Everton 3-6 Chelsea – Tactical Deconstruction

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Is it safe to come out yet? Ok, we shall begin.

The events which transpired at L4 yesterday fitted the narrative that most – myself included – expected when Martinez arrived at the club last season i.e. high scoring games, devilment galore in the final third and a sprinkle of crud defending. That never really materialised last season as presumably the 10 year misery of defensive drills so engrained in the players from the Moyes era enabled us to retain our status as one of one of the top three rearguards in the top flight along with Chelsea and City.

With 10 goals shipped in our first three games, though, something is certainly rotten in the state of Denmark.  Last week’s analysis centred on us being tanked energy wise after back to back 2nd half collapses in the opening games, but after the weary start to the game yesterday is something potentially more putrid is at work?  Lets begin by sifting through the detritus…

The Bad

From the off our pressing was shocking. The game plan appeared to be to win the ball back in Chelsea’s half, however our defensive block was all over the place, sometimes it was a low block and sometimes a medium block, meaning there was acres of space in the middle of the park when Chelsea bypassed our first line of press.

This is something Chelsea did with great regularity in the opening 20 minute spell as they swiftly breezed into a 2-0 lead. The roles of Fabregas and Costa were particularly crucial, with the duo combining for the first goal for which the repugnant Costa despatched well albeit he was aided and abetted by Jagielka’s woeful offside trap. The Fabregas-Costa pass was Chelsea’s most frequent of the game (11 times) and was always ‘on’ due to there being virtually no pressure on Fabregas when he received the ball between midfield and attack. Whereas our opening two games were all about how we can’t see matches out, this time it was our start which put us on a sticky wicket as it meant we had to take increasingly high risks in leaving midfield players up field when we lost  possession, thus playing to Chelsea’s key strengths in terms of pace and speed on the break.

The Good

After 25 minutes we awoke from the slumber which had already taken us to the brink of defeat. Adrenalin levels were raised and our pressing in the Chelsea half improved whilst Matic and Ramires became less able to control midfield and link to the odious Fabregas. Whereas before Chelsea were blocking off our forward passes with consummate ease, now we were moving the ball faster and this was nicely shown in the first goal. In the build up the aforementioned catalan runt threw a snide elbow on Mirallas off the ball, but the Belgian recovered to drive into the box nod home Coleman’s cross after a superb pass into the right channel from McGeady.

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A lost cat at Goodison yesterday – looks even more terrified than Jagielka.

Going forward our play was increasingly sublime. We created 13 chances from open play –  more than our first 2 games put together – and the movement of Naismith and Mirallas combined with the impish brilliance of McGeady, who created the most chances from open play, were a joy to behold. After Chelsea then went 3-1 – after McCarthy was torn to shreds by an amazing turn of pace from  Hazard – we began to really move through the gears.  McGeady was central to everything good between the lines  and his slaloming run befuddled at least 3 Chelsea defenders before teeing up Naismith to finish brilliantly – it was his third in four starts against Chelsea. As per the recurring theme of the game we were to take one step forward and then two back, as Chelsea swiftly went up field to make it 2-4 as the game went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Mc Geady was replaced straight after the goal by Eto’o and the Cameroon star’s cameo was an exciting one – scoring pretty much immediately after some shoddy Chelsea defending and nearly creating another one shortly after. His link play with Coleman to setup Mirallas at 3-4 was the move of the game and arguably the key turning point of the match, as Chelsea duly went down the other end to pick us off twice more.

To score three goals against a yellow belly like Mourinho, who spends his days worrying about the opposition scoring more than he does about his own team finding the net, was  highly commendable.

The Ugly

Ringmaster of the circus which engulfed our backline was skipper Phil Jagielka, who endured his own personal Clapham-Common moment in the heart of Everton’s defence.

He was directly culpable for Costa’s first  goal and his errors provided two further chances for his troglodyte oppressor.  Jagielka was the worst defender on the pitch by a distance, but he wasn’t helped by a woeful showing in front of him by Barry and McCarthy who afforded him no protection at all – witness the lack of pressure in Matic’s goal as a decent example. Defending also starts from the front and Lukaku’s touch for goal 5 was indicative of his afternoon i.e. dog shit.

The post game debate chiefly concerned whether our skipper is finished and while I’d agree that he is bang out of form, I personally don’t subscribe to this school of thought. In pre season Stones was playing a fair bit and he made plenty of gaffes too, as he did whilst deputising for Jagielka last season, so bringing him in doesn’t necessarily solve the issue for me.  I wouldn’t drop him on the basis of this one game when mitigating circumstances were at play i.e. being 0-2 down after 3 mins meant we had to play in a way that he was afforded no protection. I’d say it’s a problem Martinez needs to address on the training ground and in rebuilding both defensive cohesion and also confidence with some of his trademark positivity

Conclusion

The chaos of the first 3 minutes dictated how we played the remaining 87 with high risk football putting pressure on a creaking defensive unit currently very low in confidence. The end result was footballing mayhem at both ends of the pitch and us conceding 6 for the first time since the Lescott debacle against Arsenal in 2009. We are probably at the point now where we can’t get any worse at the back and as fitness levels improve so to hopefully will the defensive solidity. It also worth noting how good Chelsea are in the final third and that we won’t have to come up against side of equivalent quality every week.

