Tactical Deconstruction: How Everton found the space to down Villa

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Teams and Tactics

As predicted, Martinez made just the one change with Pienaar replacing Osman on the left side of midfield. Villa left out central midfielder El Ahmadi and brought in the tricky two footed talent of Tonev on the right with Weimann moving across to the left with Agbonlahor and Benteke up top in a 4-4-2.

0-59 Minutes

For the opening hour of the game our play was a tad disjointed in what was a frenetic first half in particular. The play for both sides was focused down our right flank with Villa full back Luna and their left sided centre half Baker seemingly identified as the weak links as Barry persistently looked to play in Mirallas behind them in what was the most frequent combination of any player on the pitch in the first half. Mirallas created the most chances for the second successive game and had the beating of Luna every time he was released 1v1. The ex Sevilla fullback eventually cried off injured with Baker moving across to left back and Ciaran Clark joining Vlaar in the centre.

Villa would have gone in at half time in front but for the heroics of Tim Howard who put in a stellar shift in the toffee net. His save from Benteke’s spot kick stirred memories of Neville Southall against Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline in 1988 and the bearded American stopper also superbly denied Benteke point blank before foiling his mate Weimann shortly after. The bulk of Villa’s good work was started down the left from Luna to Delph who would then pick out Weimann to good effect.

Overall defensively I thought we dealt with the significant threat of Benteke much better than in the 3-3 last season particularly in the air with Jagielka winning 7/7 headers  to Benteke’s 2 /12. When the ball went loose ex Villa man Gareth Barry was on hand to hoover up the second balls – winning 9 recoveries which was more than any player on the pitch.

60-94 Minutes

Whist we did ok at the back going forward we were a tad spluttery. The turning point of the game came on the hour mark when Martinez introduced Osman for Barkley. Young Barkley’s decision making wasn’t great and sometimes he hung onto the ball a bit too long. With the exception of a shot that stung the bar in the first half he was relatively subdued but this is typical of a player of his age and inexperience.

As the passing boards show, McCarthy took a key role in the last 30 mins, making double the amount of passes as he had in the first half and 54 in total -the highest of any player on the pitch.

As the passing boards show, McCarthy took a key role in the last 30 mins, making double the amount of passes as he had in the first half and 54 in total -the highest of any player on the pitch.

Osman’s introduction immediately re-invigorated the left side which had been largely peripheral in the opening hour. Baines and Pienaar had linked up with just 3 passing combinations in the first half with Barkley not linking with Baines once in the first hour. It was all the more strange given that Villa’s right side looked defensively suspect with Tonev and Bacuna an untested duo whose skills are more suited to going forward.  Post match Martinez spoke of the rationale behind introducing Osman for Barkley;

“I told Leon that it was going to be a good opportunity for him in the last 20 minutes with Villa tiring and when he came on it was a masterclass of getting on the ball in the attacking third”

What Martinez is alluding to here is backed up by the data. Osman was found by Baines crisp passing into central spaces no fewer than 8 times in the final half hour  – the most prolific passing combination of the second half from either side. It was this ability to find space which was crucial in the opening goal. After Baines and Pienaar had finally clicked with some neat one touch passing down the left, Ciaran Clark – who usually has a shocker against us  – got sucked in by the ball and when Osman received from Pienaar he was able to tee up Lukaku in the space Clark had vacated to expertly dispatch beyond Guzan.

Shortly after, the blossoming James McCarthy  played in Osman who linked with Pienaar before playing in Lukaku whose shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Baines was again let loose to feed Barry who played in Osman to score the clincher with a nice tucked finish. It was the little man’s sixth strike against the Villa – his personal best tally against any side – and while he’s not had his cigar on much this season he remains a key member of the squad.


The Toffees rode their luck here particularly in the opening 15 minutes of each half and were indebted to the often maligned Tim Howard who was a colossus with notable supporting roles from  Jagielka and Barry. The key moment was the introduction of Osman who turned the game – not just in his assist and goal but in general to find space and breathe new life to the left flank.

In general though we should be happy as for the second week running a high energy opponent  visibly ran out of gas as the game went on. You could argue its a coincidence but a trend has emerged where sides can compete with us for long periods but eventually whether it be from chasing the ball for such long periods or not it seems to take its toll. This has seen us scoring 7 of our 8 goals on the road in the second half of games.

Coincidence or not, the Blues keep marching on!


Scout Scribbles – Aston Villa

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This weekend’s fixture has the potential to be a fascinating managerial joust as we travel to Villa to face reactive tactical tweaker Paul Lambert and his high energy Villa pups.

Villa synopsis

The ex Dortmund midfielder’s side have so far been rather inconsistent and have accrued more points on the road than at Villa Park – something they also achieved last season.

This is perhaps due to their style – they poll the lowest average possession in the top flight, and had just 31% of the ball in the 3-3 draw at Goodison last season. Like during his time at Norwich, Lambert has looked to fill the side with young hungry players so the graft associated with being off the ball for long periods of time won’t be too big an issue for them. They are a big pressing side particularly in midfield with Westwood, El Ahmadi and Delph all prolific tacklers and foulers this season. Space will certainly be at a premium in the middle of the park.

