Physio Room Blog: Will Baines & Mirallas make Man City?

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Since the last blog, we’ve seen ‘Hibbo’ and ‘Gibbo’ return to action against Arsenal.  Mirallas is still missing but pictures of him running around with a smile on his face from todays open training session seem encouraging.  However, in the same way other teams are struck down by a cold or flu virus, our team seem to be coming down with hamstring strains as though they’re catching.  The latest news is that Baines may have now injured his and could miss Saturday’s game at Man City.

It does seem I’ve been a little too optimistic with my predictions so far about when our players will be able to play again.  I was disappointed not to see Gibson or Mirallas feature against Norwich.  Without disrespecting Norwich too much, if we’ve any designs on finishing in the top 4, this was a must win game.  Gibson had managed 64 minutes a week earlier with no reaction to his thigh injury and the noises from Everton about Mirallas following a positive scan result suggested he’d be back within 2 weeks.

Mirallas – to play or not to play?

INJURY: Hamstring strain

Unfortunately, the decision about when a player is fit enough to play is not an easy one. From the sounds of it, the scan on Mirallas’ hamstring didn’t show much damage so the decision about whether to play him, will have been based on how his leg felt when running.  If Mirallas reported any tightness Moyes will have then been faced with the dilemma about whether to risk him.  Sometimes, tightness in a muscle is just that and with a few stretches you can run it off.  Tightness can be a warning though, a precursor to a more significant injury.  So do you risk your star player in one game in the hope he has no reaction to his injury but a flare up could see him missing the next 6 games? Many a physio and manager have fallen out in football clubs over the years about when a player is fit to return.  Benitez’s over reliance on Torres at Liverpool is a good example of where I’m sure the medical team will have wanted to give the player more recovery time but the manager knew not playing him greatly reduced their goal threat.

Lets hope the caution shown by Moyes and the extra week’s rest will see Mirallas now go on an extended run in the team and we can get back to winning ways again.

Predicted return: Saturday (Man City away)


INJURY: Hamstring strain

The Everton site is saying Baines has suffered a slight hamstring injury.  Baines managed to finish the game last night so hopefully this is certainly no more than a grade 1 tear.  If it’s just a bit of tightness then a few days rest and some physio treatment should see him return to action in the next game.  A tough call again for Moyes with the busy Christmas schedule approaching.

Predicted return: Saturday (Man City away)


INJURY: Knee surgery

Predicted return: 4 to 5 weeks (Swansea home)


INJURY: Hamstring strain

Predicted return: 1 week (Tottenham home)

How to rehab a hamstring strain

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This is just a bit of general advice on how the hamstring strain is managed and treated.  The extent of treatment depends on how bad the strain is.

1-2 days:  When any muscle or soft tissue is torn, there’s an initial acute inflammatory reaction, which lasts about 48 hours.  During this time there’ll be pain, swelling and bruising around the injury site.  Bending the knee will also be very painful.  Initial treatment is following the RICE principal – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

1-2 weeks:  At a football club, a scan will be done to assess the extent of any damage.  If the damage is minimal, some massage will be done on the hamstring to help reduce the tightness.  Maintaining strength and flexibility is important to protect against further injury so it’s likely the player will perform low resistance non-weightbearing exercises such as the exercise bike or swimming or running in the pool.  If there’s no reaction to this, the player can start to run on dry land in straight lines.  Again if there’s no reaction to this the player can then return to ball work and twisting and turning in normal training.

If a scan shows more significant damage, it’s likely the player will still have to apply the RICE principle during this time and will be given crutches to avoid putting too much weight through the injured leg.

3-4 weeks:  Hopefully if a player has suffered a grade 1 tear, they’ll return to playing in this time. Extra strength work will be done in the gym and regular massage and ultrasound therapy will help limit any scarring in the muscle.

If it’s a grade 2 tear, they can ditch the crutches and start some light rehab in the pool.  Specific physio treatment will include regular massage, ultrasound therapy, hamstring stretches and specific hamstrings strengthening exercises.  It’s important that the muscle length is maintained and scar tissue is limited to prevent further injury.

4-6weeks:  Grade 1 tears should have resolved by this point.  Players with a grade 2 tear will step up their work in the gym to build up strength in the damaged muscle.  Gradually the player can progress from low loading exercises such as the exercise bike and swimming to light jogging.  The physio will monitor the player closely to see whether there’s signs of any further damage or inflammation.  Massage and stretching will continue on a regular basis.

6-8 weeks:  The player can return to running and then normal training.  There is a risk of tearing again as there will be weakness in the muscle at the site of the original tear.  If the hamstrings have been kept strong and flexible during the period of the rehab then the risk is greatly reduced.

Follow Ross @UKPhysiotherapy

New on the blog today: Scout Report – Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Man City

Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Manchester City

Next up is an away trip to Manchester City to face the Champions in what promises to be another interesting tactical joust between the two rather different leaders in the respective dugouts…..

Previous Games

 For all he has achieved in his career and at City you get the impression Mancini has a simmering anger at himself for not being able to translate City’s enormously disproportionate resources into tangible outcomes against us. Since he took the Etihad post the sides have met six times with Moyes winning five and losing just once. Amazingly, we are still the last team to win a Premier League fixture at Eastlands.

In last season’s fixtures, City averaged 68% possession in the two games, in the process making roughly double the passes we did. Territory wise it was about even with our work rate to get men behind the ball when we lost possession so good that the bulk of City’s possession was predominantly outside our final third. An example of this was the game at Goodison when the most frequent passing combination from City were between Lescott and Kompany.

In the game at the Etihad, Moyes chose to use Jack Rodwell as a man marker on David Silva who at the time was in scintillating form….

