of controlling the game we hogged the ball with 72% of the possession in this period, and deservedly took the lead in the third minute through the game’s star man Samuel Eto’o. The move started from Alcaraz in our defensive third and involved a couple of decent touches by both Eto’o and Lukaku as the ball was swiftly moved across to the left flank. With the inept Boyd leaving his fullback exposed, Osman was able to roll in Baines for another pin point delivery that Eto’o ruthlessly executed. Both the Cameroon star’s jump and connection with his header were ace, as is Eto’o.

After the 15 minute mark Burnley got their act together and started to impose their game plan more on us. Dyche’s mob look to play a territory based game in the opponents half, will hit long balls into the channels and then positionally press as a team to keep their opposite number locked in. With the game increasingly being played in our final third and Burnley’s possession swelling to 70%, Ings levelled matters on 19 minutes. Lukaku was culpable for the error in the build up to the goal by making a terrible connection with the ball which, combined with our defence being out of shape, enabled Jutkiewicz to nicely slip in Ings to capitalise.

Luckily the Belgian made amends shortly after following a spell of possession which had Burnley’s previously robust shape pulled all over the place. Eto’o and Naismith were again heavily involved in the build up which consisted of no fewer than 24 passes, and which concluded with Lukaku’s scrappy finish. The big-man now has 4 league goals from 9 starts this season which isn’t too shabby considering the heat he has been feeling of late.

Second Half

After the break the game continued in a similar manner with Burnley again playing a territory based game and looking to whip crosses into our box at every opportunity. Kieran Trippier epitomised this approach, making no fewer than 12 crosses albeit only one was delivered successfully.

We defended the ball into our box pretty well, however, with Alcarez commanding in the air and repelling most of the long balls that were pumped into his zones of the pitch. Passing wise we didn’t really get into the same rhythm after the break, with our % of forward passes not as high as usual mostly due to Burnley’s positional shape rather than real pressure on the ball by our hosts. This dynamic resulted in Alcarez/Jagielka and Baines/Jagielka comfortably being the game’s most frequent passing combinations, and often this forced the defenders to go backwards for Howard to kick long.

Burnley’s penetration in the second period was reduced compared to the opening half and with our hosts committing more bodies late on gaps in their half became more easy to come by. Barkley and Pienaar had by now replaced Lukaku and Osman and the two subs combined well to play in Eto’ o to expertly dispatch the game’s clinching goal on 83 minutes. The wily old kayotee deservedly took the post match plaudits, not just for his goals but in his role in shaping the game throughout from deep.

Initially deployed as a number ten, his ability to stretch teams by dribbling and creating chances for teammates from deep positions were both impressive. Eto’o played in midfield during his time in Russia and also in his early days at Real Madrid and his skillset means he can pretty much play anywhere on the field. He finished the game back in his usual no 9 slot and only missed out on a hatrick by a matter of inches after his shot came back off the post.

Final word

All things considered this was a great week for us with back to back wins enabling us to leap into the top half of the table. Martinez seems to be getting the balance right between being gung-ho and shutting out opponents and the growing momentum in the squad can hopefully see us continue our upward curve of both performance and results in the coming weeks.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Lille 0-0 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

Everton made a raft of changes from the weekend win against Aston Villa with Hibbert and Distin returning to the defence, Besic coming into midfield and McGeady, Pienaar and Eto’o deployed to the attacking berths. Lille went for a 4-3-3 of sorts with Gueye, Mavuba and Belmont in the middle of the park. Further forward, Corchia was predominantly positioned on the right flank with Rodelin coming short and Origi looking to run in behind.

First Half

In a cat and mouse opening 45 minute period, Samuel Eto’o was arguably our best attacking player. He and Barkley engaged in  healthy debate before and during the game and whilst there was little end product some of the movement between the duo showed signs that it could develop into a decent partnership. Just as 90% of Hazard’s goals for Chelsea last season came in games Eto’o started, you fancy Barkley can have a similar dynamic with the Cameroon forward. By way of example there were a couple of occasions in the first half when Eto’o went short for the ball from Barry, took his defender with him and thus allowed young Barkley or McGeady to make runs into the space he’d vacated.

