Norwich 2-1 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Saturday’s abysmal collapse to Norwich was a bitter pill to swallow in a game that virtually ended our hopes of finishing fourth. Not because of the points difference – six is not an insurmountable figure to claw back – its more the fact we continue to not learn from our mistakes and repeatedly flounder against limited operatives at the foot of the table.

Teams

The Toffee’s made just two changes from the Oldham draw with the ‘much maligned’ mono-paced Steven Naismith coming in for Victor Anichebe and Seamus Coleman replacing Phil Neville at right back. Norwich lined up with Becchio and Holt in the jforward berths, although ex Leeds schemer Robert Snodgrass was basically playing as a wide forward in the space vacated behind Baines. This was Norwich’s main attacking trick with Russell Martin >; Snodgrass their most frequent passing combination, occurring 16 times.

Going forward….

It had all started so well for the Toffees. Fellaini (circled) as he likes to do, comes across to the left flank to give us an extra man and draw in opposing defenders which creates space for Baines (arrow) to whizz up the flank and plant a sumptuous delivery on the head of Leon Osman for the game’s opening goal.

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Generally the Blues were on top thereafter but threatened very little against a side who haven’t been able to buy a win of late.

Whilst we had more of the ball there was little end product, particularly in the second half when we created no chances from open play.

The in-effective Naismith churned out another tepid display with Kevin Mirallas left on the bench for the bulk of a game where a second goal would have surely knocked the stuffing out of the home side.

Possession / Territory Data

In a game the Toffee’s controlled for large spells, we had the bulk of possession (55.2%), had more territory (53.7%) and had more of the ball in the final third (132 v 76 completed passes).

Norwich made more of their time on the ball considerably with 50% of their 10 shots hitting the target compared to 20% of our 15 efforts on goal.

Crosses

This game featured two of the most prominent crossing teams in the division and all 3 goals came from such situations.

Whilst we are statistically conceding fewer chances from headers and set plays per game this season based on last, rather damningly we have conceded the most headed goals in the top flight.

Norwich had 30 crosses to our 26, with a slightly better accuracy (16% v 15%). My usual gripe with Moyes is that we tend to invite crosses with our approach being to pack the box sufficiently enough to evade trouble when the ball lands in the danger areas. This tactic is stupid against sides who possess heavier aerial artillery than us like Norwich or Stoke for example and to be fair we did try and stop the crosses coming in, with 7 blocked crosses to Norwich’s 1, however our defending when the ball came in was utter crud.

In the first goal, Fellaini has to take the blame for failing to get tight on Kamara and block his run off as the sub is able to get a run on the Belgian (circled). Fellaini has form for doing this in the last twelve months, most notably in the semi final surrender last season.

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On goal two, Coleman has tucked in which means Naismith goes into the right back spot and Gibson shuffles across to the Scot’s position to double up with him, which is fine. Osman however doesn’t shuffle into Gibson’s position meaning Martin (circled) has time to take a touch and spin in a delivery.

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When the cross comes in Distin is the only player who attacks the ball, compared to Norwich’s three at the back post (Holt, Kamara and Bassong) with the motionless Baines guilty of ball watching. The defensive line for Goal Two is also ridiculously too deep, just as it was for Norwich’s equaliser at Goodison earlier this season.

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Conclusion

This game was in many ways a microcosm of the themes which have held us back this season with our abundance of possession not translated into chances created, combined with us not being able to defend from set plays and conceding sloppy goals, predominantly late in games.

In comparison to our closest rivals we haven’t been able to beat sides such as Reading, Norwich (twice) QPR and Wigan and thus don’t really deserve to be in the ‘shake up’ for the Champions League spots. Moyes has to take the bulk of the flack here for some overly cautious substitutions when the game was there to be won, combined with our continued failure to address problems with defending balls into our box.

EB

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Football Away Days: On the Curva at Roma and Napoli

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Along with some pals I recently went to a few games in Italy (Roma v Juventus & Napoli v Sampdoria).

Here is a quick synopsis…..

 

Part I – Juve at the Stadio Olimpico

 

After a night out in Naples sampling the ridiculously cheap ales of Naples Centro Storico, an early morning train to Rome afforded the opportunity to get some sleep prior to a full day of tourist activity which preceded an evening trip to the Stadio Olimpico for Roma’s tussle with league leaders Juventus.

