Scout Scribbles – Stoke City

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Following the drama of last week’s pulsating derby comes one of the less eye catching fixtures of the season as Mark ‘Ambition’ Hughes and his Stoke troops lumber  into L4 looking to puncture the bubbling toffee feel good factor in a fixture which could see us go joint 2nd in the table.

Hughes is one of the least popular ex toffee players due largely to his conduct over the Lescott ‘transfer wrangle’ from the summer of 2009. This situation was documented earlier this summer when he polled 0% in the fans poll for prospective Moyes replacements.

Even Steve Round got 1%.

Hughes enjoyed relative success at Blackburn and Fulham either side of an ill fated stint at Man City whilst his QPR reign was emphatically calamitous. Like Martinez,  he has looked to harness the key strengths he inherited at the back and supplement it with a more aesthetically pleasing passing style. He is also trying to restructure an expensively assembled squad lacking in options, saleable assets and youthful exuberance – all things central to the thinking of new technical director Mark Cartwright.

On the field, passing share and completion figures are both up, although there has been relatively minimal difference in terms of goals scored, conceded or points accrued compared to last season’s figures. The length of their average pass has gone down, albeit only by 1m, from 21 to 20. At the back they have just one clean sheet on the road and one win – both accrued in the same game at west ham – but have performed admirably at Old Trafford and Swansea and most of their games have been familiarly tight with few goals,  particularly at home.

Likely Line-up Appraisal

A. Begovic – Towering keeper, great catcher and imposing shot stopper who unexpectedly remained at the club this summer following the arrival of the much coveted Butland. Despite a tweak to Stoke’s style under Hughes, it was Begovic’s combination with Crouch that was Stoke’s most prolific passing linkage in their last away game at Swansea.

E. Pieters – Left back who can at a push play centre half. Much more adventurous than the pulis identikit full back i.e he will cross the halfway line and can pass the ball. His defensive capability is sure to be tested against the likes of Kevin ‘Bite yer legs’ Mirallas and / or Deulofeu.

G.Cameron – Competent right footed American full back who offers versatility and can play full back or central defence.

R.Shawcross – Dummy headed defensive beaut. Has usually been in the thick of the action in past meetings as a result of his sparring duels with Fellaini but will be much less comfortable against tricky ginkers running in and around him like Mirallas, Barkley and Pienaar.

R.Huth –
Battle of the bulge foot soldier who scored the winning goal in this fixture 2 years ago. A solid and consistent performer with few weak spots. Stoke have surprisingly conceded the most headed goals in the league this season – bizarre given the aerial prowess that Huth and shawcross bring to the party.

S.Nzonzi – Physically imposing right footed midfielder who was once a target of the Moyes regime. Very good in the air will most likely pick up young Barkley.

G. Whelan – Irishman is known in the dressing room as ‘the archbishop of banterbury’ for hilarious bantz related pranks including the kenwyne jones pigs head incident. Statistically the 12th best passer in the league, he posted 100% completion from his 63 passes last week and has decent dead ball prowess. Has been fighting it out with Wilson Palacios for a spot alongside Nzonzi this season.

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M. Arnautovic-  6.3 wide forward with power,pace and who is technically great with two good feet – he can also boast Inter and Bremen in his back catalogue of former clubs. Is very direct and will look to shoot from outside the box at every opportunity and also takes a decent dead ball.

C.Adam- Sugar puff teethed, tinned hotdog eating goon who boasts the biggest collection of g star raw merchandise in the outer Hebrides. His vacant facial expression masks decent long range capability and a quality left peg but he is defensively suspect can be caught in possession when put under pressure. Top scorer this season with 3. Currently has the edge on fellow washed up groc Stephen Ireland for the role ‘in the hole’.

'Coming to a Brighthouse store near you'

‘Coming to a Brighthouse store near you’

J. Walters -Birkenhead born midfielder cum forward, toffeeman and Irish international . Reminiscent of a post 2009 Tim Cahill in that he’s good in the air, will put in a shift, wins plenty of free kicks but doesn’t score many and isn’t great on the ball. Never scored against his boyhood idols.

