Everton v Fulham – Tactical Preview

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Saturday sees us take on Martin Jol’s Fulham at Goodison in a fixture the Toffees routinely triumph.  In the most recent match at Craven Cottage one of the key tactical points of interest was how we managed to link play through Fellaini with consummate ease whereas Fulham struggled to get their key man Dimitar Berbatov into the game in any capacity.  This preview will take a look at the reasons why both situations occurred.

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Berbatov

Top scorer Dimitar Berbatov is Fulham’s stand out performer having scored in six of their ten wins this season whilst also creating the most chances for team mates (43). He usually pivots between the no 9 and 10 roles with fellow flamboyant rogue Bryan Ruiz. His record against us isn’t great with just 3 goals from his 11 appearances.

Berbatov was completely anonymous in the 2-2 draw earlier this season and has generally struggled in games against us due to his and our style. We setup with a high line and look to play the game in the opposition half meaning that – due to the compression of space – forward short passing angles into him from colleagues are hard to engineer which makes sides ‘go long’ to relieve pressure.

Berbatov made just 4 final third passes in the game, created no chances for teammates and had just a solitary shot on goal all afternoon. His ‘passes received’ are shown below with Hangeland and Schwarzer his main line of service indicating a ‘back to front’ style not usually associated with the Cottagers.

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Compare this to his involvement against QPR lately when tactics sceptic, dog rape enthusiast Dirty Arry set them up to drop off deep and allow Fulham the space to in front of them to play. Consequently,  Berbatov was heavily involved linking midfield to attack, making treble the amount of final third passes and supplemented this with a couple of goals which won the game.

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Berbatov is theoretically the ideal opponent for us in this respect as he isn’t going to ‘work the channels’ and provide an out ball to defences to relieve pressure, nor does he have the pace (or ability to be arsed) running in behind to exploit our the high line. Heitinga’s more suited skill set of intercepting play was preferred to Distin’s physical, recovery based game last time and it wouldn’t be a big shock if twitter troll nemesis ‘Big Sylv’ sat this one out.

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Fellaini

Despite recent outings in a deeper role I’d be amazed if Fellaini wasn’t given a forward brief for this fixture having scored four in his last three games against this weekend’s opponents. With the towering presence of Hangeland at left of centre, Fellaini loiters on the opposite side and has routinely dominated whichever beleaguered opponent Jol has pitted against him. As the below passes received stats board shows, we managed to get Fellaini involved with almost double the amount of service that Fulham did to their Bulgarian frontman.

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Last season Fellaini was used in the forward role home and away and caused real problems in this respect. In the Goodison game we played the ball predominantly short to him but such was the hapless Baird’s afternoon that he was subbed for Senderos at half time by which time we were 3-0 up already.

In the 2-2, Hughes was pitted against the Belgian but also struggled badly. Initially he looked to stand off Fellaini but as we started mixing up the service and going longer quicker, the Irishman tried to get tight and was rolled on numerous occasions including Fellain’s second goal which to be fair was superb. Hughes was completely befuddled and turned inas convincing  defence as this, or this. Or even this. It’s likely that ex toffee Phillipe Senderos (yes, really) will be given the job of stopping him this time which could permeate tremendous scenes.

Betting

 Martin Jol’s side have an unenviable record at Goodison,  losing the last 19 on the spin and not winning home or away in the last seven against us.

Given that Fulham are not the most resilient – they’ve won fewer points from losing positions than any side in the top flight– one goal would probably do it so expect the Everton win / Fellaini score double to be a popular wager with Blues this weekend – this is best priced at 9/4 with 888Sport.

The last four meetings have all featured over 2.5 goals however five of Fulham’s last six on the road have been under 2.5. It’s also worth noting that Fulham have shut out Chelsea and Spurs on their own patch so definitelyhave a clean sheet ‘in their locker’. This combined with our own recent low scoring games plus an upturn in clean sheets for the Blues makes me think this will be under and probably 2-0 to the Toffees.