The capital’s two sides Roma and Lazio have only won the Scudetto five times between them but the passion of their fans and the atmosphere in the Olimpico belies such limited history.

Tickets for the game had been sourced  online prior to the trip courtesy of a friendly chap called Alberto from AS Roma who kindly put 4 tickets aside for the bargain price of 20 euro’s each. The tickets ‘seated’ us in the Curva Nord in the next block to the Juve fans. Sitting down was not an option.

In a cagey encounter a moment of brilliance from the supremely ace Francesco Totti edged out the Old Lady, although to be fair most of the action was happening on the terraces in and around us.

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A  flurry of flares and missiles from the Juve end had pushed most of our block in the opposite direction following Totti’s goal. The ensuing carnage led to some Juventus fans marauding into the Curva looking for a ‘sit down’ with some or Roma’s top cats. This led to a rapid back pedal from the section we were stood in.

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Standing Room Only

It’s always best to be ‘on your toes’ in such situations, otherwise you run the risk of losing your footing , hitting the deck and  ripping your favourite jeans.

 

Part II: SSC Napoli – The pride of the Mezzogiorno

 

Naples was a different shaped potato altogether; the Neapolitan’s are a warm bunch and their city is ridiculously cheap and equally edgy.  We stayed in the Garibaldi area nearby the train station which was quite rough and ready but the hotel was clean and incredibly cheap (12e per person per night)

Amidst a four-day pizza binge, the best being ye olde worldy ‘budget eats’ Di Matteo and Maradona’s old haunt Di Michele (where you can get their speciality 14 inch Margarita washed down with a peroni for a bargain 5 Euros)…. It’s basically the opposite of a Kerry Katona Iceland special.

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Boom!

Di Michele only  serves two pizza’s (Margarita and Marinara) and this was useful for us given that our combined communication skills were akin to Paulie in the Commendatori episode of the Soprano’s.

Going to the San Paulo was a dream I’d had since I was 7 and it didn’t disappoint.  The stadium is incredibly atmospheric with its decaying third tier and ramshackle outskirts indicative of a ground that could tell more than a tale or two.

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The Curva

The San Paulo has been the club’s home during Napoli’s heady days as Italy’s top dogs which included the supposedly thrown title of 1988, right through to the apocalypse of demotion and Serie C in 2005; this club is a living, breathing soap opera even by the overly dramatic standards of Italian football.

New Picture (115)Sadly, unlike the Olimpico the previous evening drinking lager was not permitted in the ground, however you could pick up one of these ruthless espresso / sambuca concoctions for a recession busting 2 euro a shot. It had a significantly more lethal kick than a warm pint of Chang.

The online ticketing for Napoli is basically a no-go  – supposedly due to the influence of the Camorra – but it was easy to source them down the ground at the back of the Distinti. Our tickets cost 15 euro which again is ridiculous.

Napoli were largely disappointing in a 0-0 draw with their key man Hamsik particularly poor. His evening got worse after the game when he was mugged at gun point outside the stadium for his favourite watch. Ex-toffee Shkodran Mustafi got a comedy run out for the last four minutes for the visitor’s Sampdoria who brought around 50 brave fans with them.

If you’re thinking of a football weekend trip I’d definitely recommend a Roma/Napoli double header. Flight, hotels, trains and match tickets cost a modest £140 which is based on 4 people sharing a room.  If you base yourself in Naples you can also eat and drink like a king on a limited budget.

EB

9 Point Tactical Deconstruction on Man Utd 2-0 Everton

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Some thoughts on our defeat yesterday at Old Trafford…..

1. Defensively, the following 3 sub-points are taken ‘as a given’

  • The gap between Heitinga and Baines was too wide throughout the first half.
  • Our high line for the second goal was suicidal even by our standards….and if we are going to do apply such a risky tactic the midfield needs to apply more pressure so balls can’t be threaded through like Rafael did for van persie.
  • Neville was crud throughout. Whilst the veteran campaigner remains a useful midfield option his days as a credible right back alternative look as legitimate as his need for blonde highlights.

2. Neville had a lot of the ball

With Jones following Fellaini when the Belgian marauded forward, Cleverley was left outnumbered in the central zone against Osman and Gibson. This meant that Giggs was ‘sucked’ inside leaving Pip free on the right flank. Thus, as the matrix below shows, Neville enjoyed more of the ball than Baines on the other flank. This was negated by Ferguson prior to half time when he dropped Rooney into the left mid slot to relieve the pressure on Giggs and allow the Welshman to play more central.