At the other end of the pitch it’s difficult to recall a better attacking showing from us against such a top opponent as we did in the last hour of the game. We comprehensively ragged the league’s best defensive operation all over the place, created spaces at will and scored some great goals and it’s this positive that we should cling onto in the coming weeks.

EB

Everything you need to know about Lille, Wolfsburg & Krasnodar

 

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With the draw now made EB’s exhaustively unnecessary coverage of the various permutations associated with our European excursions rolls on. This time round we deliver some 2 dig analysis on the three sides likely to get snotted all over the place, as we qualify with 3 games to spare setting a new Europa League record for webbings dished out in one season.

The full group stage fixture list will be available 60 minutes after the draw ceremony with matches will held on 18 September, 2 and 23 October, 6 and 27 November and 11 December;

Schedule

Match-day 1 – 18th sept > Wolfsburg (h)
Match-day 2 – 2nd oct    > Krasnodar (a)
Match-day 3 – 23rd oct  > Lille (a)
Match-day 4 – 6th nov   > Lille (h)
Match-day 5 – 27th nov >Wolfsburg (a)
Match-day 6 – 11th dec > Krasnodar (h)

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New Picture (92)Opponent 1 –  Lille (France)

Odds:  40/1  Pint Price: £3.82

Stade Pierre Mauroy holds 50,000 and Lille generally pull in a crowd of between 30-40,000 for home games. It’s very easy to get to with the Eurostar from London only taking a few hours – Eurostar  actually launched a flash sale today for London-Paris/Bru from £59 rtn if booked 28 Aug to 9 Sep for travel 22 Sep-17 Dec. Alternatively you could fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and train / drive the last 60miles or drive it in about 8 hours from the UK should you wish.

Lille had the best defence in ligue 1 last season although were the lowest scorers in top 9. Former Chelsea forward Kalou got 16 of them but is rumoured to be on his way before next week’s closure of the transfer window, whilst £10m libepewl signing Origi got just 6. They have good stock having been Champions in 2011 and having qualified for the ECL then and also in 2012 during the days of Eden Hazard.

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New Picture (82)Opponent 2 – Wolfsburg

 Odds 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25

The 5th placed team in Germany last season and a very capable outfit albeit not of the same vintage of the Grafite / Dzeko vintage which won the Bundesliga a few years back. The VW Stadium holds 30,000 fans and last season their average gate was 28,103 so its going to be touch and go to get a ticket. To get there you can fly to Berlin and then catch a 2 hour train to Wolfsburg. If you’d rather train it you can go  London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47 then go onto Berlin by the City Night Line sleeper train Perseus, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 and arriving Hanover at 06:30 and Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 08:28 next morning before catching a connecting train to Wolfsburg. Check out the Seat61 site for more details.

Inside the ground the ‘Nordkurvensaal’ pub serves Wittingers and Stackmann’s complete with novelty bendy glass, which is nice. Entrance wise, the match tickets are as cheap as 15 euros usually. In terms of further reading, EFW have done a good review of the matchday experience here.

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New Picture (94)Opponent 3- Krasnodar (Russia)

 Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £ 1.50 Based to the  northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk which is dangerously located in the deep south of Russia and around a 20 hour drive from Moscow. It has an international airport but you’ll struggle to find direct flights from the UK. You can fly to Moscow and then get a domestic flight with one of their easyjet equivalents like Transaero or go via Sochi. Total flight time would be around 6 hours excluding the stop off. On the field their ground The Kuban Stadium holds 31,654 and in last season’s EL their neighbours Kuban who also play at this ground pulled in on average 25,392 fans per game.

This is their debut season in the EL, having won 5 out of their 6 games in qualification and impressively scoring 20 goals in the process. They are unbeaten in their opening 5 games of the new Russian League Season with Brazilian Joaozinho and Vladimir Bystrov two of their most potent attacking players, so far scoring half of the sides goals between them with Joaozinho also scoring in the impressive 3-0 win that sent out Sociedad in the play off – a warning that on their own turf they are a side to be reckoned with.

 

Thanks for reading.

EB

Analysis of all 35 potential Everton Europa League Group opponents

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So the playoffs are over and the draw for the Group Phase draw will soon be with us. In typical Everton fashion we missed out on Pot 2 by the finest of margins, less than 500 coefficient points to be precise, but on the plus side it means were likely to play 2 big sides which is good for fans looking to travel and get tickets for games on the continent. The below table shows the x4 pots for today’s draw which takes place at 12 O’clock UK time and can be watched live on the uefa website. The full group stage fixture list will be available 60 minutes after the draw ceremony. The matches will be held on 18 September, 2 and 23 October, 6 and 27 November and 11 December.

