Everton v Sunderland Preview

After the FA Cup exploits at the Bridge the focus shifts back to the league this weekend as Everton welcome Sunderland to Goodison on Saturday in a game which could prove pivotal in terms of the rest of the season…….

Clearly, Chelsea was a great day last week at the Bridge. It reminded me of what had been the core attributes  of an Everton display under Moyes; what we sometimes lack in technical ability we bridge by commitment, togetherness and at times shear belligerence. We can also play too, and in the first game at Goodison we comfortably played the better expansive football. Back to the league now though, and points need to be put on the board quickly to move us up the table. This season’s trend has been one good result followed by a poor one, indeed we have only put back to back wins together in the league once, back in October.

Last time out.

A very exciting game at Stadium of Light, with Everton playing the more enterprising football but Sunderland  looking much more dangerous when in attack. The Mackems fitness and athleticism is such that they are more than capable of playing a high pressing game high up the pitch all day long and have no worries about not being in possession. Welbeck was the star man on the night, bagging both Sunderland goals in a 2-2 draw in a game which again highlighted Everton’s strength and weakness down the left flank. Baines superb delivery for Cahill’s opening goal was undone by slack defending by him and Pienaar for Welbeck’s first.Overall, a 2-2 draw was a fair result although Everton should have won it at the death when Beckford fluffed a one on one when put clean through.

Sunderland Intel

I have been impressed with the Mackems this season. Like most Bruce teams they have built from a solid foundation defensively. They press really well and have shown real steel in their defensive approach this season with 11 clean sheets. I would expect them to line up 4-5-1 with Gyan the lone striker closely supported by Richardson behind and newboy Sessegnon from the right.

Offensively, with their speed and athleticism they are setup to counter attack and Henderson is their most creative player, ranked 5th in the league for chance creation, making  54 key passes this campaign an average of 2.1 per game. Gyan is their main goal threat with 9 goals and  4 assists in just 15 Premier League matches. They have struggled in recent games though with Cattermole their fulcrum anchor man out through injury and this coupled with personnel changes in the centre back spots with the ongoing absence of Turner have left them often vulnerable to crosses. Stoke recently exploited this 3 times in one game despite the Mackems playing 3 centre backs to combat the Stoke aerial bombardment.  Indeed, they have now lost 3 games on the bounce.  Keeper Gordon has also been shaky of late, and reports in Sunderland are that he is touch and go for this game because of injury with Mignolet on standby to deputise.

Everton Strategy

I wouldn’t expect anything too different tactically from the Blues in a 4-4-1-1 setup. Sunderland ’s 4-5-1 will mean Marouanne Fellaini  will play a bit deeper than he would against a 4-4-2 to pick up Richardson’s runs from midfield. Seamus Coleman really struggled physically against Bardsley last time out although I would expect him to continue on the right with Osman probably keeping his place on the left drifting inside. The key change could come upfront with Louis Saha rumored to be back in contention following injury,  but with his injury record I would expect Beckford to at least start the game.

Prediction

Sunderland have had a really impressive campaign but I think this could be a decent time to play them with results on the wane and key personnel out. With their vulnerability from crosses into the box and with our superb exponent of deliveries Leighton Baines on song I’m going for a narrow Blues victory, 1-0.

 

 

Player Focus: Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines is not your conventional Premier League footballer. He certainly doesn’t fit into the identikit Nando’s scoffing, Chinawhites partying, media savvy wideboy who dominate the landscape of Premier League footballers. Baines is a quiet kid who lets his football do the talking, with one of his few ventures into the media being his fantastic music blog in which he refreshingly reveals his favoured bands as Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and The Coral….with no mention of Phil Collins.

The Left sided marauder was on  the Toffees’ books as a teenager, but eventually joined  Wigan’s school of excellence and made his senior debut at the age of 17 for the Latic’s. After earning rave reviews at the JJB, notably for a delicious 30 yard free kick against Manchester United, he was rewarded with a big money move to L4. Baines has improved season on season, and he finished the last campaign on song, recording nine assists – the highest number for a Premier League defender in the last decade. In this campaign he has already matched that figure and its not surprising when you look at the positions he gets into high up field. The below screenshot is a nice example of the telepathy Baines had with the now departed Pienaar, bombing up the wing in the space created by the South African dragging his marker inside.

