1.Man City Victory
The victory over City was very much a triumph for grit and determination. City made more than double the amount of passes as we did (660 v 310) and posted a significantly higher pass completion ( 85% v 68%) which resulted in an overall 68% swell of the ball, yet created little. We worked incredibly hard off the ball; making 17 interceptions with notable mentions for the heroic Heitinga and Hibbert who jointly made 22 clearances. The defensive duo were sublime; whereas many opposition centre backs this season have been caught following City strikers away from goal and thus enabling space for midfielders like Silva to exploit, the duo held their positions superbly as shown below with great support by the midfield.
Despite their obvious quality and having a lot of the ball, City failed to penetrate our backline into any clear cut chances. The protection afforded to Tim Howard this season has been constant with only Liverpool having conceded fewer shots on target in the league this season (80) … 1 less than us (81).
One of the key battles was snuffing the incisive Silva. Last time out Moyes used Rodwell man to man but this time there was no one player deployed – instead the midfield 5 took it in terms to pick him up, playing deep and compact making it difficult for Silva or his midfield colleagues to play through us with only 1 of City’s 7 through balls penetrating. City were increasingly frustrated – Silva is class in the final third at threaded passes but they maybe lack a Modric type player who can ping passes from deep as neither of their centre mids or centre backs are great at distributing. Unable to go through us, City sent on Kolorov and looked to use crosses to get the ball into the box quicker. They usually make 19 crosses per game but made a huge 34 against us as we pushed them out to the flanks were they are less potent.
When we didn’t have the ball we were compact and tight, and when we got the ball we made the pitch big, attacking down the flanks with pace through Drenthe and Donovan who gave width and pace. We did well to win the ball back in City’s half by narrowing angles and hassling City’s defenders – notably Lescott who whilst being a good defender has a weakness in distribution. Below shows 3 players hassling him and eventually winning the ball back.
The goal was a really well worked effort with Drenthe’s dribble and subsequent speedy burst away from Gareth Barry reminiscent of the City slouch during his calamitous World Cup experience against Germany in 2010. Drenthe combined with Baines whose cross found Donovan who laid on his 5th assist in 7 games for Gibson who rocketed in his first Blue goal following a deflection of the hapless Barry.
Mancini’s after match comments –designed specifically to take attention away from the players – should not be interpreted as him thinking of us as a soft touch. Why would he? After all we have beaten them 5 times in 6 since he took over and City’s focus is clearly on securing the title. This was a well deserved victory and was reminiscent of all that has been good with Everton in the Moyes era.
Some quick thoughts on our new striker…..Technique wise, NJ is accomplished on the ball with a decent range of passing and he possesses good vision with 12 assists in 2 seasons. Moyes is always looking for a target man who can hold up the ball and enable time for attacking midfielders to get forward – hence the decision to get rid of Beckford and the loan acquisition of the less talented but harder working Stracqualursi. NJ’s physical build and good first touch means we get this. NJ possesses a decent goal scoring record with a 48% shooting accuracy during his time at Ibrox resulting in him easily achieving the benchmark 1 in 2 ratio strikers look to achieve. From looking at some of the VT he scores a decent variety of goals but service will be crucial. His physicality is good in terms of hold up play but less so in terms of speed and ability to get in behind defences. The way we play though isn’t usually setup for counter attack so perhaps this isn’t a big deal. His work rate is good though and he will give opposing defences more to think about than the departed Saha. The overall verdict would be that he is a good buy with more quality than Straq and Cahill, better work rate than Saha and a bigger goal threat than all 3 he improves the squad for sure.
Louis Saha will not be missed by many fans but I feel he has given decent value to the club during his time at L4.He of course registered the quickest Cup Final goal in history and also crucially got the ¼ final winner against Boro the same year. Overall, he registered a 1 in 3 ratio in his time at the club which for a player who cost nothing in a transfer fee isn’t too bad. However, in the last 18 months his impact has become increasingly minimal. Whereas with Cahill you get application and general snide behaviour to unsettle opponents when he isn’t scoring, with Saha you don’t get much apart from goals, with no assists in 2 seasons. Just because Saha won’t chase opponents like the admirable Straq did in the City win doesn’t however mean he doesn’t have good movement or commitment; sometimes it’s best for strikers to save energy for short sharp bursts rather than running themselves into the ground. With just 1 goal from 50 shots this season though he has look of a player who is on the way out at this level and a move was probably in the best interests of both parties.
4. The Return of Stevie P
The final piece of business to be completed by the Toffees was the return of a former favourite and one of the best players I’ve seen play for the club, Steven Pienaar. Criminally underused by Diry Arry – failing to complete a single 90 minutes once for Tottenham in the top flight after doing so in 38 of his last 48 Everton games – The South African should be warmly received at L4. His passing stats and chances created figures from his first spell are a big improvement on our existing wide-men so, like Jelavic, he improves our options.
The big beneficiary of course will be Leighton Baines and, to a lesser extent, Tim Cahill . In the 3-4 season’s LB/SP played together they amassed a whopping 50+ assists between them with Pienaar’s quick darts inside dragging his fullback and enabling Baines the freedom of the flank to get in deliveries – usually for Cahill (circled) to dispatch a feature of our play (as shown above). Whilst Pienaar is effective on the right or through the middle, he must start wide left to reinvigorate Baines who has had 9 left sided midfield partners already this season and needs the consistency of his old mate Pienaar to bring the best out of him. With his creativity and Gibson’s goals, we certainly have more of potency in the midfield ranks than pre transfer window.
5. And finally…..Wigan Preview
Saturday sees us visit the JJB for a clash with Roberto Martinez and his Wigan side who currently prop up the table. Unsurprisingly for a team in their position, the Latics have the worst home record, defensive record and goals scored record in the top flight and this would appear an ideal opportunity for us to secure back to back wins and build momentum.
In terms of players to watch, Victor Moses is pretty much like for like for their former maverick Charles N’Zogbia and although his end product has been minimal, he has the raw materials to become a superb player. He has made the most dribbles this season (64) but is the 4th most disposed (58) player in the league. The Latics attack predominantly down the left although fullback Stam (circled 23 from recent avg position chart) is a decent attacking fullback and will provide great width so Baines will need to be aware of his forays forward. Wigan like to shoot from long range with 56% of their efforts coming from outside the box – the highest % in the top flight.
Whilst they have only scored 3 fewer than us, Wigan’s back line is incredibly shaky and Gary Caldwell is undeniably the weak link. Wigan have given away the most (8) penalties this season & Gary Caldwell the most by a player (4). The clumsy grafter has a dire disciplinary record because of this with 7 yellow 1 red card so far, with Wigan making more fouls per game than any side – with players like Drenthe and Donovan running at pace we can surely get some joy here. Wigan have a weakness aerially with only Swansea having won fewer headed duels than Wigan. In terms of selection, after his superb shift against City, I’d expect Straq to retain his slot, with Jelavic starting from the bench, probably along with Pienaar.