Tactical Analysis: The Everton Back 3 Experiment

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The  Stoke Problem

Our recent record against Stoke has been  poor with no wins in our last 4 matches against Pulis side and no clean sheets. Often we have failed to win the territory / aerial battles and been outnumbered through the middle on the second balls.  The problem was even more problematic given the absence of Fellaini – one of our most aerially dominant players – due to suspension.

Ever the reactive tactician, Moyes looked to combat this through springing a surprise in his selection, opting to deploy three centre backs (circled blue) with Coleman and Baines providing the width (as they usually do anyway) as wing backs in a 3-4-3- ish system.

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In midfield,  Osman/Gibson supported an attacking trio of Mirallas, Anichebe and Jelavic with the Croatian through the middle and Anichebe (right) / Mirallas (left)  playing more supportive roles on the flanks (3-4-2-1) when we didn’t have the ball (circled yellow) and then when possession was regained Anichebe would come inside alongside Jelavic with Mirallas in behind (3-4-1-2). The tactical change was surprising given that such a setup is un-chartered territory for Moyes who always prefers a back four.

Many sides have used a similar back three setup against Stoke over the last season to combat the route one punts down the middle of the park – some with more success than others.  In terms of shape, Jagielka was the middle man who would predominantly attack the long deliveries –he won the most headers (8) on the pitch – whilst Distin came in on the left with Heitinga on the right.

Pros and Cons of 3 at the back

The key benefit of the back three is that it gave us a man advantage against Stoke’s two centre forwards Crouch and Jerome . This gave us better coverage through the middle and led to our figures in terms of aerials and second balls improving based on recent games against the Potters.

In this game we won 49% of the aerial duels which was a better figure than the game earlier this season (37%) and last season’s games home and away. Having more players in this central area meant we were better equipped bodies wise to hoover up the second balls too. In the corresponding fixture last season Stoke won  73% of their second balls whilst yesterday we restricted them significantly in this area to just 56%.  Heitinga is the better of the three on the ball and with Distin and Jagielka picking up Crouch/Jerome it meant Heitinga was usually  free to mop up and bring the ball out from the back unopposed. As the passing network shows he pushed the ball into midfield more than any of the 3, predominantly picking out Gibson who in turn looked to pick out Coleman to start attacks down the right.

In terms of the flanks it meant that wing backs  Baines/Coleman could focus more on the attacking role which is where their best attributes reside.

The disadvantage on the flanks was that we were numerically outnumbered and couldn’t engineer the 2 v 1 situations in the final third which is usually a hallmark of our attacking play.

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This is particularly evident when looking at the passing network with Baines only receiving 2 passes from Mirallas in front of him compared to the double figures he usually gets from Pienaar and thus Baines was largely reliant on Leon Osman for service down his flank. This led to us firing in just 20 crosses compared to the 44 we desperately hammered in last season against Stoke.

One of the reasons the back three system is favoured against Stoke is because the numerical deficit on the flanks isn’t really exploited due to Stoke’s full backs primarily tucking in and rarely crossing the half way line to exploit this  advantage with their wide midfielder.


The ends justifies the means and you would have to say the back three experiment did the job in what was always going to be a war of attrition against a hard to watch Stoke outfit.The result also puts us in good shape for some of the crucial battles against key rivals in the coming weeks.

Offensively the lack of numbers on the flanks meant we didn’t create much with the exception of Mirallas excellent goal. Defensively however we looked more secure through the middle and restricted Stoke to few scoring chances with the Potters as usual very reliant on set plays.

Stoke look in big trouble; despite investing  heavily in the playing squad they are on course for their worst points total since returning to the top flight as well as their lowest goals output and seem incapable of creating anything from open play.


Everton 2-0 Man City – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Tactics

The Toffee’s made two changes from the limp FA Cup exit with Jelavic and Neville carrying the can and replaced by Anichebe and Gibson.  City looked to combat our aerial assault by conceding the flanks and overloading in central zones with three centre halves Kolo Toure, Nastasic and Zabaleta. On the left, Kolorov made his first start since the last game against us back in December in place of Clichy presumably for his height and delivery as we will usually push City out to the flanks. On the right, vanilla flavoured James Milner has started the last 3 at Goodison in an attempt to reign in Baines mischief so it was equally unsurprising that he was deployed here from the start.

