Tactical Deconstruction: How Osman and his wide-boys schooled Saints

Everton’s rather ace start to the season continued to blossom in a solid victory against an easy on the eye if slightly wet behind the ears Southampton side.

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.

Saints Pressure

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.

Wide boys

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.

 In Summary….

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.


12 thoughts on “Tactical Deconstruction: How Osman and his wide-boys schooled Saints

  1. I always read your posts and value your opinions on Everton above most, but I was curious on this one with your praise of Osman. Certainly a fine player for us over the years and clearly involved yesterday, but for me, he and Neville have struggled to impose themselves as a CM partnership and, apart from the 30 minute period of domination, did not impose themselves in the middle at all. When Everton were in full flow, Osman’s passing was neat and tidy, but it was rarely adventurous. He only passed the ball forward 16% of the time, with no other midfielder or defender passing it forward less than 29% of the time, does this not demonstrate how he was far too prone to knocking it back, or laterally? Also, defensively, he was so often bypassed and easily beaten? I hope this only comes across as debate, as I’ve said, I very much respect your opinions, but I’d be keen to know your take on this? Was he really integrel yesterday?

    • Thanks Matt – always happy to have a debate!

      My perception is that as a team who attack down the flanks, the centre mids role is not to be playing through balls or pitching 40 yard balls into the corners for wide men to run onto…its to move the ball from one flank to the other, it doesn’t necessarily have to go forward… their job is more to move it from one flank to the other as quickly as possible to capitalise on 2 v 1 situations as they develop. The speed they can recycle the ball from one flank to the other is key, not whether it goes forward…they have the wide men to deliver that penetration. I’d say that if he seemed bypassed it was more to do with the fact that saints played 4-3-3 so had extra bodies in the middle of the park against osman / neville.

      • Appreciate your thoughts. This does make a lot of sense, I guess the emphasis is far more on speedy laterals, especially now our right offers so much more. Honestly from my seat I just didn’t see his passes being so crucial yesterday, and was more frustrated when I felt he dwelt on the ball too long or gave up space defensively without it. I can certainly see how his numbers suggest otherwise and I will try to see it a bit more from this perspective next time. I guess I’d be far happier with him playing alongside Gibson or Fellaini, as most of my issues with our current CM partnership is with Neville. Great in-depth piece, as usual.

      • Cheers Matt. Just my opinion though after all… people see the game differently. Neville wouldn’t be my first pick in midfield either but as a back up I think he brings something to the table and can do that basic shield and keep it simple job.

    • What a stupid comment doughas.

      If that’s the case then players like schoolers or Xavi must be crap as they pass the ball backwards and sidewards.

  2. Not sure if you were fooled by Pienaar shaving his dreadlocks off – the guys behind me kept thinking that Osman was all over the place when, in actual fact, it was Pienaar and Osman!

  3. I enjoyed the game against Everton even being a Saints fan but you need a reality check pretty quick. What other team would afford you that space and time for that 30 minute spell, answers on a postcard please. Against other lower clubs can you honestly say, hand on heart that you would have scored those 3 goals? The Leeds game identified one problem in the quality of the squad, the second half against Saints underlined that point. If you disregard the Europa cup you could well make the top 4 because you are a very difficult team to beat when on form, even for the current big four. Your problem will be the size of your squad and the injuries you have to deal with but nothing that David Moyes has not had to deal with previously. If you use Saints plucky endeavours against the better sides as an indicator you could well come unstuck, like many of our own fans.

    • Reality check? Were well aware of our shortcomings but can only beat whats put in front of us. We’ve shown against the best sides that we can compete for 90 minutes (not just 30) and win in games were space is at a minimum as recent wins against both the Manchester clubs would testify. Injuries may play a part and our strength in depth isn’t fantastic, and we have limitations, but we know this. So not really sure what your point is?


    • I’m sure we won’t have a problem disregarding the Europa Cup this season Frank, seeing as we’re not in it.

  4. This is probably going to get slated, But bear with me. I may be on to something ( I think some of you may think crack is what I am on) – here it comes, hold tight. Neville, yes Phil Neville is why we tick. He gets slated for his poor distribution, and playing his teammates into trouble, I don’t think that’s the case, I think he was, for the last few seasons, just used still to having quality around him from his united days, players who , like we have now had the touch and guile to move the ball rapidly and create space- Moyes just saw it in training, we don’t, we see the mis control or the half a yard too slow. Super Kev, Osman, Stevie P and Felli all have good technical ability, and can turn, and pick a pass. So, now the little give and gos are coming to fruition, as we now retain possesion better, and as such can stretch the opposition, pulling people out of position. Neville is a good counter balance to the attacking players, can slot in if someone goes forward- I am not casting the guy as the new Kaiser, or saying kids will be practicing the “Neville Turn” in 50 years, but He does a job.And well at that. When we signed him, I was not enthused, I was in fact bemoaning the fact we had signed him to a mate. He is an ardent city fan, Also, he was right- he said- you just signed your new captain/manager. He went on to say he thought Neville was ok but if I ever told anyone he said it I would die. It’s ok Paddy lad, secrets safe.

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