P.Crouch – Harry Redknapp’s elephant man will look to receive long and link play with the wide midfielders who will tuck in whilst the ball is in the air. Has no goals this seaosn but has bagged  3 assists in his last 2 games. His career figures against us total 4 goals  in 18 games.

Toffee synopsis

Our key dilemma surrounds who replaces the sidelined Leighton Baines. His understudy Bryan Oviedo would be the obvious choice although the Costa Rican hasn’t had a sniff of first team action barring inconclusive run outs at Fulham and West ham. Barry showed last week that he can ‘do a job’ there whilst Distin could shift to left back and allow fit again Alcaraz to come in at left sided centre back should we need him.

Whilst Oviedo would mean less change elsewhere, the emphasis for this game needs to be on picking a team that will suitably pull apart Stokes rigid shape. For this reason I’d go with Pienaar (left) Mirallas (central)and Deulofeu (right) behind Lukaku with a midfield base of Barkley and McCarthy with  Barry at left back.

We’ve struggled to edge out teams like Palace and West Brom who have ‘parked the bus’ and one goal may be enough to see off an improving albeit middle of the road Stoke  side. The last three games between the clubs at L4 have ended 1-0 and despite new direction at both clubs each side’s key strength still reside at the back so I’m going for us to edge it 1-0.

EB

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Derby Deconstruction – Goal Analysis

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The preamble to the derby was all about visions, passing stats and most excruciating of all ”the Swansea model’ – however in what turned out to be the best derby in recent years it was set pieces and not ‘winning the passing’ that would prove the pre-eminent factor  at both ends. Let’s take a look goal by goal.

Everton 0-1 Liverpool – (Coutinho) After just 5 minutes a long sweeping pass from Gerrard to Flanagan was directed out for a corner from Coleman. From the resulting dead ball we can see Barkley (20) is picking up Coutinho (10), but after some nice movement from the Brazilian (and Barkley switching off) Coutinho is able to poke home unmarked. McCarthy’s positioning behind the line is also a tad iffy.

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Everton 1-1 Liverpool (Mirallas) Our Belgian winger was in the thick of the action throughout – just as he was in this fixture last season before Suarez put him out of action for 3 months. His first meaningful contribution came after boz-eyed hatchet ogre Lucas downed Barkley (although the free kick was actually given for the earlier foul by Coutinho). From the resulting Baines delivery, Barkley gave Skrtel enough to think about for the defender to direct the ball into the direction of Mirallas who capitalised on some ball watching from Gerrard to get to the ball first and prod home.

Everton 1-2 Liverpool (Suarez) In the build up, Suarez is tackled cleanly by McCarthy – whose energy was a constant throughout this game – before Barry needlessly trods on Suarez whilst the Uruguayan is going away from goal. As good as the free kick is from Suarez, Howard’s wall is crud with the gap between Pienaar and Barry giving a player of Suarez calibre far too much room to pierce.

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Everton 2-2 Liverpool (Lukaku) Following his inept miss, the hapless Allen was replaced with Moses meaning that ‘Hendo’ moved inside in what was a really bold move by Rodgers, albeit it removed protection from a back four that was already creaking.

On the ball, Barkley was the game’s top player and his ability to receive in tight areas, drive and dribble into space was a constant problem for Liverpool.  It’s also worth noting his adaptability – due to the various reshuffles he played as the number 10 in the first half, the defensive midfield role after the break and in the latter stages left midfield. Again, Lucas couldn’t get near him and was forced to concede a foul. After the resulting free kick was saved by Mignolet, Liverpool defenders are sucked in by the ball which enables Lukaku the space to slot home after McCarthy diverts Mirallas centre into his path.