First 60 Minutes…

The Toffee’s used a ‘contract and expand’ type approach to this match; when City had the ball we formed a compact block and when possession was regained we’d make the pitch as large as possible with Coleman and Baines pushing right up field.  Coleman was the out-ball throughout with Gibson (7) and Mucha (6) feeding the full back most frequently.

We know City would look to play through the middle so when we lost the ball our players would shrink the middle of the pitch with wide players tucking inside and closing off passing angles to the likes of Silva and Tevez who increasingly had to funnel across to wide areas to pick up passes.

Southampton make the most interceptions in the top flight with an average of 19.9 per game however yesterday we made a whopping 26 with the below visual showing how predominantly they came in-field and not down the flanks with the clearly ace Gibson (7) making the most.

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The game’s opening goal came after some patient build up play by the Blues with Osman switching play from left to right, feeding the excellent Seamus Coleman. The Irishman moved the ball inside for Osman and with City standing off him – as they did later for the Jelavic goal – the pint sized schemer was able to pop a cracker into the top corner of block headed gaming enthusiast Joe Hart’s net.  Mancini then switched to a back four prior to half time with Zabaleta pushing out to right back, Milner pushing into midfield and Silva moving to left midfield.

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Post Red Card

With a man disadvantage, Operation Goodison lockdown commenced with more of a focus on the defensive game than the previous full throttle attacking overload from the first half.  Moyes withdrew Fellaini into a deeper midfield role and Osman pushed out to the left flank with Anichebe thus increasingly isolated, feeding predominantly of long balls which he did superbly. The less dynamic Naismith was brought on for Mirallas presumably for his better defensive capabilities particularly as an aerial outlet.  Credit must go to the much maligned Scot as his industry was crucial in winning the ball back for Fellaini to tee up Jelavic for goal two.

City brought on Nasri to play through the middle in place of the awful Gareth Barry in a bid to give their passing a bit more depth and incision which worked to an extent. City unsurprisingly swelled possession in the last 30 mins and with more space to manoeuvre in the centre of the pitch for the likes of Silva and Nasri chances became more frequent with 9 of their 17 opportunities coming within this time period.

As the game developed we relied increasingly on the lion hearted running of Seamus Coleman,  who made more successful dribble than anyone on the pitch. Goodness knows what slow releasing energy foodstuffs they feed the young wingback at Finch Farm for his breakfast. With most players dead on their feet in the dying embers of the battle, Coleman’s late bursts where the football equivalent of a withered clubber re-energised at dawn courtesy of an ill judged double drop of love beans. Alexsander Kolorov will certainly be happy to see the back of him.


Just as last week was a microcosm of the negative aspects of Moyes, today provided a reminder of the good things with hard work, bloody minded determination combined with quality and a streetwise cunning in the important zones.

For Mancini, Everton will always be his ‘laces out’ Ray Finkle moment. The Italian spoke after the 1-1 draw in December about how there is ‘no solution’ to playing Everton. He must feel like a man banging his head against a brick wall as everything he tried failed. This time out he went with 3 centre backs, then switched to a back four and then back to a back 3 in the final period of the game. The formations changed but whichever shape he went for City were second best in the face of an opponent fired up by the fall-out from last week.

We’ve now webbed United and City this season – a feat only matched by Real Madrid – but now need to follow this up with results at rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs plus the local dispute at the Tin Mine. All the above are places we have continually failed to get points in past campaigns but which will ultimately define our season.


Man City Scout Report: Strengths & Weaknesses

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General Trends in Games between the clubs;

  • It’s a low scoring fixture; Only 1.6 goals per game in the last 3 matches between the clubs. City have scored just once in the last four and a half hours of football at Goodison
  • City will control the ball; Our visitors will dominate possession although it will not always be threatening possession e.g. the most frequent passing combinations in the last two games for City have been Lescott – Kompany and Yaya Toure to Barry.
  • Toffee’s will look for territory gains; Territory wise it is something of a dead heat i.e. whilst City have all the ball it is predominantly in our half with us getting 11 men behind the ball and playing more direct from back to front.
  • Set plays key for us; City roughly create double the amount of chances than we do, with ourselves creating a higher percentage from set plays.
  • Blues graft will be crucial; Due to City’s possession we have always had to work harder in terms of being off the ball for longer periods. The exception to this was the last game when City regained possession more than us despite having more of the ball, a consequence of us looking to keep shape and not press as much (which could lose to us losing defensive shape). We will generally defend compact with full backs tucked in to snuff out the central areas as shown below …so we basically give City space but in wide areas where they are less threatening.
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Manager and Player Analysis