“We played Man City and we decided to man mark David Silva and I remember getting a lot of criticism after the game, with people saying I was being negative. But I’d watched them the week before score four and I think it was five the week before that against Tottenham and I felt Silva at the time was by the far the main player. I don’t think I’ve ever done that once in my managerial career. But at the time I thought the way David Silva was we had to do it and we did a really good job on him for 70 minutes and it took a deflected goal and we eventually lose 2-0 but that’s what you have to do as a manager. We came very close on that day but we got criticised for not playing two strikers, but you can see what they are doing to some of the good teams.”  – David Moyes

The assignment worked to an extent with Silva largely peripheral although the game showed that City possess so many match winners it’s hard to completely shut them down. Rodwell is of course now at City and with no real like for like replacement recruited to the Blues squad its unlikely Moyes will repeat this tactic unless he sticks Fellaini back there.

The below average position / player importance visual shows how little we had of the ball and how the game was compressed into the middle third of the pitch (player touches / importance is in bolder print)

This meant we basically defended an invisible line 25 yards from our goal with virtually no pressing in City’s half as the below interceptions shows….

Indeed, our lack of legs in the middle of the park is a massive concern against a side that can wear opponents down / preserve their own fitness through their ball retention like City do. Its little surprise that last season Mancini’s side scored a higher % of late goals than any side in the top flight and this was the case last season when our resolve was finally broken with 2 late goals, one a deflection and one a gimmee after a howler from Drenthe.

We showed at Goodison though that possession counts for little if you can defend doggedly and take your chance when they’re presented. This match followed a similar path to the game at the Etihad with City swelling possession but largely incapable of breaking down our makeshift centre back pairing of Hibbert / Heitinga with few clear cut chances engineered. The game was a reminder that we have the endurance to match City (we actually scored the 2nd highest % of late goals in the league last season) with the now departed Stracquilarsi and Tim Cahill both putting in massive shifts in defending from the front.

Mancini post match on Goodison defeat;

Probably it’s my fault because we didn’t prepare very well for this game, I thought before the game it was going to be easier but it is never easy. The players put everything on the pitch but I made some mistakes during the last three days preparing for this game”


Why would you expect an easy game against a side that you have consistently lost against? This was perhaps a smokescreen to take pressure of the players, either that or RM is extremely self critical. I would guess Mancini will look to play high up and negate our threat from crosses given that we make the most in the top flight. He complained following our win in 2010 at Goodison about ‘Long balls’ and his side ‘playing too deep in the second half’ when the introduction of Cahill from the bench resulted in us scoring twice in the second period to take the points.
Moyes Dilemma

Moyes has a dilemma then. Does he stick with a winning formula in this fixture of containment and look to eek out a positive result or does he look to take City on with the ball with our new found expansive style? I’d guess the likely option would be containment. As well as being the league’s top scorers last season, a sign of their physicality was that City were also the top scorers from corners and have scored the joint most this season (10) from dead balls so Distin is a nailed on starter.

The height will also be crucial in looking to capitalise on the probable limited opportunities we get to attack the City area via dead balls with their zonal marking approach having drawn significant criticism. Mancini clearly thinks they are vulnerable defending set plays and  has been vocal of this issue, perhaps given that he has a lot of smaller players in the team such as Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Tevez;

“We are not strong enough to mark man-to-man, and every time we do there is a risk of conceding a penalty. If we work, we can improve the system. We have let in goals because of it, but we can change that. We are working on it, but we need to work more.” Mancini


Line-ups wise, Joe Hart will keep goal with a back four of Maicon & Kolorov (full backs) with Nastasic’s superior ability on the ball having displaced Lescott as a first pick and the Serbian will partner Kompany in the centre. In midfield Barry will hold with Yaya Toure and  Garcia making up the midfield; Milner is usually selected against us to provide more defensive resilience against our offensive left side but is out injured. The forward players will most likely by Silva, Tevez and Aguero. Interestingly, Tevez has never scored against us for City or any of his previous clubs.

With Baines hamstring problem Oviedo and probably Hibbert will start at fullback for us with Distin/Jags at CB although today’s physio blog rates both Baines and Mirallas as likely to start. Off the ball both full backs will tuck in and form a compact unit showing City out to the flanks. In both games last season City struggled to exploit the space in wide areas with Richards / Clichy reluctant to push on. With Maicon and Kolorov likely to start this shouldn’t be a problem this time round.

In the Etihad game, Fellaini started further forward as the ‘out ball’ with the strategy being to play direct balls for him to hold up to enable us to get further up the pitch when City were boxing us in with their pressure. Moyes may choose to go with this again or use the Belgian in a more withdrawn role with Jelavic most closely supported by Pienaar centrally with Mirallas on the left.

Betting / Form

City are favourites for this one at a best price 4/7 with Bet365 with ourselves as long as 6/1 with Paddy Power.  The draw is 31/10 with Bet Victor.  City’s form in the league is pretty good given they are still unbeaten although have probably drawn too many for their liking. The Dortmund game in particular showed they are susceptible to quick counter attacks so the application of a fit-again Kevin Mirallas will be crucial if we are to get anything from the game.  The ECL games have also showed that whilst City may have better players with the ability to win a game with individual brilliance, as a team they have less cohesion as a unit and are beatable.

You can get as far as 33/1 with Betfred on a Baines Scores anytime / Everton win double, not bad considering this outcome came in the season before last and LB takes all free kicks and pens (this was written pre-injury scare on weds). can also get as long as 16/1 on a Toffees win. Both games last season were stalemates going into the later stages and you can get 16/1 with Bet365 that the opening goal will be scored between 61-70mins. 4 of the 6 recent meetings between the duo have featured under 2.5 goals with only one side scoring so I wouldn’t expect a high goals output here. Dead cert wise, with 27 yellows and 2 reds in the last 5 meetings between the sides the smart money is on 5+ cards.


