Next up is a home game against Martin O’Neill’s struggling Sunderland as the Blues look to end a frustrating series of 4 draws on the spin. Games between O’Neill and Moyes have been characterised by bags of goals as both like to attack down the flanks so the games are always stretched with large alleys of space between centre backs and full backs. The Irishman has never been much of a tactician, playing percentage football and getting the ball ‘in the mixer’ as often as possible, mostly through crosses. With new manager syndrome now worn off, the initial upturn in results following the exit of the steak headed Steve Bruce appears a distant memory with major issues relating to creativity and goal scoring having now reached crisis point. So much so they’ve signed veterans James McFadden and Louis Saha.
Martin O’Neill’s sides like width and using pace in counter attacking situations with an emphasis on wide men whipping balls into the box. Crossing is of course largely an imprecise art – it takes on average 57 to score a goal – and last time out against Villa their over reliance on crossing was evident…
In the Villa game the second most used passing combination was Mignolet to Fletcher, which is perhaps indicative of a more direct style of play to create chances. Sessegnon does have incision in his locker but hasn’t turned up all season, making them wholly reliant on crosses from Johnson/Larsson/McLean. Their struggles are reminiscent of our own winter of discontent last year when the only way we looked like scoring was from a Baines delivery. The Mackems have struggled to get the ball in the net and have comfortably made the fewest shots per game in the league with no Sunderland player scoring for over 8 hours. The reliance on Fletcher is such that the forward has bagged 83% of their goals this term, all with his left foot. The below shots visual from the recent home derby against Newcastle (who played with 10 men for the most part) gives an indication of their struggles.
O’Neill will be happy to not be in possession, invite teams onto them and then exploit the space in behind – so our style will suit them. They have conceded the second most amount of shots in the top flight although they don’t ship many goals with only Arsenal having let in fewer goals this season. They will sit tight and happily defend the aerial ball into their box so our new found creative spark and Jelavic’s ability to find space in the box to get a goal out of nothing will probably be more vital than Fellaini in this match up. On the subject of the Belgian, his deployment on Saturday will be interesting. He has been ace in the final third but has notably struggled against snide, aerially dominant centre backs like McAuley and Caldwell. Cueller is of a similar ilk and it might be better to have Fellaini supporting defensively to help deal with kick outs and crosses and use Mirallas centrally running at the Sunderland centre backs to capitalise on their lack of agility. The Belgian is a colossal figure at the moment though and what is really befuddling opposition backlines is the fact they don’t know whether were going to hit it long into him or play it on the deck. Last week this completely stumped Fulham who in the second half especially never knew when to go tight or when to drop off. For this reason he’ll probably start further forward but given the interchangeability of the attacking players we now have don’t be surprised to see positional movement.
Selection wise, Mignolet is a quality shot stopper and in front of him expect Bardsley/Colback to slot into the full back berths with O’Shea and Cuellar in the centre back spots. Larsson and Johnson will probably start on the flanks but will regularly alternate. Tattooed simpleton James McLean was recently dropped but is another option on the flanks. All 3 are very one footed. I’d go for Hibbert to come back in for Coleman especially given the Irishman’s previous struggles against the physical Bardsley. In midfield the cantankerous enforcer Lee Cattermole will travel to Merseyside armed with his usual carrier bag of supermarket ale and pestilence hell bent on inflicting mass misery on others whilst simultaneously crying on the inside. Utility man Craig Gardner will most likely partner him in the middle. Further forward the enigmatic Sessegnon will loiter behind Fletcher. Darron Gibson is ‘close to a return and should be back next week’ – the same line the official site copy and pasted for 12 months during Paul Gascoigne’s last season at the club so personnel wise I wouldn’t expect much change from last week.
Moyes record against O’Neill isn’t great; during his time at Villa O’Neil never lost in 8 league games against Moyes. Moyes has never lost to Sunderland home or away in his 10 years + in charge at L4, including 2 wins and 2 draws in the 4 matches last season. Sunderland do draw a lot though, with 4/5 on their travels with their games characterised by under 2.5 goals. With our current habit of draws, nobody in the Prem has drawn as many as Everton or Sunderland. We’ve also conceded first in our last six games but have avoided defeat in each so Sunderland H/T Everton F/T is an option. Given the way we have been playing lately you get the feeling somebody will be on the end of a thrashing soon. In the meeting last season Sunderland were as bad as any side I’ve seen at Goodison in 25 years and under O’Neill when they have been bad they have been truly shocking. Hopefully that big win will come on Saturday. If you are having a flutter check out Paddy Power for some juicy toffee related odds.
Finally, if your on the look out for an early christmas present James Corbett’s latest offering ‘The Everton Encyclopedia’ is an excellent read and a ‘must have’ for any evertonian young or old. Released earlier this week, the book is the definitive text of all things toffee related including detailed player profiles with incredible attention to detail. You can check it out at the Decoubertin book shop here