After Monday’s moral boosting victory at Eastlands, Everton go into this Boxing Day encounter with renewed optimism chasing a league double over rivals Birmingham. Injury and suspension means David Moyes will have to change a winning team, with Jagielka missing the entire festive period through injury and Anichebe serving a ban for his red card. We are boosted by the return of Arteta, and I would expect him to come straight back into the team in place of Jack Rodwell. I would also expect Hibbert to slot in at centre half and Louis Saha to lead the line. Birmingham’s team selection is pretty consistent and they will play a fairly rigid 4-4-2 with Larsson and Fahey providing the width down the flanks and Zigic partnering Cameron Jerome up front.
Birmingham’s away from is not great. Nine games on their travels thus far has yielded no victories. All bar one of their away defeats has been by a one goal margin so the outcomes have been tight with 5 draws supplementing the 4 defeats. Our own form at home is not too impressive though, with just 2 wins from 9 including 4 draws and 3 defeats. We have only scored 10 goals at Goodison this campaign, averaging just over 1 goal per home game. This places a big pressure on the defence to keep a clean sheet in order to take the 3 points.
Birmingham strategy and intel
Birmingham play a very rigid 4-4-2 system with their emphasis on defence and keeping out the opposition, particularly on their travels. When the opposition are on the ball in Birmingham’s half they are very good at getting players between the opposition player on the ball and their goal. They drop very deep with their fullbacks Carr and Ridgewell tucking in. Bowyer and Ferguson will sit in front of centre backs Dann and Johnson giving a defensive wall of 6 players in their 18 yard box. This is demonstrated nicely in the below screenshot, with Birmingham defenders in red and midfielders in blue circles.
Birmingham rigid defence Screenshot
With their midfield duo playing so close to the centre backs this leaves a big gap between midfield and attack which could explain why Birmingham don’t carry a big goal threat. What it should also mean is that Arteta and Fellaini will both play high up the pitch.
If you try and go through the middle Birmingham’s wall makes it very difficult to penetrate shown by Chalkboard A below from the corresponding fixture last season Notice how the bulk of the interceptions are in this Birmingham ‘wall’ area. When you try to go around them on the flanks they have so many bodies in their 18 yard box it makes it difficult to pick out players, shown by Chalboard B where we had 28 unsuccessful crosses pinged into their box. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s not too dissimilar a tactic that we adopted from the 20 minute mark against Manchester City on Monday night.
From an offensive point of view, Sebastian Larsson is their most creative player, contributing 5 assists this campaign and his battle against Baines on the same flank will define this game.
Chalkboard A Birmingham Interceptions Chalkboard B Everton unsuccessful crosses
I would expect us to see a lot of the ball and dominate possession. Last season’s corresponding fixture witnessed 420 successful Everton passes to Birmingham’s 238 and I would expect a similar tale in this fixture. Osman was man of the match in the 2-0 win at St Andrews earlier this campaign and I would expect him to be a key man again, cutting in from the left enabling the man of the season so far Leighton Baines to provide traction down the left flank. We will need to be patient though and I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a sustained period of pressure to break Birmingham down such is their rigidity and passion for the defensive side of the game.
I think this could be a frustrating afternoon with Birmingham coming for a point. Hopefully our momentum from Monday’s result will see us grind out a 1-0 win here. COYB!