EFC Passing Matrix vs Man Utd

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5 points on the passing matrix > (1)The size of the player’s head is relevant to how many passes he makes, i.e Gibson made the most, Anichebe the fewest hence their appropriately sized skulls  (2) The thicker and darker the line, the more times the pass combination was made, i.e the thicker, darker lines e.g Heitinga to Jagielka emphasise that the combination was made a lot (3) If there is no line between players there was no passes made  (4) Click on the image to enlarge (5)The idea for this passing matrix is mostly adopted/ ripped off from the  excellent 2+2=11 blog. Anyone who subscribes to football nerding will love it (6) the position of the players  in the diagram is loosely based on where they are positioned on the pitch 

3. United play down our left

United ‘s central midfield duo looked to push the ball out to the right and build attacks as often as possible with Rafael – and less so Valencia- very impressive. United’s top 3 passing combinations were Valencia>Rafael (13) Cleverley>Valencia(13) and Jones to Rafeal (11).

4.Baines impact minimised

As a result of Point 3, Baines was largely ineffectual and spent the majority of the first half back peddling trying to deal with the threat of Rafael and Valencia. He and his best mate Pienaar (who started on the right but then switched to the left) created hardly any serious chances from open play in the game.

5.Gibson  sees most of the ball

As the passing matrix shows via Gibson’s big steak-head, the Irishman had most of the ball for the Blues and was the principal link man between defence and attack. However in reality he ended up linking defence with midfield or back to defence. Overall he combined most with either backward passes to Jer-jelka or sideways balls to Neville.

6.Pienaar didn’t find Anichebe once

Pienaar had most joy in the 20 minute spell prior to half time; however the South African schemer was largely ineffectual and didn’t make any passes to Victor Anichebe during the game. The Big Nigerian, for the most part was starved of service, seemed to be under the misconception that you can get free kicks and penalties at Old Trafford.

7. Fellaini frustrated

The Belgian did minimal all game with his threat effectively neutralised by the lumbering galloot  Phil Jones. The ex-Blackburn lackey’s  pre match prozone briefing pack presumably stated about Fellaini;  ‘get in his face’ and ‘up and at em’ and was probably penned by Phil Brown.

In the Goodison game, Fellaini’s role was to receive long passes and then feed the wide-men as the the passing combination grid here shows. Due to the service being cut to the Belgian he couldn’t feed the wide-men, hence the Belgian didn’t make one pass to his compatriot Kevin Mirallas. More was expected of Fellaini here and in games such as this you expect your big hitters to turn up. He didn’t.

8.Mirallas peripheral

Kevin Mirallas was particularly peripheral and struggled to make much headway in the game. Unsurprisingly, the period he looked most effective was in the 20 minute spell prior to half time. During this spell Pienaar was picking up the ball in central areas and feeding him on the right;  this combination occurred 6 times in this 20 minute spell but didn’t happen before or after this time period.

9. Conclusions…..

The hope pre match was that last season’s gung-ho 4-4 would be the blueprint as to how we could get a result, however post match it appeared that last season’s gargantuan draw would be the exception to the rule.   The dynamism of the last 12 months was nowhere to be seen , replaced by the default efc powder puff display at Old Trafford that we have come to expect garnished with the usual condescending ‘praise’ from Taggart.

As usual we kindly gave the opposition a head start and were then forever chasing our tails with Vidic colossal for United aerially. In the second period, United basically played a ‘rest in possession’ approach and given our leggy midfield we struggled to get the ball back and when we did seemed completely goosed to do anything progressive with it.  Whilst the sides had the same amount of chances (11) United hit the target three times more than us and always seemed to be able to up another gear if required.

All in all then it’s been a pretty gash weekend for the Toffee’s.  Realistically, achieving the dying ember of 4th spot would mean us having to go to Spurs and Arsenal and win both, which is unlikely in our current form. Thus, the FA Cup now appears a more realistic proposition in terms of ending a season which has promised so much with some kind of tangible outcome.