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So in today’s draw we basically have the chance to meet any side from Pot 1,2 or 4, minus Tottenham as nation states can’t play each other at this stage. Here is the lowdown on each potential opponent;

New Picture (100)Aalborg (Denmark) Pot: 4 Odds: 250/1 Pint Price: £1.04 Danish chumps are based in northern Denmark which is a bit more tricky to get to than Copenhagen in the south. You can fly there with Norwegian Airlines from Gatwick with 1 stop in Copenhagen. Danish trains are the most expensive to ride on in the world so if you are going to use them book in advance. On the pitch, Aalborg are the lowest ranked side in the EL Group Phase and were walloped 5-1 on aggregate in the ECL playoffs by the mighty APOEL. Their finest hour in recent times in European competition was in 2009 when they reached the ECL Group Phase, finishing 3rd in their group with just 1 win, against Celtic. They have just 1 win from their opening 5 games in the new Danish league season.

New Picture (99)Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) Pot: 4 Odds: 200/1 Pint Price: £2.50 Limassol’s home is  the 13,000 seater Tsirion Stadium, also known as the Olympia Stadium. They qualified in impressive style for the EL group’s, shlacking  Manuel Fernandes Lokomotiv Moscow 4-1 on their own patch last night. Travel wise, Monarch fly direct from Manchester to Larnaca or you can fly to Pathos and drive the last 100km.  Jet 2 also fly to both destinations from LeedsBradford Airport. In terms of what to do when you get there, Lonely Planet report that there are two sides to the city;

The second-biggest city in the country, Limassol (Lemesos) has several reputations: ‘the city that never sleeps’ is one, and the cliché is thanks to the tourist area’s exuberant nightlife, rivalled only by that of Agia Napa; another is ‘sex town’, with the many ‘cabarets’ (basically brothels) that dot the area around the Rialto Theatre, recently reclaimed from the pimps and rebranded for respectable theatre-goers. Some see Lemesos mainly as an industrial and commercial centre with little to recommend it. But if you like a city that’s rough around the edges, with great places to eat and drink, plus several spots for beach parties and fantastic sights, then pay a visit to Lemesos.’

New Picture (95)Astra Giorgio (Romania) Pot: 4 Odds: 250/1 Pint Price: £1.10  The Romanian’s play at their 7,000 capacity Stadionul Marin Anastasovici. To get to Romania fly from Manchester – Bucharest via Amsterdam with KLM, then its a 1 hour drive from Bucharest.  If you fancy taking in the sights of Europe to Bucharest then a 2 day train trip starts from London to Paris by Eurostar, then go from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia. Then go from Munich to Budapest before the final leg of the journey from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister. On the pitch they pulled of the biggest scalp of the playoffs as they knocked out Lyon on away goals after a 2-1 win on French soil.

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Asteras (Greece) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A Pint Price:  £2.90 Greek side who play at the 7,600 capacity Kolokotronis Stadium. Arguably the biggest underdog of the qualifiers having dumped out the capable German side Mainz and European regulars Maccabi Tel Aviv on the way to reaching the Group Phase for the first time in their history.

 

New Picture (96)Besiktas (Turkey)  Pot: 2 Odds: 50/1 Pint Price: £2.49  Slaven Bilic’s Istanbul based side currently play their hone games at the 75,000 capacity Ataturk stadium whilst their own ground is being rebuilt. As they showed against Arsenal in the ECL play-offs they’re very good at the back with their  keeper Zengin recording the most clean sheets in the league last season. However they are less potent in the final third where Demba Ba , who twice turned us down in the past, leads the line.

New PictureBorussia Mönchengladbach (Germany) Pot: 2 Odds: 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25  Their Borussia-park stadium has a 54,000 capacity. Tickets would be hard to come by, Borussia have a hard-core local support and the last time they took part in 12/13 had the 4th top average gate of 44,431 from their 4 games although that’s 10,000 light of their  capacity.To get there, fly to Dusseldorf or Cologne from Manchester (or Easyjet from London Gatwick – Cologne-Bonn) . Then catch a train from Cologne-Bonn to Monchengladbach which is a 1hr 15min journey. Jet 2 also fly to Düsseldorf from Leeds Bradford Airport.Match tickets are as cheap as 10 euro’s a pop and the fanbase located next to the ground is supposedly a great place to have a cheap pre game sup.

New Picture (85) Celtic (Scotland) Pot: 2 Odds: 100/1 Pint Price:£2.75 Celtic are under new management this season with little known Norwegian Ronny Deila taking the reigns of the Glasgow east-enders. Their limp exit 1-6 on aggregate to mid table Legia showed how far they have fallen since beating barca in 2012. After being given a reprieve they then fell to Maribor 1-2 on aggregate.  Top players have left and not been replaced whilst their domestic league has zero competitive edge with the demotion of rangers and relegation of the Edinburgh clubs. Having worked up there I’d say the Jurys Inn is cheap and cheerful n terms of a bed for the night,  plus its right next to the central station you’d arrive into (from liverpool this would be with First Transpennine) and which you can also get to Celtic’s ground from. You can also fly from Manchester to Glasgow for a few quid more.

