The Blues bounced back from Tuesday’s cup exit to deliver an excellent victory against Newcastle in a game which once again showed the importance of Everton’s left sided fluency………
The Blues made two changes in personnel with Jermaine Beckford able to start and replace Billy with Tony Hibbert coming in at right back and Seamus Coleman dropping out. The big changes from Tuesday’s horror show involved a switch to 4-4-2 and Mikel Arteta switching to the left side with Phil Neville coming into the centre of midfield and Leon Osman switching to the right flank. Newcastle had injury problems down their right side with Barton and Ireland out, so Simpson was pushed forward to right midfield and Steven Taylor slotted in at rightback. Both sides were pretty much 4-4-2 – not a familiar sight in the Premier League nowadays.
Mikel Arteta has had a frustrating spell this season from the centre of Everton’s midfield. During a previous post late last year I asked the question whether the Spaniard could be switched out to the flanks where he had his most productive campaign with 9 goals and 13 assists in 2006/7. My argument is that in the modern game teams flood the midfield in 4-5-1 battles with teams often having 3 centre mids each, the area becomes congested and the room to manoeuvre creatively is reduced. Out wide though, you get more time and space and with 2 centre mids Neville and Rodwell’s remit purely to defend, he was almost given a free role to create chances. Although based on the the left side, like Pienaar he tucked in centrally between the lines and Newcastle simply couldn’t handle him. His run and ball to setup the excellent Leon Osman’s equaliser showed the advantage of having him playing in the final third to utilise his creativity, as opposed to being crowded out 25 yards further back in the middle of the pitch.
In the opening exchanges Arteta is fed the ball out wide, Newcastle often keep a high line and with Simpson caught up field and Taylor sucked inside to his more usual centre back slot, Arteta has acres of space to run and then get a shot in which Harper saves well….the same move led to the Blues opener shortly after.
The 2007/08 campaign also saw Arteta on the flanks and in this campaign he was the most fouled player in the league, fouled every 28.8 minutes in season. This ability to win free kicks was to prove key in us taking control of the game, as the Spaniard bought a foul from Tiote in an area which Baines thrives on whipping in dead balls. It was to see Baines go into double figures for assists and break his previous best of 9 assists in a season– the most for a Premier League defender in the last decade with Jags the beneficiary this time. Our recent focus on Baines and our left side showed it had accounted for the source of 75% of our goals this season. Somebody should have told Alan Pardew.
Before this, Newcastle had taken the lead against the run of play when Best converted after Nolans effort was parried by Howard into his path. For the sizeable unit that he is, Nolan has the ability to find space inside the box and he was a threat on more than one occasion to the Blues rearguard.
Newcastle kept the ball better throughout as the passing stats show, overall completing 73% of their passes to our 65%, which is the lowest figure we have recorded all season
Like us, the Geordies are also better down their left side with the consistently excellent Enrique and Gutierrez making good combination play, and the left flank was the source of their opening goal. With Enrique now on the sidelines through injury, Gutierrez was taking the fight to the Blues himself. His ability to beat his man was suspect and out of the 13 times he took on his opponent he only emerged victorious 3 times.
Chalkboard Analysis – Everton shut down Newcastle’s left side better than our opponents with more interceptions
An exciting game between 2 sides looking to exploit their respective strengths down the left flank. Crucially, the Blues looked defensively more solid in defending their right side than Newcastle. For the first time in the league this season the Blues conceded the first goal and came back to win, it was also one of the few occasions this season where the Blues have seen less of the ball and been inferior to an opponent in retaining possession, and yet made more of the ball when in possession to win the game. The midweek game with Birmingham now beckons and if we are to salvage something from this season we need to show consistency and back up the great results we have had against the better sides in the league by picking up points against teams from the bottom of the table.