Transfer Deconstruction: James McCarthy

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James McCarthy is supposedly the next name on Roberto Martinez close season shopping list with the Spaniard reportedly willing to ‘swoop’ down on the DW with an offer similar to the £15m club record fee we paid Standard for the services of Fellaini back in 2008. Ironically, its Fellaini’s transfer out of the club that would probably expedite the McCarthy purchase unless we have somehow amassed enough cash to compete with the likes of Norwich and Swansea in the transfer market. So is the Irishman any good then? Is he massively overpriced? How will he fit in should the deal materialise? This lengthy ramble will try to shed some light on all the above matters….

Off the ball

Off the ball, McCarthy’s tackle completion is better than regular centre mid duo Gibson/Osman (although both are more renowned for their ability on the ball than breaking down opposition attacks). Last season McCarthy regained possession (tackles + interceptions) just 3.3 times per game, compared to Osman (4.7) and Gibson (3.4). The benchmark for this deep lying midfield role is Michael Carrick who weighed in with 4.4 per game last season.

Whilst he is an intelligent reader of the game who can intercept play, he isn’t the best tackler and in the position he plays in front of the back four this is an issue unless you have someone alongside him (like Fellaini) who can get to the ball first, particularly against the better sides. Here he has benefitted from Wigan’s three man defence in that often two of the centre backs will step up into midfield and offer defensive protection behind him. Trappatoni (his international boss) usually prefers to have a more physical player alongside him to do this type of work.

Ball Retention

 To his credit, on the ball McCarthy is in the top 10% of central midfielders in the Premier League. In his position he is ranked 8th for volume of passes made per game, 12th for passing accuracy and 10th for most accurate long passes. His passing data is largely better than Osman, Gibson and Fellaini.  His long ball distribution from deep areas is particularly good, firing in with a 77% completion, which is better than our two most prolific distributors from deep areas Gibson (64%) and Jagielka (58%). This is a key component at Everton given the importance of switching play to the wingbacks on each flank, something I don’t envisage changing under Martinez.

There aren’t many midfielders who are as complete. The maturity and composure he has on the pitch is rare. I think technically, it’s difficult to find a better player. You saw a more eye-catching display against QPR (where he scored twice) on the ball and when he drove forward it was impressive. At 22 to have the tactical awareness that he has, he can play in any team in the world – and he will do one day.  James knows he needs another period of improvement, but from a technical point of view he can play in any team in the world and he will do one day”

Passing Tempo / Direction

The above video provides a decent snapshot of what he brings to the table over 90mins. In this fixture against the Champions he hit 69 passes from 78 touches = 1.13 touches per pass, a better ratio even than Carrick who in that game made 1.20 touches per pass. In the equivalent game for us, Gibson made 33 passes from 48 touches (1.45 touches per pass) with Osman making 23 passes from 40 touches (1.73 touches per pass). Whilst his passing frequency was higher, the % of forward passes from McCarthy (49%) was lower than Osman (52%) and significantly lower than Gibson (70%). What does this tell us? As with all stats it’s down to interpretation. You could say he’s a crab, but you could argue his passing tempo is significantly quicker, if albeit more conservative.

Final Third

One notable development area for McCarthy is being able to channel his undoubted ability into  dictating games more on the ball and increasing the frequency of his forward drives which, when deployed, have been eye catching.

National team boss Giovanni Trappatoni certainly thinks his outputs in the final third could improve;

Despite my respect for James, you can’t say he is creative. James is good, he’s linear, he’s an easy player but he’s not creative. I saw many, many [of his] games. I hope he can get more personality. There are players who create time for other players. James is not this typical player.”

To balance this out, ‘The Trap’ is the same man who selected Keith Andrews ahead of Darren Gibson in Euro 2012 and whose people skills have alienated many capable Irish players. Maybe the old Italian’s comments were an attempt to get more out of McCarthy, to jolt his somewhat passive nature, but the above comments would certainly give off more than a whiff of ex toffee Jack Rodwell – who as an aside would have fitted much more cosily into the Martinez era than he did in the Moyes stewardship.

A lack of incision and a lack of confidence where cornerstones of what held Rodwell back and the worry is that McCarthy is another from the production line of British robotic academy players, or James Milner if you like, that will give you a wet shirt, play plenty of square passes but crucially lack the spacial awareness or vision to thread a pass that can impact a game.

Or is he? Despite only averaging 2 goals and 2 assists per season during his time at Wigan, the data shows that McCarthy comfortably created more chances (36) than either Osman or Gibson last season, and virtually the same as Carrick who claimed 37. I think he has in his locker the ability to pick incisive forward passes but it perhaps just needs coaxing out of him. So perhaps this critique of him is not justified and it’s the limitations of his team mates at club and international level which have stunted his reputation in the final third.

 

Mentality

On the pitch, McCarthy has a moderately good disciplinary record with no red cards, although he averages 7 bookings per season. There is a feeling though that he needs to come out of his shell more and dominate opponents and matches more regularly. Trappatoni has highlighted this as a key development area for the Irishman;

” James can increase his personality, in one or two years he can be better than Whelan. (Don’t laugh, he is referring to Glenn Whelan)  He can be a little bit shy and I have said this to him. He needs to command the play”

His decision as a teenager to reject the advances of Benitez whilst the rotund tactician was still in office at the tin mine, coupled with the broad shoulders he displayed to stick to his guns in the face of sectarian abuse in Scotland over his decision to represent Ireland (rather than Scotland) are indications of a strong mind.