EB

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Arsenal 0-0 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Line-ups

We made one change from the weekend, with Ross Barkley coming in for the injured Leon Osman meaning that Fellaini dropped back into midfield with Anichebe as the lone forward. Arsenal brought in Walcott, Mertesacker and Gibbs to the side that beat Norwich at the weekend.

Off the ball

Generally we did a good number on Arsenal’s passing game by swamping the middle of the park. The Gunners boast the highest pass completion (85.9%) and possession share (58.9%) in the top flight. In the first half particularly, we had them down to 79% for the majority, with their key link man and most frequent passer, the ex toffee Mikel Arteta recording just 55 passes during the game, way down on his 88 per game average.  The Spanish schemer on average is dispossessed just 0.8 times per game whilst tonight he was dispossessed 3 times – more than in any other game this season.

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The above takes into account pressing ‘contacts’ including tackles, interceptions, blocks and fouls broken down into 15 minute spells.

Fellaini was perhaps lucky to escape a booking early on for some rough stuff aimed at Mike Skinner tribute act Jack Wilshere whilst – despite the best efforts of Arteta – Darron Gibson just about stayed on the pitch after some tangles with Wilshere and Arteta. To be fair to the Spaniard, we didn’t mind him buying fouls and being a snide when he played for us! Overall we defended resolutely with Jagielka and Coleman particularly impressive in what was a high intensity tussle.

On the ball

On the ball, our own pass completion was decent,  in the first half peaking at 83% with us having more of the ball (50.3%) than the Gunners which is well up on our usual stats against the top sides when we tend to be more subservient.

In the second half Arsenal turned the screw more, eventually finishing the game with 57% of the ball as we sat deeper but failed to instigate as many counter attacks as we did at Spurs.

Anichebe endured a frustrating afternoon and didn’t really hold the ball up and bring in the wide attacking midfielders as he should have done with MIrallas and Barkley only receiving one pass each from the Nigerian. Overall he received 24 balls which led to just 9 passes, with just 5 completed successfully.

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The display of Ross Barkley in his ‘favoured’ role was one of the most promising aspects of the game going forward and he was more effective at linking the play than Anichebe.

Barkley received the most passes from Fellaini (7) and played in Mirallas (6) the most. His pass completion (86%) was well up on the 50% he posted vs Spurs and only bettered by Distin and Gibson (88%).  He also made the joint most shots, through balls and key passes with his sumptuous slide pass to Anichebe in the first half and his long range effort in the second our most threatening ‘moments’ in the game.

Conclusion

This was a decent effort by the Blues in a game which was at its best in the first half. Overall we didn’t really create a lot of chances, particularly in the second half of the game when Arsenal overturned the passing figures which we shaded in the first half. The point doesn’t really do much for us but given our shocking record against Arsenal and in the context of the pressure they put us under in the second half, this was a point gained rather than two lost.

EB

Spurs 2-2 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Tactics

Spurs lined up in a 4-3-3 of sorts with Holtby, Parker and Dembele in central midfield with width coming from Sigurdsson on the left and Dempsey on the right with Adebayor up front. As he did in the game at Goodison, Vertonghen came in at left full back with Walker on the opposite flank.

After last week’s three at the back experiment we reverted to a back four with the surprise inclusion of Ross Barkley in place of Jelavic the only personnel change.  Barkley initially lined up on the left but he, Mirallas and Osman all dovetailed a fair bit in an interchangeable trio of attacking mids in the first half. You could say it was 4-2-3-1 but basically it was 6 defenders and four counter attacking players.

First Half

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Spurs started the game in a rapid fashion with attacks focused down their left channel with Vertonghen, Holtby and Sigurdsson overloading down this side and putting significant pressure on Seamus Coleman.

Our start defensively couldn’t have been worse; with Mirallas not in position, Vertonghen was able to whip in a ball that was disastrously defended by Distin to allow Adebayor to slot home.

We then came back strongly with a really good 15 minute period of possession when pass completion peaked at 83%– better than any  other spell of the game. With Spurs pinned back we deservedly went in level when Jagielka headed home Baines delivery.

