Tactical Deconstruction: Newcastle 0-3 Everton

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The preamble 

We came into this fixture on the back of three home wins on the spin but in the knowledge that our away results this year have been shite even if our displays have – barring one – been very good. Away form in the last 2 seasons after the turn of the year has generally been iffy – we’ve averaged 1.6 points per game away from home in the 1st half of the season and just 0.6 per game in the 2nd half of season.  Newcastle’s home form was not exactly worrying, though, and going into last night’s game they had scored just 2 goals in their last 6 at St James and without Cabaye and Remy they’ve looked increasingly toothless in the final third.

Teams

Everton made 2 changes from the Swansea win with Osman and Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas and McGeady. Shape wise it was a bit different too, with more of a 4-3-1-2 look about it with Barkley in behind Lukaku and Deulofeu. Our wing backs completed just 8 final third passes in the game (compared to 22 in the reverse fixture) and had more of a defensive brief to allow the likes of Deulofeu and Barkley to remain in dangerous positions ready for turnovers in possession to unleash hell. Newcastle lined up in more of a 4-4-2 with Cisse and de Jong up front.

First half

Although Newcastle initially had the upper hand in the first few minutes we soon began to take a foothold in the game.

Osman was the game’s key man and his role was quite interesting from a tactical standpoint. Predominately he would occupy a central role next to Barry and McCarthy against Newcastle’s midfield two. As one of either Tiote or Anita would come to press him, this then vacated the space they were controlling and afforded Barkley bags of room to operate in dangerous positions close to Newcastle’s box in the first half. By way of example, Osman played in Barkley 9 times in the first half which was our most frequent pass combination. Osman was finding spaces at the sharp end too, and his delightful threaded pass provided Lukaku with a one on one that he should have burst the net with in what was our first clear-cut opening of the game.

Barkley and Deulofeu hadn’t started a game in the league together prior to last night and whilst both are raw they were ideally suited to an opponent who, at home, were always going to come onto us regardless of whether it was in their best interests to do so. This was evident in the data, as Newcastle won double the amount of loose balls in our half than we did in theirs. Whilst their approach was to attack from the front, ours was to lie in wait and act as an insurgent, and on 22 minutes we showed why.

After a Newcastle corner was cleared by Stones, a deft touch from Deulofeu enabled Barkley to run from his own half, evade some limp challenges and slot superbly with his supposedly weaker left peg. It was a truly sublime goal and the first time he’s scored in back to back games for the toffees.

Second half

After the interval we wasted no time in putting the game to bed and the role of Osman was again crucial. The diminutive schemer again found bags of space to receive from Lukaku before spreading play to the Kanchelskis like Deulofeu. The Spaniard tore past the hapless Dummett before teeing up Lukaku for a nice finish.

Deulofeu’s role was particularly eye-catching and he was involved in all 3 goals as well as  beating his man a whopping 6 times. Defenders don’t want to get too close to him as they know he’ll burn past them whilst if they drop off this widens the pitch and gives us more space to operate between opposition line of defence and midfield. In a nutshell it s a win-win situation.

With Alan Partridge banned from the stadium it was left to microwave pizza loving shitehawk John Carver to roll the toon army dice on the hour mark, sending on Ben Arfa to the right flank for the anonymous De Jong. Martinez responded by switching McCarthy to the left of the midfield 3 to keep an eye on him with Osman shuffling over to the right. Whilst Newcastle had their ‘moments’ it was us who would have the final say and against it was Osman who was at the sharp end of things. After more good work from Deulofeu to pick out Lukaku, the Belgian then squared it to Osman who was able to pull out one of his finest monte cristo’s from his smoking jacket and puff a fat one right into Krul’s overused net.