Position

 Its McCarthy’s tactical nouse and flexibility tactically which I think is the big draw for Martinez, given he has proven he is comfortable dropping into different tactical assignments (often switching mid game) during his time at Wigan….

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He’s used to playing predominately in a 2 man midfield with McArthur, and this would probably be the most likely way he would line up in a 4-2-3-1

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Whilst his defensive skills are iffy, he is comfortable dropping into defence to form a 3-4-3 utilising his distribution skills from the back. He showed in this position vs Arsenal that he can do this job, thus enabling the centre backs to split and the wing backs to push up. If his defensive work was improved there is no reason he couldn’t develop into a specialist in this DC/DMC area like De Rossi does at Roma.

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McCarthy has also featured in a 2-5-3 offensive setup under Martinez as part of three man central midfield

Market Value

Let’s be honest, the fee is extremely prohibitive and very ‘not Everton’ particularly being in one of the ‘less than sexy’ positions that supporters generally don’t see  value in. Whereas Carrick is now getting the credit he deserves, a lot of players who occupy the deeper midfield slots are pigeon holed as water carriers – in some cases correctly, but in others less so. The fee  the dark side recklessly spunked  on a similar type of player (although nowhere near as good)  – the painfully impotent Joe ‘Xavi’ Allen – is perhaps dictating the figures with this one.

At 22 years of age you have virtually guaranteed sell on money unless it’s a complete disaster (which I doubt)  but a big portion  of any future profit rests on the hope that he can develop as Martinez thinks he will into one of the top players in his position in world football. The issue I guess is that such players are available for a significantly lower premium overseas. Gary Medel, another who has also been linked, is significantly more experienced and would cost significantly less, and was available for as little as £2m when Seville brought him over from Chile a few summers ago.

Conclusions

I like McCarthy. He’s a class player with two good feet, balance and a great range of passing, is good at retaining possession and building attacks from the back, driving forward and is tactically spot on. He’s also physically in top shape, has no documented booze or mdma habits, reduces the average age of the squad and wages wise what he would command is manageable.

His weak point is in the tackle, as well as an inability to express himself fully, which I guess would come with age and with the correct management. In a nutshell, If he was brought to the club I’d be more than happy.

The big issue I guess is money, and how much we actually have in the coffers. Whilst often a liability, Fellaini’s probable departure will leave gaps all over the pitch notably in terms of aerial coverage in both boxes, regaining possession and his healthy goals/assists contribution. McCarthy has a completely different skillset, and one more suited to the evolution of the style Martinez is looking to achieve and if we have enough money to bring in a player who will cover more of the gaps Fellaini will leave then great. If we haven’t then we should perhaps look to something cheaper offshore, or put together a heavily incentivized deal.

As a miser myself I’m probably not the best person to ask. Personally I won’t pay more than 70p for a yorkie or £4.50 for a premium lager. But for me, £15m still seems excessive, but then again I’ve been living in 2002 for a long time now.

EB

 

 

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Inside the mind of Jelavic: A Psychological Profile

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By Natalie Bargery

The term ‘Second Season Syndrome’ is a condition most commonly associated (but not exclusively) with foreign strikers experiencing a challenging  second season in the Premier League. Symptoms include; missing sitters, an inability to hold up the ball and eventually becoming fearful of missing chances to the extent that the player hides in areas of the penalty box were no cross can possibly find him.

Sound familiar? Despite Nikica Jelavic’s popularity amongst Evertonians there can be no doubt he suffered all these symptoms during his second season with us. I remember watching the penalty area as Baines wound up to put in one of his customary pin-point crosses last season. It was obvious to all that the ball had to be played into the near post however Jelavic dashed to the back post and the ball was easily cleared. You could almost see the cogs turning in his brain as he took a step to make the correct run to the near post before changing his mind. It was an inevitable consequence of missing chances all season (e.g. Southampton away). Sadly, it was not just Jela’s lack of goals, in a team that was creating plenty of chances, but his general performance level was not up to scratch either. The phrase, ‘couldn’t trap a bag of cement’ springs to mind! No one could have foreseen this turn of events at the end of the Croatian’s first season with us.

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His confident one-touch finishing could not be questioned and we were left wondering how we did not face stiffer competition for his bargain signature. In fact, Evertonians spent that summer worrying how we were going to keep hold of him in a years’ time. The thought he’d spend the next season in turmoil did not cross any of our minds. The only visible change was his strike partner, an in-form Fellaini instead of an out of form Cahill. Both physical players, good in the air and both played upfront close to Jelavic, particularly at home. He thrived playing with Cahill so why not with Fellaini? What had changed and what could be done to get Jelavic firing again?

A number of solutions and theories were suggested throughout last season….