EFC 1-1 Arsenal – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Teams
Moyes made three personnel changes with Hibbert returning at right back, Gibson into midfield and Fellaini back from suspension with Jagielka moving into the centre of defence and Pienaar back to his usual spot at inside left. Heitinga, Hitzlsperger and the unlucky Oviedo made way for the trio. For the Gunners, Wenger freshened up the full back slots with Sagna and Vermaelen coming in for Jenkinson and Gibbs with WIlshere restored to midfield and Walcott on the right flank. An early injury to the elegant Koscielny meant Vermealen moved into the centre with Gibbs on the left.
2. Passing Stats
Overall Arsenal had a higher share of the ball than us (58% v 42%) a better accuracy (81% v 76%) and more final third possession (58.4% v 41.6%). However, we did more with the ball when we had it with 14 v 11 shots and more touches of the ball in Arsenal’s penalty box (27 v 23) than our visitor’s did in our area. 
3. Our Left v Arsenal Right
As was the case in last season’s tussle at L4, Arsenal’s right side was were the significant tactical action resided.  Last season we struggled for territory and getting Baines on the ball in good positions with Walcott pushing him back to his own goal particularly in the first half. This was less of a struggle this time round as Baines and Pienaar dominated this flank , making the most frequent passing combinations and engineering several decent opportunities.  
To counter this, Wenger tinkered after 30minutes by switching Walcott to the left and Ramsey to the right. He did this for 2 reasons (1)Ramsey possesses better defensive discipline than Walcott and can ‘do a job’ defensively assisting Sagna to try and negate the threat of Baines /Pienaar who at this stage were dominating and creating chances and ( 2) With our high line it gave Walcott the opportunity to play right up on our defensive line for the counter attacking situations which he showed in the very first minute he be can ruthless in. 
Ramsey’s ability on the ball was shown for the assist and this coupled with his willingness to put in a shift going towards his own goal reminded us why Moyes pushed so hard for his signature before he opted for the Gunners. Baines and Pienaar combined 16 times in the first half and just 12 times in the second which alludes to the fact Wenger’s switch negated the threat however Baines got his hamstring injury with 15mins to go which may have been more of a key factor.
4. Midfield Battle
With both sides playing with high defensive lines the midfield zone was incredibly congested.  Last season Moyes was vocal of how he wanted us to compress the space in this area and not let Arsenal get into any kind of passing rhythm. As a statement of intent, Fellaini clattered into Arteta in the opening minutes with the big Belgian allocated to the Spaniard when we lost possession. The tactic worked pretty well; usually Arteta makes 88.5 passes per game with a completion rate of 92.8%, however last night both were reduced with just 66 passes made with an 89% completion.  It was noticeable that ball players like Arteta and Osman, known more for their skill on the ball were putting in massive shifts off the ball, both regaining possession a huge 11 times each with over 53 tackles in the game which is significantly above the average for both sides.  This pressure was perfectly illustrated by Pienaar in our equaliser when the hard working South African harried and pressured Arsenal twice in the build-up to win the ball back, firstly closing down Ramsey and then Arteta from Sagna’s in-field pass.  Naismith had another decent game on the right but as in all of his games the Scot got the hook with Oviedo coming on for the last 15 mins of the match. The Costa Rican played inside more than Naismith to further compress the space in the midfield zone. Arsenal’s key danger man Cazorla had a frustrating evening and was a victim of the over congested midfield pressure pot. He probably would have been better served finding space to manoeuvre on the flanks.
5. In Conclusion….
This was a very good game between two evenly matched sides and one that we probably should have won. This isn’t exactly a vintage Arsenal side and whilst they have all the hallmarks of the club’s tradition in terms of quality on the ball and movement off it, there was little there to make you think that they will storm to 4th spot in the second half of the season. We showed we can compete with them here and given an injury clear second half to the season I feel we can go toe to toe with them to the end of the season.

Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Arsenal

After gloomfests against agricultural opponents Reading and Norwich, Wednesday night offers a  more well heeled encounter against the very watchable but flaky Arsenal in what is always an interesting tactical joust. We start the game ahead of Wenger’s men in the table and if we are serious about putting our keys on the table for champions league adventures a positive result is essential. So, let’s took a look at our visitors in more detail…

Off the ball….

The zeitgeist would suggest the Gunners have a shaky backline although this is actually quite wide of the mark given that they have the best defensive record in the top flight on the road. They work very hard as a team off the ball; last season they applied more pressure than any side in the top flight as shown here and this hasn’t waned this season with 47.1 pressing contacts per game, up by 0.8 on last season.

This perception of them being poor defensively has perhaps been attributed to some shoddy individual errors and the fact that players like Vermaelen and the figure of hate Andre Santos are perhaps better on the ball than off it. In the Spurs game for example Mertesacker made a horrible judgement call in stepping out to play offside. Such mistakes haven’t been frequent however.  Their left side does seem the suspect area given that if selected ahead of Gibbs, the Vermaelen/ Podolski axis looks fragile defensively. On the right (if fit/selected) Walcott/Sagna are equally offensive and engineering 2v1’s in these wide areas will be Moyes principal attacking focus.

On the ball…..

The big challenge for Arsenal this season was replacing Van Persie and the Dutchman’s goals and assists which accounted for 27 of the Gunner’s points last season – a staggering figure. Podolski and Giroud where recruited to fill the void but its perhaps in the central middle trio of Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere where the key strength of this current Arsenal side lies and where Moyes will view as the priority in terms of applying pressure and disrupting rhythm.

They play pretty much a 1+2 triangle with ex-toffee Mikel Arteta anchoring things at the base with Wilshere and Cazorla further forward.  Arteta makes the most passes per game in the top flight and will link defence to the more offensive CM’s. Like a deceased pop star, Wilshere’s lengthy absence has elevated his stature and reputation resulting in a massively over hyped return to action last month. Granted he looks decent but it’s perhaps an indication of how few players we are producing in this country that so much rests on his relatively inexperienced shoulders. Cazorla is clearly ace and will look to find space between the lines and drift over to their left of centre zone so our gap between defence and midfield will need to condense this space.

Last season……

The games between the two clubs are always interesting tussles. Wenger has an ideology he will follow regardless of the opponent whilst Moyes will always tweak to negate opposition danger men. We lost both games 0-1 last season. Both sides look to play the game in the opponents final third and statistically the sides are 2 of the top 3 in the league for touches in the opposition final third hence high lines were the key feature of last season’s games.