New Picture (90)Club Brugge (Belgium) Pot: 2 Odds: 66/1 Pint Price: £2.97 Their Jan Breydel stadium has a capacity of 29,473 and is just a short bus ride from the city centre. In their last outing in the competition Brugge only averaged only 16,833 per game, (13,000 less than capacity) so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. To get to Brugge the Eurostar will take you from London StP via Brussels in 3 and a bit hours. Eurostar are actually about to launch a flash sale  – London-Paris/Bru from £59 rtn if booked 28 Aug to 9 Sep for travel 22 Sep-17 Dec. This hostel is ideal;  its cheap, clean and has a nightclub in the basement. Plus, there is a nice cafe a few doors down which will do you a massive flemish stew and a duvel for a couple of euros.

New Picture (97)Copenhagen (Denmark) Pot: 1 Odds: 100/1 Pint Price: £5.04 Play at the Parken Arena which holds 38,000 fans and is located fairly central to the city. Would be a good side to come up against given the quality of player they currently have, especially as they somehow managed to squirm into Pot 1. In a recent poll ex captain Tobias Linderoth was named as one of their most popular ever players.Direct flights can be booked from Manchester / London Stansted to Copenhagen with Easyjet or go via Malmo and train it across ‘The Bridge’. This hotel is decent and right next to the railway station and city hall where Troels Hartmann worked in the first series of ‘The Killing’.

New Picture (98)Dnipro (Ukraine) Pot: 2 Odds: N/A Pint Price:£0.80p Second top scorers in last season’s Ukraine Championship and only lost the title by 6 points. Brazilian Matheus was their top scorer with 13 goals with lanky Yevhen Seleznyov bagging the same number. The Dnipro Arena holds 31.000 although their average crowd last season for EL games was only just above 50% at 16,456. They have decent stock having qualified for the EL in 2010,2011, 2012 and 2013. They’ve finished 1st and 2nd in the group phase in their last two cracks at the trophy, going out in the first knock out round both times to Basle and Spurs. As far as I know there is no direct flight to Dnipro from the UK, so you’ll need to head to Kiev and change there.

New Picture (102)Dinamo Minsk (Belarus) Pot: 4 Odds:Pint Price: £0.62p  Minsk is a 3 hour flight from Gatwick with Belavia Airways, a round trip usually costing around £300. The Belarus outfit can also be reached via a 2 day train trip from London to Brussels, then onto Cologne and  Warsaw via overnight sleeper train Jan Kiepura. On Day 2 travel overnight by sleeper train from Warsaw to Minsk. Their Traktar Stadium holds a modest 16,500. They are already 21 games into their domestic championship and sit 2nd in the table with just 3 defeats.

New Picture (92)Dynamo Moscow (Russia) Pot: 4 Odds: 66/1 Pint Price: £4 Secured their place by virtue of a fourth placed finish in their domestic league last season. The Khimki Stadium holds 18,636 although their average crowd in the Russian league last season was 7,826 so tickets won’t be hard to come-by. Having recently visited I’d recommend this hotel – if there are 3 of you it works out around £30 per night and its a decent standard, centrally located for the metro, grounds and tourist stuff. For ale, I went to a few of the ones recommended on this site. On the pitch they are a direct outfit who will look to swing in crosses and put opponents under an aerial bombardment. The focus of their approach is one time toffee target Kevin Kuranyi and they also have towering goon Chris Samba in their ranks. Former Man Utd left back Alex Buttner also joined up in the summer but their key player is  Russian International midfielder Alex Kokorin. Currently they sit 2nd in the Russian league with 4 wins from their first 5 games.

New Picture (103)Fiorentina (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds: Pint Price: £3.60– Fourth placed team in Italy and slayers of the toffees a few years ago, with the away leg one of the wettest and most grimmest matches in living memory, not helped by over-zealous policing. Direct flights go from Liverpool Airport to Florence or for a cheaper deal go to Pisa and then train it. Or you can train it from London via the afternoon Eurostar from London to Paris (from £40), then jump on the overnight Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan from just €35 then change in Milan for a high-speed train to Florence.  Further details can be found on the excellent Seat61 website.  Lonely Planet have also done a decent review of the best restaurants on offer. On the field, their attack will be spearheaded by ex Man United goal getter Giuseppe Rossi who weighed in with 16 goals last season and former Bayern monster Mario Gomez. In midfield Borja Valero is the creative hub along with £20m ex-kopite Aquilani who will sit deeper in their midfield engine room. Columbian World Cup trickster Juan Cuadrado also players for these cats.