Theory  1: ‘He just needs a goal’

The rip-roaring finishes to the home games versus Spurs and Man City supplied by the hat-stealing, shirt-twirling Jelavic suggested that the odd-goal, no matter how memorable was not going to cause a quick upswing in his performances.  Furthermore, Jela did not go on a scoring run last season, apart from 3 goals in 2 games against Southampton and Wigan early in the season; he was unable to gain any momentum. Momentum cannot be physically seen or touched but may be believed in by more people than any God. It is a psychological phenomenon that is triggered by a particular event such as, THAT Phil Neville tackle or Adrian Heath’s goal at Oxford United.  It seems Jela was unable to take advantage of his own triggers (goals against Spurs and City) and gain momentum for himself. Moyes said when he signed Yakubu he ‘was told by some people that he tended to score in six games and then not score for another six games, that’s just the way he is’. Consequently, the idea that Jela ‘just needed a goal’ may not have been appropriate for him as the odd-goal was not sufficient for him to gain any momentum. Similar to the Yak, Jelavic may thrive on scoring sequences.

Theory 2: ‘He needs a break- take him out of the firing line for a bit’

This was something Moyes tried. The Croatian started only 4 of the last 15 league games of the season. Yet, his performances did not improve whether he started or came off the bench and neither did his goal tally – he scored only one goal during this period. Consequently, dropping Jelavic may not have been the best solution. Psychologists have principally found the role of a substitute to be a negative experience. Players feel anger, frustration and a lack of control as they are left to watch from the bench. Some positive factors can be experienced, such as increased focus and motivation but Jelavic only scored one goal coming off the bench last season. This indicates Jela did not find any motivation sitting on the bench.

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Theory 3: ‘Moyes has this effect on all our strikers’

Moyes got it right a lot more times than he got it wrong in the transfer market but there is a question mark about the consistency of the strikers he brought in. Andy Johnson, Yakubu and James Beattie all arrived for large sums of money but never really hit the heights we thought possible. It seems the blame for this and Jelavic’ form was being levelled at Moyes for making strikers work too hard, run the channels etc. and not spend enough time in the box. However, a large part of AJ’s game wherever he has been, has been to work hard and create space for others, he scored plenty of goals for Crystal Palace playing that way. While, many fans accused the Yak and Beattie of being ‘lazy lardarses’ during their time with us, so can’t have been much running the channels there. Jelavic regularly popped up on the wing last season with many shouting for him to get into the box but I don’t think this was Moyes influence. More likely, this stemmed from a loss of self-belief which made him fear making mistakes and missing chances. This fear meant Jela was no longer willing to take risks and it was much safer to stay out wide but if any sportsperson is unwilling to take risks then he will not progress and simply, stagnate.

However, loss of self-belief and fear of making mistakes are still only effects of poor performances and few goals. What the root cause of a player’s drop in performance level, basically over one summer, is the key (very difficult) question? If I could answer this question then I would be getting paid a shed load of money by Everton, as I’m sure they tried numerous ways to find the answer last season but here are a few potential theories….

Pressure of Expectation

Jelavic arrived on the crest of a wave. He’d been scoring goals for Rangers, got a huge welcome against City, started scoring quickly for us and even got a goal at Wembley (we’ll forget what happened after that). He was definitely ‘in the zone’.  When a player is ‘in the zone’ performing is effortless and the player plays without fear or self-consciousness. Jela did not have time to stop and think, he just kept scoring and enjoying himself. However, when the season finished and Jelavic went off on his holidays he did have time to stop and reflect. He maybe then started to contemplate the future and question if he was capable of doing it all again? He could have then started to feel the pressure of expectation. He will have felt pressure from fans, family, teammates but most significantly on himself to perform again.

In this situation it is vital to think positively and turn expectation into a positive outcome of the Croatian’s excellent performances. Some players can thrive under that pressure and find it easy to see the positive side. It seems evident that Rooney wants to be the main man at his club and he won’t settle for anything less but not all players appreciate that weight on their shoulders. The weight of expectation may have been too much for Jela following his first 6 months with us. So, he found it testing to get himself back ‘in the zone’ once he stopped and realised what was expected of him. Expectation is no longer solely on him and has shifted heavily to Mirallas. Consequently, Jela may thrive as the focus moves away and he may well find himself back ‘in the zone’.

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Performance Anxiety?

Jelavic appears to enjoy playing without fear or conscious thought ‘in the zone’ as he has never gone through such a difficult time in his career before last season. He has always kept a reasonable scoring rate and so, injury has been the only thing keeping him on the sidelines not his own performances. So, Jela may have become anxious as he struggled find a way to turn it around. When athletes feel anxious a chain of physical (e.g. heart rate changes) and mental (e.g. assess the demands of the situation) processes take place. However, individual differences also take affect and one difference is the athlete’s personal experience. If an athlete has experienced an issue before, that has caused them anxiety, then they can think back to how they dealt with it and use that knowledge again. Jela has not had such a challenging period in his career so he could not rely on his competitive experiences to help him through. So, maybe Jelavic was feeling a great deal of pressure resulting in anxiety and due to lack of previous experience he was struggling to find a way to cope.