Everton’s left side has been our key strength and significant weakness this season. The reasons behind this have been talked about on the blog week in week out, but the below charts get the message across quite succinctly….

*Origin is determined as the source of the goal, so for instance Beckford’s goal v Blackpool was from a left wing cross so would be classed as left. Sturridge’s goal for Bolton was from an up and under from the centre circle so will be classed as Central.

Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra have been the benchmark left backs in the Premier League for several years now, and below is a snapshot analysis of their statistics this season in comparison to Leighton Baines. There is also a short analysis on the key findings broken down into crossing accuracy, tackling and passing.


Crossing Accuracy

Baines wide delivery has been superb this campaign, with seven of the nine assists coming from crosses, 4 of which where despatched by the head of expert aerial exponent Tim Cahill. Indeed, the Baines/Cahill partnership has directly combined to produce 13 goals in the last 2 ½ seasons for the Blues. His range of delivery means he is just as adept at drilling crosses from the touchline for someone to run onto like Saha, or high curling deliveries 40 yards from goal onto the head of Cahill. There is clearly a greater emphasis on Everton getting the ball into the box to play to our strengths, highlighted by the below chalkboard where Baines whips deliveries into the 18 yard box with great regularity as opposed to Cole (8 v 1 Baines advantage) and Evra (8 v 3 Baines advantage)

Baines v Cole/Evra this season Passing Chalkboards….


Tacking

Baines tackling completion this campaign stands at 71%, which is a 6 % improvement on his figures last term, although still behind Evra, who steams in at 77% completion. Baines has been amongst Everton’s top 3 tacklers for most of the campaign, with only Seamus Coleman and Marouanne Fellaini currently boasting a better completion rating.

Baines tackling in away games at Fulham & Villa, winning 6 of his 7 tackles in both matches – Successful tackles in blue, unsuccessful in red


Passing

In terms of passing, Baines is lagging behind Cole who boasts an impressive 88% pass completion. At 74% completion Baines passing is decent for Everton, with our average pass completion per game this season just under 75% with our opponent’s average 69%. To put that into context, Iniesta from Barca’s pass completion is 89% with the La Liga average around the 82% marker for this season.

In terms of creative passing, Baines creates an opportunity for an opponent 1.7 times per game. This is a 0.6 improvement on his rate from the season we reached the Cup Final in 2008/9. This figure is also considerably better than Cole who averages a key pass 1.0 per game and Evra 0.9 per game. In fairness to Cole and Evra, Baines is arguably our key creative force this campaign with Pienaar gone and Arteta out of sorts, so our tactics are often manipulated to get Baines into opportunities higher upfield, whilst United & Chelsea have more players capable of a creative spark in their ranks.

Chelsea 1-1 Everton (AET Everton win 4-3 on pens)

Everton’s top turvy season took yet another twist as the Blues defeated cup holders Chelsea on penalties to setup a fifth round clash with Reading…

Lineups

Everton made 3 expected changes from last weeks horror show at Bolton, with Beckford replacing Anichebe, Osman coming in for Billy on the left flank and Jagielka starting at centre half in place of Heitinga in a 4-4-1-1 setup. Chelsea played their usual 4-3-3 system with Kalou and Malouda providing the narrow support either side of Drogba although often Malouda dropped in behind Kalou and Drogba to provide the creative spark.

Chelsea narrow and Blues wide man prosper

In contrast to his record against some of the other top clubs, David Moyes has a very impressive record against Chelsea in recent years and this was the fifth unbeaten game on the spin the Blues have thwarted the West Londoners.  One of the key tactical reasons for this has been that Chelsea’s 4-3-3 system can often be quite narrow which gives Everton’s wide players room on the flanks to exploit. This was the key factor in our comeback at the Bridge earlier this season when Pienaar tucked inside giving Baines the freedom of the left side, almost playing as an additional midfielder when we had the ball. The first half followed this path, with Osman like Pienaar tucking in a lot.  A typically devilish cross by Baines was almost converted by Beckford in what was our closest call in a lively first half in which Chelsea carved out the more clear cut chances.

On the other flank, Seamus Coleman as referenced on the blog last week tends to play further forward in away games to utilise his pace in behind, and this was again the case today. In the game at the Bridge in December Coleman’s role was more focused on restricting Ashley Cole’s forward runs, but today he caused the England fullback much more problems from an attacking perspective and along with Baines was our most dangerous threat in the first half.