At the Emirates we did little in the final third whilst at the back we held a high line in the first half but didn’t compress midfield (as shown above) leading to Arsenal having frequent one on ones with Howard, all of which they fluffed. The game featured the most off sides (15) in a league game last season.

In the second period our line dropped back 10 yards, denying Arsenal the ball in behind and thus making it more difficulty for them to create openings. Moyes discussed the high line post match:

The high line wasn’t necessarily the plan but we wanted to limit Arsenal and that means midfielders have to go and get close to Arsenal’s midfielders. If you do that then the back four have to move up too. We wanted to disrupt Arsenal’s passing and win the ball early. If we came and parked the bus you would be saying why did we not have a go, well we did, and if you do that you are always going to give Arsenal some opportunities. We tried to get at them, I thought we got into some great positions to make opportunities, great positions to deliver crosses and we either never delivered them or never completed the move.”

At Goodison we struggled for territory particularly in the first half due to Arsenal’s high defensive line. Post match Moyes lamented the opening period when we gave Arsenal ‘Too much room and too much opportunity to play”. An example of this is shown below with Arteta again pulling the strings….

Like the game at the Emirates, there were frequent off sides with Moyes afterwards a bit miffed by five incorrect calls including a major gaff when the enigmatic Royston Drenthe’s goal was wrongly ruled out for offside. The Gunners caught us offside a whopping 10 times (average per team per game in the prem is 2). It’s rare that Baines makes more tackles than crosses in a game but that was the case in this one as possession wise Arsenal crushed us with 61% of the ball.  In the second half we had more of a say and used long balls aimed at our left side to get more territory in the opposition half.  Bacary Sagna won 13 aerials -mostly from these long balls which was 90% more than any other player. Whilst this was commendable Moyes appeared happy to lose the first ball but then hoover up the second ball, with Pienaar picking up more interceptions than anyone on the pitch.

Team News

Arsenal’s backline kept a clean sheet on Saturday but left out regulars Sagna, Vermealen and Wilshere and I’d suspect all three will return for this one.  Returning from suspension, I’d expect Fellaini to drop in on Arteta in a similar way Rooney did recently at Old Trafford. I’d have Jelavic picking up the very competent Koscielny with our wide men pushed up on the visitor’s full backs. Mertesacker will probably start to deal with the aerials/long balls and the big German is their weakest passer so if we have to leave a man free it’s probably best that it’s him. Walcott is still a doubt and given his recent form let’s hope he isn’t fit as his pace could force Baines back into positions we don’t want to see him. Hopefully Gibson and Mirallas can both return probably at the expense of Hitzlsperger and Oviedo.


Everton are slight favourites at 13/8 with Betfred with Arsenal 15/8 with Skybet to be triumphant with the draw best offered at 13/5 by Willie Hills. Both games last season were 1-0 wins to Arsenal and as noted above they have the best defensive record on the road so I could see this one being under 2.5 goals and being a tight one with both halves to be drawn at 5/1 with Bet365 a decent shout. I’m going for a 1-1 draw.


EFC 1-1 Norwich – Deconstructing our dead ball defending

After becoming experts in how to concede first the Blues let a lead and much needed points slip for the second week running as Norwich came from behind to earn a point amidst an edgy atmosphere at L4…..

Going forward…..

The first half display was impressive with Baines and Oviedo showing some nice stuff down the left. Oviedo was hugging the flank high up the pitch with Baines looking to go inside towards goal at all times. Our goal was an example of Oviedo providing good width, with Hitzlsperger  playing a nice ball over the top for him to chase onto and deliver for Naismith to slot home. It was the Scotsman’s third strike in his last three starts. Naismith should really have sealed the game in the second half when he was put clear on goal only to deliver a Geoff Thomas style chip into the corner flag.  Baines was unlucky not to get a couple of goals with his dribbling a constant menace to Norwich. The wing back was visibly pissed off the more the game went on with the output of Jelavic in particular irking the lateral schemer; at one stage Baines angrily confronted the Croatian after he didn’t ‘show’ for a one two as Norwich began to get more of a foot hold on the game.

Overall we had the chances to put the game to bed but were again wasteful in front of goal; Osman’s shooting in particular was about as convincing as his paedo mussie. As the game went on we became more cautious and at one stage when Pienaar got the ball in a crossing position there was no Everton player in the box and 5 Norwich defenders. This ‘what we have we hold’ approach rarely works and puts massive pressure on a defence which is currently incapable of defending crossing situations into our box

Norwich Pressure

In the second half Norwich came out more aggressively. As noted in the preview they are happy for you to have the ball and will sit deep and look to soak up pressure. Trailing by a goal, Hughton looked to press us further up the pitch andoff the ball as a team they were superb in terms of work rate. Last season we noted how they cover more distance than any side in the league and Tettey epitomised this spirit with six interceptions – the most of any player on the pitch. This presing made it more difficult for us to play out from the back and resulted in more panicky long balls as the half went on.

The switch of Morrison for Hoolahan was a signal of intent of what was coming in terms of an aerial onslaught as the game headed to its closure and crowd anxiety reached boiling point.

Set plays

We had a look after the Reading game last week at the issue of conceding from set plays. We’ve now shipped seven goals from dead balls (corners/free kicks/pens) which is more than we conceded in the whole of last season.  Our approach to defending dead ball deliveries is like most sides in the top flight; we will bring most /all players back and outnumber opponents which enables us to adopt a mixture of man  and zonal marking. This was the same last season.

Stopping dead ball situations arising needs to be priority one. Only Stoke (182) commit more fouls than ourselves (172) and whilst Pulis mob have six footers in all positions and specialise in defending such situations, we don’t have the artillery with a pint sized midfield and few big physical types. The situation was exasperated yesterday by the absence of our main aerial dominator Fellaini as Norwich won a stack more aerials than we did with Holt in particular dominant, winning 7 of his 9 headers. Baines was the games top performer on the ball however he was guilty of getting too tight to Morrison for the foul which led to the free kick Norwich equalised from albeit it looked like Morrison’s fall was as much down to him losing his footing.