New Picture (18)Roberto Mancini

The Italian’s defensive strategy is based on a defensive six (4 defenders, 2 defensive mids)  When not on the ball he likes his sides to press and win it back quickly. Going forward Mancini plays a possession focused game, making sure the ball is moved around the pitch, probing for spaces to invite defences to come out to press and then exploit with a killer pass.

The focus is on being quick and sharp in the counter attack and moving quickly in tight spaces going forward with fast paced players who can penetrate spaces between opposition lines and create opportunities. For example, the below shows the average positions of the teams in last season’s fixture  (efc left/city right) ….the lines between our defence and midfield are the areas City’s attacking players (circled) predominantly operate and look to make gains.

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Likely Team…..

Joe Hart

Comparisons with Casillas and Buffon were ridiculous but Hart is a solid performer with a good command of his area. Has kept 30 clean sheets in the Premier League since August 2011, nine more than any other ‘keeper in that period and has conceded fewer goals on the road than any top flight stopper this season. Also loves chill-axing post match down the go-cart track.

Pablo Zabaleta

Versatile performer who has been City’s most consistent player this season from right back. Great tackler, good going forward and also competent in the air. The only fly in his ointment is a propensity to get a bit too tight which has led to him making the most fouls and being dribbled past more than anyone in the City squad.

Vincent Kompany

Should dislodge part time car salesman Kolo Toure in the right of centre slot despite the Ivorian recently being in decent form. A genuine colossal customer both in the air and on the deck. Not the greatest defender in terms of distribution. Only slight blot on his copybook is a fondness to go to ground which has led to a few issues with referees in the last twelve months.

Joleon Lescott

Lescott appears on his way out of the club after losing his place to the excellent Nastasic. The ex blue is usually selected against sides with a significant aerial threat so will likely be in contention for a start in this one. The Serb has a much higher tackle completion rate and crucially unlike Lescott can pass the ball; Nastasic has completed 33% more passes per game and is particularly good in terms of long range passing, making 4.3 successful long passes per game to lescott’s 1.3.

Gael Clichy

An excellent tackler with great mobility. at 5’9 he’s the same height as Pablo Zabaleta but is less capable in the air winning less than half his aerial duels. Can at times be targeted by opposition managers as a weak link so expect Heitinga/Gibson to loft balls in his direction towards Fellaini.

James Milner

The archetype English player with the exception of being tee total. Usually deployed on the right of midfield to track baines, started the last 2 games at goodison before being subbed off both times after City have fallen behind. Grafter who is more notable for his ability off the ball than on it…will give you a wet shirt at the end of the game. Once had a trial with the toffees and looks like a right laugh off the pitch.

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Yaya Toure

Rightfully lauded as the lynchpin of the side.  Last time was restricted from making his trademark forward surges due to picking up Fellaini further back particularly from Howard kick outs. Will most likely have a similar brief in this game. Hopefully he has an off day.

Javi Garcia

Much better than Gareth Barry. Ex Benfica and Real Madrid midfielder and occasional centre back. Is good in the air and can move the ball well. Is susceptible to being beaten for pace.

David Silva

We’ll need to watch this cat. The key mischief-maker who averages a chance created every 26 minutes in the top flight this season. Notably struggles in these encounters with our restriction of space through the middle. Failed to create a single chance in the game at the Etihad this season and was man marked out of the game by Rodwell last season. Not as sharp going towards his own goal and was chastised by Mancini for not tracking Baines run in the first half in the move which led to Fellaini goal earlier this season.

Carlos Tevez

Vile no necked sub humanTevez has been mostly the support striker this season, leading to him assisting 7 goals – the joint highest with Silva. Generally has struggled against us in the past and has not scored in open play in 11 games vs everton for 3 different clubs. Better to keep him on his left peg with 87% of his goals this season coming from his right foot.