Under-Arousal

Alternatively, Jelavic may have taken a different attitude during the summer. It’s possible that he may have taken his foot off the gas and become a bit blasé about the future. The best sports people never believe they have finished learning and keep working hard to achieve their goals. Sylvain Distin is a prime example as he takes the attitude that with age you have to work harder and keep fitter to keep playing at the highest level. He could use his age as an excuse to train less and miss more matches but Distin does not let up. If Jelavic did take this attitude last season then he will have been mentally unprepared for the challenge ahead. Jela may actually have been in a state of ‘under-arousal’, which means the Croatian actually wasn’t anxious enough. Anxiety is not always seen as debilitating as it can be facilitative to performance at the right levels for the individual. If an athlete is under-aroused they are not suitably ‘psyched-up’ for their performance.  In a team example it goes someway to explaining how a premier league side can lose to lower league opposition. They are not motivated for the challenge ahead as they believe all they have to do is turn up to win. Furthermore, it explains why strength in-depth is vital to clubs as players are unable to rest believing their position in the team is safe no matter what, consequently reducing motivation.

It is possible that Jelavic was too relaxed about his position in the team and the number of goals he was going to score. However, from what I know of Jelavic I do not believe this to be the case. Due to his high work rate, enthusiasm and visible desire to do well for Everton, I can’t see him becoming too arrogant about his early achievements for us.

Personal Issues

On the other hand Jelavic’ problems may not have started over the summer and rather an issue occurred that could not be foreseen. I can’t comment on Jela’s life off the pitch but poor performances can stem from difficulties at home. Relationship issues, bereavement, health of family members, struggling to settle in a new environment or culture can all affect a player on the pitch. It is exactly the same way for everyone; we can’t perform as well at work if we’ve got something on our mind that’s happening at home. This is common sense and applies even more to footballers who are in a performance focussed career yet, this consideration is never given to players and little research has been conducted. I attended the player of the month lunch in December, the month Pienaar was the winner. During his on stage interview he thanked Moyes for the support he received the previous month. Pienaar felt his performances during the previous month were below par due to a problem he had off the pitch. He didn’t elaborate on what he was referring to but he felt he owed Moyes and so, performed much better once the problem had been sorted the next month.  If Jela was suffering in some way off the pitch and the problem could not be sorted, then playing him 90 minutes, dropping him or the odd-goal would not have made any difference as nothing happening on the pitch could solve the issue off it. Instead, help could have been provided to address the problem.

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The future

One thing is for certain, the crowd definitely stayed on Jelavic’ side last year. He received encouragement when other players would have been met with howls of derision for the same performances. It is important the crowd stay with him again during his make or break season. He will have spent the summer preparing himself to impress a new manager, with a clean slate. However, has also watched as we’ve bought a striker the manager knows and trusts, Arouna Kone. How this has affected his psyche only time will tell? Jela certainly faces a challenging season ahead and may well find himself sat on the Carrow Road bench come 3:00 on August 17th. Yet, if he can learn from last season and attack the challenge with a positive attitude I feel he can regain the form he displayed in early 2012. If not then he may just have to pray that Kone comes down with an equally demoralising strain of second season syndrome!

By Natalie Bargery

You can follow Natalie on Twitter @nataliebargery

 

Deconstructing Deulofeu

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The latest transfer story to hit L4 sees Rockefeller Roberto Martinez  ‘swooping’ down over La Masia like a dangerous Phillipine Eagle to take their young winger / forward Gerard Deulofeu to Goodison on a 12 month loan deal as the Spaniard continues his relentless transfer binge.

Deulofeu is a 19 old starlet who ‘lit up’ the lower tier of the Spanish league last season to the tune of  18 goals sprinkled with a bag of assists. With Barca top heavy in the wide slots with the likes of Tello, Sanchez and Neymar  providing stern competition, Deulofeu is in the predicament of being too good for Barca B but not good enough for Barca A.

Enter Roberto and his cunning plan.

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Whilst only of slight build – basically the weight of Pienaar with the height of Mirallas – like the scheming duo he makes up for this in terms of creativity, incision and flair which are all key facets of the Martinez manifesto.  Due to his great footwork and control he’s also very good at winning free kicks …and scoring from them.

The below video showcases some of his highly elaborate foot work.

Having watched him in the u20 World Cup – a tournament he weighed in with a few goals and an assist – its clear he is an expressive talent who is loaded with ability. Perhaps the big issue will be that this indulgence won’t be directly transferable to the English top flight where room to manoeuvre is reduced and defenders are more likely to volley you in the air.  Finding the balance between deploying these silky skills whilst doing a job for the team will perhaps be his biggest challenge.

Verdict

With a new contract recently ‘inked’ til 2017 and a rumoured 35m euro buy out clause, its unlikely this will be any more than a loan deal. Even so, he will be a lot more exciting right wing option than the unfortunate Naismith and is someone the Blues faithful should genuinely look forward to watching next season.

EB

 

Introducing Everton’s new signings Antolin Alcaraz & Joel Robles

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Everton have recruited such a lengthy ex Wigan contingent in the last week or so that Finch Farm’s locker room will soon resemble a ‘Swindon lot’ Brent style scenario. Presumably Alan Stubbs role this week will be to take Roberto, Arouna and the lads down to the Eagle and Child in Halewood for a swift half of Cains at lunch. The latest duo to make the short treck down the East Lancs road are Antolin Alcaraz and more recently Joel Robles who has joined via his parent club Atletico Madrid. What do the new boys bring to the table then? Lets answer some of the most pertinent questions….

 What capabilities does Alcaraz bring to the party?