The issue was the lack of quality of the pass into these spaces,  as often it resembled anaemic dog shit. Indeed, as the first half came to a close we hadn’t created a single chance with just 2 shots (from barkley and mcgeady) both of which were insipid efforts from long range. The one enterprising move of any real note came from Eto’o who played a nice one two with Pienaar, however the move was foiled by a bobble on the pitch that worked against Eto’o and resulted in play being turned over.

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Lille were doing most of the running with their forward 3 players Rodelin, Corchia and Origi using the full width of the field to cause us plenty of problems particularly down our right flank where Origi was making some decent diagonal runs from the left, albeit with minimal end product.  In midfield at times we got swamped in a 3v2 situation which enabled Balmont to dictate play. The baldy rascal had the most final third touches in the half and overall had more touches and created more chances than any player in the game.

Second Half

The second half was almost as drab as the first, although the introduction of Lukaku did at least change the dynamic slightly from the first  half borefest. With Lukaku on we were able to press more in the Lille half which helped us in a few different ways. Firstly, Kjaer’s long passes into the channels for Origi to run onto now dried up as he had Lukaku on his toes to deal with as well as Eto’o. This made Lille play shorter into midfield or forced them to backwards to Enyeama for kick outs which thus diluted the quality of service into the forwards.

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Everton tackles (in red) showing we won the ball back in the Lille half 8 times compared to 1 in the first half.

Secondly, having 2 forwards meant Lille’s defenders couldn’t take as many risks trying to win the ball back when we had it and thus dropped off 10 yards meaning in turn their midfielders had to do so by the same distance. This is shown in the data; in the first half we won the ball back in Lille’s half just 4 times to Lille’s 9, whereas after the break it was 16 v 4 in our favour (this includes tackles, interceptions and blocks) . This meant we were able to be a bit more threatening closer to the Lille goal and Lukaku took advantage of this by playing in McGeady for our best chance of the night shortly after coming on. Alas, Enyeama was off his line quickly and snuffed out the chance.

The problem was the same as the first half, however, with virtually no end product from the attacking midfielders. Barkley had a poor evening through the middle and was then anonymous when shifted to the left to accommodate Lukaku. On the right McGeady had a stinker too, hardly seeing the ball and when he did holding onto it for too long and creating nothing.  In total we had another 5 shots after the break, with Hibbert’s timid effort the only one to come from inside the Lille 18 yard box.

Lille were equally shite, showing an over reliance on crosses and pot shots, with 13 of their 14 attempts on goal coming from outside the box. Their profligacy in the final third was something we mentioned in the preview and this was here for all to see the longer the game went on. Origi was dire, completely dominated by Jagielka in what was the defender’s most assured game in a long while. comfortably sweeping up everytime the libepewl forward took him into the channels.

Our hosts brought on the pacey Ryan Mendes and Marvin Martin to try and provide that conduit between midfield and attack but our stubbornness and ability to repel passes into our box continued to be dogged. Martinez final meaningful action was to bring on Atsu for McGeady, however the wide man had little time to prove that he has anything more in his locker than the haphazard tk maxx shopping spree he’s offered up thus far.

Bottom Line

Rearguards were on top in a game of high quality defending and low quality forward play. Our pre match betting forecast of there being no more than 1 goal in this game was based on Lille being as impotent in the final third as they are resolute in their own defensive third, and this is how the game played out.

There were positives to take from the game, principally how we finished on top indicates our fitness issues are a thing of the past, whilst Jagielka’s sweeping and also Barry’s penchant for violence was much-needed in the face of some top sniding by Lille. It was also our first back to back clean sheets of the season.

The point takes us to 5 in total and retains top spot, meaning that a win in the next home game with Lille would see us 5 ahead of them with just 6 to play, and that should be enough to see us through given Wolfsburg’s win in Krasnodar.

EB

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