Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-0 Man Utd

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For Everton, James McCarthy came back into the side with Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas shunted to the right flank. Neither wide man pushed up onto his fullback when possession was lost so the setup was 4-4-1-1 with Naismith in the hole behind Lukaku.  Moyes played a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney leading the line with support from Kagawa, Mata and Nani. There was no room in the team for former toffee Marouane Fellaini.


Post match both managers claimed to have controlled the game, with Moyes commenting on his passing dominance and Martinez lauding his side’s counter attacking prowess. Who was right then? Well in terms of creating chances there was only one winner. United didn’t create a chance from open play in our box until the 86th minute, and overall their output in this respect was derisory, creating less than half the chances  (6v13) compared to ourselves.

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For us, the gameplan was similar to the Arsenal webbing as we seemed fairly happy to let United have possession, preferring instead to win the ball back in our half and break quickly. Our route to goal was characterised by being first to the loose balls and then igniting quick counter attacks with sharp, long passes – we made a third more long passes than United- and by breaking in numbers.

We looked particularly menacing down our right side with Moyes seemingly keen to prove he’s not a negative misery guts by pairing the comically bad Buttner with Kagawa, who afforded his bungling colleague little protection.   Nobody won more loose balls than  Mirallas – as was the case in the Arsenal game – with the Belgian making a game high 8 recoveries, all in his own half.  Mirallas interaction with the relentless Coleman – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – was our key attacking weapon with the duo combined superbly for our second goal with Mirallas slotting home after some shoddy positioning from Buttner who kept him onside.

By this time of course it was already 1-0 after Baines cooly dispatched a penalty following Phil Jones handball of Lukaku’s goalbound shot. The move that led to this had come about from another long pass, this time from Barkley, and more good link up between Lukaku and Naismith. The Scot was again at the centre of all that was good for Everton. He featured in the build up to both goals, got in some great positions -and should have scored at least one – but it was his link up play which was the main feature of his game. Much is made of the mayhem our wingbacks cause in the opposition half, but it was Naismith who was the main out ball for their marauding with passes from the flanks infield from Coleman to Naismith (9) and Baines to Naismith (8) the most frequent from players in a blue shirt.

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After the break United again played a high line and had more of the ball in our half but still looked out of ideas in terms of how to pull us out of our defensive shape and penetrate in behind, even when Distin was forced off due to injury. Yes, United were not great but they do have the best away record in the league and to restrict them to such few chances – their first shot on target in our box came on 76 minutes – was very impressive.

Moyes did try and mix things up with Valencia moving to right back, Smalling moving inside and further forward Rooney dropped deeper and Hernandez, and later Welbeck, became the  main targetmen but there was to be no change in the dynamic of the contest.

In Conclusion

Our general approach here was to sit deep, invite United onto us and then regain possession and start quick counter attacks.  Yes, United had bags of possession and territory but they never looked like scoring and got picked off at will once we’d evaded the initial press – something which is a feature of the Martinez approach v Moyes. It was the Spaniard’s third win on the spin against his predecessor – all without conceding a goal. At the sharp end there was a lot of similarities with the Arsenal game and in particular with the speed in which we scored each goal after crossing the halfway line. In the end it was something of a comfortable victory and certainly the least nervy against United in many, many years.




Sunderland Deconstruction & Palace Preview

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After the euphoria of Sunday’s potentially pivotal crushing of Arsenal came a much more humdrum looking tussle with North East bottom feeders Sunderland.

With 1 win in 9 at home, the Black Cats descent into the relegation mire has looked more ominous by the week. From the outside looking in, racist harbouring, archetypal snide Poyet gives off more than a whiff of a gulag oppressing tyrant who’d piss through your letterbox and send you jiffy bag samples of his own excrement for no apparent reason.

Tactics wise, you could say his attempt at shoe horning a 3 at the back system midway through a relegation battle he previously seemed to be winning was a risky one. Whilst it indicates Poyet has confidence in his methods he is tripped up by kopite levels of delusion and after an initial spike in results their form has recently gone to pieces. Given the power and pace we showed in wide areas last week it would have been a bold move pursue this approach with wingbacks pushing up field and leaving space in behind, as Eriksen exposed so ruthlessly against them for Spurs. Unsurprisingly then, Poyet  moved  to a flat back four.

As for the Blues, Roberto Martinez made one change  with Deulofeu coming in for Mirallas. Setup wise, Lukaku returned to his central role with Deulofeu taking his normal spot as right sided forward. Formation wise for me it was 4-2-2-2ish with Naismith and Osman central, particularly when we had the ball, in front of the Barry/McCarthy axis.