EB

Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Manchester United

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The Toffee’s head to Old Trafford on Sunday for a ‘showdown’ with the likely Champions Manchester United in a re-match of last season’s gargantuan tussle that effectively cost the Red Devil’s the title. With the exception of the 4-4, this is a fixture the Blues have invariably adopted an unsuccessful ‘what we have hold…then roll-over’ policy. This strategy has delivered minimal gains give or take a few draws since our last win here way back in 1992 when the ‘mini marvels’ showed up and spanked Fergie’s would be Champions 3-0. The games between the two Scots are usually interesting tactical jousts in that United’s ideology is generally ‘we’re better than everyone so we’ll play our own game’ whereas Moyes is a more reactive customer who will tweak to negate opposition threats.

United Strengths

Looking back at the 4-4 last season, United’s front players were on fire with Welbeck particularly ace; the forward bagged one goal, 2 assists, made more dribbles and also had the best pass completion (91%) of any player on the pitch which for a player operating in the final third is very decent.

In the 4-4 we struggled to deal with United’s quick movement in forward areas with Heitinga and Jagielka struggling to hold their position and avoid following United’s forwards away from our goal. Whoever starts in central defence will need to keep their shape better and thus reduce the space in behind for United to operate. Whoever is selected in United’s wing slots are always positioned in advanced wide areas so it’s implicit that we don’t lose the ball in our own half and enable them to engineer fast break situations.

United also have the addition of Van Persie this season with him and Rooney comfortable alternating between the number 9 and 10 roles. This combined with the impish trickery of Kagawa and United’s trademark pace in wide areas makes the clean sheet we kept in August against them all the more improbable.

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Indeed, as the above passing dashboard shows whilst United dominated possession in the August game (692 v308 passes), they were less incisive getting the ball into the box and creating threatening chances with Jer-jelka dominant at the heart of the Blues back four. We had significantly less touches (571 v 933) but crucially had more touches in United‘s penalty box than they did ours (42 v 27) with 22% of our chances in their 6 yard box compared to United’s 0% in ours.

With the current situation regarding Heitinga, hopefully logic will prevail and Jagielka will be restored to the centre of defence with Neville probably on the right, although when fit Moyes usually prefers to select the skipper in the centre of midfield as he did in both recent fixtures against United.  Personally I’d stick Heitinga on the right with Jagielka where he is best in the centre alongside Distin.

United Weakness

The two most recent games have highlighted that we can get at United’s defence with Fellaini in particular getting plenty of joy with a goal in each game, both from pin point deliveries from the right flank. In the Goodison match the curly haired Belgian was the fulcrum of a well-executed game-plan that involved getting the ball into him quickly from back to front.  We often do ‘go longer’ against the league’s better sides…as an example in the 1-0 win vs United 17% of our passes were hit long whereas against a nice middle of the road outfit, like Fulham, just 9% of our passes went long.

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If we take a look at the pass combination table from the 1-0 game (above) we can see 3 of the top 5 combinations were from defensive players (Howard, Baines & Hibbert) into Fellaini. The other two were from Fellaini to Osman/Pienaar who started the game on the flanks. This was basically our strategy; hit it long to fellaini’s head or chest and let him link play to the wide midfielders. We have also made decent gains by exploiting United’s defensive players aerially….

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Above, Jelavic’s opening goal in the 4-4 comes when the delivery by Hibbert is looped deep to by-pass Ferdinand / Evans and enable the Croatian to isolate Rafael in a physical mis-match. Rafael was also at fault for Pienaar’s equaliser when he switched off and failed to track the South African’s run inside.

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In the above screen shot, the cross again goes deep to by-pass Vidic and looks for Fellaini who has come round the back of Carrick. This should be a big concern for Ferguson and having been done twice by the same trick I’d be surprised if he didn’t start with Smalling at right back in place of Rafael.

Predictions

This will be a really tough one for the Blues, but is by no means mission impossible. Our defensive problems – exposed ruthlessly by an average Villa side last week – will be put to the test and it’s unlikely we will keep a clean sheet.  With Anichebe in fine fettle, Mirallas back in action and  Fellaini on-song then we certainly have the tools to score at least one goal and I’d go for a score draw, probably 2-2 (best priced 16/1 with BetVictor).