Chelsea turn up heat in second half

The second period was more problematic for the Blues as Chelsea enjoyed more of the ball and pushed Everton back for long periods. With Mikel replaced by Essien the Cup holders were providing more forward traction to their passing and Howard had to be on top form to thwart Malouda & Lampard.

Everton were looking less potent down the flanks and with Cahill & Beckford replaced by Billy & Anichebe the personnel remaining on the pitch didn’t really look like penetrating the Chelsea backline. Everton were still pressing well and defended very compact but it was looking increasingly like a 0-0 and penalties was going to be our best shot at going through.

Extra Time Breakthrough

With Cahill off the field Osman was playing off Anichebe as the main creative link, but just after the start of extra time Heitinga replaced him and we began to drop increasingly deep and invited Chelsea pressure. Our old scourge Frank Lampard once again struck; capitalising on some shaky defending from the blues after Anelka was able to profit from hesitancy from Distin and Baines. It is with great credit that a battle weary Everton showed the determination to continue to fight and take Chelsea on right til the death and we were duly rewarded when Phil Jagielka, who has been pushed forward for a greater aerial presence, was upended by Ivanovic and from the free kick Baines whipped a 25 yard left footed strike into the roof of the Chelsea net.  Baines is having an absolute stormer of a season and has now bagged 10 assists and 4 goals from defence – some achievement. With the game going to penalties, Everton held their nerve better and Ashley Cole’s ballooned effort gave Neville the chance to slot us through to the next round for which he duly obliged.

Conclusion

A great outcome for the Blues who showed real grit and determination throughout. This wasn’t a free flowing expansive display by the Blues by any means and Chelsea had the better chances today but I would say over the 2 games we edged it and came out worthy winners.

 

Bolton 2-0 Everton

Line-ups

Everton made2 enforced changes from the side which won last week’s thriller with Blackpool as Tim Cahill and Victor Anichebe replaced the injured duo Jack Rodwell and Louis Saha in the striking roles. Anichebe played more on the right with Cahill playing up top when we had possession and deeper when Bolton where on the ball in a 4-4-1-1 setup. Bolton played 2 out and out strikers in Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge with Elmander playing right midfield but tucking in a lot to assist Mark Davies and Holden in the centre of midfield. Matt Taylor provided their attacking width in a 4-4-2 formation.

Bolton press better

Bolton started the game really well; their passing was crisper and their pressing in the opening exchanges was relentless as the below chalkboard shows

Bolton pressed us high up field shown by the fact that they made 7 interceptions inside our half whereas in contrast we made just 1 in theirs. Overall Bolton made 17 interceptions to our 8.


Pressing was key to Bolton’s strategy as despite much talk of them playing a more fluid passing game this campaign they still play a lot of direct balls to target men with Elmander often the target against his direct opponent Leighton Baines. Everton kept the ball better with 74% of our passes successfully completed compared to Bolton’s 67%.

It was no surprise when Bolton went in front on 10 minutes when woeful marking in the area enabled Gary Cahill the freedom of the 18 yard box to head home with no Blues defender attacking the ball to clear our lines. Everton’s defending at set pieces has been inexplicably woeful lately and this was the 3rd game running we have conceded a goal from a set piece. Indeed, we have now kept just 1 clean sheet in our last 18 games.

Everton lack cutting edge again.

As the passing stats show above we were keeping the ball better than our hosts from 15 minutes onwards, although we created little in terms of chances. Baines superb delivery should have been buried by Cahill who strangely tried to volley when a headed connection would surely have bursted the net. Mikel Arteta was the only midfield inspiration from the Blues, completing 88% of his passes and his driving runs from midfield were one of the few positives on a terrible day. Our other midfielders were truly awful. Fellaini’s recent form has been superb but today he was woeful with his pressing game not at the usual level of tenacity and his possession sloppy.

Our wide player’s were impotent with Coleman not beating his marker Robinson once and mustering just one successful cross. The Irish youngster can struggle when up against a more physically robust opponent  who will principally look to defend more so than getting forward. The game against Sunderland earlier this season in which he was dominated by Bardsley was a similar story. On the opposite flank, Billy successfully beat his marker just once and produced no successful crosses. Again, Baines was our only potent offensive weapon from wide areas.