Conclusion 

This was a well deserved win against a capable opponent. In general we looked more ruthless than in any of our previous 3 goodison wins were opponents have sat deep and denied us space in behind. The Arsenal draw certainly makes things interesting now in the ‘race for 4th’ particularly with City next up for them with us travelling to lowly Fulham. If results go in our favour we’d overtake them with a win at Goodison in a fortnight and we still have that game in hand too. Obviously this is Everton so that sequence of events won’t happen, but after last nights performance it’s made us dare to dream at least.
EB

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Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-2 Swansea

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The preamble

This weekend  Swansea rocked up in the final sterile instalment of Everton’s bottom feeder trilogy at L4.

It’s no secret that the stylish Swans struggle against us with Brenny, Laudrup and Gilet wearing Lighthouse Family loving Gary Monk all failing to prize anything from us in their 3 seasons back in the top flight. In the five league meetings all they’ve mustered is a Bryan Oviedo own goal and a miserly point last season in an insipid 0-0 stalemate. A run of no wins in 9 on the road, combined with our ruthless home form, meant a routine toffees win seemed the obvious outcome…

Teams

Martinez main selection poser was who started in the 3 attacking mid slots. With Pienaar out injured, McGeady started down the left with Mirallas moving from the centre to the opposite flank with Ross Barkley in the centre. Swansea started with Bony up front with support from the classy Hernandez in a similar 4-2-3-1 setup.

First Half

Post match there was a fair bit made about Swansea’s possession data with our ball hogging visitor’s swelling 59% of the passing, although this should be mitigated by the fact that for the most part it was they and not us who were chasing the game.

For example, in the first 20 minutes prior to our opening goal the ‘passing stats’ were dead level with us making one more successful pass than Swansea (120 v119). After Baines penalty we then sat back which allowed Swansea to take control of the rest of the half, making 155 passes to our 49 as we were increasingly penned into our own half.Even uber positive Martinez acknowledged this in his post match debrief;

“In the first 45 we were too open. We allowed their possession to be a real danger. We changed that mentality after the break, won the ball in good positions and used possession well.

This danger was realised when McGeady failed to track Rangel who was then picked out superbly by Routledge’s cross field pass. The Spaniard – a Martinez signing during his time in Wales- then teed up Bony who dispatched with aplomb. Bony had a very decent afternoon leading many to make the assertion that he would represent better value than Lukaku in the summer. The Belgian again struggled to hit top form, losing the ball a sizeable 22 times, and data wise was pretty much owned by Bony in every area.

Second Half

After the break there was more intensity to the Blues play and after some decent pressure we re-took the lead through Lukaku although he was aided and abetted by the comically bad Chico. The pony tailed goon had earlier given away the penalty and this time he was caught up field by a Distin block which allowed Lukaku to gallop forward into bags of space. The forward managed to make a meal of the opening however he was able to bring in Mirallas who then teed him up for  the goal with a nice low cross- it was the fifth time they have combined in such a way for a goal this season.

With Swansea rocking, the Blues smelt blood and just a few minutes later the game was effectively over. McGeady, who had some great ‘moments’ after the break, made a purposeful surge forward that resulted in winning a corner down the left side. From the resulting set play, Barkley was able to nod home Mirallas centre for the Belgian’s seventh assist of the season making him the 7th most prolific creator in the league.

McGeady was superb after the break however he is very direct and won’t really look to link play with Baines which is the usual way we initiate the domination of play in the opposition half. By way of example, Baines usually receives 15-20 passes from his mate Pienaar per game, however yesterday he received just one pass from both wide players McGeady and Mirallas. Despite just one assist this season, Baines remains our chief creator of chances and the fact we only created 5 openings in the whole game was mostly down to him being underutilized on the flank.

With the game as good as won the Blues then dropped off more and allowed Swansea to dominate play again. Our hosts will always look to control and thereafter we struggled to instigate any further periods of possession. The Swans crafted the joint most chances (16) that we have conceded all season and their late consolation goal meant the scoreline was given a more accurate reflection of the game.

In Conclusion

This was a decent game and a welcome win against a very competent opponent. In general we didn’t create a lot but in a reversal of roles we were more clinical than the opposition in the business end of the pitch. The display of Ross Barkley was probably the best thing for us as the forward won the opening penalty and scored the clincher. He can still be quite raw in parts – for example he doesn’t release the ball as quickly as he should do – but him returning to peak form gives us hope for the run in.