Villa are more suited to playing a counter attacking style and scored as many goals on the break as any top flight side last season. As poor John Heitinga found out at first hand at Goodison last season, in Benteke they have a player capable of untold destruction on his day and their keeper Guzan will unashamedly look to hit him as early as possible. The fact that Guzan has attempted the most long balls (188) in the league and Benteke has won the most aerials per game in the division tells you all you need to know about their direct and often ruthless style.

Likely Line-up Appraisal – 4-3-3

Brad Guzan – Potato Salesman headed Jack Fulton ready-made meal freakishly big kicking goalkeeper who was Villa’s player of the season in the last campaign. His combination with Benteke (7) was the most prolific interplay between any Villa players in the 3-3 draw last season.

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Leandro Bacuna – Recruited from the Dutch league, he played last week at right back but is more suited further forward and could play in midfield with a defensive specialist like Lowton behind him to keep Pienaar/Baines in check. He and Luna on the other flank were the most prolific dribblers last week against Spurs and Bacuna also takes a nice free kick.

Ron Vlaar – Dutch right footed centre half who marshals a defence that hasn’t kept a clean sheet at home in fifteen games.Vlaar is ex feyenoord, AZ and also boasts international caps so has plenty of experience to call upon. He will usually start with either Clark or Baker depending on who is making the fewer mistakes.

Nathan Baker – Young error prone defender whose mistakes last season cost Villa a sizeable amount of points. Either he or Ciaran Clark will get the nod alongside Vlaar. Clark had two appalling games against us last season; he received a red card in the opening game and was then rolled easily for the Anichebe goal in the return fixture. Clark has been declared fit after missing last week through injury and could replace Baker in the starting line up. At the risk of stating the obvious, neither will fancy coming up against Lukaku.

Antonio Luna – 22 year old left sided player recruited from Sevilla and who scored impressively on his debut at Arsenal. He is one of six players recruited this summer by Lambert all of whom are 23 or under. Appeared to tire badly in the latter stages last week so stamina could be a problem as the game develops.

Ashley Westwood – Crewe academy graduate who has accrued the joint most booking in the league. As you would expect coming from the Gresty stable, he is good on the ball and registered the most assist last season (6) including one at Goodison. He can also play at right back.

Fabian Delph – Lively left footed midfielder who came close to signing for the toffees prior to switching to the midlands from Leeds. Has quick feet and consequently is the most fouled player in the top flight. His passing combinations with Luna (23) were the most prolific of any villa players in their last game in which he also made the most attacking third passes and created the most chances.

Karim El Ahmadi – Ex Feyenoord, Dutch born Morocco international who will sit in the middle of a three man midfield. Is very combative and has made both the 7th most fouls and tackles in the top flight. Scored in this fixture last season after a Howard gaff.

Andreas Weimann – Right footed forward who is a tad erratic in the final third and should have clinched the game last season at L4 but was wasteful when sent through 1v1. Will play on the right of a forward 3 who all look very competent.

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Heitinga’s day of woe. Unsurprisingly he has a ‘slight knock’ and is unlikely to feature this weekend

Christian Benteke – The undisputed key man. Has won the most aerials per game (8.7) in the top flight and is ruthless on his right peg. Guzan will toss balls into our fullbacks so Distin and Jagielka will need to cover and the midfield players will have to mark the spaces in and around him for second balls.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – perennial scourge of the toffees ( he has 7 goals in 15 v games against us – his best figures against any club) and will play on the left side of the forward three.

Bong Gamecast

The concern is that Villa’s counter attacking style is perhaps ideal against a side like us who play a possession game with a high line and whom have already made the same number of last man tackles (7) this season as they did in the entire 12/13 season.

Villa’s lightening quick counter attacking style has resulted in comprehensively wins at the Emirates, The Tin Mine and also against City in the last 12 months yet they have been hammered by the likes of Wigan (0-3 at home) so they are a really competent side but struggle with consistency and a ‘Plan B’. Dealing with these counters as Chelsea and Liverpool have done this season will be the key to us getting three points.

In terms of head to head records, Martinez hasn’t lost in his 4 games with Lambert (W1 D3 LO) whilst Lambert who hasn’t won against Everton as a manager (W0 D3 L1). I can see both sides scoring and probably a score draw is the best outcome for your coupon.

Verdict 1-1


Everton 2-1 Hull – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Formations

Everton made the one expected change with Gareth Barry coming in for Steven Naismith in midfield with Leon Osman shunted out to the left flank. Hull started in a 4-4-2 with goal shy strike duo Graham and Aluko leading from the front and key man Brady returning on the left wing.

Urban Fox outfoxes Tiger

It’s fair to say Kevin Mirallas has not quite been the ace buy toffee fantasy league managers would have liked so far this season. Thus far, he has only showed in dispatches what he can do – notably in the last home game against Newcastle. In this game , however,  he was ace and created 6 of the 14 chances we engineered in what was otherwise a laboured display by his colleagues. It was the urban fox who was to open the scoring, as he fired in from outside the box after being teed up by Leon Osman in the 8th minute.

Sadly, rather than this being the catalyst of another Newcastle style goal frenzy, it acted as a jolt for Hull to get their game together.

Mauled by the Tigers

Our visitors pretty much did exactly what we expected;  they provided plenty of grit off the ball, closed down space well in our half, and in the words of their former manager Phil Clown ‘got in our faces’ from the off.  They also carried a colossal threat from set plays and utilised their sizeable height advantage well. Big Sam’s geriatric packhorse Abdoulaye Faye in particular was a constant menace despite us bringing back 11 men for corners.