In attack, Victor Anichebe was chosen ahead of Jermaine Beckford, most probably for his physical strength. The youngster will always show effort and do a job for the team but technically and as a goal threat he is extremely limited.  His pass completion this campaign is a really low 51% which shows the ball isn’t sticking. Goal wise, in his last 36 league games he has mustered just 13 shots on target and 2 goals. As much as I would like to see him do well I just can’t see it happening.

On the hour mark Moyes made a double change, replacing our ineffective wide men Coleman & Billy with Beckford and Osman. Cahill dropped into a more orthodox central midfield role and Beckford played alongside Anichebe.

Bolton get crucial second goal

Despite having more of the ball we still weren’t looking like scoring and Bolton’s second goal of the game effectively ended the game as a contest on the 67th minute. An aimless punt up field by Gary Cahill was again woefully defended by the Blues and when we failed to clear, Lee won a second ball aerial dual with Baines and Sturridge hit a right footed half volley past Howard. Game over.

Conclusion

As a tactical battle there wasn’t much to report here. Bolton deserved the points due to much better desire and workrate in their pressing play off the ball. This season has seen us consistently inconsistent and this was a truly abject performance comparable to Hull away last season . Basic errors are occurring with great regularity at the moment and our inability to keep clean sheets proved our undoing once more. The Blues now need to regroup and prepare for the Chelsea cup game next weekend when surely we could not play worse than we did today.

Seamus Coleman: The Story so far….

Seamus Coleman has been one of the star turns in what has been an up and down season for the Blues so far. His speed, fearless approach and raw ability  have been refreshing to watch and has led David Moyes to propose that the Irishman can have the same impact for us as Gareth Bale has done for Spurs, which is some praise considering Bale is held up as the benchmark for young wide players in the Premier League. This article will assess his performance this season and  will look to where he fits in with Everton’s future setup and also analyse if the stats support Moyes’ comparison between Coleman and Bale.

Coleman’s stats summary this season…….

Coleman is statistically our best tackler this season with a completion rate of 90%.  His pass completion rate is an impressive 78% although his shooting requires some improvement, currently only accurate with 1 in 3 shots. His ability to take players on has been a key component to his success, with an impressive 62% success rate of beating his marker and 33% of his crosses have been completed successfully, with a classic example of both being the below mazy run and cross against Liverpool to setup Cahill’s opening goal.

Positional Debate

With old fashioned wingers now few and far between there is a strong argument in modern day football that full backs are the most important position in the team in terms of providing width and the impact they have on matches. Seamus Coleman possesses the key attributes for this type of role in that he has speed, great stamina, excellent man marking capability and is incredibly sharp in the tackle

I have made the point on this blog in the past that Moyes has a preference for wide players to tuck inside (like Pienaar,Arteta, Billy)  to enable the fullback to get up the flank and create an extra man in midfield (like Baines does week in week out). Playing right wing, Coleman doesn’t really fit into this model because he likes to hug the touchline due to him being a born and bred fullback.

Coleman is doing a fantastic job for the team this year and his speed, penetration and direct approach are qualities that we don’t have in abundance in the current squad. Pace is such a key variable in the modern game and with Coleman in our midfield it is noticeable that defenders will stand off more and hold a deeper defensive line to prevent the threat in behind. This in turn creates more space on the field for us to exploit.

The diagram shows Coleman’s average position from a recent home and away game. The top diagram shows Coleman (circled blue) much more withdrawn than Billy (circled red) on the opposite flank. The below diagram shows his and Billy’s average positions against Arsenal with Coleman clearly further forward and almost level with Saha. This has been a trend in many games this term where Coleman’s pace has been better utilized more in away games were home defenders will push up more leaving space in behind which is perhaps why out of Coleman’s 5 goals in all competitions, 4 have come on our travels.

Being a good defender and the combination he and Neville have down the right flank gives us great balance to our more offensive left side. The pair have combined greatly and subdued arguably the top 3 marauding left backs in the league this campaign (Bale, Evra & Ashley Cole) is credit to them. Indeed, of the 34 of goals we ship from the right side is just 23% have had their origin down our right side

Coleman v Bale Statistical Comparison – Premier League Games Only


Coleman v Bale

There are definitely comparisons which can be drawn between both of these all action players. Both are comfortable as full backs but are currently deployed as wingers for their clubs. Also, unlike the modern trend to play wingers on the opposite wing cutting in on their preferred foot (e.g. Ashley Young for Aston Villa) they both play on their strongest footing side, Bale on the left and Coleman on the right.