Quite where we can finish is still up for debate. Taking a look at the latest Premier League odds we are 12-1 to finish in the top 4. Arsenal’s Everton-style derby capitulation means we could close the gap on the Gunners to 2 points if we win our game in hand and then turn them over next month at Goodison. There’s quite a few ‘ifs’ in this equation however, and our away form is the principal barrier given we have accrued just 2 points and 2 goals on the road since Christmas. Over turning this would give us a chance of hitting Martinez 71 point marker to make fourth, but if that’s to happen we really need to find our pre xmas intensity quickly as based on this showing it looks unlikely.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-1 Cardiff

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The preamble

Last time out meat faced ming Malky McMisery’s plot to bore opponents into submission by spoon-feeding them his miserable brand of percentage football diarrhoea was in full flow. Our hosts squeezed out a horrible 0-0 draw, and in the process created just 1 chance  in open play and made only 2 successful passes in our box during the entire game. Insipid stuff.

Whilst we’ve been winning plenty of friends with our pretty football of late, our profligacy at the sharp end combined with an inability to close out clean sheets  – previously a given – means the season has been in danger of descending into despair ‘Terry from Brookside’ style. In truth we’ve gone toe to toe with all the sides above us at some stage this season but sadly those sides just have better players than us and in a nutshell that’s why we’ve tended to be edged out in most of the big games, particularly on the road where traditionally our form dips in the second half of the season. Cardiff on the other hand are the kind of side we usually consume with relatives ease, particularly at L4, and the Bluebirds came into this one on the back of 7 away defeats on the spin having failed to score in 8 of their last 10 on the road.

Teams

Martinez made several changes from the Arsenal cup exit, with Mirallas (central) and Deulofeu (right) starting in the same team for the first time. In order to provide some balance in the attacking mid slots, Barkley was ditched in favour of the more unselfish Osman on the left. Everything else was ‘as you were’.

Cardiff went with for a 5-4-1 with Kenwyne Jones dropping to the bench and Campbell as the lone forward with Cala & Theophile joining Caulker as the centre back trio with Fabio and John at full backs.

First Half

The first half seen us attacking predominately down the right side with Deulofeu the fulcrum of most attacks. Not scoring in the opening period has been a recurring theme of the season and particularly since the turn of the year with only one goodison goal before the break.  It’s particularly difficult when you are not the most potent of sides and you have to find a way through a team as unwilling to compromise their defensive shape like Cardiff, whose keeper Marshall was on top of his game and made  great stops from Lukaku, Mirallas and Deulofeu in the opening half.

Probably the most interesting thing that happened from a tactical nerding perspective in the opening half was Solskjaer ripping up his 3 man central defence plan after just 25 minutes. With a wide man – Mirallas – natually dipping out to the flanks the 3 centre halves invariably only had Lukaku to pick up whereas on the wings they were getting swamped particularly on the right. Cardiff  thus chose to flood the midfield with Noone supporting the left side  and on the right Theophile moved to right back where he shared duties with Fabio against Baines and Osman. Mutch, Medel and Yeung formed a trio in midfield so it became more a 4-5-1 than the original 5-4-1. It didn’t really make a massive impact though and we continued to carve out plenty of openings in the first half from open play (8 to Cardiff’s 1).

Still, it wasn’t great from the Blues with the Mirallas in ‘the hole’ experiment not really working. Whilst he has some great attributes like shooting and dribbling, he’s at his best when he’s going in behind defences and he has little interest in coming short into the space between the defence and midfield blocks of the opposition.

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EFC Passing Grid

Barkley has the ability to do this and Osman is adept at finding pockets of space but playing the role of link man is not really Mirallas bag and for me he should start wide or not at all. As an example, yesterday he registered just 1 pass to Deulofeu and 3 to Lukaku before he was subbed off. With 2 direct wide forward’s who prefer to go beyond, Lukaku’s supply-line wasn’t great although he did little off the ball for the team; in total he won none of his 9 aerial battles and failed to buy any fouls from his marker all afternoon.

