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…
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.
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.
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.
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.