On the touchline, the tinned corn beef headed Steve Bruce sweated profusely and  gesticulated like a demented chicken throughout. With Martin O’Neill now firmly ensconced in the job centre, Bruce is the undisputed trendsetter in ‘epl’ soup kitchen clobber.  Indeed, with his baked bean stained cash converter tracksuit and shiny  Rucanor footwear,  the ex Wigan gaffer’s cholesterol induced posture bore more than a passing resemblance to sopranos supergrass Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero

It was hard not to look comparatively across to the home dug out where Roberto Martinez stood studiously unmoved throughout. In his signature snazzy brown brogues he calmly and concisely  directed traffic, only pausing once to put on his delightful, finely tailored overcoat. At this stage of the contest my thoughts principally concerned whether a wig and blouse would enable me access to his eagerly awaited ladies lunch in the new year.

It was that kind of first half from the Blues.

Hull were by now deservedly level and it was an equaliser that baines over cole campaigners will not want to see again. After some neat passing down our left flank Aluko rolled Baines far too easily and from the resulting pull back Sagbo  was able to expertly hammer the ball into the roof of Howard’s net.

In general we looked off the pace and lacking a bit of tempo, something perhaps not helped by us having more players (10) involved in midweek world cup qualifiers than any side in the division. This is a theory confirmed by our comparatively poor results in recent years in games directly following international breaks.

Even if its not related, its a convenient excuse and saves me the toil of having to think up some clever tactical reason as to why we looked crud in the first half.

Second Half

The Toffees may not have been as fluid as other games when in possession but the ball share (67.4%) was the most of any game this season and whereas Hull matched us in the first half, after the half time flavuccinos it was more one way traffic.

McCarthy did a great job in the first half defensively on the left side to repel Hull who prefer to attack down this channel. In the second period he did more work offensively on the opposite flank in picking up loose balls (he made the most recoveries =11) and feeding Coleman who hardly had a kick in the first half.

The Blues remained patient and eventually got the winning goal with Steven Pienaar scoring with his first touch of the ball after coming on for Leon Osman. The goal came from a familiar move with Howard’s long kick out being flicked on by Lukaku (the only aerial he won against the aggressive  and highly competent  Curtis Davies) . Ross Barkley then picked up play and neatly fed Mirallas whose centre was exquisitely  dispatched by the South African schemer. It was basically the opening goal we scored against Newcastle.  If there is one critique of Hull it’s that they don’t create much from open play and as such never really threatened a second equaliser.

In conclusion

This wasn’t vintage stuff from the Blues but we just about had enough to beat a spirited Hull outfit. The Tigers are a competent side and much better equipped and prepared than a lot of sides in the division – certainly enough to be able to remain aloof of any relegation battle.  For us, the main positives will be the displays of McCarthy and Mirallas who were both instrumental  in getting us over the line here. Credit must go to Martinez too for his changes. On a day when his predecessors  trademark reactive substitution edged him closer to the Cheadle Hulme dole office,  Martinez proactive substitutions have now accrued us 4 points this season – more than last seasons entire haul.


Scout Scribbles – Hull City

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Steve Bruce brings his Hull City ‘charges’ to L4 this weekend with the Tigers side sitting just 1 point and 1 place behind the Toffees in what will be our first look at a promoted side at Goodison this season.

Whilst to many his burgeoning head is a source of ridicule, whether it be a cruel comparison  to it resembling a steak or any number of overripe vegetables, this should not detract from his track record as a manager. He certainly has more between his ears than most and he has used this nous to lead unfashionable sides such as Wigan, Birmingham and Sunderland to respectable mid table finishes in the top flight – an achievement which has matured in the context of where those clubs currently find themselves. Its early days but they seem the likeliest bet of the promoted sides to retain their league status.

His career win ratio as a boss of 35% is ok, although his record against us is appalling with just 2 wins from 16 matches. If we know anything of the barrel chested Bruce’s teams it’ll be that they will rock up and be hard to beat, play a narrow 4-4-2 when we have the ball and expand with width when they have it, using crosses as their main weapon of scoring.

Yep, that really is stating the bleeding obvious.

As with the recent away win at Newcastle, expect Hull to defend narrow on their 18 yard line

As with the recent away win at Newcastle, expect Hull to defend narrow on their 18 yard line

The good

Defense is where Hull’s key strengths lies with Curtis Davies – an aggressive centre half who is very good in the air – marshalling a back four which has not conceded a goal in its last three games.  Davies can get a bit too tight at times though and Lukaku – the man who he will likely pick up – will fancy his chances against him.

In midfield the ex Spurs duo Huddlestone and Livermore have brought some quality on the ball to the centre of midfield and Huddlestone’s long range capability in particular will be the starting point of Hull servicing the flanks to start attacks. Hull will attack predominantly down the right side with Egyptian wide player Elmohamady arguably their most important player. He can play right back too but will most likely play on the wing. Hull’s most likely way to goal is via crosses – they make the 7th most in the league  – and Elmohamady has pitched in with 53 alone, albeit with no assists as yet. On the opposite flank, ex Man United academy graduate Robbie Brady possesses a good left foot and has already delivered  three goals and an assist, and could feature after returning to full training today after a hernia op.

They are an industrious side too, as you’d expect I’d guess, and figure in the top 7 sides in the league for fouls, tackles and interceptions on the road, so they are belligerent travellers not lacking in gumption.