If you look at the starting point from the free kick we are too deep defensively. As an example, Barcelona’s recent game at Celtic pitted a side who were aerially strong against a Pique-less Barca who had no six footers in the side. Barca’s approach was to keep a very high defensive line when the ball comes in so when the ball is delivered over them it’s still going to be a fair distance away from the goal for a forward to attack. Or you get an off-side decision.

The bulk of the issues we have faced in dead ball situations have been from players switching off and not showing the required focus / concentration for 90mins. Fellaini against McAuley and Coleman v Le Fondre last week spring to mind. The warning signs where there in the first period when Bassong had a great chance, unmarked from a corner. As the ball comes in Howard takes a step of his line, then retreats whilst Bassong goes behind Heitinga to head home. Both Howard and Heitinga were identified by Moyes post match as the chief culprits of Everton’s latest defensive disaster. Howard should have come even if its just to punch away whilst Heitinga hasn’t got a clue where Bassong is; the not so dynamic duo are a complete pair of biffs.

Final Verdict

You could be forgiven for thinking this match report was a copy and paste job from last week given the nature of the performance and dead ball woe. This was another disappointing result and one that leaves us flagging in the ‘chase’ for fourth with tricky fixtures coming up against Arsenal, Man City and Spurs. It’s easy to rue the loss of key personnel but ultimately we should have put Norwich away in the first half when we had the opportunities. Credit to the Canaries, they are limited on the ball but work very hard and this tactic upset our rhythm in the second period and got them a deserved point.

Last season I recall only one point being accrued from home games against Bolton / Blackburn leading to a similar mood of despondency which was then followed by back to back wins against the league’s premium fat cats Man City and Chelsea.

You wouldn’t put it past the Blues surprising us all over again.

We hope.

Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Norwich

Saturday’s visit of Norwich will be seen by many as a ‘must win’ given the feeble collapse last week against the mighty Reading. This weekend’s preview will take a more in-depth look at Norwich’s key strengths and the areas of weakness we should look to exploit…..

At the back…

Defensively they have been in resolute mood of later, only conceding once in their last five games in a run of matches which has seen impressive wins against the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd. Hughton’s sides are never particularly easy on the eye with his signature approach being to churn out teams with a rigid backline that are hard to beat. After some initial hammerings, everyone now appears ‘on message’ with Hughton’s mantra. Like Reading last week they won’t be too concerned with not having the ball; their wins against Arsenal / Man Utd were achieved with an average share of the ball of just 35% and off the ball is where their key strengths reside in terms of organisation. Individually though they do have weaknesses; neither full back has a particular good turn of pace whilst Turner is susceptible to quick feet running at him. That said, they’re going to be a tough nut to crack and given our kamikaze defending of late you feel we will need to crack it at least twice to win the game.

Going forward…

This game showcases the two sides who have successfully delivered the most crosses in the league and this will be Norwich’s principal attacking weapon. With 65 successful crosses we are the top dogs with Norwich (57) in second spot with their most frequent exponent of the centre the ex toffee target Robert Snodgrass. When defending sides that play this way it’s important to play higher up the pitch and not allow your opponent to get into decent 2v1 situations or good crossing angles in the final third.

Coleman is having a terrible run at the moment and you get the feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better for the whole hearted but distinctly limited Irishman. Last season his lack of lack of ability on the ball led to him being frozen out of the right sided midfield reckoning. This season’s confirmation that he can’t defend either has basically left him facing into the footballing abyss otherwise known as Paul McShane. He really needs to up his game and show he has more to offer than his impressive twice annual outing as Gareth Bale’s shadow.

Back to the crossing and our high line should in theory mitigate the threat of Norwich’s delivery from wide areas but given our defensive omnishambles last week who knows. In attack, long armed farm-hand Grant Holt will lead the line but due to suspension will be denied an ‘elbow-off’ with Marouanne Fellaini – the duo are statistically the league’s most persistent foulers. Holt was touted in some quarters as an outside shot for the Euro’s squad in the summer and whilst this was never really likely if you afford him decent delivery he can do damage as he showed in both games last season. More interestingly is the fact that Holt had a spell with Sengkang Marine – now Hougang United Football Club – in Singapore’s S.League back in 2001. That’s Thursday’s boring fact #1.

Likely selection

Norwich will line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with ex toffee John Ruddy behind a back four of Javier Garrido/Steven Whittaker (fullbacks) and the aerially decent duo Sébastien Bassong (who once had a trial with us) and journeyman Michael Turner who turned out for Inter Milan as a youth ( #2) . Turner is rated at 50-50 so may miss out. In midfield, Bradley Johnson has been dribbled more times (36) than anyone in the top flight and also has the look of someone who probably can’t believe he’s earning a living out of football. He will occupy the centre mid slot alongside Tettey. On the flanks, Snodgrass and Pilkington will occupy right and left respectively with the majestic Wes Hoolahan the link man between midfield and Holt.


The big call for us is who will replace Fellaini. If fit, Mirallas will get the nod and I’d have him running at Turner from the kick off. You could of course stick Pienaar up there with Mirallas on the left flank.  If KM is injured, Osman could be moved forward IF Gibson is fit to start. That’s a big ‘if’ though. Young Ross Barkley of course is now back from his loan at Sheff Wed where he has predominantly operated in an orthodox centre mid slot and Moyes seems more sure of his credentials for a starting place centrally “Ross has done great. He is a young boy, 18, and those games in the Championship will bode well for us and for him”. Having watched him a few times, notably his able handling of the snide’s snide Michael Brown against Leeds I’d say he’s ready for this type of tussle.

Given the way he was man-handled in the corresponding fixture last season I’d also be tempted to give Heitinga the day off to look after the ponies with Distin’s height at set plays a must given the loss of Fellaini and the fact Anichebe has fallen of the face of the planet.


