The Blues drafted in Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka as like for like replacements for Fellaini and Heitinga. With rumours abound that he had been sacked by the club, Royston Drenthe was not in the match day squad and was replaced on the right flank by Osman with Gibson taking his spot in the centre. The Swans set up in a 4-2-3-1-ish system with Graham leading the line supported by the key danger man Sigurdsson. Moyes tactical plan could be broken down into 3 key phases;
Phase 1 – Containment
Our hosts had most of the ball (62%) kept it better (86% v 76%) and made more passes (585 v 359) but pre match we had an idea this would be the case given Swan’s excellent style in keeping the ball. The key factor was whether we could disrupt their fluidity in playing through us. Swansea’s key man this season has arguably been Leon Britton whose 93% pass completion is the best retention rate in the top flight. He is key to Swansea’s rhythm and linking defence to midfield. Our game plan from the off was to position ourselves to block off the angles from Vorm to the defenders with Osman and Pienaar positioning themselves high up the pitch. Cahill was asked to basically stand on Britton’s toes and ensure the midfielder had no space or angles to distribute forwards when the ball was played into him. This tactic really frustrated their key midfield man and one of the key themes of the first half was him constantly moving around the midfield zone looking for space, closely followed by Cahill. Unsurprisingly the duo covered the most – and almost exactly the same – distance in the first half from players on either side; Britton 2.78 miles and Cahill 2.76 miles respectively.
Phase 2 – Possession and Goals
The Bainaar axis was key to us getting a foothold in the game in the second period. The below graphic shows the players average positions and their font size demonstrates the volume of touches they had of the ball (the bigger the font the more touches). This shows the importance of Baines and Pienaar.
The duo combined superbly down the left in the second period and one of their signature moves culminated in the Swan’s key defender Williams upending Pienaar. From the resulting freekick Baines curled home a superb effort into the top corner of Vorm’s net. Pienaar and Osman were at their impish best on either flank; setting up 6 chances between them as the Blues missed a host of other chances before Jelavic – having just missed a sitter after another Pienaar run – was able to slot home after Fellaini’s physicality enabled him to turn away from Williams who was now being ragged all over the pitch. The Belgian had come on just before Baines opener and provided more of a threat than Cahill who lacked shattered after his tireless running in the first half.
Phase 3 – Lockdown
With the goals in the bag we looked to shut up shop, get men behind the ball and restrict Swansea from creating openings. Howard was incredibly well screened and only had one save to make in the 90mins as the Blues shape meant that Swansea couldn’t get behind our back line and were resorted to making speculative efforts from long range with 64% of their efforts pot shots and 0% from inside our 6 yard box. This image shows this (Swans left, Everton right) . In total the Blues made a huge 20 interceptions from deploying this tactic of cutting off forward angles. This great positional play and strong shape also enabled the Blues to conserve energy for the most part as Swansea’s possession was mostly confined to their own half and often broke down before reaching the final third.
As the game drew to a close we continued to look threatening on the break and were unlucky not to add to our tally. Stracquilarsi was snarling on the touchline and ready for action and on 82 minutes Moyes unlocked the key to his cage and as has become custom the belligerent Argentine galloped onto the pitch like a tiger who had been kept in a pen against his will and in need of some meat to satisfy his hunger. Straight away he was sharpening his claws on unsuspecting prey Williams and Caulker – making as many fouls in 8 mins as any of teammates had done in 90mins. He should have scored at least once – perhaps twice if I’m being tough – but 2-0 was the final score in what was a terrific display from the Blues. In the case of the last 45minutes it was arguably our best offensive display of the season against a side who have rarely been brushed aside with such ease….Bring on Sunderland!!