Robbie Brady has scored 3 of Hull's 6 goals this season

Robbie Brady has scored 3 of Hull’s 6 goals this season

The Bad

Despite being in the middle of the table there is plenty of weak points to expose. Looking at the data, Hull’s average possession of 42% is the second lowest in the league and you would expect us to have bags of the play in Hull’s half and it will ultimately come down to whether we can take our chances when they present themselves.

Incision in the final third has been a problem - against Chelsea they played just 1 successful pass into the opposition penalty box

Incision in the final third has been a problem – against Chelsea they played just 2 successful passes into the opposition penalty box

Hull have shipped the 3rd most shots (50) on the road, and whereas they’ve picked up plenty of clean sheets on home turf they have none on the road and on average concede two per game so the likelihood of them getting a shut out would seem remote. Especially if Paul McShane gets near the pitch.  

Going forward they look like a side really short on goals. The most prolific period of Sone Aluko’s career has been banging goals in against St Mirren and Dundee United in the SPL and so far he doesn’t look likely to take the top flight by storm. At least he has one goal though, which is more than you can say for his strike partner Danny Graham, a man who looks Jelavic look prolific, and who is currently into the 25th hour without scoring a goal in top flight football. No wonder Brenny signed him for Swansea. Its little surprise then that Hull haven’t been banging goals in left, right and centre with 4 of their 6 goals so far coming from set plays.

Mikel Arteta was on target in a 5-1 shlacking the last time Hull came to town in one of Phil Clown's final games as manager.

Mikel Arteta was on target in a 5-1 shlacking the last time Hull came to town in one of Phil Clown’s final games as manager.

In terms of toffee team news it appears the game will again ‘come too soon’ for Steven Pienaar with Alcaraz ‘only weeks away’ from proving he exists. Darron Gibson – statistically the only man to have failed more late fitness tests than Gazza – is out for the season which knowing his powers of recovery will mean he’ll be back in two seasons. And 2 stone heavier. The only change from the City game then should see Barry return with Osman shifted to the left and Naismith dropping out.

The Verdict

Hull are a solid side and with the exception of the first half at Chelsea have not been embarrassed by anyone. They will look to keep things tight, restrict space and frustrate us, but they aren’t as solid a defensive operation as, say, a West Brom, and we should get at least one goal. I don’t see Hull scoring so it’s a home win for this reader. 2-0 Everton.


Gareth Barry – What does he actually do?

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 For two years I worked in Manchester with a team predominantly made up of City season ticket holders. With the Citizens collecting league and cup honours during this time, along my own inquisitive nerding, the tea room ‘bantz’ predominately focussed on the fortunes of the blue half of Manchester. Whilst I had watched some of their games from afar, I was by no means an aficionado during the Mancini era aside from their twice annual humbling against us.

The one ‘hot topic’ which cropped up more than most was the merits of midfield general Gareth Barry. Being a man prone to sweeping generalisations as I am, my impression of him was not great. Benitez overzealous and ultimately flawed courtship of him, along with Capello’s admiration for his qualities showed he was thought of in high stock, but much of this evaporated after a poor showing in the World Cup in South Africa.

The City fans spoke of him with very high regard, strangely more so than some of his more fashionable colleagues. Being annoyingly inquisitive, I’d ask why? What are his key attributes? Is he an anchor or a box to box? Better on the ball or off it? The response seemed like flannel. ‘He’s a great organiser’ ‘He gives his all’ and ‘we look better with him  in the team’ were stock answers churned out.  The most regular response was ‘I feel safer when he’s in the side’.

None of which quantifiably told me why he is so revered and the answers proposed sounded more like criteria for purchasing a comfort blanket than a Premier League midfield monster. What are the underlining reasons why we’ve won all three games he has played this season and not won any of the four he hasn’t been in the starting line-up. What I’d heard didn’t tell me why he was so useful. What we could pick out was that he was vocal, but never mind what the Soccer Saturday studio will tell you, shouting and leadership doesn’t win titles.

Knowing what we know about ‘the insurgent’ Martinez, it seemed unlikely he would spunk close to £6m in wages on someone who represented little more than  a ‘safe pair of hands’ and who was capable of gumption by the bucket load, but little else.

So in my quest to see what Barry actually does I’m going to open up his bonnet and deliver a skillset based MOT focusing on the x10 most important attributes for a central midfielder in our current squad.

Some variables are measurable through data, whilst some rely more on a general understanding of the game. Hopefully this should better gauge if Barry is precision engineering in peak condition or little more than a spluttering Bedford rascal.

Here goes….

1. Is he capable of receiving the ball in tight areas?

The fact he has received more passes than anyone in his three games for the club speaks volumes. If we look at the passes from defence into midfield, Barry receives the ball considerably more than his midfield partner whether it be Osman or McCarthy. Now Osman is a very useful player, but he does like to take a few touches and opponents will look to press him due to his physique. Barry on the other hand is a bit more one touch – like McCarthy – and has a physique to hold players off when they press us in our own half.

His left foot also gives us nice balance. Osman , Gibson, McCarthy – and previously Fellaini – are natural right footers not ideally suited to being on the left of centre. This for me is important and I’ll tell you why. If we look at tennis, a player is often weaker on their backhand and when the ball is played to it will run around it to hit a forehand. Jim Courier is a decent example. Often due to the time lost in running around to hit the forehand, they will compromise the quality of their shot because of the time spent in adjustment. It’s similar in football. Being a natural leftie on the left side of central midfield means Barry will be able to play more on the front foot and the team will benefit from this.