Everton 3-2 Liverpool (Lukaku) By now Deulofeu was running the Liverpool backline ragged. The Barcelona youth receives the ball from Mirallas – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – only for Mignolet to deny him at ‘point blank’ range. From the resulting corner, Lukaku is initially picked up by the more physically rigid Johnson, but Mirallas drops his corner on top of the less robust Flanagan to enable Lukaku to attack in something of a physical mis-match and dispatch into the corner. It was particularly encouraging given that one of the weak points that  Lukaku has been looking to address in his game is his movement to attack the near post from such dead ball scenarios.

Everton 3-3 Liverpool (Sturridge) By now Liverpool had sent on Sturridge for the atrocious Lucas – another bold attacking move – and we had brought on the added height of Stones to play right back and also Osman in midfield with Coleman moving to right midfield and Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas and Pienaar giving way.  After a rash challenge by Distin on Moses Liverpool setup to take a free kick from the right flank.  You can see in the screenshots in the top box Sturridge is being picked up by Barkley but then moves in between he and Barry (box 2) to direct Gerrard’s precision delivery into the net. Cue cringeworthy  ‘bantz’ celebration.

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Conclusions

Whilst the last gasp Sturridge goal made it feel almost like a defeat, the quality of the game and attacking play from both sides was a joy to watch in what was a truly frenetic tussle between two capable sides.  From a blue perspective, the best takeaway was how positive we played and how we took the game to Liverpool. After all, we are used to repressive, percentage pragmatism in derbies and a gameplan of essentially hiding behind the couch and waiting til Liverpool score. Here, we were bold, adventurous and took many risks. Perhaps the moment in the match which summed up this cavalier approach (from both sides) was when Lukaku drove into the Liverpool half  in a 4v2 break. The Belgian’s awful pass then lead to Liverpool breaking 4 v 3 onto our backline. Just as the previous regime would never have replaced Baines with Deulofeu, there is no way such a ‘last days of Rome’ scenario would have developed 12 months ago.

Looking at some of the data, in last season’s fixture we took on and beat a Liverpool player 8 times – yesterday we did it 17 times. Over the 90 mins we also had 12 shots on target – as a benchmark Spurs average the most shots on target per game in the league this season (6.6).  Our ingenuity on the ball in open play was also commendable. Whereas over half of Liverpool’s openings came from set plays, 14 of our 18 openings came from open play with plenty of sumptuous through balls from Barkley, Mirallas and Pienaar.

The only sour point for us was the goals conceded from set plays – all the more bizarre given that we hadn’t conceded one from a free kick of corner all season and hadn’t conceded for just short of six hours going into the game. Concentration and marking from dead balls is certainly something we’ll need to pay attention to especially with set piece knuckle heads Stoke and Mark ‘Ambition’ Hughes next up at L4 on Saturday.

EB

10 Point SWOT Analysis on Everton’s First 10 Games

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With the Spurs game being crud and the trip to Palace not exactly tickling anybody’s trout I thought a brief synopsis of the key themes of our first 10 games under the Martinez would be a better read. So lets briefly take a look at the key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the season so far……

1.Defensive improvement

Maintaining the solid defensive unit he inherited from Moyes would have been one of Martinez primary targets even if it was just for his own credibility and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he has not only maintained the status quo but also strengthened it.

This is demonstrated by our ability to keep 5 clean sheets already (we had 1 at this stage last season) and we have also conceded slightly fewer shots per game. (fig1). Interestingly, the % won of individual defensive duels including take-ons, aerials, fouls and tackles are all up on last season’s figures – equating to a 5% overall improvement on 1 v 1 defensive duels. Defence then remains a core strength.

Fig 1 - Defensive Stuff

Fig 1 – Defensive Stuff from the 2013/14 season so far incl 2012/13 efc figures on the bottom for comparison

2. ‘We won the passing’

OK, now try and forget about creepy Brennys winning the passing nonsense for just a moment.

