Honours ended even at the DW Stadium as an interesting tactical joust focused predominantly on two attacking left wing backs ended frustratingly in just a point…..
The Toffees play one of the highest lines in the top flight leading to the highest percentage of touches in the opposition half in the division as the visual (left) shows. Yesterday we had 71% final third possession with 219 final third touches to Wigan’s 109. Whilst this is good for condensing play in the opponent’s half, it leaves you open to the long ball over the top. Moyes selection of Heitinga was arguably the worst call of the day. Granted, it’s easy to be wise after the event but against power and pace in Kone, Distin was surely the obvious selection. With 3 top centre halves at the club, a ‘horses for courses’ approach is required; Distin against Man Utd’s pace was wise as was Heitinga vs Swansea for his strength in reading the game. This opponent, coupled with the very high line we held in the first half, was suicidal. Caldwell – often left alone as Wigan’s 3 centre backs outnumbered our 2 forwards – was free to pump long balls over our defensive line for Kone to run onto which led to Wigan’s second goal. The player importance. average position visual below shows how the line retreated when Distin came on during the second half (compared to Heitinga) to reduce this threat in behind of Kone and co.
In last season’s game we struggled to hold the ball up in Wigan’s half with Caldwell winning 11/11 aerial duels. The Scot is like a modern day Gerry Taggart and seems destined to be signed by Martin O’Neill one day . In a direct ploy, our aerial deliveries were pin pointed away from the big Scot and towards the channels (predominantly to the right and Figueroa) with Jelavic and Fellaini pulling away from the Scot’s central area into the channels and dominating aerials in open play. However, at set pieces Caldwell was picking up Fellaini and the Belgian – as he did at West Brom – lost his head when having to deal with an ‘in your face’ opponent like Caldwell. When his head goes down his composure is lost and his passing becomes increasingly erratic.
The mental fragility of the Belgian is something opponents play upon and it did the trick here as he was booked shortly after his tussle with Caldwell. As a consequence to risking a red card, Fellaini was dropped deeper in the second half with Osman playing more down the right and Mirallas through the middle as the Blues began to turn the screw.
The key to the second half was the higher passing tempo the Blues created. If we look at last season’s passing tempo chart (left), in the first half our tempo was a slow 7.5. In the second the tempo (=time in possession divided by passes made) was quicker at 6.1, which is still slower to the rapid 5.2 against Southampton last week. In terms of pass direction, 46% of our passes were forward, 32% backwards and 22% square. It was the fluidity of the left flank though which was to turn the game in the second period.
As called in the preview, the respective sides attacks were funnelled down the left flanks; unsurprising really given that this match pitted the two sides in the division who statistically attack the most down the left with Baines / Beausejour the key architects from the wing back roles. In the first half Maloney drifted ahead of Beausejour and despite support from Neville, Coleman was often bamboozled and was given the run by the impish Scot which led to the opening goal. This passing combination was Wigan’s most in the game; the duo combined 16 times although this figure was dwarfed by the 48 combinations played between Baines and Pienaar. The side’s most creative players where unsurprisingly from down the left flank also with Pienaar creating six chances (including one assist) and Beausejour setting up three opportunities. The second half pressure enabled Mirallas to finally get us the penalty we had been denied when the tricky Belgian was upended by Figueroa. There was little doubting what happened from the resulting spot kick as Baines hit his third last minute pen in four seasons against his former side; he and Pienaar have either scored or assisted 57% of our goals this season. In a week that Ashley Cole re-enforced his reputation as English Football’s most colossal biff, his rival Leighton Baines’ fluid show of lateral scheming showed he is the perfect antidote to Cole’s wide boy weaponry
We started sloppy and our high line to condense play in Wigan’s half left us exposed in behind with Beausejour/Maloney/Kone on top in the first period. Once we made the switch and dropped Distin back 10 yards Kone’s threat was nullified. Our quicker passing tempo in the second enabled us more of a hold on the game and in the end we looked the most likely to take three points with Baines the main man. I’d say this was more a point gained than two lost.