EB

EFC 3-3 Aston Villa: Everton Defending Deconstructed

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Teams and Formations

The Blues made one change from the midweek win over West Brom, with Gibson coming in for Neville whose weary old legs couldn’t muster 3 games in a week. This meant that Jagielka continued at right back with the out of form Heitinga remaining in the centre with Distin. There was also a positional change with Osman returning to his deeper midfield role with Fellaini moving further forward, presumably to exploit Villa’s defensive weaknesses in the air. Our visitor’s lined up in a similar 4-2-3-1 with Weimann and Agbonlahor as the wide attacking mids with N’Zogbia behind target man Benteke.  Weimann’s inclusion was interesting given that he hasn’t started on the right in any of Villa’s recent league games. Lambert is a known tactical tinkerer as we know from last season at Norwich and his selection of the Austrian in this area usually vacated by Baines on the left appeared a deliberate counter attacking ploy.

Key Data

In terms of possession, the Toffee’s were more dominant of the ball than in any game this season. Overall we had 68.3% of possession and a massive 78.5% of final third possession with 147 passes in the final third compared to Villa’s 41. We also kept the ball better with 76% pass completion compared to Villa’s 66% and were more positive in possession with 51% of our passes going forward compared to Villa’s 48%. Whilst we created more scoring opportunities (21 v 8) Villa were more productive in terms of creating chances relevant to their possession, requiring just 5 final third passes to create a chance compared to our 7. Off the ball, Villa worked tirelessly making 34 interceptions to our 12 and repeatedly looked to break up play, committing 23 fouls to our 7.

Toffee’s Defensive Woes….

Going forward we played some excellent stuff, with the return of Kevin Mirallas and the superb current form of Victor Anichebe both significant in our scoring woes easing in recent games.  With there being no issues from an offensive point of view, we will take a look at the defending calamities that ultimately cost us dear with 2 of the 3 goals shipped very shoddy from a blue perspective.  Heitinga’s display was particularly poor however he was not the only player at fault as we will show with our  focus on the positioning of our central defenders in the build up to each of the goals…..

Villa played a ruthless counter attacking game focused on our left side and looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible; to demonstrate this their most frequent passing combination was their keeper Brad Guzan’s long balls to Benteke, with this combination used successfully 7 times.

Goal 1 (Benteke)

Positionally we are ok here initially, with N’Zogbia pressed by a back peddling Baines and Gibson….however the duo don’t do enough to snuff out the danger meaning that Distin (circled) has to move across to fill in for Baines on the left leaving Heitinga (also circled) moving into Distin’s position.

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With Distin moving across to the left there is a sizeable gap for Benteke to move into and take the pass from N’Zogbia. When faced with a one on one situation, Heitinga’s physical shortcomings are alarmingly exposed as the Belgian brushes him off effortlessly and slots past Howard.

Goal 2 (Agbonlahor)

This goal was also a shocking goal to concede with Heitinga again at fault. Attacking down our left side, Villa have a man spare on the touchline (Westwood) with Baines coming inside to fill in for Distin (circled) who is caught out of position. Pienaar should really slot in here to cover his full back but he is also caught out of position.

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With no pressure on the ball, Westwood is able to whip in a delivery that Agbonlahor heads home with Heitinga (circled) again guilty of sloppy marking.  Defending balls into our box has been an achilles heel all season and to underline this we have conceded more headed goals than any side in the top flight.

Goal 3  (Benteke)

This was a superb goal from Villa and it’d be harsh to apportion blame here.  Shortly before Benteke’s second goal Baines had been guilty of some crass marking, allowing his man Wiemann to move away from him and go clear on Howard. Luckily the winger’s composure didn’t match his excellent movement which had enabled him to instigate this clear cut opportunity.

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Shortly after though, after some slick play again down our left side, Lowton gets free and with Distin again alerted to the danger and coming across to the left flank, Heitinga is left alone with Benteke who again wins the physical miss-match to slot Villa’s third and seemingly secure all three points.

In Conclusion…..

This was a great game with attacking players firmly on top, aided and abetted by comedy defending from both sides with our left side ruthlessly exposed on the counter attack. Luckily for us, Ron Vlaar’s marking was equally as inept as the hapless Jonny Heitinga’s and in the end a 3-3 draw was probably the right outcome.  With Spurs and Arsenal both winning the quest for fourth spot looks even more tricky than ever especially with some tough fixtures on the horizon for the toffee’s. Such games have brought the best out of the Blues in the last twelve months though and if we can quickly fix the obvious defensive problem it wouldn’t surprise me if we bounced back and got a positive result next week at Old Trafford.

EB