Tactical Deconstruction: West Brom 1-1 Everton

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The Preamble

West Brom have been a stubborn thorn in our side in recent meetings between the clubs. In 2 of the last 3 meetings they have stopped us from scoring, with the most recent occasion in Martinez first game in charge on Goodison soil – a 0-0 stalemate. Indeed, with 17 draws between us this fixture ominously pitted together the two most prolific draw specialists in the division.

Possession has usually been plentiful for us in each of these 3 games however there hasn’t been a correlation into us creating genuine goal scoring opportunities. This has been due largely to ‘The Baggies’ rigid defensive shape with their back four one of the league’s most settled defences along with our own.

Given this fact, it was a big loss to lose chief creative spark Steven Pienaar to injury with the South African ‘schemer’ replaced by Bryan Oviedo who moved to the right flank. Leon Osman duly came over to the left side to enable both to tuck in on their better feet to deliver better passing angles into the forwards. Sylvain Distin also returned for the Blues in place of Stones. Our hosts went 4-4-2 making 4 changes in Pepe Mel’s first game in charge, with Lugano, Yacob, Gera and Vydra coming in for McAuley, Mulumbu, Amalfitano and Long.

Prior to the game Mel implied there would be subtle changes to the approach of the rather rigid setup preferred by onion headed predecessor Steve Clarke, speaking of a ‘more aggressive approach’ with more focus on ‘creating goalscoring chances’ which would imply less emphasis on shape and higher pressure in the final third.

First Half

For the first half we controlled the game although created minimal in front of goal. Like Norwich last week, West Brom went with two strikers to press us high up and forcing us to go long. Indeed, our 3 best openings of the first half all came from long Distin punts downfield in behind Lugano, who wasn’t having an A1 day. Firstly on 5mins Distin teed up Lukaku with a ball over the top for a decent opening before again on 11 mins finding the Belgian who this time played in Oviedo to fire wide. The third time the Blues finally made it pay with Lukaku heading down Distin’s pass for Mirallas to nip in behind the lumbering Lugano to smash home. In Martinez post match press conference he mentioned that his knowledge of Mel’s strategy led him to rightly believe he would press high up – thus giving us a chance in behind, and so it proved.

West Brom’s best opportunities came from Anelka who was making decent gains by first pulling out wide onto the left flank in behind pockets of space vacated by Coleman and then dropping off centrally to play passes through the our centre backs for Vydra.

In terms of final third control we dominated, making double the amount of passes in West Brom’s defensive third than they did in ours, and we deservedly left the field at half time 1-0 up.

Second Half

After the interval Everton simply didn’t turn up and it was a dreadful and disjointed second half display.

Martinez mentioned the state of the pitch being a contributing factor and this combined with West Brom’s pressure from the front to led to us playing 21% of our passes long – that’s close to double the season average of 13%. The loss of Barkley was particularly crucial here and without his ability to receive in tight areas, turn and drive through midfield and commit defenders meant we had little coming from the middle of the pitch.

We certainly struggled to find any rhythm on the ball with pass completion dipping from 79% in the first half to 75% in the second- way down on the season average of 83.6%.

In the final third it was even more depressing with just 2 chances created in open play after the break and no shots on target in the entire half.  Lukaku’s display was particularly insipid both on and off the ball. West Brom got touch tight on him which he doesn’t like and between them arch grocs Olsson and Lugano to put it bluntly ‘had him off’ in every 50-50. Sometimes the ability to ‘buy’ a foul to enable teammates to move up the pitch by 20 yards can be crucial when under pressure, and he won none. On the ball, he constantly failed to make the ball stick and bring in attacking midfielders with his pass completion down from a season average of 65% to Anichebe levels of 46%.

On the subject of Anichebe, the misfiring forward was by now in the thick of the action and quickly looked to execute his signature and perhaps only manoeuvre of  sticking his backside into the opposition centre back and pressing reverse until one of them falls over. The introduction of the former boo boy favourite did make an impact – he was much better than Vydra – and to be fair he did more damage than in 45mins than Lukaku did in 90.  West Brom were by far the better team after the interval and turned the tables on us in terms of attacking third passes making double our figure and also having more possession, territory and chances created from open play. They deservedly pulled level when some powder puff defending from Baines and McCarthy allowed the ball to come in from the flank for the comically bad Lugano to bury an Andy Gray style header past Howard.

In Conclusion

This was a fairly crud games for the Blues which got worse as it went on. After initially having the upper hand in the first half, we appeared to have done the hard work by getting our noses in front against a stubborn opponent. The thought heading into the second half was that next steps would be all about us dominating the ball in our half, drawing them onto us and then hitting them on the break with some dynamic counter attacks. Unfortunately our three most dynamic midfielders  messrs Barkley, Pienaar and Deulofeu were all unavailable and whilst Mirallas had some decent moments the two flank players Osman and Oviedo began the game on the periphery and got gradually worse. With each injury the levels of fluency and arrogance in our forward play has waned in recent weeks and we desperately need to get the trio back soon if we are to do more than merely hold our own and actually be able to force the issue  – as we have done all season – in the upcoming games against our key rivals.


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-0 Norwich

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The preamble

Meetings with Norwich City have proved particularly troublesome for the Toffees since the Canaries gained promotion back to the top flight back in 2011; n the 5 games since we have failed to win any, with both the Goodison games ending in 1-1 stalemates.

With this being a sort of tactics site the onus is on us to find some kind of clever reason as to why this dynamic has occurred. Or make one up.

