Everton’s only change from the side which took a point from White Hart Lane last week was to bring Mikel Arteta back into central midfield with Steven Piennar shifting to the left side and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov dropping to the bench.
With neither of Stoke’s central midfield pairing of Wilson and Whitehead showing any ambition to cross the halfway line, Heitinga stepped forward to occupy an almost orthodox central midfield position today. The Dutchman’s displays this term have been characterised by a lack of commitment and positional immaturity to push higher up the pitch especially when the opposition is not committing direct opponents from central midfield into his sphere. This is shown below diagrams against Newcastle who played a similar 4-5-1 setup to Stoke. Here, Heitinga anchored midfield even though Nolan his direct opponent showed little ambition to get forward. In yesterday’s game Heitinga stepped up into the centre of the field enabling Everton to occupy a higher pressing line and dominate possession.
Piennar had started the game with a high tempo and his endeavour down the left flank released Yakubu who out muscled Huth and created the space for a shot. However, as had been the case in recent this season, Yakubu’s finish didn’t match his all round game, and his shot was rolled slowly into Begovic’s hands. Everton were dominating possession (over 90 mins 65-35%) although a lot of the play broke down before getting to Stoke’s 18 yard line. Stoke’s gameplan is befitting of the anti football category. They play 2 anchor men which sit in front of their centre backs with no attacking brief. This invariably leads to opposition teams working the ball out wide to engineer crossing opportunities. Stoke are happy for this scenario to unfold as their fullbacks Huth & Collins, both 6ft+ centrebacks, tuck inside to form 4 centrebacks. It akin to a central defensive wall of 6 players, which make it incredibly hard to penetrate.
Pulis has the look of the guy you see coming out of the paper shop on a Sunday morning with a bad tracksuit, awful baseball cap and copy of the Sunday Sport nestled inside The Mail on Sunday under his arm. His negative and aggressive tactics have come under scrutiny from Danny Murphy in recent weeks, and whilst I’m not a fan of Murphy I can see his point as this mob are the antithesis of football, despite the obvious ability of players like Sanli and Etherington who were vastly under utilised today.
Breakthrough at last
Stoke had a goal rightly chalked off for a push on Baines as Stoke began to ask more questions of the Everton backline. Coleman was having a quiet afternoon and his partnership going forward with Neville was nowhere near as fluid as their defensive cohesion last week. On the hour mark the Irish flanker was benched with Saha replacing him. Everton were now playing a narrow 4-4-2 with Cahill playing an almost inside left role. Yakubu, whose performances in recent weeks have given Evertonians renewed optimism that the burly striker could recapture his form of 2 years ago, was again Everton’s most potent attacking weapon. Following great work, this time down the right, from Piennar, Tim Cahill’s shot struck Begovic’s left hand post the Nigerian showed great composure to control and slam the ball into the roof of the net. As a sign of Everton’s struggles for goals this season, it was the first strike registered by an Everton striker since April last season.
This was a poor game of few clear cut chances were Everton’s greater ambition to score was rewarded with another 3 points, stretching the unbeaten run to 5 games, with only one goal conceded. Everton delivered almost 3 times more passes than Stoke (361 v 131) and this ambition meant that Everton shaded the game and march onto Bloomfield Road for an interesting matchup nextweek.