A truly woeful evening for Everton Football Club as Reading were added to the list of embarrassing cup exits to lower league opposition. Granted, Reading are not comparable to Oldham, Brentford or Shrewsbury , but after knocking out the holders on their own patch this defeat hurts just as much.
Where did it go wrong then? A lot of the problems we have faced this season have been discussed on the blog already and whilst players attitudes have rightly been questioned in the aftermath of last night my own belief is that we often suffer from a lack of tactical variation and a lack of football intelligence which is transmitted through poor movement and an inability to break down well organized teams. It can be no coincidence that we haven’t won a game all season having conceded the first goal.
A key success under Moyes regime has been that we have predominantly had an above average defensive record and been amongst the top clubs in terms of clean sheets, often characterized by a belligerence and robustness when not in possession. If you can stay in a game at 0-0 long enough you give yourself the chance of the opposition opening up. This season however we have been poor defensively, keeping just 6 clean sheets and have often conceded early and not been able to get back in the game, the Villa and Blackburn games spring to mind. My belief is that Moyes is a top manager and very astute defensively, but in terms of attacking strategy and breaking down a difficult opponent he can be found wanting… albeit his strike force last night of Anichebe, Saha and Beckford was amassed on a shoestring.
Reading system and strategy
Reading had a gameplan and they stuck to it. They started up in a 4-4-2 system with Tabb & Leigertwood providing a screen for their defence which often sat quite deep to bring us onto them. They were comfortable in possession and utilized their pace in forward areas with Kebe on the right in particular a real threat moving centrally on the counter attack.
With Beckford comically late turning up for the game we played Osman off Saha in a 4-4-1-1 setup. The Blues played played some decent stuff for the first half hour or so but as has been the case quite often this season, a lot of the ball was played in front of the opposition defence with little to no penetration whatsoever. More comedy defending from the Blues witnessed the 4th game in 6 we have conceded from a set piece when Mills struck from Harte’s corner.. Reading should have been out of sight a few minutes later when the impressive Kebe went clean through after a Distin gaffe but had his effort well saved by Howard.
4-4-1-1 becomes 4-3-3 but Blues still fail to penetrate
The second half witnessed Everton change from 4-4-1-1 to something resembling 4-4-2 in possession and 4-3-3 when in possession with Beckford the additional front man and Anichebe joining the attack from right midfield. We all know by now that Anichebe is at best a Championship player, and is totally ill equipped to cope with Premier League football.
Jack Rodwell was again playing in midfield and whilst he is tidy in possession for me he is a midfield anchor and not somebody who will break teams down. This has been shown by the fact he has been around the first team now for 60 league games and only provided 2 goals and 2 assists. He doesn’t press in the way that, say Fellaini does, and the Blues really missed Fellaini and Cahill, 2 players who really take the fight to the opposition, Fellaini especially in terms of pressing the opposition. With Arteta again way of the pace the strategy now was simple, bypass midfield and pump direct balls from defence to attack and try and win the 2nd balls. Not exactly tactical genius.
Screenshot – 2nd half changes see Blues switch to 4-3-3 when in possession with Anichebe on the right, Saha on left and Beckford through the middle.
As the above screen shot shows, 4-3-3 can leave you narrow and this really played into Reading’s hands as their fullbacks tucked in and along with their centrebacks and Tabb/Leigertwood in midfield mopped up all Everton could throw at them. Our best chance came when Louis Saha, who swopped positions with Beckford as the second half developed, provided some much needed width down the flank and crossed for Beckford whose header was met by Osman but the Reading keeper McCarthy pulled off a great save. In fairness, Reading looked more dangerous throughout and could have picked us off on numerous times as the game became more stretched.
Really, really poor from the Blues. Fair play to Reading, they were organised, good on the ball and a threat on the break. Not for the first time this season we have had a defensive fragility and been out fought by the opposition. With Fellaini out for the remainder of the campaign and talisman Cahill now on the sidelines, the remaining senior players need to stand up and be counted, starting at St James this weekend.