Antolin Alcaraz is a vastly experienced 30 year old right footed centre half who can also be deployed at right back at a push.  He is composed on the ball and has a very good reading of the game with good anticipation to step out of defence and win the ball from the opposition. This ability to read the game and intercept play is arguably his greatest attribute. The below video footage during his time in the Portuguese top flight provides a decent synopsis of his key attributes…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GggJGUOBFts

What does Alcaraz offer that our other centre backs don’t? Is he better than what we currently have?

His experience playing across Europe and Latin America would make him our most experienced defender even allowing for Distin’s seniority in years. Looking at the data, Alcaraz is certainly a different type of player to Distin and Jagielka, with his skillset more comparable to Heitinga, the man he is likely to replace in the squad. On the ball, his pass completion (84%) is comfortably better than both Jags and Distin, whilst his average pass length (20m) is indicative of a shorter style than Jagielka (27m) and Distin (24m).

As noted, interceptions are his greatest attribute with his figures comfortably better than our current roster; in 11/12 he was ranked 3rd in the top flight for interceptions made by a centre half and 8th in 12/13. For a side like Wigan who look to win the ball pack in their own half rather than us who win it in the opposition half, this attribute to regain possession and start counter attacks from the back is crucial.

His figures in terms of clearances is way down on Jags/Distin, although this is perhaps more down to Wigan’s style of playing out of danger and the fact that under Moyes we played a very high line meaning opposition counters and clearances from our backline were more likely.

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 How has Martinez used Alcaraz in the past?

Martinez has used him in a back three and back four in his two years at the club. Given Wigan like to sit deep and play often sterile rest in possession play in their own half, Alcaraz ability to pass and his lack of searing pace have been ideally suited to the gameplan. In a back three he will look to push up and intercept play, leaving the aerial donkey work to resident yard dog Caldwell in the centre of the three.  He’s shown his flexibility in moving between positions, playing predominantly in his best position on the right of centre, but also on the left and in the centre of the 3. The ability to move positionally will be crucial, if not this season but certainly next when Martinez will have been able to put his stamp on the side. The Spaniard’s back three 3-4-3 system can often morph into a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 and even a 2-5-3 -often during the game – and Alcarez has shown he is more than capable of re-positioning with relative ease to suit the system.

Like Kone, he’s just been relegated. Was Alcaraz culpable in their shambolic defence? What weaknesses does he have?

The stats would say that this wasn’t the case. Wigan conceded 135 goals in 76 games over the past two years, with 49 during the 35 games with Alcaraz and 86 in the 41 without him, that’s 1.4 with him, and 2.0 without him, which is a fair difference. If you track the key games the Latics won in the last 2 years, the wins at Anfield, the Emirates, the win over Man Utd which kept them up last season and the key cup wins against us and City, Alcaraz has been an ever present with clean sheets in most of those games.

There are other areas which opposition managers could look to exploit however. His temperament is iffy at best, with the spitting ban and a red card for trying to dry slap the vile sub human Lucas Leiva in the Copa America in recent years arguably the behaviour of a human time bomb. His career games to cards frequency of 1 card every 5 games isn’t massively prolific but is something to keep an eye on,  and it does raise the issue that he has missed more games than he has been available for in recent seasons, in part due to his lengthy spell on the sidelines last season with a groin injury and the ban he received in 11/12 although in fairness his injury record over his career is ok with no serious spells on the sidelines prior to this.

In 1 v 1 situations there is also a slight question mark;  last season he was dribbled past more than treble the times  either Jagielka and Distin were bypassed and in 11/12 he was dribbled past more per game than any centre back in the league. Unlike fist pumping phony Heitinga however, Alcaraz teeth do bite and its unlikely you would see the Paraguayan beasted like JH was against Benteke at L4 last season.

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 In terms of Robles , how does he fit in?

The purchase of Robles should bring good competition for Howard and his skillset gives us different options between the sticks. Standing at 6ft.5inches (195cm to Howard’s 187cm), Robles has an enviable reach comparable with Stoke City’s towering stopper Begovic, and would give us more of a threat in the air, something we struggled this season conceded the 2nd most headed goals in the division.  He is also very good at getting down quickly and recovering to make saves with either his hands or his feet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVwtMfp98Pc

Robles has already shown in some of the big games that he has the temperament to succeed and has seamlessly made the transition from playing on loan at Vallecano in la liga to the more aerial bombardment of the English game. He also has experience playing for his country from U16-U23 level.

Although his short and long range kicking completion was inferior to Howard last season – as was unsurprisingly his clean sheet record –  Robles on a five year deal is one for the future, and his exciting combination of distribution and  physical presence could make him a big player in years to come if not this season. The only visible flaw based on his time at Wigan was organising his defence, but given what was in front of him last season its hard to apportion blame. The fact he only had a year left on his deal  means it’s unlikely there was much of a transfer fee involved in the purchase which is also a plus.

Verdict

Neither player is perhaps going to accrue us significant points this season to kick on but both are good, low cost additions to the squad who will provide more serious competition than either Heitinga or Mucha – the duo they have been brought in to replace – had to offer.

EB

With thanks to @Matt_Cheetham for some useful stats

Is Kone the right man for Everton?