Conversely, his right foot is rank average and an astute opponent would position himself to force him to play the ball on his right. Looking at the data, this doesn’t happen often though and Barry hasn’t been dispossessed once in his three games so far.

2. Can he dictate tempo?

We’ve seen from him already that he can slow things down and crank things up depending on the scenario. Against Chelsea when we were under the cosh just after half time, he looked to relieve pressure and energy levels by slow paced recycling of the ball in our own half, whilst against West Ham after half time when we were chasing the game he added more zip to the tempo. His experience to slow the pace of the game down would certainly have been invaluable in the City game last weekend to enable us to keep things tight after going in front.

3. What is his range of passing like? Can he switch play well? 

Fellaini occupied the same role as Barry in the opening 3 games, averaging 9 passes to Barkley  per game. In the West Ham game Barry found him 18 times alone.  In the Hammers fixture he was really positive on the ball with 61 of his 88 passes going forwards – comfortably the most positive pass ratio from a player in either side and a significantly higher forward ratio than what Fellaini delivered from the same position.

As the data shows, Ross Barkley has been the chief beneficiary of Barry's  passing capabilities.

As the data shows, Ross Barkley has been the chief beneficiary of Barry’s passing capabilities.

In comparison to his midfield peers in the league he has made the 7th most passes per game (69.3), and the 5th most accurate long passes per game (6.0). The above visual shows who Barry plays in the most and who he receives from most frequently. This ‘geometrical intelligence’ on the field of play, he says, comes with experience;

“Over the last three or four years I’ve tried to look at that in my game, to find space on the pitch. As a younger player I never really thought about where I should be on the field. It was just about doing a job. It’s something my more recent managers have tried to put into my game. I feel very lucky that I’m left-footed because the number of us around is very small. Whether I’d be judged different if I was right-footed, I don’t know. Passing is something you have in your ability as a young player but you try and watch other games, other players, and learn from how they’re playing the game. It helps to have a vision before you receive a ball, where your team-mates are and the movements they’re going to make. You see players who have unbelievable technique but they can sometimes struggle to make the right pass, or make it at the right time, so that’s another thing you need to attach to your game.”

4. What about positional play? Is he good at sniffing out danger? Does he cover well ?

As the miraculous block from Eto’o in his debut testifies, Barry is alert to danger and can sniff out trouble quick – he is after all a centre back by trade where he honed his skills in a back three with horse head Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu.

He made the most recoveries against west ham (recoveries are classed as getting first to the ball when it goes loose) and his defensive dashboard from this game when for the second half Martinez left him as the sole holding midfield player shows the donkey work he does for the team in shoring up the left side when Baines bombs forward.

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5. Can he contribute in the final third?

A healthy 52 goals and assists in his final 3 seasons at Villa would say so, although Barry himself has always seen himself more as a defensive player;

I’m never going to be seen as an attacking midfielder who’s going to dribble past anyone, create untold chances and score lots of goals but going forward is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. It’s something I’ve tried to push into my game, going up and down the pitch

Last season Barry was given a more offensive midfield role at City in comparison to the more anchor role he filled alongside or instead of De Jong in the title winning campaign of 2012 – a role he delivered admirably albeit he wasn’t a prolific scorer or creator. His record in terms of directly influencing play in the final third  with us isn’t anything special either,  but this is due to the role he plays further back.  Remember, in a midfield 3 you have someone like Barkley who can influence at the sharp point of the triangle, and this is only possible because of the service he is getting as shown above.

Bantz is a key asset to Barry's unique skillset

Bantz is a key asset to Barry’s unique skillset

6. Does he have the engine needed for the role? How about fast sprints and recovery?

Everyone will remember Ozil showing him a clean pair of heels in South Africa, with twitter irritant Joey Barton labelling Barry ‘a tortoise’, but as a defensive platform this doesn’t happen to him too often. In a study conducted in 2010, Barry’s top speed was calculated at 18.41mph which is a tad ponderous in comparison to other players and was then the slowest in City’s squad. So far this season, he’s been the 7th most dribbled past midfielder in the league which would support this theory that he is susceptible to opposition speed in and around him is a valid one.

“It’s something that’s always been attached to me and being a younger player it’s something I would have worried about. Though it’s still nice to have pace in central midfield, it’s probably not essential, and it hasn’t really been mentioned since five or six years ago when I was playing left-back or left-midfield”

Football demands both aerobic and anaerobic capability. During matches, players must be able to sprint hard, recover quickly and then sprint hard again. Anaerobic training kicks in once players have developed basic aerobic fitness as recovery capacity is developed by increasing aerobic fitness. In football, the demand for anaerobic speed is fairly short. The important point here is the ability of the player to recover quickly from multiple speed bursts and whilst he doesn’t have blistering pace, Barry has the recovery element in his locker.

This was shown by a study in The Mail,  which showed that Barry  makes up for this lack of speed in terms of the amount of ground he covers during a match. The survey revealed that Barry covered more ground than any other City player – running 7.92 miles in one particular match – and that he is regularly in the top 1% of premier league players for distance covered.