Passing Combinations

Spurs three bodies against our two in central midfield enabled Dembele, Parker and Holtby to be involved in the bulk of Spurs top 10 passing combinations as shown below;

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For ourselves, the blossoming Victor Anichebe was the key man, being involved in 50% of our top 10 passing combinations. In keeping with our game plan, Anichebe was the target for direct balls up field and was asked to link play with the trio in behind him with Mirallas and Osman the major beneficiaries.  Anichebe/Mirallas (14) was second only to Baines/Osman (15) in terms of total combinations both ways.

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Second Half

Ross Barkley was subbed in the 52nd minute after something of a patchy game. The youngster played a key role in forcing the corner for our opening goal but found the going tough against Spurs pressing game with 50% of his passes finding a white shirt – the lowest completion of any of the starting outfield players. Incidentally, the final pass which seemed to prompt the change came when a forward pass was on but the youngster unwisely opted to play a backwards pass that was intercepted.

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In the  reshuffle that followed, Jelavic came on and Leon Osman moved across to the left flank with Mirallas – who superbly slotted our second goal – moving to play almost as a right sided forward and thus pushing back Vertonghen who had been Spurs prominent attacking full back in the first half. This move led to Kyle Walker becoming the main lateral threat in the second half with Baines being pushed even further back as the game unfolded.

As the second half player importance visual above shows, we were increasingly deeper positionally in the second period with the gap between our defensive 6 and forward 4 becoming a gulf. This led to us hitting 20% of our passes long, way up on the season average of 14%.

With legs tiring, mistakes on the ball became more frequent for the toffees and resulted in our pass completion from 75 minutes onwards plummeting to just 58%. Being unable to keep the ball for any prolonged period of time put increasing pressure on the backline and eventually it cracked with Sigurdsson scoring after Walker had skinned Baines down our left flank.

To be fair, Spurs are a top side and as well as being slick on the ball they press ferociously of it; despite having 62% of possession they regained play via tackle or interception as many times as we did (40) and also made double the amount of fouls than we did.

Conclusion

This was tactically a good performance by the Blues and was a game-plan we have seen executed on more than one occasion with a draw probably a fair result. Spurs will point to their territorial and possession dominance as pointers that they deserved all three points however due to our defensive operation they didn’t translate this possession into scoring chances and I felt that on the counter attack we looked equally if not more threatening and could have scored a couple more goals than we did in what was a frenetic second period.  The point doesn’t really do much for us in terms of making up ground on teams above us however as a game it was cracking entertainment and gave us 4 points from 6 against a very good Spurs side.

EB

Scout Report: Moyes 4 options to stop Bale

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This week’s preview will take a look at Gareth Bale; Spurs key man and driving force in taking them to third place in the table. Moyes has often shuffled his pack to accommodate significant threats such as David Silva and more recently last week’s switch to three at the back.

Given Spurs will most likely start with just Adebayor up front it’s unlikely – but not impossible – that we will retain this formation as we would have 2 spare centre backs. What other options are available then? Here are four to think about….

New Picture (101)Option 1 – Coleman

Coleman has been used a couple of times in midfield to directly stop Bale. It’s a role he is suited to given his pace and tackling ability.  As the average position board (left) shows, in 09/10 Coleman (23) played in front of Phil Neville (18) with decent results; Bale did virtually nothing and failed to complete a single cross before being moved to the right flank where he was equally quiet.

In 10/11 Coleman was again deployed in midfield but this time moved with Bale from flank to flank. Bale was predominantly on Coleman’s unfavoured left flank (circled below) in front of Baines however as Bale is left footed he will cut inside on Coleman’s better right foot. Again in this game Bale was peripheral.

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In Spurs last game vs Swansea Bale played fairly freely as the below passes received visual shows…

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Whilst in Spurs last home game against Fulham Bale played exclusively on the right flank…..

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The conclusion we can draw here is that he will position himself where the space is. Given Baines occupies a position high up field it’s my guess Bale will start on the right. A potential setup with Coleman in midfield would look like this….