We are favourites for this one, offered at a best priced 10/21 with Pinnacle.  The draw is offered at 11/3 with the same provider with an away win an offer at 7/1 with Betfred. It’s hard to recall our last clean sheet and we haven’t failed to score since the opening weeks of the season so both teams to score (best offered at 5/6 by Bet Victor) is the dead cert here,  probably with us eeking out a 2-1 win.  With Fellaini out, Osman could be used further forward and you always fancy him against sides from the middle to lower echelons of the table and he’d be my shout in the goal / win market. You can bag that at 9/2 with Ladbrokes.


Physio Room Blog: Assessing Neville injury / Mirallas + Gibson Update

With only a squad of 19 first team players, my hope with this blog is that I won’t be called upon too often to write about Everton’s injuries.  I, like many other blues, breathed a huge sigh of relief when our international contingent returned unscathed.  I’m not sure many of us are that forgiving if one of our players is injured playing for their country.

Since the last blog none of our injured players have returned to action and another one has fallen.  Our skipper has his critics but is still an important member of the squad being able to cover so many positions.  I think another impact of Gibson being out for so long is missing ‘Fizzer’ from the defence.  At least once Neville and Gibson are back it’ll be like having 2 new signings!

Phil Neville

INJURY: Knee surgery

So far all we know about Neville is he’s had knee surgery and is likely to be out for 6 to 8 weeks.  I’m speculating but it’s likely, judging from the length of recovery time after knee surgery, that Neville has suffered a cartilage tear.  I may be wrong but there’s not much else it could be that would require urgent surgery but you can expect to be back playing in 6 weeks.  Ligament or tendon tears take a lot longer after surgery.

The Knee Cartilage

The cartilage is basically a protective coating over the ends of the bones to allow the bones to slide over each other when they move.  In the knee joint there is some extra thick horse-shoe shaped cartilage that rests on top of the tibia (the shin bone) called the meniscus (menisci plural).

The Tear

There are 2 main reasons the cartilage tears:

  1. Sudden trauma.  This occurs as a one off, for instance in a tackle where the knee is twisted and force from the incoming player is transmitted through the knee joint.  As the force passes through the joint, the cartilage tears.
  2. Repetitive trauma.  Through over use or repetitive actions of the knee the cartilage starts to wear.  This is normally age related (Neville’s not getting any younger).  Small bits of trauma in the joint that occur over the years cause small tears in the cartilage that go unnoticed.  Like a ladder in a pair of tights, one of these small tears can easily develop into a larger tear.

The Symptoms

The main symptoms include ‘locking’ of the knee joint where the torn piece of cartilage catches between the thigh bone and shin bone as the knee bends and stop the knee from straightening.  Sometimes this also causes the knee to give way, especially when twisting or changing direction.

The Cure

With most things in the body, a good blood supply is needed for it to heal.  Unfortunately the meniscus cartilage doesn’t have one.  Surgery is therefore required to basically chop out the offending piece of cartilage.  Physio rehab is crucial to restore movement, strength and control in the injured knee joint.  This usually takes 6 weeks.  Rushing back too soon could lead to further injury.

Expected return: 6 to 8 weeks, if Neville has indeed had surgery to correct a torn meniscus.

Update on other players

Darron Gibson: With Fellaini now suspended for our next game, Gibson’s return could never be more vital.  As predicted in the last blog, Gibson is on course to return against Norwich having lined up for Everton’s under-21 side against Reading.

Kevin Mirallas: After the Reading result, if ever we missed a player it was Super Kev.  It’s vital we have him back for the Norwich game.  As predicted in the last blog, Mirallas should only be out for 2 weeks after the scan showed very little in the way of damage.

Tony Hibbert: The club have given us very little info on Hibbert’s injury.  I suppose my worry is this is because they’re not sure how long it’s going to take.  If it’s straight forward, Tony should be back in the next week or two but if it’s one of those niggling injuries, it may take a lot longer.  I know Coleman’s struggled at times and I’d love to see Hibbo back in to add a bit more stability to the defence.

By Ross Whiteside.

Follow Ross on Twitter @UKPhysiotherapy

Tactical Analysis: Deconstructing Everton’s 2nd Half Collapse

The Blues slumped to just their second defeat of the season as a rudderless second half display cost us in a game which should have been wrapped up prior to the interval…..

The below average position visual shows our first eleven in comparison to Reading’s. Both sides attacked predominantly down the left with their right sides mostly defensive. With Neville out,  Leon Osman moved from left of centre to Neville’s more defensive right sided slot with Hitzlsperger filling Osman’s more offensive left of centre role. The bulk of the game was played in Reading’s defensive third hence our defensive line is significantly higher up than our hosts.

First half v Second Half

As the below chart shows we made almost 50% less short  and forward passes in the second half as we did in the first half. In contrast, Reading made more short/ forward passes in the second period and tellingly more accurate crosses. This was as a result of them getting significantly more territory in the second period with Federici’s long kick out’s looking for  Roberts to win flicks on our right side with Shorey and Robson Kanu looking for the second balls; the left sided duo combined 18 times – more than any other duo in the home side and this was considerably more so after the break.

On this morning’s Goals on Sunday programme, Moyes bemoaned the’ worst’ international break this season in terms of preparation with most of the squad only coming back on Thursday evening. The only game we have won following an international break was the opening Monday of the season when we benefitted from a couple of extra days prep. Whilst fatigue is no excuse it could have been a contributory factor in explaining how our display deteriorated so badly as the game went on.
Defending dead balls

A recurring theme of our recent woes has been conceding from dead balls. We’ve already shipped goals direct from corners against wba/soton and have conceded 4 goals in our last 4 games following fouls conceded in or around our 18 yard box. The below visual shows the fouls we conceded yesterday, with six in our defensive third. Reading in contrast only conceded one in their defensive third. A lot of this is down to the attacking emphasis of the side and us often getting caught out numbers wise to quick counter attacks.