His engine and conditioning appears good then, albeit he is never going to be a speed demon over 20 yards like Andrei Kanchelskis. You could argue that with Distin – arguably still the league’s quickest left sided centre half directly behind him, that this is a low risk problem. Plus due to his aerial prowess he isn’t required to stay back when we have set plays in the opposition half thus mitigating the risk of him being caught out in a straight race with a quicker opponent.

7.Is he good in the air?

Fellaini’s departure left us with a gap in terms of aerial coverage and Barry – along with Lukaku – have helped us fill it. Last season Barry won 50% of his aerials and in his first 3 games he’s won more aerial duels than any of his midfield colleagues, with only Jagielka and Distin recording better figures in the squad. His ability at set pieces could prove very useful as the season unfolds.

8. Is he aggressive enough?

Granted, Barry has the look of a choir boy but he does have the capability to Heisenberg opponents. He is certainly not passive on the pitch, averaging 9 yellow cards in each of the last 3 seasons with 4 career red cards. Clearly,  with age he has become adept at how to get the better of opponents by hook or by crook i.e kicking people up the arse. Thus far, Barry has made more fouls per game than anyone in the top flight and has averaged 7.4 pressing contacts per game since arriving, more than any of his toffee colleagues.

9. Does he have the correct mentality? 

This is a difficult one to quantify as it’s a fairly subjective variable.

When he arrived at Finch Farm, Martinez spoke of Barry becoming ‘ a godfather’ to the team. He was clearly referring here to him using his plethora of experience of cup finals, title deciders, champions league and World Cup matches to pass on to the younger members of the squad. In the big games he usually shows up too – this a critique which has fairly been levelled at some of his colleagues in the past. For example, in his career he has created the most goals (7) against Chelsea and scored the most (4) against Liverpool and was always a ‘first pick’ for Mancini in the big games.

Personally, I think you can tell a lot about mentality when goals are scored and conceded. If you look at his reaction when Noble puts West Ham in front with only 14 mins to go, there is no head down glum exterior, just an urgency to get the ball back in play. Equally, When Lukaku scored the winner with just minutes to go there is a reassuring composure on the ball –  there is no punting into the corner and conceding possession through panic. Just measured, controlled possession.

I’d say his experience and leadership here are incredibly positive, particularly with young pups like Barkley and McCarthy alongside him in the midfield.

10. Is he flexible positionally?

This is a fairly simple one. A centre back by trade, Barry can play at 6,8 or 10 in midfield in either a defensive or offensive position.

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Barry 1st half heatmap (left) and second half (right) against West Ham

As his heatmap against West Ham below shows, he switched in the second half from left of a two man central midfield anchor to a more central role as we went from two holding players to one. Rotund tactician Benitez was a big fan of Barry because of his flexibility explaining here the motives behind his attempted purchase of the player whilst he was at Villa;

“Barry appealed to us for a number of reasons. I have never been the sort of manager who prioritises a system above all else: I am willing to change and adapt my preferred formations given the strength of my squad or the requirements of a particular game. Barry was perfect: he could play as a central midfielder, of course, but he had some experience as an attacking left-back, which would be a useful option for home games where we were expected to go forward, and even as a left-winger”


Barry is a top player who has a range of qualities that is in short supply in this country. What I like about him is that his skill-set gives our midfield great balance as he holds attributes that his likely partners Barkley and McCarthy don’t possess; namely a natural left foot, great defensive qualities, good aerial coverage and bags of experience. Hopefully, like me, you have learnt a bit more about the midfielder and can now better articulate what Gareth Barry actually does.


Finally, whilst we are on the subject of Everton passing midfielders…..

To celebrate publication of Howard Kendall’s autobiography, Love Affairs and Marriage, Everton’s greatest manager will be talking about his life in football with comedian and broadcaster Sean Styles at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre on 17 October.

Howard will be joined by friends, family, former colleagues  and teammates on the night as we celebrate the career of one of Everton FC’s defining figures.

deCoubertin books are making just 100 tickets available to the general public to take part in this celebration.  They are available on a strictly first come, first served basis and are priced at just £8, with £5 deductible from the price of a book of a book on the night.

Doors open at 6.30pm with a 7pm start.  The event will conclude with a book signing and the opportunity to meet Howard.

Tickets are available online from The Epstein Theatre here

deCoubertin Books have launched special signed limited edition versions of Love Affairs and Marriage to help raise £10,000 for Everton in the Community and Stick ‘N’ Step. For more details, click here: http://decoubertin.co.uk/?p=787


Tactical Deconstruction: City win midfield battle to defeat Everton

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Martinez made one change from the Newcastle win with Naismith surprisingly coming in on the left flank with Leon Osman moving inside with Gareth Barry ineligible.  The Blues maintained their 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 ish setup. Man City made a plethora of changes from the side that was given a chasing by Bayern in midweek with Aguero and Negredo up front in a 4-4-2 and a recall for former toffee Joleon Lescott in defence.

Lukaku Strikes First

The Blues came out fighting and looked a menace on the break with Lukaku carrying on his impressive early season form. In general we looked a real threat on the break and had a couple of early opportunities with Mirallas and Naismith both getting into good positions before failing with the final ball. City certainly looked susceptible to our fast tempo counter attacks.

On the 16th minute we got the breakthrough we had been threatening when a decent long pass from Jagielka found Lukaku who outfoxed a bewildered Lescott to drive through on goal and dispatch past ‘under fire’ keeper Joe Hart. Sadly for us, rather than this being the start of another great win it marked the beginning of the end as the lead lasted just 90 seconds.