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Everton are supposedly ‘closing in’ on the capture of the well travelled Ivory Coast forward Arouna Kone in what would be Roberto Martinez first ‘swoop’ into the transfer market since taking up the Goodison hotseat. The move has met with a fair bit of derision across the fanbase. due to the striker’s age and iffy injury record.  Is this justified? Is Kone actually any good? Is he mentally the real deal? Here are some responses to the chief questions and concerns…..

Financially £5 million on a journeyman with no re-sale value doesn’t sound very Everton. Is Roberto’s selection of strikers as bad as his collection of ‘going out’ shirts?

Not exactly.  There’s no doubting Kone will be 30 before Christmas plus he has the additional years that a cruciate injury can add to the legs. Given the our recent history of recruiting young talent with re-sale value it certainly seems out of sync with club policy although don’t forget Moyes did the same last season when he brought back Pienaar.

It’s clear from last season that our primary shortcoming is in the forward berths and we badly need someone who is capable of finishing off the enterprising play outside opposition penalty boxes, but as Moyes lengthy pursuit of Jelavic testifies, it can take up to a year to scout players you think are a ‘good fit’ combined with the required mentality for the club. Martinez tricky task has been to fill the void in a couple of weeks. My guess is that given the lack of time and the pressing need for striking reinforcements, Martinez has gone with someone he and his chief scout Kevin Reeves have already done their due diligence on and can theoretically hit the ground running.

What are his key attributes? Is he better than what we already have?

Kone is a right footed forward who can offer pace, direct running, is good on the ball and has an eye for goal. Passing wise, his link up play is particularly impressive with an 84.5% pass completion last season, the 3rd best total posted by a striker in the top flight. Whilst pass completion isn’t always an indicator of effectiveness (hello Xavi Allen) that figure for a forward is still admirable. His superior ability to link play is certainly a plus point and in this respect he’s a better bet than Anichebe and Jelavic who on average complete every 6 in 10 passes to Kone’s 8.

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His style, principally to receive in wide areas, get the ball quickly out of his feet and drive at defenders inside,  is distinctive and he made the 4th most dribbles of any forward in the league in 12/13. His ability to beat his man is better statistically than any of our current crop, and even better than our top dribbler Mirallas; the Ivorian made more take on’s than KM and boasted a higher success rate  to the tune of 51% v 44%.

His goals return of 17 in Spain in 11/12 and 13 goals in all comps in 12/13 in a fairly impotent Wigan side is equally admirable.

What kind of goals does Kone score then?

 In terms of goals, his 13 is comparable to the joint outputs of Jelavic and Anichebe, albeit with more game time individually than either of the bungling duo. He also did it in a more efficient manner, taking just 8 shots to score. Victor takes 11 whilst Jela took 12.

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EB Columnist and shooting expert @footballfactman has taken a look at Kone’s metadata from 12/13 and came up with some interesting conclusions;

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Kone shot position for goals 12/13

  • 5 of the 11 goals came from inside the 6 yard box. I haven’t seen ANYONE with a goal position pattern like this which suggests a freak season.
  • His 3 goals against Villa, Reading and Norwich are the type of chances we’re “expecting” of him using pace etc. The Norwich one is a particularly good example;
  • The rest of his goals are close range scraps/tap ins and one bullet header to finish the season. All other forward’s goals are splattered around central area right to edge of box. Not this fella. The ball either bounced for him or he’s in right place at right time

If we compare him as a pacey wide forward in the Mirallas mould (pace, exploiting space in behind) then their goal profile looks way different:

If he does have a knack of being in the right place at the right time, it’s certainly an area we are short on, particularly as he seems to be adept at scoring against crud sides (everton are the highest placed side he scored against) –  such teams we struggled against most last season.

Does he have the mental bundle needed for a top club? 

Having turned out for Sevilla and working under the likes of Hiddink at PSV, as well as in the Champion’s League and the World Cup Finals, he has very decent pedigree playing on the big stage. One of the reasons he has graced such stages – as well as his undoubted ability – is the fact that in football psychology terms he would be classed as a Type B’ player (the best type) who have high ambition and low performance anxiety with limited fear of failure. Roughly translated this means he can play his normal game in pressure environments and doesn’t do anything mental.

Roberto is deeply interested in the psychological aspect of a player. Will he be afraid on the big stage and fail to perform and how he will fit in with the other players are crucial to his thinking”  Jordi Cruyff

His background check reveals no issues whatsoever either on or off the pitch.  Being a devout Muslim there is no concerns with booze, with no documented fall outs with colleagues or any of the bosses he had worked under. The fact Kone knows the league and won’t have to relocate means that setting – often an overlooked but crucial factor in transfers not working out – won’t be an issue.

Didn’t he have a cruciate injury? …is fitness his main achilles heel then?

Yes, after his big money move to Sevilla, Kone suffered an ACL injury, ruling him out of the entire 2008/9 season. He has started 66 of the last 76 league games though, which isn’t too shabby. Martinez certainly thinks so, believing the injury actually invigorated his career “Arouna had a big injury  to his cruciate and missed  one and a half years. That  can sometimes be negative,  but in his case it was the  opposite. It refreshed him and he is  a young 29-year- old,”

There are a few other areas of concern however.

