Next up is a home clash with Michael Laudrup’s impressive Swansea side. The Welsh outfit have a bit more variety to their play these days with their trademark short passing game developed with physical players such as Chico and Michu plus more incisive creativity in the shape of key midfield duo Hernandez and De Guzman. We hammered them in the meeting earlier this season when we were on fire and our hosts had something of a cobbled together side but I’d expect this one to be a lot tighter….
Laudrup has kicked on since the departure of King Brenny in the summer in terms of overall gameplan. Rodgers side were very easy on the eye but they did have limitations in terms of a ‘Plan B’ if their short passing game didn’t work. Their aerials won per game has doubled and the goals they have scored from set pieces has risen dramatically. They have also been very positive on the ball with 61.3% of their passes going forward compared to our 65%.
As the table shows, they have achieved better territorial possession in the final third despite overall having less of the ball. They still play a short game with average passing distance 19m compared to our longer 21m. In terms of where they attack, last season the emphasis was on the forwards providing width whereas this season wide men such as Hernandez will play closer to the forward and look to impact play in-field. The bottom line is that goals scored, conceded and points accrued are all better than last season.
Last time out….
Earlier on this season we recorded our most comfortable win of the season in a game which also witnessed our last clean sheet. Our approach off the ball was to close down forward passing angles from Swansea and play aggressively high up the pitch and generally stopping them playing through us. As an example, Vorm is noted for being one of, if not the best, distributor of any keeper in the top flight and being the starting point of Swansea attacks with an average pass completion of 79%. Against us it was down to 58%.
Our hosts passing tempo was unusually slow. Very few teams have been able to dominate the ball against Swansea, and only on one other occasion since they came up to the top flight have a side had a higher possession total than we did (52%) against them.
Swansea couldn’t handle our quick passing tempo which led to constant fouling and subsequent free kicks with a foul committed by the home side every 4 minutes; as a consequence two of our three goals came from dead ball situations. The significant physical advantage we had over our hosts was huge, demonstrated by the fact we also won 60% of the aerial duels. Pienaar in particular was buying fouls for fun and was brought down a massive 7 times, mostly from Angel Rangel who had a shocker although in fairness he was afforded no protection by Hernandez who was hauled off at half time.
In goal Vorm is fit again but since his injury Tremmel now appears to be ‘first pick’ and will probably start in goal. In front of him the two centre backs Chico and Williams have both impressed. Chico is a good reader of the game having won the second most interceptions of any defender in the top flight whilst Williams enjoys the physical side a bit more having blocked more shots than anyone in the division. Williams is also more likely to distribute longer from the back having attempted 176 to Chico’s 81 long passes although Chico’s accuracy is better which would hint that opponents are happier to let Williams have the ball. Williams is the more error prone of the duo with 2 of the 5 errors which have led directly to an opponent goal this season coming from Williams to Chico’s 0. In the fullback areas Rangel and Davies have been first choice for the bulk of the season and are likely starters. Rangel is excellent going forward and his link up play with De Guzman and Hernandez was a feature of the most recent league game against villa when the trio were responsible for the most frequent passing combinations in the game down the right side of the pitch.
In midfield, the deeper slots have been changed frequently all season and with the fixture pile-up of late it’s tricky to know who will get the nod. De Guzman has been superb with 4 assists and 3 goals and he also likes to drift out wide and cross; he is the third most frequent midfield crosser in the top flight. Usually Laudrup has selected him with either Britton or Sung Yueng whilst Agustien has also appeared a couple of times in this area. In the attacking wide roles it’s also unclear. On the right of midfield, Ex Valencia man Hernandez has the best accuracy in the top flight for through balls, has four assists and is ranked 12th in the top flight for most chances created per game. Routledge will probably be deployed down the left. Michu has struggled with injury in recent weeks but has still looked lethal when on the pitch. The bulk of the goals so far have come from his left foot and head so dealing with crossing situations and keeping him on his right foot will be crucial. In form Graham will most probably start as number nine if Michu is played at ten.
There are certainly exploitable weaknesses in Swansea’s defensive armoury that we can take advantage of. The strengths of Chico and Williams in terms of interceptions and blocks was made earlier on, however both are better on the floor than in the air. Anyone who watched the Rumbelows Cup semi-final in midweek will note that Chelsea looked considerably more threatening in the 15 minute spell they had the physical option of Ba who was able to push the Swans defensive line backwards. Ba forced more opportunities in his short spell on the pitch than Torres did before him so I’d expect us to hit Jelavic and Fellaini as early as possible.
On the flanks, Swansea’s right side is fluid going forward but is exploitable defensively. Hernandez is more concerned with his attacking role and plays high up the pitch, offering little protection to Rangel who himself is something of a maverick who prefers forward marauding over the mundane defensive duties. For this reason I’d fancy our chances of 2 v 1 situations in this area of the pitch. Selection wise, with ‘first picks’ Gibson and Mirallas still out there is limited options to change things so I’d expect the same side that beat Cheltenham with Anichebe deployed on the right wing but given the amount of time we play down the left he will invariably come infield as a supporting forward when we are in possession. Don’t be surprised if Heitinga gets a start though; the Dutchman was a surprise selection against Swansea earlier on this season and given his better qualities such as interceptions / long range delivery, Swansea is perhaps the most ideal opponent for him in the top flight.
Form / Betting
Form wise, the Swans have won more games on the road than at home and have the best defensive record on the road in the top flight with their last 8 away games yielding the fewest goals for/against in the division so don’t expect goals galore in this one. Like us, they have recouped numerous points from losing situations and score predominantly in the second half of games (67.7%). With us scoring more frequently in the first half of games (57%) the everton half time/ draw full time market is likely to attract interest. Most punters will now be aware that we have now scored in their last 18 top flight games & conceded in the last 16, both the longest runs of the season so the both teams to score market is a good option. This will be a big test for the Toffees but given the Swans exhausting cup clashes in the last week against Arsenal and Chelsea and the fact that we have only come up against lower league opposition in that time you would fancy the extra energy levels and preparation would give us a significant advantage in what is a crucial game.
Some thoughts betting wise…..
- Both teams to score 5/6 bet365
- Everton to win 2-1 15/2 ladbrokes
- Everton H/T Draw F/T 18/1 Sportingbet
- 3 Goals in the game 3/1 Paddy Power
- Everton to come from behind to win 8/1 ladbrokes