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.
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.
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.