The key differential strategy wise to the United game was Moyes confidence that, given the players we have and the side Villa were likely to put out, we had a significant advantage in terms of quality and cohesion. Our dominance of the ball was total: we had 61% of possession overall with 73% possession in the final third, more than double the amount of final third touches than Villa (219 v 105) and crucially more touches in Villa’s box (34) than they did in ours (13) .
The below shows our side in relation to average position and touches of the ball (the bigger the font the more touches)
Why was our dominance so total then? The key was in our midfield shape. Villa put out an attacking 4-4-2 with Delfouneso and Bent up top with Ahmadi and Bannan in the centre of midfield which was a bold move by Lambert – he was hardly likely to park the bus in his first home game at his new club given the negativity surrounding his predecessor and his defensive tactics. Villa’s midfield duo were completely outnumbered though as Naismith (although deployed right mid) spent most of his time narrow and Fellaini was also playing a tad deeper than he was vs Utd. This meant we often had a 4v2 situation in the middle of the park which we used to control the game and then feed the left flank as shown below…
This numerical advantage in midfield enabled us to control the first half; a situation which only relented when Lambert brought on a midfielder (Holman) for Bent’s strike partner Delfouneso and reverted to 4-5-1 at half time.
Naismith had a pleasing debut; the former Rangers man completed 96% of his passes which was the most of any of our starting line up. Below is an example for goal 1 where Naismith comes inside to make up an extra man and assist a screamer from Pienaar which followed a slick one touch passing move.
As noted in this article, Naismith is adept at winning free kicks in dangerous positions and was the most fouled player on the pitch, in part enabling us to carve out 7 scoring opportunities from set plays compared to Villa’s 0.
The creation of Baines and Pienaar and its dominance of this game was ridiculous even by their high standards with Villa’s inexperienced full back Lowton continually exposed. Creativity wise, Baines was on fire, with 8 key passes and a whopping 60% crossing accuracy underlining his status as the division’s number one creative fullback. With Pienaar crafting 3 chance of his own the duo were responsible for creating 65% of our 17 chances to Villa’s 6.
Goal 3 was another example of the brilliance of Baines delivery with Jelavic’s movement class as he deploys the classic double run used for the bulk of his efc goals so far.
Notice how he makes 2 movements; firstly running centrally into the box (arrow) then befuddling his marker by pulling back into the space behind him (marked x) to lash home Baines delivery.
This was a game of total dominance by the toffees and will develop the growing belief in the squad that we have more than one way of winning a football match. In recent seasons we have been able to win the more tricky games against sides that came at us and give us opportunities. The frustration has come against sides in the middle to lower reaches of the table when we often lack the incision to break them down. We now have much more options at our disposal to do this. Granted, Villa were very open; Lambert was never going to park the bus in his first home game in charge and Moyes pre-empted this ruthlessly. Up the Toffees!