1.Selection & General Approach
Everton lined up with Landon Donovan as the closest in support to Saha with Tim Cahill pivoting between the roles of second forward and as part of a midfield trio with Fellaini and Gibson. We focused our play down Villa’s right flank, one reason why Drenthe was fairly anonymous apart from winning a couple of free kicks. Villa played with Bent through the middle and Agbonlahor left side but mostly attacked down our left flank with Albrighton.
Donovan was the game’s star turn and his positioning was interesting throughout. As noted in this article he is more than capable of interchanging between the roles of wide midfield and striker. This movement in the final third is something we have lacked all season.
Here Donovan (circled yellow) holds the wide right role when Villa are building an attack, providing support to Neville at fullback with Cahill (circled blue) further forward alongside Saha
Here, the pair have swopped, with Cahill deeper in midfield and Donovan playing through the middle as a central striker.
3. Blues on the break
As noted a few weeks ago here, the players Moyes now has available (eg Drenthe/ Donovan/Anichebe) could lead to a different approach. Due to the lack of pace we have had for the majority of the season our offensive strategy has been slow build up and try to keep sides penned inside their own half via a high line and pressure game. With the pace we now have we are able to use a plan B and play more counter attacking football.
Only Stoke and Blackburn have recorded a lower average possession this season than our hosts, yet Villa had more of the ball (53%) a 10% increase on their average of 43% with the Blues playing much deeper as the visual (left) shows. Anichebe’s goal was our first fast break goal of the season and showed the advantage of playing deeper as there was thus more space to attack at pace as Villa were often camped in our half in the second period.
Our new signing should prove to be a shrewd piece of business. Everybody is accustomed to his long range shooting, but perhaps less aware of his ability to pick a defence splitting pass. Ideally a midfield duo should consist of a runner and a passer – Fellaini is obviously a good runner whilst Rodwell has done ok this season on the ball although his best qualities are perhaps his energy and box to box running. Gibson gives a bit more in terms of possession from the middle of the park. His pass completion figure for 2010/11 was 84% whilst our team average for 2011/12 before yesterday was 76%. Compared to our existing centre mids, Fellaini this season averages 78% Rodwell 88% and Neville 80%. He was very positive in possession yesterday with 1 in 4 of his passes going forward with 2 through balls (as a team we average just 1 through ball per game) . His pass completion was 83% – 8% higher than the team average on the day. Off the ball, his positioning afforded good protection to the back four – making 4 interceptions – the most of any of our side. This post from SC1 gives a more thorough breakdown of Gibson’s debut.
It was vital we got something from this given the back to back league defeats suffered against Bolton and Spurs. There was plenty of positives to take from the game; namely the debut from Gibson and the positivity he showed in possession from the middle of the park, plus the improved movement in the final third provided by Donovan. A draw was probably a fair result on the balance of play given that we had the better of the first period and likewise Villa in the second.