Due to Kone’s direct style he surrenders possession a fair bit, losing the ball 87 times last season which was the 2nd most for a forward in the league. ..this is one reason why Moyes would never have recruited him. Stats can sometimes distort things however and given ‘luis’ across the park lost the ball the most (94 times) and was lauded as the league’s top striker, this characteristic is perhaps not such a bad thing.

In terms of aerials, he  wins roughly 1 in 3 which is comparable to Jelavic but inferior to Anichebe’s 1 in 2. The fact that Anichebe contested more than twice the aerials Kone did despite significantly less playing time  indicates the difference in Wigan’s short game and our more mixed approach and if Martinez evolves our style as expected its likely Anichebe’s key strength could be largely defunct.

How did Martinez deploy Kone at Wigan?

His role last season was predominantly to work the channels by making runs in behind opposition defences to utilise his pace and running with ball. Our sample data looked at Anichebe and Kone’s ‘passes received’ information and found that a much higher % of the passes Kone received came into wide areas or ‘the channels’ with a lower % of his passes received in the opposition penalty box compared to Anichebe.

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Kone receiving balls predominantly in the left channel

Despite spending less time chasing the ball due to Wigan having more possession than us, Kone put in ‘a shift’ better in terms of regaining possession for the, doing so on average 2.2 times per game, a better figure than Anichebe (2.1) and Jelavic (1.6)

Although right footed, he spent most of his time down the left channel, receiving the ball predominately from the left wing back (either Beausejour or Espinoza) with the most frequent receiver of his passes the impish left sided attacker Maloney. In this respect his role is more similar to Fellaini than any of our other forwards.

Wigan under Martinez sit deep, have plenty of ‘sterile’ energy conserving possession in their own half and look to draw teams in or win second balls and then hit them with rapid counter attacks with Kone the figurehead. The approach is nicely summarised here;

“Martinez was playing guerrilla football.  he had his team lie in wait for the opposition and then punish them on the counter attack, he employed sharp shooters to fire in from distance , and snipers to hit free kicks. his team were adaptable, unpredictable, With his neat jumpers and kind smile, martinez  looks a decent man but underneath that veneer beats the heart of and mind of a natural insurgent”                

Source: The Numbers Game: Chris Anderson & David Sally

What’s the bottom line?

Ideally we wouldn’t be paying this wedge for Kone and there is more than likely better younger players out there who could also fit into our setup. However, due to the time constraints and our desperate need for a forward this is an ok piecemeal purchase, particularly if we are moving from a territory based game to a more counter attacking approach.

Yes, we all want sell on value these days but forwards are always the most expensive position to recruit, and £5m quid probably isn’t going to bankrupt us. Kone is an interesting player to watch who will excite and give us more options in forward areas. His skillset is more suited to a shorter passing game than any of our current offensive roster and given the anticipated evolution to a more fluid style it’s a decent acquisition.

EB

With thanks to @footballfactman

Physio Room Blog: Everton Pre-Season Uncovered

Wigan's manager, Roberto Martínez

Everton’s players return to pre season training this week to be put through their paces by Dave Billows and his sports science team as the infamously gruelling pre season programme commences. To gauge what’s involved in the  process, EB spoke with Ross from @UKPhysiotherapy to get some more detail on what this entails and how it will potentially change under new boss Roberto Martinez, who himself is a qualified physiotherapist.

1. Generally, in terms of performance, how crucial an edge can pre season give both in the short term and in the latter stages of the season?

The closed season and pre-season are crucial to players, not just in terms of making a good start like we did at home to Man U but in terms of longevity and not suffering injuries or fatigue later on in the season.  There’s a lot more science and preparation involved now than just taking the teams to Wales for the week to run up and down sand-dunes.  Pre-season is the time players get their cardiovascular fitness levels back and also train to get the right amount of strength and conditioning in their muscles to cope with the demands of the fast paced Premier League games.

From a football point of view I think players get to know their teammates and the style of play if they’re allowed a full pre-season with each other.  It’s not just about learning the style of play though, it’s then allowing the medical team to monitor a player’s progress so a change or tweak can be made to training regimes of individual players to help them become more physically suited to that style of play.

I suppose an example of this is under Walter Smith, the centre halves thigh muscles needed a lot more strength work to deal with the amount of long balls they needed to hoof up the pitch all season long!  Under Moyes, as Mirallas found out, he needed to fill out a bit more and work on that extra bit of fitness so he could ‘track back’.  I hope under Martinez, our team keeps the same level of intensity but pre-season will focus on ball retention, skill and any fitness work is done with an attacking mindset.

It’s no coincidence that players who we’ve signed late in August or have suffered an injury forcing them out of pre-season don’t tend to last the season.  Players like Baines, Jagielka, Distin (even at his age), Howard, Osman and Pienaar played a lot of games for us last year and all managed a full pre-season.  None of them suffered long term injuries.

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Water-Way to have a good time

2. injuries and fatigue was a constant issue for Mirallas last season, missing a chunk of the season due to knocks and he was withdrawn over 90% of the games he started. Can a full pre season help remedy his ailments?