Eden Dzeko

The nailed on starter for City; always plays against us when fit due to his physicality and will pick up Fellaini from set pieces. Predominantly right footed forward who has also never scored against Everton.


Time to go, Marouane

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Firstly, this isn’t a knee jerk reaction to the truly dire events which un-folded at Goodison Park at the weekend. I drafted this a month or so ago but have been too bone idle to get it into some kind of shape for public consumption.   Nor is this an anti-Fellaini rant; I don’t mind him as a player and think he’s been a useful performer in the side during his 4 ½ year spell on Merseyside. However, his overall impact on the side has been over-hyped, particularly this season.

For a while now, the feeling generally given off by the Belgian and his ‘camp’ is that life at Goodison is as welcome as a night in the company of James Corden. The booing vs Wigan was partly down to him turning his back on the play and his usual wayward passing but also a signal of the growing resentment many fans feel towards him for this continued lack of commitment and positioning for a move away from the club. It’s worth noting that in the two seasons prior to last season the side had a better winning record with Fellaini not in the side.

In terms of his contribution on the pitch, the negative impact of his game on Jelavic was documented in this piece last week and there is little doubt there is limited chemistry between the duo with just one assist for Fellaini this year for his misfiring forward partner.  Post match on Saturday, Martinez basically said Wigan’s plan was to stop us playing this long style at the source by pressing our full backs….a plan that was executed ruthlessly.  One of the most fluid games we have played since the post new year slump was the first half vs West Brom when Fellaini played deeper and the attacking midfield trio of Osman, Mirallas and Pienaar interchanged fluidly to great effect.

Perhaps a more classic ‘number ten’ type player who can supply Jelavic could cure the Croatian’s alarming slump in front of goal.

As an anchor midfielder he is very decent at regaining possession and can shield the ball very well, but actually on the ball he is limited. He hasn’t got the ability in his locker to distribute long from deep positions like Gibson, nor is he capable of playing an incisive through pass like Steven Pienaar in the advanced midfielder role.

His unorthodox style in what is a different twist on the classic number ten role  enables us an outlet and link man in the final third who can ‘get in peoples faces’ when he is arsed, which isn’t often. However, he is no way a dynamic forward and his influence is often easy to negate, as the limited Phil Jones recently showed. With the exception of United he has regularly struggled to make an impact in the final third against any of our big rivals in years gone by.

That be said, he gives us a credible ‘Plan B’ option of going long when Plan A of engineering 2 v 1 ‘s down the flanks either isn’t on or isn’t working.  He is also more adept as a ‘back to goal’ target man than say Cahill, as his volume of touches (roughly double) in the opposing half compared to the Aussie testifies. However, we can often over burden this route and it can be all too predictable at times.

Mentality wise, the Belgian is incredibly vulnerable and his attitude lately quite frankly stinks the place out. The Stoke red card was a complete joke and it wasn’t the first time this season his temperament has been called into question. In countless other games – particularly on the road – at the likes of Wigan and West Brom he has been dropped deeper to mitigate the risk of him getting sent off for retaliation.

In Saturday’s game he mentally through the towel in early and was again taken out of the firing line to prevent a probable second yellow and another suspension. In the WBA and Norwich games his focus and concentration deteriorated alarmingly as a result of the physical questions asked by old school groc opponents such as Caldwell and Bradley Johnson and as a consequence his set piece marking late on in these games cost us vital goals, a trick he also served up in the fa cup surrender to Liverpool last season. Fellaini is supposed to be our big game player but seems unable to do the business against even the most limited operatives in the division. Since January he has been going through the motions and is now more so a liability, a human time-bomb waiting to blow.

From a financial point of view, it’s unlikely we could afford to keep him anyway.  Signing contracts are no longer enough for the modern day player who now also crave a mid contract loyalty bonus in the form of a pay rise otherwise they will bugger off to someone who will pay. The racist from across the park is at least pretending he wants to hang around.

Fellaini’s current deal of £75,000 per week runs for another 3 seasons but with him looking for a bump-up, if he is forced to have to carry on his personal hell playing for Everton (poor Marouane) the deal would cost the club around £15.5m from now until til 2016. That’s a frightening amount to spend on a limited player only to be told on a daily basis  by him, his annoying arl fella or his gimp agent that he wants to play for a gang of absolute weapons who can give him what he craves – Champions League football – or in other words a lorry load of £50 notes.  If a deal was done it would equate to (including wages saved) the tune of nearly £40m in the club coffers, or three decent players….but that’s a big ‘if’. Personally I’d rather we took the money and invested in some younger players keen to make their mark on the game, a bit like when Fellaini first rocked up on these shores.