With no real left sided midfielder Bardsley was Sunderland’s main out-ball, receiving and making more passes than anyone for Sunderland and his combination to Johnson was the most prolific pass of the game. On the opposite flank, Sunderland looked to start attacks from long kick outs from Mannone to Wickham’s head down our right side and this represented Sunderland’s second most frequent passing combo. Wickham struggled to link play, though, and was well shackled by the burgeoning talents of Stones who again impressed, repeatedly blocking shots and not going to ground when faced with direct running from Johnson or Borini. As well as his obvious talent on the ball – he is in the top six for pass completion of centre backs in the league – it’s also worth noting that Stones has made just 3 fouls in his 17 displays this season- the best ratio of any Everton defender this campaign.

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EFC Passing Grid

Going forward it was difficult for us. Long passing moves in the first half were predominantly ended by Bardsley or Johnson fouls, and Sunderland’s commitment and harassing when we had the ball in their half was impressive. Either side of half time the best chances fell to the in-form Naismith. Firstly a sumptuous pass from Baines produced an exquisite turn from the Scot, but alas his finish was  crud finish with only Mannone to beat. The Italian stopper who previously appeared as a hit man in the botched whacking of Phil Leotardo then displayed a similar rashness in rushing out of his goal to head the ball into the path of Naismith, who again snatched at his opening and ballooned over with the bar with the goal gaping.

Deulofeu is much more effective in away games when the onus is on opponents to press further afield and he was giving Alonso many difficult moments – beating him 4 times – albeit his final ball was dubious. His composure is often consistent with one so young and the lack of correlation to his 1v1success and creating chances is the reason why it’s likely he’ll be back at L4 next season. He’s an exciting cat, though, and with Alonso again skinned on 78 minutes his cross was diverted past his own keeper by the hapless Wes Brown.

All in all this was a fairly scrappy game lacking in quality from both sides and a draw probably would’ve been a fair result. The win sees us beat our best ever points total since the inception of the ‘epl’ with 5 games to spare, which to be fair is very, very impressive and sees us move clear of Arsenal into the top four, which Sky have now rebadged as the top three. Our run-in is more tricky than Wenger’s but the momentum we have coupled with the increasingly toxic atmosphere at the tear ridden Emirates gives us a great chance of getting 4th spot.

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You know what you are getting with Tony Putrid. Since moving to London he may have upgraded his shiny white rucanor’s to saucony, but there was never a chance that a few mincy trips down shoreditch high street would result in him ditching his volvo in favour of a miniature tricycle nor lead him to compromise his Moyes-uncensored view of football.

That said, he has resurrected Palace’s fortunes dramatically. From cannon fodder under the Holloway omnishambles – when they looked as rudderless as any top flight team in living memory – they have since accrued 1.47 ppg under Pulis – a figure good enough for 8th place in the current table. The fact they are safe with five games to spare is testament to the job he’s done and it’s hard not to respect the impact he has made especially without any obvious Dean Whitehead style hatchet man to carry out his tyranical savagery.

At home they’ve been robust with clean sheets aplenty, but away from home points and goals have been harder to come by with just 5 points from their last 21 on the road – failing to score in 5/7 of these games – a fact not helped by them having the worst goals scored output in the league.



It’s at the back where they have really transformed the season. After previously conceding more than 2 goals per game under Holloway they have conceded 0.78 per game under Pulis – that figure would put them in between the benchmark Chelsea and ourselves as the league’s second tightest rearguard. We know all about this from recent games at home against Pulis  previous employers Stoke  with the last 4 miserable meetings at L4 finishing 1-1 1-0 0-1 and 1-0.

To break down sides who will basically line-up on your 18 yard line in two banks of four with no space in between or behind to run into a certain approach is needed and a sinister deviant streak to drag defenders into areas they don’t want to go to is key. You’ve only got to look at McGeady to know he is a deviant whilst Naismith – previously a straight laced operative – has had his  inner deviant coaxed out of him by Martinez this season.

In his teamsheet for the postponed game vs Palace, Martinez went with his principal deviant arl arses Pienaar, Osman, McGeady and Naismith who were preferred to the youthful, more pacey – and more impatient – alternatives Mirallas, Deulofeu and Barkley . Clever minds to find space and compromise rigidly shaped defensive units rather than searing pace and prolific shooting then appears to be the order of the day and for this reason I’d fancy Osman, Mirallas and McGeady to get the nod behind Lukaku.

Such is the infectious belief you get from Martinez that we automatically expect to win all the time now irrelevant of who the opposition is, but it will be a really big ask to break Palace down. Whereas in the previous regime Moyes would have you making your egg and cress sandwiches in bulk  for the working week ahead on Sunday evening, Martinez free and easy approach means opponents don’t know what’s on your plate or when its coming. Personally I’ve been re-conditioned to the point that some days I don’t even have lunch and on other days I just say fuck it, I’ll have a beef brisket burrito and worry about the consequences next week. It’s that kind of thinking that will see us edge Palace 1-0.