The pre season narrative was all about us upping the ante in terms of passes made and completed. This has pretty much been realised – at the Hull game for example we completed 581 passes which is the highest figure we have polled since such stats were produced. Over the 10 games we have averaged 73 more short passes per game (369 to 442) with long passes down from 14% of the total to 12%. Our 56.6% share of the ball and 83.2% completion are both up around 4% on last season’s figures too. The key thing here isn’t how many passes you make, but influencing the game. As the Spurs game showed, when we started finding our men better this allowed us to control the game and we became the better side to the tune of 3 times more passes in the 2nd half to the first and the knock on effect this has in alleviating pressure on a backline which was overworked in the opening 45mins.

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fig 2 – Everton chance creation areas 2012/13 (left) and 2013/14 (right)

3.Less Reliance on Baines

In recent seasons the over reliance on Baines creativity hasn’t been healthy. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a risky strategy especially given the incessant speculation surrounding his future and any potential injury associated with a player approaching 30.

We’ve noticeably evolved our style this campaign and making less crosses per game (26 down to 20). Whereas last season Baines created 25% of our chances this season the figure is just 10% with Mirallas the main creator – the Belgian has created a third more chances yielding 4 assists (the most in the league) with Baines yet to register one. Fig 2 gives a decent indication of how more chances are being created centrally from outside the box and from the right flank.

Part of this is down to the forwards in that Lukaku likes to camp out on the right near Mirallas whilst Barkley plays predominantly through the middle. Last season Fellaini was the main ‘outball’ but he preferred to position himself on the left which led to us servicing the left flank quicker.

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4.Its a lot more expressive

Unlike his percentages predecessor, Martinez approach to youth is to enable them to mistakes and learn from them- as a result we’ve already blooded more teenagers this season (3) than any side in the top flight with Lukaku (20) only a few months older than Barkley so it’s clear embedding youth is a big thing for Martinez.

Last season we were firmly ensconced in the bottom six for dribbles compared to this season when we have already made 133 – the second most behind Spurs. Whereas young Barkley has weighed in with a sizeable quota of these (31) colleagues Coleman, Lukaku and Mirallas also feature in the top 25 players in the division for take ons and its only game time which has prevented the slaloming Deulofeu being in the mix here too.

Clearly the threat here is that there will be issues with form as the season develops and this is when senior players will need to step up and support the young pups. Lukaku for example has been superb, but has issues to iron out in his game in linking play with midfield whilst Barkley and Deulofeu both need to learn when to release the ball quicker, however these are both opportunities for us to exploit as the season unfolds.

5. Less chances, better conversion

So far this season we have averaged 9.8 chances per game  which is a drop on last season’s 12.6 chances per game, albeit the amount of quality chances from open play has improved with less reliance on set pieces and getting the ball ‘into the mixer’ at the earliest opportunity. Crucially, whereas last season it took us 11.5 shots to score (the 3rd worst in the division)  this season we take just 9.8 shots – the sixth best in the league (fig 3)

fig 3 - Attacking stuff for 2013/14 so far incl the 12/13 efc figures on the bottom

fig 3 – Attacking stuff for 2013/14 so far incl the 12/13 efc figures on the bottom

6. Away days are more fun

Martinez hasn’t provided free ale on the Happy Als buses or much needed repairs of their hydraulics  but he has injected more of a kick to the away days for travelling toffees.

We all know about our home form and how Goodison is a fortress with just 1 defeat in over 18 months or so. What has been consistently mediocre however in recent seasons is the comparatively low yield of points on the road and making us more dynamic to pick up points away from L4 was Martinez biggest challenge for me. So far the results have been impressive. Last season we averaged 1.10 points per game on the road and so far we have scooped 1.6. Over the course of the season this improvement would accrue 9.5 extra points per season which would be the difference between top 6 and top 4.

7. Were taking more chances at the back

The approach of the two centre backs splitting with usually Barry slotting in between them when Howard has the ball has sometimes left us a bit out of sync centrally  and at times in the early games in particular we looked a bit open if possession was lost in our own half. Martinez has been vocal in the past about how he likes to take chances in terms of committing bodies forward and anyone who watched Wigan overload sides will understand this.