Whether there will quite be the stampede for his services remains to be seen as there is more than a hint of ‘jack of all trades master of none’ about his overall play.

Do you remember the Fellaini that dominated midfield against Arsenal or Chelsea?  Me neither.

Would Chelsea really spend £25m on a midfielder cum second forward and hit long balls up to him when they could afford to have a specialist in each position? It’s clearly unlikely.

Who we replace him with will be interesting and will probably depend on who is in the Toffee’s dugout next season. If Moyes stays he will want someone like for like I’d imagine, whereas a new boss may be inclined to go for a more classic second forward who unlike Fellaini is better with his feet than his head.


What’s up with Jelavic?

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By  @Footballfactman

The Croatian striker has gone 12 Premier League games without scoring now and even his greatest admirers must be worrying about his form. I’ve heard numerous theories – he’s been found out, he’s being grocked out of games, he’s working the channels too much or his confidence has gone. Instead of mere speculation let’s have a look at his Premier League numbers.

Last season he scored 9 times from 18 shots on target. In the top European leagues, that’s the kind of level only the likes of Van Persie, Messi and Falcao can keep up. Forwards worth fortunes, playing alongside team mates worth fortunes.

So apart from the fact the odds were stacked against him from the off this season, what has changed? Well, right from the start against Man Utd this season, Fellaini became the focus of Everton’s attack and it’s stayed that way. Fellaini’s huge influence on play last season was more often from an orthodox midfield role. He continues to touch the ball around 70 times a game but from what is now a regular advanced position. In sharp contrast, Jelavic’s involvement in games has gone from around 42 touches per game to around 28.

Fellaini’s back to goal style doesn’t particularly suit Jelavic’s need for having the ball played in front of him. Fellaini doesn’t particularly like to flick on to no one in particular like Duncan used to – we’ve all seen his preference for chest control and lay-offs. Fellaini’s one assist to Jelavic this season was the cheeky back heel flick through a Sunderland player’s legs when the Belgian’s eyes were still firmly back towards his own goal. Fellaini to Jelavic and vice versa isn’t a big passing feature in Everton’s game. Everton complete about 350 passes per game and less than 10 ever go between these two.

On top of this Everton’s crossing has increased. It was always a feature of our game – we were ranked 6th biggest crossers last year. This year we’re joint 2nd. An increase in crosses is liable to suit Fellaini’s game rather than Jelavic’s – especially the big crosses from way out wide that Everton deliver a lot. Pull-backs from inside the box to the Croatian have all but disappeared due to lack of accuracy or composure – he’s still pulling a yard off defenders and finding space. His team mates just aren’t finding him.

Despite Jelavic lack of involvement he’s still managing to get roughly the same amount of shots off per game as he was last season. What he’s not doing is getting them on target at the same rate. He’s down from around half on target to about a third.

We can rate the quality of his shots by position. The graphic below shows the average number of shots it takes from the various zones to score. These no’s are consistent year on year and cover thousands of shots:

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Jelavic has stayed consistent in taking the bulk of his shots from the “good” zone coloured in green in the graphic. Here it takes an average of 6 shots to score a goal in the Premier League. Both this year and last he’s taking around two thirds of his shots from there. He takes 80% of his shots inside the box. This is high compared to a lot of strikers who wastefully shoot from all angles and distances.

Mapping each of his 104 shots for Everton in the EPL to these zones we can see how his conversion rate compares to the hypothetical average over his 40 games to date:

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Despite not netting since his 28th game, Jelavic remains above the league average. This season he’s taking exactly the same number of shots from the same kind of positions. He’s simply not getting as many on target.

It’s how the ball is arrives to him that’s different. Put the ball on the deck in front of him and he’ll slot. Pinging a long ball over his shoulder, or slinging hopeful crosses in isn’t utilising him in the best way.

As long as Fellaini remains the focus, Jelavic will have to feed off the scraps left over. As I’ve stated before in this column, I think Everton would benefit all round from dropping Fellaini back into midfield. I think Jelavic would too.

