Teams / formations
The Toffees setup with just one change from the mauling of Swansea, with Jelavic returning for Anichebe. Due to the options available, Moyes has been more reactive tactically since 2009, but with the players now available a more proactive style has developed with more emphasis on what we can do, and less about stopping the opposition. This game was all about exploiting 2 v 1 opportunities in the wide areas and imposing ourselves on the opposition. The Saints switched Clyne to left back, with Richardson given the unenviable task of stopping Pienaar/Baines. Shape wise, the Saints had a 4-3-3 look about them on the ball with Lambert (left) and Rodriguez (right) playing as wide strikers with central support coming from Ramires with Lallana, Davis & Ward-Prowse in midfield.
Southampton started strongly whilst we struggled to instigate our passing rhythm on the first 15 mins of the game. This was mostly due to Saints pressure high up the park. No one showed this graft more than the delightful Adam Lallana who regained possession 9 times – the most from either side. Pressure and blocking of forward passing angles were rife and led to us trying to evade pressure with too many panic long balls from Howard/Heitinga in particular.
Moyes on the touchline was visibly asking the players to be more patient in possession and work the ball out from the back. By this time the Blues had already gone one down though, with Lallana claiming his third assist of the season for Ramires to head home after sloppy work from Howard and Baines.
Osman on song
The game showcased the majestic talent of Leon Osman. The diminutive midfield schemer glided along the Goodison turf like a white swan, making the most touches (86) most passes (68) with a 94% pass completion, and crucially 100% from his 11 long balls which fed the flanks and allowed us to dominate the channels. It was Osman who was to be instrumental in the Blues recovery. His ability to swap positions with Fellaini in game is much more effective than the Cahill/Fellaini swap routine and gives opponents much more to think about. His ghosting into the box for goal one was classic Osman.
We all know about the left side and its significance in our offensive armoury. The right side has usually been little more than a defensive prop to balance it out. In Mirallas though we have a new dimension with great variety. Often he likes to play through the middle with Jelavic with Fellaini tucked in behind, other times he will drive down the right. This variety was evident as the Blues put their foot down on the accelerator and ripped the Saints apart for 30 mins prior to half time. Having already steamed down the right for Osman’s leveller, Mirallas then picked up Heitinga’s interception in his own half before playing a one two with Fellaini and teeing up Jelavic. The outcome was never in doubt.
Above image shows the 2v1 wide situation developed for our opening goal with Mirallas and Coleman
Seamus Coleman’s display at right back was crucial. He looks much more comfortable with the play ahead of him with space to drive into. The Saints adventurous style with Ramires and Lallana playing inside supporting the wide forwards means if you break at speed down the flanks their full backs are left exposed. Coleman is very direct; he made the most successful dribbles (3) yet was dispossessed more than anyone (4). His assist for Jelavic’s second was class although if I was being picky his end product throughout the game was iffy and better sides could look to exploit the pockets of space he and Baines leave in behind. He’s a great option against sides that play insular in midfield however. What was crucial was the ability of Neville and Osman to switch the play from the centre to the left to the right and vice versa to exploit the 2v 1 opportunities we were developing in wide areas. Of the 14 chances created from the flanks, 8 came from the right and 6 from the left.
The 30 minute spell at the end of the first half was exceptional and won the game for the Blues. The feature was the width provided by the fullbacks with Pienaar/Mirallas drifting inside that Saints couldn’t handle. The Saints will win many friends this season and if they can sort out their defensive shortcomings will win plenty of points too as their attacking style is easily mid table standard.