Second Half

Questions have been asked over Pienaar’s application this season but the his scheming with Baines remains our best attacking outlet and without him the left side’s dynamism and ability to maintain pressure on defences in dangerous areas for prolonged periods is nowhere near as potent. Osman is a class player too – although as we know he’s more effective through the middle – but he doesn’t have the linkage of Pienaar and more often than not yesterday he was dispossessed – more so than any player on the pitch infact.  Whereas Pienaar is usually the most prolific distributor to Baines in deep areas as the grid above shows Distin fed Baines the most – and predominantly in non threatening areas around the half way line.

The combination did have an impact on the opening goal, however, as Baines received from Distin and played in Osman down the left flank. The much maligned veteran in turn quickly released Deulofeu – seemingly miffed at the ball not coming over to his flank in ages – and the winger then skinned Demel before drilling past Marshall who was finally beaten with the aid of a deflection.

The joy was short-lived though as Cardiff quickly hit back from a Whittingham set play that was bundled home by Cala.

Deulofeu had his moments in the game  – certainly more than Mirallas who was also subbed- and perhaps should have been kept on longer but he was swiftly hooked after the goal with McGeady and Nasimtih coming on. McGeady did play very well though and his ferreting down the flanks in the last ten minutes was rewarded in the dying moments of the game.  Barkley sensibly switched play to him down the left and McGeady put in a superb cross to the back post which was re-directed by Barry for Coleman to comically slice home. Coleman has now scored more goals than any other Everton right back in a single season (thanks to Gavin Buckland for that gem).

Conclusion 

Cardiff will argue that luck was against them and no one could argue our goals where both fortuitous. However, despite our visitors playing very well and making it more of a game than the early season match they have a dependency on set plays and didn’t engineer much. We created plenty of chances from open play (14 v 4) and the fact we tend to score so late in games in nearly every home game perhaps alludes to the control and ‘death by a thousand cuts’ mantra of Martinez being at work in wearing opponents down rather than simply being lucky.

The win means we are now in line for 69 pts based on our average per game, which would give us our best finish in the top flight since the inception of the Premier League. Personally, 5th spot, the prospect of trips to the unknown back waters of Europe and seeing Moyes fail will keep this misery happy over the summer months. And all three are very achievable. A look at our points totals of seasons when we competed in the Europa League  would also show that with good management and a sprinkle of additions to the squad that we can be competitive at home and abroad.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 1-0 West Ham

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After some decent displays on the road which have yielded minimal gains, the first of three home games on the spin against sides from below stairs in the table commenced with the visit of West Ham.

The preamble

The Hammers have been on the wrong end of some inexplicably bad tonkings at L4 down the years – even conceding a 5 and a 6 under the coma inducing pragmatism of Walter and Archie.

Serving up a monster webbing to the Hammers was distinctly unlikely given our recent profligacy in front of goal combined with our visitor’s key strengths lying at the back.  Allardyce’s mob have kept more clean sheets than any other team in the League (13) including four shut outs in their last five – four of which they secured wins in despite an average possession share of just 36%.

Clean sheets, second balls and territory are Big Sam’s currency and swinging in crosses from Downing and Jarvis on the flanks are central to his evil plot.  You always get the sense with the league’s benchmark food trough extractor that even if he found a few hundred million in his oversized pantry he’d probably still play the role of the stubborn underdog.

He is also a keen advocate of ‘teck-nolo- geh’ although prefers to use his prozone data for the purposes of evil, like knowing the most effective position on the pitch to volley Pienaar up the arse – a tactic the slack jowelled misery has used repeatedly down the years. You could well imagine him and his golfing oiks Moyes and Coyle at the back row of the LMA conference shouting ‘gimp’ and flicking bogies whilst blue sky self facilitating media nodes like Martinez and Brenny deliver their end of term seminar on ‘The power of visions in the post modern epl’. Anyway, I’m going way of subject here.