New Picture (9)HJK (Finland) Pot: 4 Odds:  Pint Price: £4.64 Helsinki based club and are the most successful Finnish  club side in history with 26 Championship titles. Norwegian Airlines fly direct from Gatwick and Finnair likewise fly from Heathrow. They play at the Sonera Stadium which holds a modest 10,300. Ex Birmingham forward Mikael Forsell – who once failed a medical at L4 – is their top scorer with 7 goals in their domestic championship which they lead after 24 games. In terms of pedigree, they qualified for the Group Phase after turfing out Rapid Vienna and this was quite a leap after they were knocked out of both the ECL and EL qualifiers in each of the last 4 seasons.

 

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Map of all Europa League sides 2014/15

New Picture (73)Internazionale (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds: Pint Price: £4.24 Probably the biggest name in Pot 1 is Inter Milan, who elder Blues will recall knocked us out of the European Cup in 1963. The current roster of The Nerazzurri is a far cry from the  treble winning crop of 2010 nor is it close to the all-star Vieri/Ronaldo vintage of the 90’s and 00’s. Indeed,  a glimpse at their best eleven shows how far they have sunk and in their last few excursions into the EL they’ve not exactly shown an appetite to succeed. Argentine World Cup forward Rodrigo Palacio is their key man, weighing in with 17 goals and 7 assists last season. His countryman Ricky (linked with a loan deal to Sunderland) provided the main creative output whilst they have also recruited the likes of  Vidic, M’Vila and Osvaldo in the summer. The Milan behemoths qualified by virtue of a 5th placed finish in Serie A last season. The San Siro holds 80,000 so shouldnt be problematic tickets wise especially as last time round in this competition they averaged crowds of only 18,000. Ryanair fly direct from Manchester and you can also get there from various other UK airports.  Alternatively you can train it from London via the afternoon Eurostar from London to Paris (from £40), then jump on the overnight Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan from just €35 which includes a couchette.

New Picture (89) Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) Pot: 1 Odds: 66/1  Pint Price: £1.01 Ukrainian cup winners and old school European kingpins. Their home ground is named after their celebrated ex boss – the ‘Valeriy Lobanovskyi’ Dynamo Stadium and holds just 16,800. For the big games they use NSC Olimpiyskiy Ground which holds 70,000. Airfrance fly from Manchester to Kiev with 1 stop off in Paris or go direct with BA from Heathrow.  Hotel Opera is a smart place to stay in Kiev, but not cheap. The Khreschatyk (think adelphi) is right in the thick of things (and has it’s own casino) for those on a tighter budget. Dynamo Kiev have got out of the group phase in 3 of their last 4 EL excursions, with their best performance being in 2011 when they were defeated by Braga in the quarters. Key man Andriy Yarmalenko is their most famous current player with the chief goal threat coming from Dieudonne “Brzi” Mbokani Bezua.

New Picture (99)Krasnodar (Russia) Pot: 4 Odds: Pint Price: £ 1.50 Based to the  northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk which is located in the deep south of Russia and around a 20 hour drive from Moscow. It has an international airport but you’ll struggle to find direct flights from the UK. You can fly to Moscow and then get a domestic flight with one of their easyjet equivalents like Transaero. Total flight time would be around 6 hours excluding the stop off. On the field their ground The Kuban Stadium holds 31,654. This is their second season on the spin in the EL, and last season they turfed out Feyenoord in the playoffs before finishing 3rd in the group with 1 win from 6 games. They are unbeaten in their opening 5 games of the new Russian League Season with Brazilian Joaozinho and Vladimir Bystrov two of their most potent attacking players, so far scoring half of the sides goals between them with Joaozinho also scoring in the impressive 3-0 win that sent out Sociedad in the play off – a warning that on their own turf they are a side to be reckoned with.

New Picture (92)Lille (France) Pot: 1 Odds:  N/A Pint Price: £3.82– Stade Pierre Mauroy holds 50,000 and Lille generally pull in a crowd of between 30-40,000 for home games. It’s very easy to get to with the Eurostar from London only taking a few hours, or you can fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and train / drive the last 60miles. You could alternatively drive it in about 8 hours from the UK should you wish.Lille had the best defence in ligue 1 last season although were the lowest scorers in top 9. Former Chelsea forward Kalou got 16 of them but is rumoured to be on his way before next week’s closure of the transfer window, whilst £10m libepewl signing Origi got just 6. They have good stock having been Champions in 2011 and having qualified for the ECL then and also in 2012 during the days of Eden Hazard.

New Picture (93)Lokeren (Belgium) Pot: 4 Odds: Pint Price £1.27 Qualified by virtue of winning the Belgian cup , Lokeren play their home games in a stadium with a capacity of just 9,56o which is just a 45 minute drive from Brussels. Finished  5th in last season’s Jupiler League and possess the league’s golden boot winner in Tunisian ‘hitman’ Hamdi Harbaoui, who plundered an impressive 22 league goals last time round. They narrowly lost in the play off to the very competent Plzen last season but had a bit too much for Hull this time round, winning their play off on away goals.