Follow me @footballfactman on Twitter and visit my site here (especially if you want to know how good or bad Tim Howard is at saving shots from long range).

Everton 3-1 Reading – Tactical Deconstruction

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Passing / Territory Stats

The Toffee’s comfortably had more of the ball (60% v 40% ) and kept it better (80% v 70%) with better final third completion (82% v 74%) leading to us creating 18 chances to Reading’s 6.

This is fairly consistent with Reading this season with McDermott preferring a territory based game in the opponents half of the pitch and often by-passing the middle of the park. To achieve this he uses 2 forwards to keep opposition defenders ‘penned in’ and will look to hit them early from the back. This formula worked to an extent with the Royals shading territory 50.4% to 49.6%.

Right Side

The key to this win was utilising the right side which had a hand in all 3 goals and created 47% of our chances compared to just 26% from the left side.

The below passing network gives an indication of who passed to who….

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Notes on ‘The Passing Network’: Only displays players who have played for the bulk of the game. The vertical axis shows the player who has made the pass with the horizontal showing the receiver, i.e. Coleman played 19 passes to Gibson / Gibson played 18 to Coleman. The larger the font of the number the more the passes.

With Reading overloading to negate out left side, the shift in play from left to right was crucial as there was always acres of space to play into if we played the switch quickly. Particularly in the second half, Gibson was  able to facilitate this by getting the ball out of his feet and moving it accurately to Coleman to develop attacking moves.

Coleman was the games most involved performer with his combination with Gibson the most frequent from either side. The Irishman’s return to action has been timely and the opening goal was indicative of how ruthless he can be when left 1 v 1.  Coleman is still very much a work in progress but if we can train his brain to think a bit more in terms of where to go after he has passed the ball in 2 v 1 situations then he can really kick on in the coming years.

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In the first period we had been ok in patches but as the above visual shows, we moved the ball a lot quicker in the second period, particularly in the 61-75 minute period when we crushed Reading passing wise and created a third of our 18 scoring opportunities.

In terms of game changing quality, Pienaar was the stand out performer with his shift to the right side instrumental in our second half dominance. His fifth league goal of the season – a personal best – was truly outstanding, as was his through pass to Mirallas for goal three. The speedy Belgian took his goal well and grew in importance as the game developed.

With his skinny, quick legs and mischievous streetwise cunning, Mirallas is the footballing equivalent of an urban fox.

As the passing network shows he and Osman’s link up with Jelavic was particularly good but were ultimately unsuccessful in ending the Croatian’s continuing goal drought.

Some brief thoughts on the defence…

At the back we did ok considering we were without our regular keeper and best centre half.

Making his first appearance since a cameo as a malnourished extra in Romper Stomper, Jan Mucha had an ok game in the nets with his pass completion 35%, compared to Howard’s 38% in the Reading game earlier this season. He didn’t look too comfortable on crosses and mostly stayed on his line although he did make one superb stop from Noel Hunt in the second half. Hopefully Howard will be back next week, as fist pumping phony Jonny Heitinga is sure to be having nightmares about his re-match with Aroune Kone all week.

On the right of the back four, Coleman did well in terms of blocking crosses (Reading’s key attacking weapon) with 7 interceptions. Overall we repelled the lateral threat ok with 12 crosses blocked to Reading’s 4. However, we did concede a soft goal late on after a re-shuffle had seen Anichebe move in front of Coleman on the right side of midfield where he is less assured defensively. Worryingly, it was the 4th goal we have conceded this week with each one resulting in us not being able to defend the high ball into our box.

In Conclusion…

This was a fairly routine win against one of the weakest sides we have faced at Goodison in a while and should set us up nicely for Wigan next week. Coleman, Mirallas and Pienaar all excelled whilst Fellaini did ok in patches although his influence was nowhere near as pivotal as the derisory analysis served up by Hansen and the laughing imbecile Shearer on motd would have you believe.

In conclusion, we are now up to 45 points from 28 games which is an average 1.6 points per game. This would roughly bring us out with 61 points in the final reckoning, the same total that got us 4th spot on in 2004/5 . Whilst an improvement on last season it would still leave us short of our best ever points haul under Moyes in 2007/8 when we amassed 65 points, an average of 1.7 points per game.