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The only issue is, if Coleman is played in wide midfield, who plays in his right back spot? After the Wigan debacle, Phil Neville is essentially looking after the ponies in a semi retirement abyss whilst Hibbert is also nowhere to be seen, so its unlikely Coleman could be spared from the right back slot unless Heitinga is asked to ‘do a job’. The other issue is that it reduces Coleman’s impact going forward which as we will explain later could be crucial.

Option 2 – Zonal Marking

The image below shows the 65 locations of the pitch Bale has created chances from (bottom) and the 17 positions he has scored from (top); clearly the main area for both is centrally in the final third just outside our 18 yard box where 7 of his goals have come from.

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Defending this zone will be crucial and therefore marking this space will be implicit to us stopping Bale. Thus, the gap between our midfield and defensive duo will need to be minimal and players will need to pick up and close down when the ball comes into Bale. The key benefit of this approach is that we don’t have to compromise the strengths of our own game by moving players around to stop the opposition.

In total 13 of Bale’s 17 goals have come with his left foot so keeping him on his right foot will be key. The issue is that Osman and Gibson’s qualities are more suited to being on the ball than defending off it, however as they showed against City at Goodison recently, they are more than capable of putting in a defensive shift.

Option 3 – Heitinga

The much maligned Dutchman did a similar job against his countryman Rafael van der Vaart away to Spurs a few years ago from midfield.  More recently, Phil Jones of Man Utd did a similar central job here for United, assisting the full backs when Bale came inside and enabling United’s wide midfielders to push up onto Spurs full backs. This would shape up a little like this….

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Potentially we could pick the same team as last week but move Heitinga into midfield and push Osman further forward into the Fellaini spot.  The problem is that – unlike Rodwell vs Silva last season – Heitinga’s pace is dubious and if isolated 1v1 Bale could potentially make him look like a clown without make-up.

Whilst crud in the air and  suspect defending against physicality, Heitinga is a decent man marker and good on the ground at intercepting the ball so this for me could work. He is also two footed so could either play on the left or right of centre mid if Bale starts moving around the pitch.

Option 4 – Root Cause

The other option is to cut the service at the source. In Spurs last 3 games the main supply has come from the full back areas with either Naughton /Walker whilst Hugo Lloris also features heavily in terms of his quick distribution from the back to Bale.

Bale’s goal output is considerably reduced at home where his conversion is more than 50% less compared to on the road . At home he has failed against the league’s bottom feeders who will sit deep and deny space such as Stoke, Wigan, Norwich and QPR but has scored against sides like Arsenal and Lib-ep-ewl who will play higher lines.

What’s likely to happen?

In reality any one of the above situations could happen, but I’d be very surprised if we went ‘gung ho’ against a quality side that have created 422 scoring chances this season – second only to Lib-ep-ewl’s 433.

Caution will be the watchword although I believe we will score, but perhaps look to open up cagey. Spurs have of course dropped 19 points from leading positions in the league this season and with our extra rest (Spurs play tonight) it might be prudent to stay in the game as long as possible should they falter in the final stages just as they did at Goodison earlier this season – a game which also followed a Europa outing.

Defensively Spurs are suspect down their left side, conceding 33% more chances and 150 more crosses than their right side. The right footed Naughton has been deployed at left back whilst Assou Ekotto and Vertonghen have also deputised with Spurs using each of the trio in their last 3 games in the left back spot. We exploited this area in the reverse fixture with both goals coming from crosses from this zone with Coleman crucial in the key last 20 minute spell of the game as the below player importance shows…

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With this lack of consistency I’d be surprised if Mirallas didn’t start on the right wing and looked to expose Spurs high line with Gibson’s long range delivery crucial to getting him in the game. Spurs have an achilles heel aerially too with Caulker particularly suspect with just 45% success from his headers– low for a centre half -, whilst Gallas will always give you opportunities.

Either way, it should be an interesting fixture. A win or draw keeps us in the hunt for a decent finish whilst a defeat wouldn’t end the season but would make things a lot tougher.

EB