This often maverick approach has resulted in us conceding the 2nd most penalties in the league and making the most last man tackles (7) of any club in the top flight –  this is already the same figure as we accrued in the whole of last season. In fairness, we have not been required to make any such last ditch challenges in the last 3 games which may indicate the new methods are becoming more rapidly embedded, however it is a weakness opponents will look to exploit.

8. Pressure Management

The new playing out from the back approach has worked well although there is pretty much one incident in every game (usually involved Howard and Distin) when either due to the players not being comfortable or through opposition pressure we can look a bit silly recycling possession in our own half. The Spurs game in particular showed the problem and other opponents with high energy levels will look to follow suit in forcing the issue in our half.

The problem I guess is that whilst very good players, pros like Distin and Coleman can struggle with the concept of anticipation and then moving the ball accurately with one touch. When pressured it can look horrible and panic can ensue in our own half. It’s exactly this reason why Barry and McCarthy were recruited as they can receive in tight zones under pressure and move it on quickly and accurately. I’d imagine future recruitment will look to remedy this but its certainly a threat which we need to manage.

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9. Second Half Strength

A sizeable 7 of the 8 away goals we have scored have come in the second half of matches and its noticeable that we have come on stronger as games have gone on at home too with 150 more second half passes per game than first half passes in our last batch of home games.

James McCarthy in particular has shown in each of the last 3 games that he is a player who gets better as the game goes on and whose influence on the ball grows more when opponents tire in the latter stages of games.

Perhaps it’s because were not pressing as much as we did last season (see fig1), but with the exception of the City defeat there definitively seems to be more gas in the tank as games develop. Martinez substitutions  have also made a big impact here and we have gained more points already this season via the impact of substitutes as we did in the whole of last season.

10. In Summary…..

Last season Moyes squad finished with 1.65 points per game which was the highest during his 11 year reign. This season that figure is up to 1.9 per game which is a decent gain. In terms of the threat provided elsewhere  in the league, after 10 games last season we sat in  4th with 17 points and whilst  we are 2 points better off now find ourselves 3 places further back albeit its very congested. Its early days but you could draw the conclusion that the bar has been raised across the division.

In general the start made by Martinez  has been very good with the attacking approach more dynamic and varied and the defensive resilience maintained. Overall we are a side with few weak points and as the style continues to be polished the threats which do exist will continue to be ironed out.

EB

Scout Scribbles – Tottenham

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This weekend’s game with Spurs should be a good yard stick to the progress we have made under Roberto Martinez . I’m not sure how you quantify yard stick measurements in football though or what this even means so we’ll move on.

In the opposition dugout, Villas Boas has been getting some heat from his own fans lately, perhaps as a result of their play lacking in terms of end product – they are the lowest scorers in the top nine with just nine goals so far. All things considered though I don’t mind the AVB Project, even if has the look of a bloke who watches the eff 1 with a Porsche cap on. Cholesterol face Allardyce and Bagpuss Redknapp seem to hate him so he must be doing something right.

At the other end of the pitch, their frugality has seen them accrue the most cleans sheets (6)  in the division. They will look to condense play and press in their opponents half – they’ve caught more opponents offside and recovered more loose balls in the opposition half  than any side in the division.

They are far from faultless though and last season they looked particularly dodgy down their left side and their inability to defend crosses led to 3 of the 4 goals we bagged against them last season. This excellent Spurs site gives some great intel on such weak points and specifically the goals they have conceded this campaign if you have a thirst for more nerding.

Likely Line-up Appraisal

Hugo Lloris – French stopper who has kept the joint most clean sheets in the top flight this season. Pretty good on the ball and often acts as a sweeper with Spurs high defensive line. Makes few high profile mistakes.

Kyle Walker – Yorkshire born right wing back. Due to his speed and athleticism he would no doubt have  been a first pick in youth  football. The less said about his defensive awareness the better. Averages the most passes (65) per game which is the most  for a fullback/wingback in the league. His combination with Townsend down the right flank has been Spurs most prolific interplay in their last 2 games. Assisted in the 2-2 draw last season and gave Baines plenty of problems.