In truth , whilst being a capable outfit Norwich have rode their luck a tad and their draws have been aided and abetted by some shocking finishing from ourselves. To back this up, Norwich have created just 7 chances in open play in the last two L4 fixtures compared to our 26. Their fortune was also evident in the opening game of this season, scoring twice from just 2 shots on target in the entire game to force an undeserved 2-2 draw.

Like his previous incumbent Paul Lambert, Chris Hughton is a tactical pragmatist albeit lacking some of the attacking variation of the Scot. This season Norwich have usually gone with a flat central midfield 3 away at the top sides with Leroy ‘remember him’, Fer, the awful Bradley Johnson and the currently injured Howson whilst against lesser operatives the delightful Wes Hoolahan has come in and played off the front man in a slightly more adventurous approach.

Since their humiliating crumble at the Etihad and twice annual surrender to the daft racist across the park, Norwich have gone 3 unbeaten on the road with just 1 goal conceded so came into the game in comparatively decent nick.

Teams and Tactics

Due to injuries to central defensive stalwart Distin and problems with Alcaraz, both missed out meaning Stones continued to deputise alongside the returning Jagielka who switched to the left of centre as he does for England. Hughton sprung a surprise by setting up with a  two pronged strike force of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel which created a 3 v 2 advantage for us in midifled with McCarthy, Barry and Osman up against Fer and Johnson. With granite faced simpleton Michael Turner doing his rota’d Saturday down the Carphone Warehouse, Ryan Bennett came in to partner Bassong at the heart of defence.

Key Data

In terms of possession we dominated to the tune of 63%\37%and also controlled play in the opposition half territory wise to the tune of 57%\43%.  In the final third we created 17 chances from open play to Norwich’s 10 which yielded 5 shots on target to our visitors 3. Off the ball we made 35 pressing contacts each (tackles, interceptions and blocks).

Norwich forward duo

 Hughton’s selection of both forwards was quite a surprise given that he has rarely (if ever?) gone for both summer forward signings in the same team this season and has usually preferring to go for either 3 in midfield or Hoolahan playing off one of them. The approach seemed to be to have two forwards playing high up to press Jagielka, Barry and Stones  and cut out passing angles into midfield to inhibit the trio and forcing us into us going long.  This basically meant that we struggled to play through midfield with Osman – usually in cigar smoking form against such opposition – having one of his most peripheral afternoons for a while. When Norwich had the ball, they bypassed midfield and looked to hit the forward duo early with 19% of their passes long to our 13%.

To an extent the forward duo approach  worked – if we look at the passing grid for instance Stones played the ball back to Howard 10 times due to no obvious forward pass being on which is way out of sync with our usual passing data. On the downside, forcing us to play long doesn’t give any guarantee of success given that we have the long ‘out ball’ of Lukaku to aim for and the first goal was a good example of this. Jagielka basically gives the ball a good ‘welly’ (you won’t find that variable in the prozone database) and Lukaku does a good job in controlling the long ball and playing in Barry. With Norwich seemingly more focused on maintaining defensive shape, no one goes out to press Barry which enables the man who has made absolutely everyone eat their words at L4 to slam the ball high into the roof of Ruddy’s net. Leroy Fer -the man who might have been – should really have gone to press Barry and the Dutchman’s display will have convinced many blues that his dodgy knee very much enabled us to dodge a bullet 12 months ago.

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 Minder for Coleman

The other interesting part to Norwich’s defensive gameplan was the use of Garrido – a left back – at left midfield in place of the more offensive Redmond. We witnessed something similar last season when Swansea put their right back Rangel at right midfield to double up with his fullback to stop Baines. Its testament to the impact Coleman has made that he is now afforded the same treatment and unsurprising given that he scored one and created the other goal in the 2-2 draw earlier this season. Garrido basically had no impact on the ball – he had the fewest touches (20) of any of the players who started the match and played just 2 forward passes all afternoon before being hauled off. The move did inhibit Coleman though as can be seen in the passing grid further down this piece with the Irish marauder receiving just 40 passes compared to the 63 Baines received. With Coleman less influential, Baines was taking back his role as the most dynamic efc wing back and his surge forward was to lead to the clinching goal. After his driving run inside was checked by Bennett, Kevin Mirallas stepped forward to clip a delicious right footed strike into Ruddy’s bottom corner.

With 20 minutes left, Martinez continued his approach to try and embed a three man defence when games are seemingly won, although with three ‘righties’ (Heitinga, Jags & Stones) it didn’t look great and whereas in previous home games when we have kicked on and scored late goals, in this one we didn’t threaten to score any  more and created just 1 chance in this period with Norwich the side looking the more likely to score.

Passing Grid – Key highlights

  • Top pass for the day was Jagielka to Baines (20)
  • Overall most combinations between Pienaar and Baines  (40)
  • Norwich’s most combinations were between Whittaker and Snodgrass (25)

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In Conclusion

It was a given that we would control the game and restrict Norwich to few chances, and the crux was always going to be could we take our chances when they came along and we did this. Barry’s goal and overall performance was superb and he was again our top performer both in shielding the back four and in dictating play in the Norwich half. At the back, Stones was again impressive as the covering centre back, although he did lose Hooper in the first half and Van Wolfswinkel in the second for Norwich’s two best chances and can sometimes be over elaborate on the ball – witnesss Jagielka having to ‘tell him off’ a couple of times. I guess when your centre half attempts the most dribbles on the pitch it says a lot about the confidence and arrogance that this Everton side are currently playing with….and long may it continue!