It’s not just pre-season that’s important for Kev but the closed season as well.  I don’t think he was quite ready for the pace and physicality of the prem last year hence why he had time out with a recurring hamstring injury.  Although we’d seen his skill and pace in a few tasty You Tube clips, a lot more consistency was expected of him at Goodison and he also needed to fit in to Moyes’ work ethic and the defensive unit.  I don’t think his hamstrings could quite take it.  Hopefully over the closed season the medical staff have given him a comprehensive strength, balance and flexibility routine to make sure his hamstrings are strong. Then once he’s back in pre-season and he starts his trickery and puts more force through his knees again his hamstring problems won’t hamper him next season.  I think Mirallas is going to be our key man next year so getting his preparations right will be crucial to how successful we are.

‘Swansea only lost 6 players to muscular injuries in 2012/13, one of the lowest in the Premier League. However their average of 37 days recovery was one of the highest, second only to Everton (53 days)‘ Source: www.physioroom.com

3.In the past, players like Saha have been critical of the emphasis placed on fitness in our pre season sessions at the expense of ball work. Does he have a point and does this make players more susceptible to injury? 

I’m a big believer that training should be functional.  It used to be pre-season was some sadistic ritual to just make the players throw up maybe to enforce some kind of discipline.  Moyes was guilty of this with his installation of ‘the hill’ at Finch Farm and taking them off to Austria for hill running where the oxygen levels are lower.  I’d understand this method of training if you wanted your players to be good hill runners but we need them to be good at football.  Martinez, himself has a physio degree (I’m reliably informed) so I think he will take a more scientific approach to pre-season than Moyes.  It’s well known the fitter you are the better your touch is on the ball so surely getting fitter whilst practising on the ball will give you better results?  I still think Moyes took an old school approach to pre-season and I’m sure Unsworth once said they were worn out heading into the start of the season.

There was a club I worked at once that used to take the players running up and down sand-dunes in Wales as part of pre-season. Three crucial 1st team players ended up missing the start of the season because of hernias caused by hill running.  It never makes sense to me to get players to do hill running to get fit when you play a game all season on a flat pitch.

Although I’m not sure what the best thing with Saha was because it didn’t matter what sort of training you did with him.  The rumour why Ferguson binned him at Man U was because he only ever declared himself at most as 80% fit.

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Gordon Brittas would have been proud of this facility

 4. Last year’s pre season was heralded as a contributory factor in us bucking the trend of starting the season slowly. One of the differentials was not travelling to the states as we had done in previous seasons. This year we are going back to the US for the ICC trophy. Does travelling such long distances have a negative impact on a performance athlete’s body short term? Or is this a load of guff?!

Total guff I reckon.  We’ve seen plenty of players around the world all perform well despite travelling.  Man U often spend pre-season on the other side of the globe yet they seem to keep winning trophies. It’s hard to say but I think the reason we started better was because after the Euros and summer internationals, a lot of our better players missed that gruelling fitness camp running up hills in Austria.  They weren’t already knackered heading in to the new season.  Don’t get me wrong, fitness is very important but having watched so many crap starts to the season, I think Moyes’ way of doing it left a lot to be desired.

‘Wigan lost 1281 days to injuries in 12/13, the second most in the league behind Newcastle (1745). In contrast, Everton (714) lost the 5th fewest days, with Stoke (496)losing the fewest’    Source: www.physioroom.com

5. Pundits often talk of players needing to ‘get a good pre season under their belt’ but does it have any impact if you are, say Gibson who breaks down in game 3 like he did vs WBA last season? Does this in essence mean you are back to square one fitness wise?

Gibson is a bit different because I think his thigh problem is going to be one of those things that’s going to plague him throughout his career.  I think the medical staff at Man U must have suspected this hence why they gave us such a talented player on the cheap.  There may be something that can be sorted over the closed season and pre-season but he had a full pre-season last year and still broke down.  The good thing from a physio’s point of view is you do get a lot of time in pre-season to work with players and make sure they get fit.  Often during the season you don’t get that luxury, all you’re doing is patching them up to make sure they can play the next game.

 6. On the subject of Gibson, his long standing injuries are a real concern. How does this impact his performance and recovery? His portly midriff indicates he finds it hard to train between games?

I hate players who can’t keep themselves fit.  If any of us were in such a privileged position as Gibson then 90% of us would at least stay in peak shape.  I remember watching James Beattie blowing out of his arse at home to Charlton after 20 minutes and I’ve never forgiven him for that.  There are other ways of training with an injury and watching your diet to make sure once you’re injury free you come back quicker.  Ricky Hatton is a classic example.  If he’d have looked after himself more in between fights, he’d have found it easier to train for fights and maybe he’d have prolonged his career.

I don’t think there’s a sure fire way to get players and teams ready for the new season.  If I could crack that I’d be a multi-millionaire.  It seems you can think you’ve got it sorted because you win your first few games but then after Christmas the players are all knackered.  Apart from last season, I’ve always thought we looked lacidasical and our decision making and even touch on the ball was lacking.  Maybe Moyes did more ball work with them last year.  But Man U have been renowned for poor starts so even Ferguson didn’t know his best way of preparing his team.  I suppose even though we might hope Martinez might apply a more scientific approach and get the best out of his players, his Wigan sides have been shocking at the start of each season so who knows what we can expect!

Ross is a an avid evertonian and resident physiotherapist for UK Physiotherapy. You can follow him on Twitter here

For any grassroots players or coaches embarking on pre season in the coming weeks there is a highly recommended six week pre season diet and fitness schedule available to download from the coaching zone of the blog.

EB