Jan Vertonghen – His 77% defensive duel success rate means he has won more personal defensive 1v1s than anyone  in the squad and his frame means he is particularly good at hoovering up second balls. Set up the opening goal in the 2-2 last season and is a threat going forward. His matchup with Coleman should be a key one- the Irish marauder has never been on the losing side to Spurs and has a goal and 2 assists in his 6 games against them. Played the full 120 mins in midweek and could be susceptible to the Barry diagonal to Mirallas in behind him.

Michael Dawson – Right sided centre back and the second most prolific long passer in the league after Jagielka. Has also won the most offside’s in the top flight as Spurs main offside trap executor.

Vlad Chiriches – Two footed elegant Romanian centre half who can also play centre mid or right back. Reminds me a bit of Ricardo Carvalho in that he can bring the ball out of defence really well and also looks like a malnourished lanky rat. An excellent player in the making.

The above player influence from Spurs last away encounter at Villa seen them line up in a 4-2-3-1 ish formation with the midfield composition of Sandro as the 6, Paulinho 8 and Holtby as the no.10.

The above player influence from Spurs last away encounter at Villa seen them line up in a 4-2-3-1 ish formation with the midfield composition of Sandro as the 6, Paulinho 8 and Holtby as the no.10.

Sandro – The burly Brazilian made the most tackles, interceptions and fouls in this fixture last season. No wonder candle head Arry labelled him the new Socrates. Due to his leggy display last week Mousa  Dembele – an incredibly laid back left footed midfielder with cute slaloming dribbling skills -could replace him although Sandro provides a more resolute defensive platform and I think he’ll get the nod if fit.

Andros Townsend – Has made the most shots per game in the top flight and the most dribbles in Europe’s top 5 leagues but this endeavour has yielded just 1 goal 0 assists  and it makes you wonder if he’s more Adel Taraabt than Chris Waddle. His stock is far too high to make such outlandish comments  in public however.

Paulinho – Right footed box to box midfield general who has probably looked the pick of Spurs scattergun summer transfer crop. Does most things well and can play 6, 8 or even 10 .Has few weaknesses and playing the full 120 mins v Hull shouldn’t make much difference given his super human energy levels. Should be a nailed on starter for Brazil in the World Cup.

Lewis Holtby – Germany’s left footed answer to James Milner. He’s versatile with a decent left peg and will ‘put in a shift’ defensively with perhaps 10%  more between his ears than Milner, but for me he isn’t as big a threat as Sigurdsson. Supposedly an Everton fan on the sly.

Aaron Lennon – Still seemingly looking for his best form this season but is always good at dribbling and committing players. His record of 1 goal and 2 assists from 12 games against the toffees doesn’t exactly make you want to hide behind the couch when he gets on the ball. Turned out last week on the left and if he does so again expect him to run predominately inside. Given  the value of midfielders on Spurs bench you wonder if he’ll become a permanent Europa league bitch this season.

Roberto Soldado –  Two-footed forward who scored bags of goals at Valencia but thus far has just one goal from open play. Even the tactical nerd cop out line of ‘he has great movement’ looks a bit of a stretch with this cat as he rarely moves ‘into the channels’  although in his defence he has  created the most chances (14) for his team mates in the Spurs squad.

Pienaar celebrates his equaliser in this fixture last season

Pienaar celebrates his equaliser in this fixture last season

Bottom Line

With both sides evenly matched and again rubbing shoulders with each other in the higher echelons of the table this one certainly has all the ingredients for a Goodison humdinger. Spurs certainly won’t be relishing a visit to a ground they haven’t won in six seasons and where only 1 visiting side has taken maximum points in over 18 months in the league.

Villas Boas hasn’t beaten Martinez in their 3 previous games and only a late howler from Robles denied Wigan a maximum 6 point haul against Spurs last season. I think we can edge Spurs out in this one and I’m going for 1-0 Everton, although it’ll be very difficult and ‘both teams to score’ would be a decent safety wager.

EB