For me, Seamus Coleman has much better defensive attributes than Bale. If you look at Coleman’s tackling stats (90% completion) you can see he is a natural stopper and loves to tackle. Coleman has also shown in his man marking assignments this campaign (notably on Ashley Cole at Stamford Bridge) that he is adept in tracking and nullifying opponents.

Bale is more composed and has a better chance creation and shooting completion figure. Bale on average creates 1.7 Chances per game for an opponent whilst Coleman has a much lower figure of 0.8.  I would say that Coleman is a real goal threat when it comes to instinct (4 of his 5 goals this campaign have been 1 touch finishes) but he can often show indecision when given too much time and space in the final third as happened in the second half of the Blackpool game at the weekend.

Both will often look to hit the touchline before delivering although Bale, like Leighton Baines, has a range of delivery which means he is capable of whipping/drilling balls  from deeper positions. One thing which is interesting to note is that from combined they have put in164 crosses with only 41 reaching an opponent. Paul Gardner’s recent article in World Soccer Magazine talked about how in modern football the cross into the box is something of a haphazard tactic with figures showing that it has limited success in terms of creating goals. He comments that other leagues such as La Liga have a significantly less emphasis on the cross as a way of creating a goal scoring opportunity, with the games he analysed showing 3 times less crosses in the Spanish games than in the Premier League.

The future

With our skipper Phil Neville perhaps having 1-2 years left as a pro I foresee Moyes increasingly looking to use Coleman in the right back slot. When he has been deployed here this season (albeit sparingly) he has shown that he can switch off (See below screen shot v Newcastle ) and also being caught up field against Brentford for their goal.

v Newcastle at Goodison earlier this season, SC switches off when in the right back role enabling Kevin Nolan to find space leading to SC bringing Nolan down which luckily for the Blues didn’t result in a pen.

This occasional lack of awareness is something which is resolved through experience and playing in front of Phil Neville week in week out will unquestionably benefit the Irishman in terms of advice and guidance from the skipper on when to go and when to hold position.

If you look at the current composition of our squad, I would say our best central players are midfielders (Arteta, Rodwell, Fellaini) and our best wide players are defenders (Baines, Coleman). Therefore an approach similar to AC Milan’s current 4-3-1-2 system could be deployed. The additional benefit of this approach would be to have 2 out and out strikers with Cahill in behind.


Everton 5-3 Blackpool

Line-ups

Everton kept the same 11 who narrowly lost to Arsenal on Tuesday night with the major tactical shift being that Billy was provided the closest support to Louis Saha, often interchanging with Rodwell down our left side. Blackpool played 4-3-3 with Grandin playing as the most advanced midfielder ahead of Adam with Vaughan anchoring. DJ Campbell and Jason Puncheon supported former Blue James Beattie up front.

Everton attack down the left

A key factor of the game was Blackpool’s vulnerability down their right side, with all 5 Everton goals coming from this area and it was from here that Everton took the lead early on. Billy and Rodwell played a series of one twos down the left hand side before some slick wing play from the Russian enabled him to beat his man and cross to Saha who slotted with aplomb. Everton have been woeful defensively of late and for the 11th time this season we surrendered a lead and it was a familiar story to last time out at The Emirates with a soft goal conceded from a corner with Baptiste slotting after Adam’s delivery had caused havoc in our defence.

Chalkboard Analysis – Left shows how Everton focused attacks down Blackpool’s right side with Billy the furthest forward interchanging and often doubling up with Jack Rodwell on Blackpool fullback Neil Eardley, with Blackpool’s covering midfielder David Vaughan playing predominantly to the left of centre. The Chalkboard on the right shows the great display of visiting midfielder Vaughan, who completed 100% of his tackles (9/9) and 82% of his passes

Tangerine Pace hurts Blues

The second period began as the first, with good work down the left involving the impressive Rodwell freeing Baines down the line and his drilled cross was duly despatched by the on song Saha.  There was good work off the ball here by Billy who created space for Baines by tucking in with Puncheon guilty of ball watching and enabling Baines to run in behind him. Whilst Everton had more of the ball (326 v 244 successful passes) and kept it better (74%v 66% pass completion) Blackpool’s pace and the shear volume of men they committed to counter attacks had Everton all at sea and the Blues where stung twice in the space of 3 minutes. First when Grandin won a 50-50 with the sloppy Heitinga and played in Beattie who pulled it back well for the debutant Puncheon to tuck home. Blackpool’s third goal was a great break away move with Puncheon again involved, teeing up Campbell whose superb shot struck the bar only for Adam to pounce and head home. At this stage Everton where in disarray defensively.