Lukaku, who was used as a substitute 15 times last season by WBA - perhaps due to him not being able to go the distance - appeared to morph into Anichebe in the second half as the ball repeatedly bounced off him, although in fairness such was City's command of midfield the service had completely dried up as shown here

Lukaku, who was used as a substitute 15 times last season by WBA – perhaps due to him not being able to go the distance – appeared to morph into Anichebe in the second half as the ball repeatedly bounced off him, although in fairness such was City’s command of midfield the service had completely dried up as shown here

City takeover

Most of the game’s key events surrounded its stand out performer, Manchester City’s David Silva.  The Spanish schemer previously had just one assist and no goals in his six games against us and has largely been ineffectual due to our tightness in midfield, usually leading to him bin dipping for space on the flanks. Yesterday,  however, we gave him a free rein and he was able to come off the left flank and receive inside in dangerous areas and often untracked which enabled him to play a part in all three City goals as the Toffees folded. He also ‘put in a shift’ defensively along with the City forwards to make it difficult for us to find passing angles to Barkley and Lukaku in the second half.

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Our midfield played its own part here and were not fit for purpose on the day. Osman and McCarthy were as bad a combination to watch as the two biffs off Masterchef with Osman playing the role of the bald greengrocer.  They weren’t helped by wide players Mirallas and to a lesser extent Naismith who failed to tuck in and assist numbers wise. If you look at how we worked well to compress space in the middle yesterday compared to our most recent win against City the data is interesting, sort of.

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In general I felt we didn’t work hard enough off the ball and were at times overrun, perhaps lacking someone who could disrupt City’s rhythm and break the game down, like Fellaini who can hoover up the second balls, or a Barry whose experience to slow play down or kick someone up the arse was sorely missing.

In last season’s game – due largely to our miserly tactics – SIlva created no scoring chances, however yesterday he setup 6 scoring chances – mostly for Aguero – and received the ball DOUBLE the amount of times. His combination play with Toure was particularly good and Aguero could have scored a hat trick by half time alone thanks to Silva’s impudence and craft.

It was Silva’s nudge to Toure which enabled the Ivorian to setup Negredo for the equaliser as he ghosted in behind a square Seamus Coleman.

Soon after, Silva was as it again, teeing up the Argentine for another opening which this time he gobbled up ruthlessly for goal number two. It was a bit of comedy of errors from us with Mirallas initially losing the ball in the City half and then Coleman and Distin’s positioning compromised by a ridiculous argument with Negredo in our 18 yard box. It was one of those days.


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Silva finding large spaces to drive into was a feature of the evening. Here he is prior to teeing up Aguero for goal two

Whether Silva should have even been on the pitch however was another story altogether after two clear yellow card offences which denied us promising counter attacking opportunities were missed. Referee John Moss – clearly way out of his comfort zone – had already missed a common assault as James Milner, who presumably celebrated the win with a night in with a John Bishop DVD and a glass of ginger ale,  took out James McCarthy at waist height with two feet off the ground making no connection with the ball.

Unfortunately for us, Moss hadn’t finished and his final act of ineptitude would be to give City a gift of a penalty. Again, it was Silva and Toure who combined to free Zabaleta in our penalty box. Whilst there was ‘contact’ (it’s a contact sport!) there was significantly more contact than Nastasic on Lukaku in the first half which was ignored. Lets not kid ourselves though, City had been dominating the game for a while at this stage and it seemed a goal was imminent. At this point in the game we hadn’t even had a shot since the first 15 minutes so the idea of us scoring twice was incredibly optimistic. Game over.


This was a disappointing second half that ended our unbeaten run to the season.   On the plus side we won’t have to face a side as competent as City every week – they played some top notch stuff after going a goal behind, nor will we have to encounter John Moss who after this display will likely be demoted and/ or forced to go full time at Wetherspoons.  Our first half display showed again that we can compete with the best but we were undone by poor tracking of Silva in particular. The start to the Martinez reign has been superb however and at least we have the tantalising prospect of Paul McShane on site at Goodison marking Lukaku in a fortnight to look forward to.


Scout Scribbles – Man City

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During his managerial career, Manchester City’s new boss Manuel Pellegrini has been the master underdog, taking a fairly ordinary Malaga to the brink of the ECL Semi Final last season – a feat he achieved at the previously little known Villarreal back in 2005 after controversially beating us over two legs in the qualifier.  

 We have, of course, experienced great success against City home and away in recent years with just 2 defeats in 12. We’ve tended to compress the middle ground and force City to use the flanks knowing that they prefer to play through the middle.  Will the Pellegrini impact destabilise what was previously a Moyes monopoly over Mancini?

Lets delve a little deeper….

 Who are the key men for City?

The Citizens have generally struggled against us due to playing too insular and having a lack of pace in wide areas. A lack of a ‘Plan B’ if you like. In Navas they now have this option and he has started each of the home games (but none away from home) so far so would appear a nap to be in the first eleven. His width could give us a problem. Up front, Negredo has been the most productive striker so far this season and having been benched in midweek his chances of starting are high.

Any weak links?

 Personnel wise they are pretty solid, but the left side of their defensive unit (probably Nastasic with Kolorov) are much less robust than the right side with Kolorov particularly deficient defensively and Nastasic struggling for form a bit.  After the midweek debacle there is even more heat on wobbly keeper Joe Hart, although his clean sheet record is still as good as anyone in the division.

