Everton v Blackpool Preview

Everton’s increasingly turbulent season sees us run into Ian Holloway’s Blackpool this Saturday in what will be an interesting tactical battle of 2 contrasting formations.

Blackpool Intel.

Blackpool will line up in their usual 4-3-3 system  with the impressive DJ Campbell as the central striker flanked by Luke Varney on the left who will look to provide width with Gary Taylor Fletcher on the right side cutting inside at every opportunity. James Beattie is in contention and as inept as he is as a striker you wouldn’t be surprised if he came back to haunt us.

In midfield, former Crewe man David Vaughan will anchor things and the Welshman is something of an unsung hero in comparison to the talismanic Charlie Adam who plays ahead of him. Vaughan is really impressive in possession with a quality left foot and as a convert from full back is great in the tackle with a success rate of 75% (only Scott Parker making more successful tackles than him this season).  New signing Andy Reid will be deployed as the closest creative support to the forward three having taken the impressive Grandin’s role in the previous match.

After shoring up an initially leaky defence the Tangerines have dipped again of late, conceding 11 goals in their last 4 outings with only WBA having conceded more goals this campaign. An interesting dual will see former Blue trainee David Carney aiming to stop one of our key men, young Seamus Coleman who of course played on loan at Blackpool last season.

Blackpool will come and attack us, creating plenty of chances in a fairly fluid style. Adam is statistically Blackpool’s most creative player, with 42 chances created leading to 6 assists for team mates.  The Seasider’s pass completion over the last 5 games has been 71% which is just below our season average of 74%

Everton Strategy

I would expect us to try and attack t he space caused by Blackpool’s lack of width in midfield  by getting the ball out to the flanks as quickly as possible . Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar did well in exploiting these areas in the corresponding fixture earlier this season.  The below diagram of Blackpool players average positions on that day translates this nicely.

Blackpool players Average positions v Everton earlier this season, defenders in red, midfielders in green, forwards in pink

Tim Cahill is likely to come back, probably at the expense of Jack Rodwell ,and will play up top with Saha when the Blues are in possession, dropping back into midfield when Blackpool are on the ball.  Billy and Seamus Coleman will provide outlets on the flanks.

Much will rest on the shoulders of Fellaini and Saha, who have both been putting in great shifts for the team in recent weeks. Arteta was also showing signs against Arsenal in the first half that he could be finally ready to hit some form. Phil Jagielka should return to defence and if so he will need to be on his game as Blackpool offensively will cause us many problems . They have shown all season they are a potent outfit and will be buoyed by our miserable defensive record of 1 clean sheet in 16 games.

Verdict

This is a game Everton dare not lose with the relegation zone getting closer with every game. The Tangerines are no mug outfit though and have taken more points on their travels than the Blues have at Goodison this campaign. I think this will be a good game to watch, plenty of goals and most probably a draw! I’m going for a repeat of the Bloomfield result earlier this season – 2-2.

Sunderland 2-2 Everton

Line-ups

Everton somewhat surprisingly kept the same starting eleven which rather limply lost out to Arsenal last week, with Saha retaining the role as misfiring striker. Heitinga’s positioning and the depth he plays in the anchor role often depends on the opposition formation and to a lesser extent Everton’s game plan.  With Sunderland playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 and no player between the lines of defence and midfield the want away Dutchman played level with Arteta almost as an orthodox central midfielder, albeit both where noticeably playing deep.

Gyan’s injury for Sunderland meant that Darren Bent came straight back into the starting line-up to partner Welbeck up front.  One calamity defender replaced another as Anton Ferdinand took a break from court appearances to fill in for Bramble in the Mackems backline.

Early Exchanges

Everton started the brighter and were in front after just 6 minutes. Classic interplay between Pienaar and Baines down the Everton left concluded with Baines delightful cross being tucked in by Everton’s talismanic Cahill. It is a well rehearsed manoeuvre  which Everton regularly execute superbly, with Pienaar tucking in, sucking the full back inside with him giving Baines the freedom of the flank to expose (shown in diagram below)

Baines/Pienaar interplay

Rather than kick on, Everton began to be sloppy in possession, with countless balls either lashed into touch or to the opposition by Distin in particular, although to be fair Sunderland’s pressing was notably improving.  Just as the left side is Everton’s most attacking weapon, defensively it is alarmingly the Achilles heel. Pienaar’s powder puff challenge on the ageing Zenden was as sloppy as Baines attempted challenge, allowing the former Anfield misfit to slot in the hard working Welbeck who got between Jagielka and Distin to equalize. It was a goal which from a defensive point of view was easily avoidable.

Everton then kicked on, Pienaar coming more inside in advanced positions with the Arteta/Heitinga platform sitting quite deep as protection in a 4-2-3-1. Everton were still dominating the ball and where occupying a higher line than Sunderland, shown by the below diagram which highlights the average position players held during the game. Notice how the majority of Everton’s players occupied positions in the Sunderland half in comparison to their hosts whose average position was on the whole in their own half.

Saha struggling to make an impact

The lack of pace and penetration offered by Everton’s forwards has been a feature of this season, and this was to continue tonight. Yakubu has been pillared in the past for his limited work rate but Saha’s display tonight was truly shocking. In comparison to Welbeck, a player of considerably less quality, Saha’s heinous outing is all the more galling. As shown in the chalkboard below, Welbeck successfully linked play down the flanks and through the middle, completing 24 passes and forcing 5 shots. Saha completed 50% less passes and forced just one weak effort on goal. Evertonian’s will to an extent forgive a striker who fails to score but not one who fails to give 100%.

More problems down the left

Despite Everton having comfortably more of the ball than their hosts as the second half unfolded, they were again hit by a sucker punch with the origin of the goal an all too familiar source. After Arteta had lost the ball in midfield in a similar manner to last weeks second goal against Arsenal, the resulting play led to Welbeck capitalising on poor marking to head home after a good cross from Richardson. Cameras later proved the x box loving wannabe had been in an off side position when he crossed the ball. The goal was the 11TH time Everton have conceded a goal from the left side this season. With 15 goals conceded in total its clear this is a weakness teams are exploiting.

Late Equaliser

Everton threw on Rodwell and then made a double change with Beckford and Yakubu coming on. With pressure mounting, it was Baines again who was instrumental in providing traction to the Blues attack, teeing up Arteta who shanked a ball that didn’t appear to be troubling Gordon until the ‘Scottish International’ Bardsley deflected the ball past his keeper. It was a stroke of luck the Blues deserved given their dominance of possession (55% v 45%) and fighting spirit. It was Baines 7th assist of the season and the 11th of Everton’s 16 goals which have come from the left flank.  We should then have gone on to win the game, as Jagielka’s hopeful last ditch punt down field was met by Beckford who got under the ball and propelled his strike into the stands.

Conclusion

The trend of draws continues as Everton recorded their 11th deadlock in their last 21 games.  Our passing and movement was again of a pretty decent standard but this good work was undone by sloppy defending.  Saying that, Sunderland are a decent side and their pressing when not in possession was generally better than ours. In conclusion, I feel that Improved performances by some of Everton’s more senior players such as Heitinga , Saha and to an extent Arteta  would surely have seen us edge this entertaining tussle.