New Picture (93)Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine) Pot: 1 Odds:  25/1 Pint Price: £0.40p  Ukrainian outfit who we visited a few years ago play in front of a 40,000 capacity stadium. In 12/13 metalist averaged 37,857 in the Europa league from their 4 games which was the sixth highest so tickets could be tricky to come by as like last time round.You can either fly direct from London or fly to Kiev / Moscow and train the remainder. Trains are incredibly cheap to ride on – in fact they’re the second cheapest in Europe behind Georgia or bus it – it’s the cheapest in Europe in terms of coach travel. The Kharkiv club qualified from the EL groups in their  last 3 attempts, getting to the quarters once. Perennially the bridesmaids in the Ukraine league, they have never finished outside top 3 in the last 8 seasons but have never took the title – they finished 3rd again last season. They are  weakened by last season’s top scorer Marko Devich defecting to Rubin Kazan in Russia. Have won 2 and lost 2 of their first four games in the Ukraine league.

New Picture (93)Napoli (Italy) Pot: 1 Odds:  20/1 Pint Price: £1.69- Last season I was lucky enough to take in a game at the San Paulo with some pals and it was a great trip. We stayed in a fairly basic hotel near to the train station (Hotel Ideal) which worked out to around 15 quid each per night – cheap and cheerful but not more than that really.  There is no train route from the Airport so bus or taxi is your best option. There is a train that runs from the centre of town to the ground though should you wish to take it. The San Paulo holds 60,000 and in last season’s competition the average gate was just over 40.000 in the EL. Eating and drinking was v cheap if you like pizza. We went to plenty but the best one was definitely Da Michele but you need to get there early, we went on Monday morning at 11am and the queue was right around the block. On the field, Clown Kecks rotund tactician Rafa Benitez outift is spearheaded by Argentine forward Higuain and they also have the likes of Hamsik, Mertens and Michu in their ranks. Fatty is currently feeling the heat after a thrashing in the ECL playoffs by Bilabo.

New Picture (97)Panathinaikos(Greece) Pot: 2 Odds:  50/1 Pint Price:4.35  Athens based club who play their home games in the 16,000 capacity Apostolos Nikolaidas stadium. They had hoped to move to a new 45,000 seater stadium but due to the credit crunch plans were put on  hold.Star man is Swedish star Markus Berg and who was both top scorer and creator in their domestic championship last season.

New Picture (83)PAOK Salonika (Greece) Pot: 2 Odds: 50/1 Pint Price: £3.39 Greek outfit who finished 3rd in their domestic championship last season  who play in a stadium with a capacity of 28,704. In last seasons competition they only pulled in 12,587 per game on average in the EL so nabbing a seat in the home end won’t be difficult. Easyet fly direct from Manchester to Thessaloniki.

New Picture (112)PSV (Holland) Pot: 1 Odds: 40/1  Pint Price: £1.69 Dutch heavyweights who finished 4th in their domestic league last season. Ground capacity is 35,000 however last season they averaged only 15,000 per game in the Europa League, so again getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem. You could fly to Amsterdam and then jump the train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven (trains depart every 30 mins with a journey time of 1hr 20 mins)  or fly from Manchester to Eindhoven with Ryanair. On the field,  PSV reached the 1/4 finals of the EL  in 2011 and the round of 16 in 2012 but just as their league form has withered in the recent years so has their form in the EL, failing to progress from average groups in 2013 and 2014. Dutch International Memphis Depay weighed in with 12 goals and seven assists last season and has 5 already this season – plus he’s just signed a new contract after being linked with Spurs. Luuk de Jong – once touted as the next top Dutch ‘number nine’ during his FC Twente days – has also joined after a disappointing spell at Newcastle United which yielded 0 goals. Currently sit joint top of the Dutch league with maximum points and 12 goals from their opening 3 games.

New Picture (105)Qarabag FK (Azerbaijan) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A  Pint Price: £2.00 Founder members of Azerbaijan Premier League in 1992 and won their first league championship a season later. They play at the 31,000 capacity Tofiq Bahramov Stadium and have qualified for the Europa League 4 times before but this is the first time they’ve made it past the qualifiers. Their win in Twente was one of the most impressive results of the qualifiers and will be something of an unknown quantity to most sides. Their key man is Brazilian forward Reynaldo, who scored 22 times in their domestic league last season.

New Picture (96)Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) Pot: 1 Odds: 50/1  Pint Price: £1.98 Play in the 31,000 capacity Red Bull Arena in Salzburg. Last season they averaged gates of 17,000 in the competition, so it should be ok to get into the home end. Ryanair fly direct from London Stansted fairly regularly. Or you could take a late afternoon Eurostar to Paris, then head to Munich via the City Night Line sleeper train then take a connecting train to Innsbruck or Salzburg next morning.  This is the simplest & most time-effective way to go according to the Seat 61 site. Their star player is former Barca dynamo Jonathan Soriano who has plundered a sackful of goals since arriving a couple of years ago. They’re a decent side, won their league last season and also got a perfect 18 points from last season’s EL group phase, then impressively demolished Ajax in round two before narrowly succumbing to Basle.