Tactical Changes turn game in Everton’s favour.

The third Blackpool goal led to a personnel and tactical shift from Moyes, with Billy and Rodwell making way for Beckford & Cahill. Mikel Arteta moved out left, Cahill played more as an orthodox central midfield alongside Fellaini with Beckford and Saha up front. In response Ian Hollowed withdrew Puncheon & DJ Campbell for Rob Edwards and Keith Southern, switching to a 5-4-1 formation. This meant that the previous pacey and penetrative breaks of Campbell/Puncheon where removed allowing Everton to keep a higher line with the threat in behind removed. Indeed, Blackpool failed to register another shot on goal from this moment. With Blackpool standing off Everton where able to build attacks well, and when Blackpool did get possession they where wasteful shown by the above pass completion graph with a 1-4% completion advantage that Everton enjoyed in the 2nd half soars to 14% better from the moment of Blackpool substitutions in the final 15 minutes. The Tangerines collapse began when an out swinging corner from Arteta was directed goalwards by Beckford which was  dispatched by Saha for his first Everton hatrick.

Everton’s movement was good today and Blackpool were often guilty of not tracking runs and this was an example, with Beckford ghosting in behind Baptiste to get goal number 4

With Blackpool now rocking a devilishly tempting deep swinging right footed delivery from Baines was superbly lashed home first time from Beckford to put the Blues in front.  Blackpool then switched to a 4-2-4 setup but would be caught on the break when Saha then made it 8 goals in his last 5 starts, running half the length of the field before showing great composure to tuck under the on rushing Rachubka  after Fellaini timed a superb threaded ball to him. With the game won Moyes brought on Jagielka for Saha and switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation to quell any further comeback from the visitors.

Conclusion

One of the most open games in living memory at Goodison witnessed the Blues go goal crazy and claim a deserved 3 points. Saha will deservedly take the plaudits after an expert display in finishing which will give everyone at the club confidence for the second half of the season. With 18 goals scored in 7 games our goal threat is clearly improved….if we can remedy the problems at the back we could yet have a decent second half of the season.

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.

Arsenal 2-1 Everton

Line-ups

Everton remained unchanged personnel wise from the side that drew with Chelsea at the weekend with Rodwell playing off Saha up front in a 4-4-1-1 system; the only slight tweak was Rodwell and Arteta interchanging as the furthest forward support to the main striker. Arsenal played in their usual 4-2-3-1 system with the support for Van Persie coming from Fabregas (central) Rosicky (left) and Walcott (right).

Fellaini dominant first half

Not for the first time of late, Marouanne Fellaini was the main man in the first 45 minutes, winning 8 out of his 10 tackles and with a pass completion average of a whopping 87%. The second half witnessed his tackle completion dropping to just 3 out of 6 and his pass completion dropping to 70%.

The dominance of the Belgian over the entire game in the first period was enough to see the Blues take a deserved lead through the revitalised Louis Saha following good work down the right from Coleman although the Frenchman looking in an offside position when put through. It was a richly deserved lead and the Blues passing in the Arsenal half was very impressive as was the pressing from midfield.

Blues sit back and passing deteriorates

The second half began with the Blues sitting further back inside their own half and conceding countless fouls around our 18 yard line in the face of growing Arsenal pressure. It was a similar story to the victory at Man City with the Blues seemingly happy with their lead and opting to defend what we had. Unfortunately it couldn’t last and we  capitulated conceding 2 goals in five crazy second half minutes. Notice how in the below graph our pass completion lunges alarmingly from a steady 70-80% throughout to 54% in the period Arsenal claimed both goals?

With regard to the winning goal from Koscielny, you expect Arsenal to pull defenders out of position and play through you but headers from corners you most certainly do not…. inexplicably bad defending from the Blues here. Moyes went 4-3-3 with Anichebe and Fellaini up front with Saha and a more direct approach for the last 10 minutes but it was to no avail as the  Blues let a winning advantage slip for the 10th time this season. Such a disappointing end to a night which promised so much.