 Hitzlsperger looked decent going forward but was suspect going the other way; his foul for the free kick which led to Reading’s equaliser was for a tackle he was never going to win. From the resulting free kick there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with our defensive shape. Like most clubs in the top flight we use a mix of man to man and zonal marking when defending set plays.  In this instance Le Fondre’s movement is good and his marker Seamus Coleman’s is not so good; he doesn’t get goal side and lets the ex Rotherham forward run across him.  Coleman was also rash in Reading’s winning goal. Again the ball came in from our left with Hitzlsperger standing off and inviting the cross to be whipped in – a long standing Moyes tactic –  and following this Coleman slams into Le Fondre for a penalty which was duly dispatched. To be fair to the Irishman he did make a goal saving tackle in between the two incidents which was commendable.

Whilst you can’t doubt the commitment of Coleman his decision making is poor and he lacks composure. He is not alone in making mistakes but the ones he is guilty of committing are significant ones and are happening regularly.  With the injuries to Neville and Hibbert however, Moyes is unable to take him out of the firing line for the next few weeks at least.

In Conclusion…..

There is also an argument to say that Moyes would have known before the game that the big threat with Reading is wide deliveries into the box and therefore Distin would surely have been the better selection than Heitinga. There is little worth in singling out any scapegoat though. The key fact is our defending is utter gash at the moment and we are incapable of withstanding any type of pressure from the opposition. Yes, Reading came on stronger in the second half but with no disrespect to Nicky Shorey / Adam Le Fondre we aren’t talking about players of the standard of a Cazorla or Aguero who we will be facing in the coming weeks.  Going forward it was a similar tale of woe as we missed enough opportunities to have won 3 games. On a positive Naismith played well and looked capable of creating and scoring more than the one goal he did register.


Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Reading

Next up is a trip to face newly promoted Reading, a side still looking for their first league win and who have generally had the look of team heading for a swift return to the Championship. This preview will take a more in depth look at the Royals, manager Brian McDermott’s likely approach and predict where the game will be won and lost….


Although McDermott has the look of man only a high-viz vest away from a career in railway maintenance, you couldn’t grumble with the effectiveness of the job he has done at Reading since he took charge.  With the exception of Pogrebnyak there are few real stars but there is a real team ethos at the club. Style wise, McDermott’s approach is the classic British model with their promotion built on hard work, a resolute defence and pace in wide areas. On the ball, they are statistically the worst passers in the division, make more long balls than benchmark cloggers Stoke and only Pulis’ mob record a lower share of possession than McDermott’s side. Off the ball, they make the fewest tackles and fouls in the league, will let you play and get 10 men behind the ball as rapidly as possible, looking to soak up pressure and then engineer fast breaks. In short, the Blues will have bags of possession as we did last week against Sunderland.

Above Likely Formations EFC  (Black) 4-2-3-1 Reading (Blue) 4-4-2


In central defence, Sean Morrison is very in experienced at this level and should be targeted; at 6:4 he is great in the air but on the deck is susceptible to quick feet. Ditto Kasper Gorkss with the exception of in-experience. Gunter will play at right back  with serial crossaphile Nicky Shorey a threat whipping balls into the box from left back ; the Royals make the most crosses per game in the top flight (29) and are good aerially so Distin could be  recalled after the big man played an u-21’s game in midweek. Federici will continue in goal after coming in for McCarthy who performed well against QPR prior to his injury.

Jimmy Kebe was man of the match the last time we met when Reading deservedly dumped us out of the FA Cup in 2011. Kebe isn’t a regular starter and will most likely get 20mins for McCleary in the second period.  Jobi McAnuff has four assists and although he is inconsistent will be the main threat on the other flank. Their most stylish player Karacan is un-fit and so expect Leigertwood to sit in midfield with Jay Tabb.

In Reading’s previous forays into the top flight we had mixed results on their patch; winning 2-0 and losing 0-1 with the odious Stephen Hunt scoring the winner. Amazingly Hunt has scored for 3 different clubs against the Blues. His not so better looking brother Noel was preferred last week to Pogrebnyak and could lead the line again alongside Jason Roberts.


As Tuesday’s Physio Blog informed us, Kevin Mirallas will definitely miss out but could be back for next week’s game with Norwich.  The Belgian will be a big loss; alongside Fellaini he has been the key performer in recent weeks with his direct style and capacity to commit defenders providing an added dimension to our play in the final third.  The deputising Naismith is a different cat altogether;  he will hold his position more, usually tucking inside on the right and although the Scot has missed a few chances he has a decent habit of finding space in the box which could prove valuable over the course of the season.   Darron Gibson, Tony Hibbert and Victor Anichebe are not yet expected to be ready to start a game with all 3 given an outside chance of being on the bench.  After his impact last weekend Velios is ‘pushing’ for a start and if Plan A becomes defunct don’t be surprised to see the Greek coming on and Fellaini dropping deeper to find space as per last week’s dramatic comeback.


Everton are unsurprisingly short priced favourites at 6/7 with 32Red to win this one. Last week’s forecast of Sunderland H/T Everton F/T was backed by some of you (but sadly not myself) and you can get 26/1 on lightening to strike twice and for the Blues to come from behind and win with Betfair. Willie Hill’s are offering 13/20 on 2.5+ goals which has been a regular outcome in our games this season, as is the both teams to score market which is offered at 11/17 with Bwin. On-form Fellaini is clearly the one to watch at the moment and you can get 3/1 with Betfred on the curly haired dynamo to score / Everton win double. Jelavic is 9/1 to get a brace or more with Velios 9/1 for last scorer.


Physio Room Blog: When will Gibson & Mirallas be fit?

Welcome to a new EB feature brought to you by Ross from UK Physiotherapy which focuses on our players currently on the treatment table and when we may next see them back in action. Over to Ross….

Basically, I’ll try and explain a bit more about the injuries suffered, why and how it occurs and most importantly how long you can expect the injured player to be out for. This is infinitely easier now Saha is no longer on Everton’s books!

I’d like to add something of a disclaimer though. I am not an ITK. I have no links to the medical team inside Goodison and no access to any of Everton’s players’ medical records or scan results. Anything I write in terms of recovery is an estimate based on the length of time you may expect someone with that type of injury to be out for. I’ll try and amend anything if I’ve called it wrong. Sometimes it’s just useful to know what part of the body is involved when you hear “ACL tear” or “hamstring strain”.