New Picture (96)FC Rijeka (Croatia) Pot: 4 Odds:  250/1  Pint Price: £1.60 Croatian side located on the Adriatic coast who play their home games at the Stadion Kantrida, which holds just  10,600. Last season they also qualified for the group phase and averaged 7,340 so tickets could be tricky to come by. Although they finished last in the group they achieved commendable draws against the likes of Betis and Lyon along the way. Their 3-0 win at Moldovian European regulars Sheriff in the playoff was a very good result, and was inspired by Andre Kramaric, the leading scorer in the Croatian league and key man for Rijeka.

New PictureSevilla (Spain) Pot: 1 Odds:  20/1 Pint Price: £1.27– Europa League winners in 2014, their stadium has a sizeable capacity of 40,000 and would be ideal for match day 1. Direct flights go from Manchester or fly to Malaga and you could then do the remaining 100 miles by train or car. I’d recommend this hotel which I stayed at a few years back which is just round the corner from the cathedral. In the close season they lost their key player with Croatian Ivan Rakitic – who slotted 12 goals and 10 assists last season – jumping ship to Barca. They still have dangerous due Gameiro and Carlos Bacca in their attack – the pair bagged 29 goals between them last year.

New Picture (95)Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) Pot: 4 Odds: N/A Pint Price: £0.88p  You can get to Slovakia’s capital from Stansted with Ryanair or you could fly to Vienna and then either take the train to Bratislava (15 euro one way) . Or, for a nicer view, try the fast Twin City Liner river boat, from city centre to city centre along the scenic Danube which costs around 30 euro one way.  The only down side is that their ground only holds a modest 11,591. Last season’s Slovakian Champions  Bratislava won their domestic league at a canter by 12 points. This was mainly due to their bruise brothers strike duo of Robert Vittek and Pavel Fort, both of whom are six footers and who both got into double figures last season. Their best showing in the EL was in 2012 when they finished bottom of the group with just 1 point, so not very good then. They also got taken apart 1-5  in the ECL playoff by BATE.

New Picture (95)Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) Pot: 2 Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £1.00 Play at the Generali Arena which holds 19.416 and they pulled in 15,037 average crowds in last season’s competition so tickets could be hard to come by. Sparta have a decent pedigree having qualified from the group phase twice in the last 4 seasons, going out on each occasion in the first knockout phase to English opposition.  Prague is pretty easy to get to with Jet2 and Easyjet both flying there from Manchester, or you can train it through France and Germany. In terms of cultural pursuits you could bathe in premium Czech lager whilst drinking it in Prague’s Pivni Lazne Bernard (pivnilaznebernard.cz/en) Beer bathing in the Czech capital apparently dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was believed to be good for your skin.

New Picture (84)Standard Liege (Belgium) Pot: 2 Odds: 80/1 Pint Price: £1.30 Knocked us out of the equivalent competition a few years ago although their current side is nowhere near as good as that vintage, something that was proven as they were well and truly humbled 4-0 on aggregate by Zenit in the ECL qualifiers this week.  This was all the more alarming given that it was their rigid defence rather than their attack which won them their domestic league last season. They have also lost top scorer Michy Batshuayi, who has jumped ship to Marseille. In terms of travel, Liege is pretty easy to get to via the Eurostar or fly from Manchester to Brussels with Ryanair and then train the remaining 50 miles.

New PictureSteaua Bucharest (Romania) Pot:2  Odds: 150/1 Pint Price: £1.25 The reigning Romanian Champions also currently sit top of their domestic league. They play their big league games and European matches at the Arena Nacionake which has a 55,634 capacity and last time they were in the EL they averaged 46.330 per game. Their legendary players include Hagi and Iordanescu whilst their current key man is arguably striker Claudio Keseru – top scorer in their domestic league which including a record breaking sixgoal haul in one match. They once famously won the European Cup in 1986 and libepewl football club loved it so much they put a banner on the kop.

New Picture (95)Trabzonspor (Turkey) Pot: 2 Odds: N/A Pint Price: £2.00 Their ground has a capacity of 24,000 although they only averaged 15,298 per game in the EL last season so getting a seat in the home end won’t be a problem should you wish. If you are travelling via air, Turkish Airlines fly there fairly regularly from Manchester via Istanbul. They qualified by virtue of being the 4th placed side in the Turkish League and won through to the group phase after a 2 leg win over Russian also rans Rostov.

New Picture (76)Villarreal (Spain) Pot: 1 Odds: 25/1 Pint Price £1.67– Our conquerors of 2005 is  a bit of a mission to get to – for flights head to Valencia or check out the Skyscanner website for other options. Villarreal have made a comeback since relegation a few years ago and finished 6th last term in La Liga, albeit a whopping 31 points behind champions Athletico Madrid. Nigerian striker Ucho and Giovani Dos Santos were their top scoring duo last season although the real key men were probably Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio  and midfield general Bruno. Stadium capacity is still 24,890.