Teams

West Ham dodged a bullet with Traore and with the freakish lunk seemingly dead and Lukaku – who got the winner in the return fixture from the bench – only fit for the bench, Naismith kept his place at 9. At the back,  Stones came in for Jagielka. Managing expectations specialist Allardyce named an unchanged line-up for the fourth game on the spin with Jack Fulton tinned burger loving fiend Kevin Nolan ensconced behind Carlton cole in a 4-2-3-1 ish setup.

1st Half / West Ham Approach

It’s hard to imagine someone who represents the antithesis of the Hammers style more than the rotund misery guts of ‘Big Sam’. Noble, a decent ball player, was predominantly tasked with picking up Barry when Howard got the ball to prevent him playing through into midfield – a tactic which worked as Barry didn’t receive once from Howard.

Despite us having a plethora of shots (22 in total) most where wayward and it’s easy to see how our visitor’s collate so many clean sheets such is the amount of bodies they get between the ball and their keeper.

A reluctance to not compromise their shape meant they created virtually nothing in open play and mustered just one shot on target in the entire game – that coming from a long shot. With the emphasis clearly on not being caught out numbers wise the Hammers committed minimal numbers forward  meaning Carroll was an isolated figure for the most part.  Our visitors top passing combination was the keeper to Carroll – who played only 60 mins – and it was indicative of a flawed approach based around containment and territory.

The gargantuan geordie is a colossal threat though,  and one that Barry and McCarthy supported the back four with superbly when the ball was punted downfield in the general area of John Stones. Gareth Barry won all 8 of his headers and competed superbly in the air whilst McCarthy was adept positionally in picking up the loose second balls – winning 6 – which was more than any of his teammates.

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What changed in the second half?

It’s all well and good moaning about negative tactics from the opposition, but being able to find a way through such well organised defences is something we need to become better at doing.

Given the way we play i.e the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach of controlling games and wearing opponents down, we are always going to come on stronger in the second period of games. This is shown by the fact that 21 of our last 29 league goals have come in the second half of games and so it proved again here.

It’s perhaps stating the bleeding obvious but getting Baines into the game  more in the second period was crucial. In the first half he was fairly peripheral, creating minimal and a victim of the ball tending to sway more to the right flank which would invariably culminate in a Deulofeu dribble or shot. The Spaniard did ok with Pienaar his main support passes wise, particularly with one mazy run that turned Collins in knots but overall he was well shackled by the competent McCartney.

In the second period the amount of passes from Pienaar to Baines more than doubled and this enabled Baines to make the most attacking third passes from either side in the second period which led to him creating 5 chances from open play after the break – more than West Ham fashioned in the 90 minutes. The duo fashioned two good openings  just after the break, with Downing switching off in front of Demel enabling Pienaar two decent chances, both of which he should have scored from.

The introduction of Lukaku was an added tonic given that our delightful approach work has been undermined since the turn of the year by bluntness at the sharp end of the pitch. When Pienaar found Baines on 81 mns the wing back was able to pick out Lukaku who would slot for his first goal in ages. It was also Baines first assist of the season. West Ham’s defence – which had been ruthless all afternoon – where guilty here of defending too deep with Collins and Tomkins leaving Lukaku far too much space in the area to pick his spot.

Conclusion

This was one of the more insipid games we’ve seen at Goodison all season and the Hammers were even less adventurous than the inexplicably negative Aston Villa. Whether it be the six pint pre match haul in the newly refurbished Winslow or ‘other factors’, for large periods the game seemed to drift with virtually nothing happening as we went from flank to flank in search of picking a hole in a well organised defence.

Despite not being on top of their game the Blues had enough players who were ‘at it’, no more so than the driving force of McCarthy who week in week out delivers the great combination of regaining possession and moving it onto the more attacking minded players, and his application was again a key factor in the win.

In summary this was a deserved win achieved in difficult circumstances against a stubborn opponent and sets us up nicely for an altogether different proposition next week at Arsenal.

EB