For any possible medics or other physios who read this, if you think I’ve explained something badly, I welcome any constructive feedback.

Kevin Mirallas

INJURY: Hamstring strain

Having established himself as our main attacking threat this season, this is probably the injury we’re all sweating the most on in terms of wanting to know how long our flying Belgian winger is out for. I’m hoping from Moyes’ recent comments, it won’t be too long.

The Hamstring
The hamstrings are a set of 3 long muscles that run down the back of your leg. They start from your saddle bone and the top of the leg and run down to insert below the back of your knee. Their action is to move your hip backwards and bend the knee. They help generate a lot of power to help propel you forward when running.

What is a ‘strain’?

Often when referring to any muscle injuries, you’ll hear the word ‘strain’ or ‘pull’. These words effectively mean a small tear in the muscle or some damage to the muscle fibres. As a reaction to this damage, the muscle goes into spasm and tightens up hence the feeling of a ‘pull’. The damage to the muscle usually occurs when running at full speed and the leg is at full stretch. The force going through the muscle to then bend the knee from the outstretched position can sometimes be enough to cause the strain.

There are 3 different grades of strain or tear:

• Grade 1 – very small tear. Usually pain local to the tear is felt and some tightening of the hamstrings. Straightening the knee can be sore but achievable and a resisted knee bend can also be painful. The player should still be able to walk. In some cases a player can stretch the hamstrings and carry on playing.
Expected recovery time: 2 -3 weeks

• Grade 2 – a more severe tear. Pain is felt immediately and the player appears to ‘pull up’ while running. The player is unable to carry on playing. Often a bruise at the back of the leg becomes visible and the leg can also become swollen. The player will find it very difficult to fully straighten the knee and walking will be very difficult to start with.
Expected recovery time: 6 weeks

• Grade 3 – a large section of the muscles tears. Similarly to a grade 2, pain is felt immediately. In this instance, it is likely the player will be unable to weightbear and will have to be stretchered off. The symptoms are the same as a grade 2 tear but more severe. Walking is very difficult and the player would usually have to use crutches for 1 or 2 weeks.
Expected recovery time: 6 – 12 weeks

Judging by the way Mirallas was able to walk off the pitch, my hope is Moyes took him off as a precaution to prevent a grade 1 tear becoming a grade 2 or 3. Also as Moyes stated “It looks as if (Kevin) has maybe got a slight hamstring injury. I don`t think it`s too bad but until it`s been scanned we wouldn`t be able to say what it was.”

Expected return: The scan may show something but everything points towards this not being too serious so I’d hope Mirallas will be back within 2 weeks in time for the Norwich game.
Darron Gibson

INJURY: Thigh strain

This one has me slightly puzzled. In September, Everton stated Gibson should be back within 4 to 5 weeks so I’d have expected Darron to be back by now. Gibson also tweeted 3 weeks ago that he’d be back soon after a scan, yet he’s only just started training again.

Thigh Strain

A thigh strain is an injury to the quadriceps muscles on the front of the leg above the knee. The quadriceps (or quads) are a group of 4 muscles that bend the hip and straighten the knee. The quads are the main group of muscles responsible for kicking a ball.

Similar to a hamstring strain, a strain to the quads is a tear to the muscles. The tear often happens where the muscles form a tendon just above the kneecap. As this is a muscle tear, the grading of tear is the same as talked about for the MIrallas injury – grades 1, 2 and 3.

From all the noises coming out of Goodison at the time, everything pointed to Gibson’s injury being a grade 2 tear, yet it seems to have taken an eternity for him to get back. Either the scan showed a more significant tear than first thought or Gibson’s suffered a setback whilst training. It’s quite common that some extra inflammation can set in around the site of the tear, which can be stubborn to get rid of. This’ll slow recovery down. My worry for Gibson is he has spent a bit of time on the treatment table since being at Everton.

Expected return: Hopefully at this stage Gibson will be back within the next week or 2. Reading is a possibility, Norwich should be more or a certainty.
Tony Hibbert

INJURY: Calf strain

You’ll start to notice a common theme to these muscle injuries. Once you’ve mastered the grading system of tear from 1 to 3, there’s not much more to it. Similarly to Gibson’s injury, I’d have hoped Hibbert would be back by now. Tony’s no spring chicken now though so maybe age is catching up with him and his recovery is slower because of it!

The Calf

The calf muscle is actually a group of 2 muscles – the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. They can be felt as the bulky bit of tissue on the back of the leg between the knee and the ankle. These 2 muscles form the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. The calf muscles act to stabilise the ankle and foot and help with the ‘push-off’ movement from the toes and foot when walking or running.

The calf strain
A strain or tear to the calf muscle often occurs at the point where the muscle becomes the Achilles tendon. If you want to impress your mates, this is called the ‘musculotendinous junction’. The grading of tear is the same as mentioned in the description of Mirallas’ hamstring injury, grade 1,2 or 3. Injury to the calf will prevent you from running or planting your foot to kick the ball. Standing on your tiptoes is also very difficult if you’ve suffered this injury.

There’s not been too much news out of Goodison about Hibbert’s injury other than he’s listed as one of the walking wounded during Moyes’ Friday pre-match press conference so it’s difficult to predict Hibbert’s recovery time. Often, though, a grade 3 tear of the calf or Achilles is an 8 to 12 month recovery (remember Yakubu?).
Expected return: 2 to 3 weeks
Victor Anichebe

INJURY: Hamstring strain

Has Vic even suffered an injury? Those who like a good conspiracy theory would like to think not although Moyes’ comments after the Fulham game fuel speculation: “I just decided not to use him at the last minute. I won’t elaborate on it anymore.”

If Big Vic has suffered a hamstring strain then read through the Mirallas injury information again.
Expected recovery: As he’s a youngster, I’d expect Vic to be back within the next 1 to 2 weeks. I’m not sure mentally how long it’ll take Vic to get right though!

Ross Whiteside, UK Physiotherapy
Twitter: @ukphysiotherapy