In midfield,  Toure and Fernandinho are obviously big talents but both are better going forward than going back. Toure can sometimes be more than a tad idle in this respect and against our midfield trio the duo run the risk of being swamped. The gap between their rather attack minded central midfield duo and the central defensive axis where space tends to open up more is an area we can exploit, and if we can find Barkley in this zone enough times we have a great chance of getting something from the game.

What about set plays? What kind of delivery is the norm and who are the targets?

City are one of the most dangerous sides from set plays in the league given their quality of delivery and the physique of players like Kompany, Toure and Dzeko. They’ve already scored five goals from set plays this season and three from corners in their last two. For free kicks closer to the goal expect Toure to shoot right footed to the keeper’s right. In terms of corners, Nasri has been the regular taker of late with Kompany usually the main target.

Is recent form good?

So far, City’s form has been rather patchy; at home it’s been ruthless with four wins and fifteen goals from their four domestic home games, but on the road they have registered just a solitary point.

Any injuries or selection trends to be aware of?

 City don’t have many injury problems to report with David Silva now back in the fold following a few weeks out. Nasri & Dzeko have both played 2 games already this week and I would expect both to be rested for Silva & Negredo. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they recycled their fullbacks too.

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 Likely Line-up Appraisal

Joe Hart – Hair product endorsing gaming enthusiast and generally out of form keeper. Has struggled making the right decisions when coming for the ball and at times can be left in no man’s land. Has been particularly susceptible to long range pot shots this season with concentration issues perhaps the biggest problem. Since the start of the title winning campaign only Ali Al-Habsi (11) has made more errors leading to a goal than Hart (8). Hanging around with Richard Wright is perhaps having a bigger impact than anyone at City imagined. In terms of distribution he will  usually go short to Nastasic, or longer to Negredo.

Pablo Zabaleta – Marauding Argentine who can play across the backline or defensive midfield but who is nicely ensconced at right back. If there’s a weakness to his game it’s that he can get too close to opponents and enable unnecessary free kicks or be dribbled past. Will look to receive further up field and service Navas in front of him and is a great crosser in the final third.

Alexsander Kolorov – Serbian ex Lazio left footed dead ball specialist. Much better aerially than his direct competition Clichy but weaker in transitions and poorer recovery speed. Had an absolute shocker against Coleman at Goodison last season. Better attributes going forward than defensively.

 Vincent Kompany – Aggressive right sided centre half and City’s chief organiser at the back. A colossus physically, the Belgian will seek to dominate his opponents. Less adept on the ball and can sometimes lunge in and risk a card. Like Toure he is a real threat from set plays. Can sometimes be dragged out of position either by his own desire to get tight or to cover Zabaleta’s forward surges and if we can get him facing his own goal and break at speed in numbers into this zone we can get some joy.

Matija Nastasic – Great left footed covering defender and the perfect foil for the more aggressive and less comfortable on the ball Kompany. Also solid in the air when required. Will look to start most of City’s attacks from the back with good long range passing. Most prolific defensive fouler in the league thus far and seems to be struggling for form and mental focus.

Yaya Toure – Right footed Ivorian midfield behemoth who can play at 6,8 or 10, and (if required) CB/LB. Will usually receive from Fernandinho and move the ball to David Silva. Often used deeper by Mancini to counter act Fellaini from kick outs in previous games between the clubs. City’s top scorer so far with 4 but looked lethargic against Munich and is susceptible to opponents running down his gulley’s.

Fernandinho – Two footed Brazilian midfield all rounder who won 11 trophies in 8 seasons at the Dombass Arena. Has been deployed more in the anchor role thus far allowing Toure to push on similarly to the way Barry did previously but will still look to get forward. A class act.

David Silva – Fluid and dangerous midfield schemer who specialises in playing out to in. Always shows and comfortable receiving in tight areas and capable of turning and weaving mayhem should we let him .The effort and misery involved in marking him is the football equivalent of a full episode of Piers Morgan’s life stories. Will look for passing combinations with Aguero down the left flank.

Sergio Aguero – Predominantly doesn’t ‘show up’ away from home and is yet to slot against us home or away. On home soil however he is ruthless and City have never lost when he has scored. Possibly. Most dispossessed player in the league so far.

Alvaro Negredo – Left footed prolific Spanish forward who was supposedly the subject of an £11m bid from Everton in the winter transfer window last season. Is very decent in the air and can sniff a goal very well. Has settled into life at City with consummate ease.

Jesus Navas – Right footed winger who provides much needed width in the City team. Has so far had less of an impact than fellow Spanish import Negredo. Will look to receive from Zabaleta and play pull backs to Aguero in our penalty box. Less adept on his left peg so whoever is left midfield for us needs to show him inside and be defensively aware of the Zabaleta overlap, or under lap if Navas hugs the touch line and the Argentine powers through the middle.

Bong Brief: This will be a really difficult test for the Blues and especially given we are likely to be without four ‘first pick’ midfielders in Pienaar, Mirallas, Barry and Gibson. Given our record at City and extra rest up time  we have every chance of getting a result, although it will probably require us being at our max and our opponents not being quite at full throttle. With City’s 100% home record and our status as the top flight’s only unbeaten team something has to give, and on current form it’d take a brave punter to bet against this Everton side. Verdict 2-2