Bolton 0-2 Everton : 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1)    Line-ups and Formation

The Toffees were without the injured Royston Drenthe, meaning we made one change with Billy coming in on the left side of midfield with a brief to dart inside to give Baines the freedom of the left flank in a 4-4-2. Bolton’s problem position of right back was filled by centre back David Wheater, with Zat Knight coming into the centre of defence to replace him. Eagles started left wing but was operating very high up the pitch and looking to come on in his root foot with Mark Davies on the opposing flank providing more defensive discipline. Muamba and Reo Coker were designed holding midfielders so system wise Bolton had a look of 4-4-2 with Kevin Davies and Klasnic through the middle.

2)   11 v 10 Dynamic

Wheater’s ill judged challenge on Billy was to prove a pivotal moment in the game with the home side reduced to 10 men with 70 minutes still to play. There are 2 potential approaches to take when playing a man light. The prudent approach would be to go with 2 banks of four playing compact and deep and in close proximity to each other with a lone forward. The issue with this is that it invariably invites pressure and you need to be very solid defensively to pull it off. Alternatively,  you can try to maintain an offensive threat by retaining players in forward positions. Coyle chose this approach (4-2-2-1) with Reo Coker switching to right back and Mark Davies tucking inside alongside Muamba with Eagles and Kevin Davies further forward supporting Klasnic from the flanks. By doing this, Bolton basically surrendered the midfield but retained a solid back 6 (4 defenders and 2 anchor men) and a forward trio when in possession.

Playing against 10 men for an hour in a Premier League game is something Everton don’t have much experience in doing. The last time it happened was at Anfield way back in Feb 2010, when Benitez adopted the two banks of four approach. Criminally that day we resorted to long balls in a fruitless search for a breakthrough which ended in defeat. Therefore, it would be interesting to see if we could be patient enough on the ball to break Bolton down.

3)   Passing Patience

Coyle’s attacking strategy perhaps played into our hands in that anybody who has watched us will say we struggle to break down well organised defences who sit and wait for us to break them down. This was evident as our forwards were constantly coming short with little movement beyond Bolton’s back four (see below image)

With Bolton’s home record this season (the Trotter’s have conceded the most goals at home in the division) Coyle probably thought attacking was his side’s best chance of getting something from the game and thus the match was increasingly open as the second half progressed.

Our game plan was to pin our hosts in their own half with our wide men now pushing right up on Bolton’s fullbacks and we were maintaining decent possession in the Bolton half. Our  numerical advantage meant that Bolton were looking to bypass midfield, shifting to longer balls which accounted for 23% of their total passes (compared to our 17%) with a feature being Jaaskelainen hitting 37 long balls – mostly to Kevin Davies. Fellaini was tasked with picking up the Bolton skipper in these situations and did well; winning 80% of his aerial duels.

Our movement of the ball got a lot slicker in the second period, with pass completion going up from 69% to 78%. Crucially, Osman became more involved in the game, posting our highest passing completion ( 84%) after being a periphery figure in the opening 45mins. Improved possession enabled us to work the ball into  Bolton’s box with more frequency, with  64% of our shots coming from  within Bolton’s 18 yard box whereas our hosts only managed 25 % of their shots from the same zones with the bulk of their openings (75%) coming from speculative long range attempts.

4)   Fellaini Dominant

Our Belgian midfielder had a quality outing yesterday. He posted more touches (86) made more passes (76) and won 80% of aerial duels as well as breaking the deadlock for the games opening goal.  His passing heatmap image (left) shows how he covered the bulk of the pitch with the high energy game he brings to the table week in week out. Both goals were testament to our patience in possession, working the ball from the right side with Osman’s involved in both moves enabling transition from the right flank to  a crossing situation on the left. The second from Velios was the Greek forwards 3rd goal from his 150 minutes of cameo appearances this campaign and with the flurry of fixtures coming up at Christmas he is surely going to get more game time quickly.

5)   Final thought

This was a much needed victory and gave us back to back wins for the first time this season. Whilst we initially struggled against ten men the emergence of Osman from the shadows in the second half, coupled with the drive of Fellaini, enabled the Blues to grind out a win. It also enabled us to double our volume of clean sheets for the season. It wasn’t a faultless performance by the Blues – we are still lacking in various areas – but with the midfield creativity and drive lacking in the absence of key men Drenthe and Rodwell it was always going to be a war of attrition. COYB!

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