Welcome to the new season and a potentially over cooked preview from the Executioner’s Bong packed with longwinded arguments, unnecessary stats and haphazard conclusions. Like Everton, EB’s hopes and dreams of a summer shake up was curtailed by a lack of spend so we have had to make do with papering over some of the cracks and a tweaked logo which looks a bit less amateur. This post will look at our preparation for the season, identify reasons to be positive and what we need to worry about as well as the usual tactical guff….. Welcome Back!
Form and Preparation
Pre Season form has yielded 3 wins and 3 defeats. Whilst you “can’t read much into these games” the most recent Bremen and Villarreal displays where reminiscent of last season when we really didn’t look like scoring at any time. From a more positive standpoint, our form in the run in last year was impressive; only Chelsea (30) and Man Utd (29) earned more points than us (27) from the end of the January transfer window….contrary to the belief King Kenny accrued more points than the rest of the league put together in the same period.
The form of Gueye in the opening couple of pre season games and the invention of Ross Barkley in the first 30 minutes of Villareal apart, there hasn’t really been much on show that we didn’t already know about the current squad
In terms of the fixtures, home games against QPR, Aston Villa & Wigan and visits to Dirty Arry’s mob and Blackburn would certainly give confidence that we have a decent shot at getting off to a better start than we have done in recent years.
Reasons to be positive
- Our key strengths centre on our stability as a unit – we have stable management and due to the lack of finance there is no revolving door of players. Only 20 players started a premier league game last year– the fewest in the division. During Moyes tenure we have prospered more when options have been reduced as the run in last season showed.
- Our key attacking policy due to the lack of pace and ability to counter attack is to slowly build possession with fullbacks (Baines in particular) advancing into midfield to provide an extra man enabling us to work the ball around opposition midfield.
- The Left side and Baines is clearly our most potent weapon with Leon Osman’s second half stormer plugging the creative void left by Pienaar. Testament to Osman’s usefulness is shown in the below diagram of players win % with and without (stats are based on prem games started only)
- The defence is a strength, although last season it was leakier than it has been, Keeping Jagielka will be important – since 2007 we have kept a clean sheet in 37% of the games he has played, compared to 26% when he hasn’t played.
- In terms of goal times, our above average fitness is reflected in us registering the highest percentage of our goals (27%) in the last 15 minutes of games.
Cause for Concern
- Strikers wise, the first choice duo of Cahill and Saha don’t provide a massive threat in behind defences as both prefer to come short – therefore limiting our counter attacking options.
- There is a significant gap in terms of the squads skill set in terms of pace in wide areas and the ability to beat a man. Only Messi (331) attempted more dribbles than N Zogbia (301) in the top flight leagues in Europe last season. The Frenchman is also noted for his direct running and goals from midfield – areas we also struggle at – and probably why he was moyes #1 target. This fact is made worse by the injury to Seamus Coleman, one of the few players who does provide genuine pace in the side.
- Last campaign we scored 9 goals fewer than the 09/10 season.
- The goals conceded from the left side is an issue as teams have targeted our attacking commitment on this side as an area to exploit.
- General lack of incision in passing and inability to breakdown well drilled sides– the bulk of our chances created are by crosses. However, our goals per game ratio before the Spurs home game midway through the season was 1.05 per game. For the 2nd part of the campaign this rose to 1.66 per game showing that the shift to more direct play did work.
- We generally start games slowly. Last season the opposition opened the scoring more times than we did (19 v 17)
- We concede the highest proportion of our goals (31%) between 61 and 75 minute periods.
I wouldn’t expect anything drastic in terms of formation– our strategy in the second half of the campaign was to get the ball into the box quicker coupled with a midfield delineation of duties with 2 anchor men and the 3 attacking mids interchanging. The strategy is to get the ball into the box quicker, via crossing. The formation is usually either 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 with the key difference being that the two wide players press the fullbacks in a 4-2-3-1 whereas with 4-4-1-1 the wide midfielders support their fullbacks. An example was the Spurs/Chelsea away games when rather than press Cole or Bale, Coleman dropped deep to support Neville
Last season’s most effective players for the Blues were Baines and Osman. Whilst Baines will continue in his wing back role, its likely Osman will be shifted from the central role he excels in to the flanks to accommodate Cahill. It’s our biggest conundrum – on the face of it you would go with Osman given that he transformed our season playing as the pivotal player in a 4-2-3-1. Such is our gaping lack of goals though that it’s hard to leave one of the few players we have in the ranks with a genuine goal threat that opposition teams fear such as Cahill.
The lack of invention in the final third, an abundance of players who can play central midfield and the delineation of midfield duties of a 4-2-3-1 means that Arteta will almost certainly start on the flanks this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Moyes deployed Barkley (sparingly) in the first instance as a wide player who can cut given that he is able to play comfortably with both feet.
Fullbacks are the most important position in modern day football. With teams increasingly playing5 in midfield the centre of the pitch becomes overcrowded meaning that teams who use the width better will prosper. An example here is Moyes record v Ancelotti (4-5-1 v 4-3-3) Moyes was unbeaten in 6 against the Italian – principally down to Chelsea playing narrow and us using the flanks.
Milan’s successful title winning side last season adopted 4-3-1-2 where the fullbacks provide the sole width – the system is setup for sides that have high energy fullbacks and are strong centrally in midfield and attack. In Baines and Coleman Everton have the players capable of doing this. It also enables Cahill to play behind 2 strikers and mitigates the risk of us not having good options in wide midfield areas. I think 4-3-1-2 could certainly work for us.
Last season we finished 14 points adrift of the golden goose of 4th spot which is the furthest adrift we have been in the last 5 seasons and 5 points further away than the 09/10.
An article penned earlier this summer looking at the potential impact UEFA’s Financial Fair Play could have on the Blues. Man City’s recent spending obviously leaves us hamstrung, but more of a worry is how clubs like Sunderland despite having inferior management and a significantly poorer first choice starting line-up presently, are closing the gap points wise on the Blues in recent seasons.
Indeed, our league position did hide what was a distinctly average campaign for the Blues; we finished 15 points off the final relegation place. To put this into context the difference in each of the previous 3 seasons was 31, 29, and 29 (more than double).
Based on last season’s 7th spot and the lack of new faces it would take the most optimistic Blue to suggest that we can better this. In terms of our points tally, this has gradually dropped in the last 2 seasons but this is not to say we can’t have a good season. A decent start would certainly put us on a level playing field (not having to play catch-up) going into the festive period when we traditionally kick on. Heres hoping we get off to a flyer next weekend in London…..