The Blues made one change from the Sunderland draw with Drenthe’s injury meaning that Jack Rodwell came back into the side. Shape wise, things did change with the Blues predominantly 4-3-2-1 with Cahill and Osman on the left and right flanks respectively asked to get forward and support Saha and then shuttle back onto the flanks when possession was lost. WBA were missing 2 of their most influential players – Olsson and Mulumbu – and lined up in a more orthodox 4-4-2 with attacks predominantly focused down their right side.
One of the focuses of the game was the Baggies wide men Brunt and Thomas cutting inside to try and feed the 2 strikers Odemwingie and Long. This tactic played into our hands somewhat with our own midfield extremely narrow with Heitinga, Neville and Rodwell all playing central and 2 players in wide areas (Cahill and Osman) who were also tucking inside meaning the central area was extremely congested. This led to attacks breaking down before getting to the final third and us making a sizeable 22 interceptions as shown in the chalkboard (left). Our attacking options were also quite limited with Baines delivery the only real threat to the Baggies rearguard. In a nutshell neither side had anyone capable of incision who could feed their offensive players meaning the game was for the most part deadlocked.
Moyes selections in recent weeks have been met with howls of derision from sections of the Blues faithful for being too negative. With the players available though he sees the strategy of keeping things tight and then kicking on in the final stages of games the most likely way of us getting results. It isn’t nice to watch at times but the guy is a pragmatist and hopefully with the addition of some better offensive players in the window we can evolve. One thing is for sure, the defensive qualities of the team is top draw – as noted a few weeks ago we concede the fewest shots in the division – thanks largely to the protection afforded by the midfield and heroic shifts from Distin and Jagielka.
The Blues have won more points (11) in the final 10mins of games than any other side in the league, largely due to Moyes substitutions. 31% of our goals this season have been scored by subs – again a league high. His changes today were attacking, bringing off the defensive minded Neville and introducing Gueye and Anichebe who gave us much more pace against a tiring WBA rearguard. Straqualursi also provided a physical presence and was able to hold up the ball well. For the goal, credit goes to Hibbert for putting in a decent ball but WBA’s defending of the situation was calamitous. Whilst Victor has minimal goal threat his return does give us more options in terms of pace and power – qualities which the Cahill / Saha axis doesn’t.
Both sides had solid shape at the back but lacked real penetration in a game which will quickly be erased from memory. The key variable was Moyes was able to change his forward 3 players which brought pace and power – something which was not really on show from either side in the first 70 minutes of the game. Overall a draw was probably the fair outcome but the win gives us 8 points from 12 over the festive period and with the league’s bottom club due at Goodison on Wednesday night there is plenty of positives as we head into 2012.