New Picture (82)Wolfsburg  (Germany) Pot: 2 Odds 33/1 Pint Price: £2.25 5th placed team in Germany last season and a very capable outfit albeit not of the same vintage of the Grafite / Dzeko vintage which won the Bundesliga a few years back. The VW Stadium holds 30,000 fans and to get there fly to Berlin and then catch a 2 hour train to Wolfsburg. Inside the ground the ‘Nordkurvensaal’ pub serves Wittingers and Stackmann’s complete with novelty bendy glass, which is nice. Entrance wise, the match tickets are as cheap as 15 euros usually. In terms of further reading, EFW have done a good review of the matchday experience here.

Enjoy the draw and if you have any other travel tit bits you’d like to share let us know and I’ll add into the above.

EB

Everton Collapse #2 – Poor defending or fatigue?

 

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‘Is Steve Tashjian there please? Asking for a friend’

For the second successive week Everton let a first half lead slip culminating in a loss of 4 valuable points. The post match narrative on social media was of Everton’s seemingly dis-jointed pre season and subsequently poor fitness levels coming back to haunt them. Would it have happened under the Moyes era when we ran through rainforests wearing tyres for fun? Or was it just shoddy defending? As with most things the answer is probably lies somewhere in between.

Here are the Martinez post match quotes on the fitness issue;

“I just felt that certain individuals, and as a team, we dropped our energy levels and we couldn’t control it. When you do that, you have to score that third goal or you allow Arsenal to get one all of a sudden and it becomes momentum and you have something to lose.The disappointment is the result – there are no two ways about it. But the performance was phenomenal. It gave us exactly what we wanted; a clear direction of where we have to work because it was an early part of the season performance where we couldn’t maintain it for 90 minutes, but for long spells of the game it was one where we deserved the three points. We’re frustrated but we now know where we need to work in order to get those performances to last 90 minutes.”

So lets firstly take a look at how we have fared in 15 minute splits on and off the ball in the opening games.

Off the ball – Taking a look at our pressure off the ball there is perhaps a significant collapse in terms of the last 30 minutes in the Arsenal game as our pressure seems to drop off quite a bit after the initial fifteen minute spell after the start of the second half.

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On the ball – The collapse in terms of our ball retention is clear in the Arsenal game as our pass completion plummets the longer the game goes on from a high of 90% to less than 60%.Increased errors on the ball are a by-product of tired legs.

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Now lets take a look at the goals conceded yesterday.

Goal1 – There are bits of fatigue on show in the way that Coleman invites Arsenal into our box in the next two screen shots following an Arsenal throw. The positioning of McGeady (circled) is interesting too. Last season he revealed how Martinez basically told him not to track back in order to keep his fullback in their own half and give us a better option on the break. Its a very bold move especially when you are two up against a very good side. The problem it creates is that Coleman is left isolated and can’t really commit to a challenge.  As Cazorla is allowed to encroach to within 18 yards of our goal Ramsey ghosts in behind a ball watching Osman to stab home.

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Goal 2 – For the second goal Chambers plays a great 30 yard pass which completely dissects our left flank but we really shouldn’t have let the pass go through our midfield. The gap between McGeady  (now been shifted to the left to accommodate Atsu) and Osman both circled – is far too wide. Arsenal then play in two crosses, Jagielka gets caught under the ball on the second one and Giroud bullies Distin to head home after a nice ball from Monreal.

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Conclusion

I think fitness is a problem although I’d say it doesn’t explain the story fully. Wenger’s introduction of Giroud certainly changed the game in Arsenal’s favour. I thought we were comfortable with Arsenal’s short game in the first half and we did a job on them going forward with Naismith’s link play in the air and on the deck superb throughout. With Giroud on, Arsenal pumped more balls into the box and we simply didn’t defend them well enough – Giroud in truth should have scored at least one more before his equaliser.

On the positive side we have played very well in spells of both games and going forward we have looked capable of scoring freely before the final stages of games. Were still unbeaten and the fitness will keep on improving, however the defensive lapses need to be nipped in the bud pronto especially with Chelsea due at L4 next week.

EB

Scout Scribbles #2 – Arsenal

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Roberto Martinez will be looking to engineer Everton’s first win of the new campaign as a re-run of our most complete performance of last season sees Arsenal visit L4 in the Saturday tea time kick off.

We played the Gunners three times last season with each game throwing up talking points and tactical tit bits, although it’s the blueprint of the 3-0 win in April which Martinez will be revisiting most in the build up to Saturday evening’s match.

So lets follow suit…

The win was unquestionably the best of the season and the first time we have really webbed a top quality opponent in recent times –  in terms of the scoreline anyway.Whereas wins over the league’s better sides under  Moyes were based on a rearguard action with fans invariably biting nails to the last minute to close out a 1-0 win, this was as emphatic as you can get and principally down to an offensive approach which centred on the forward trio of Lukaku, Mirallas and Naismith, all of whom got on the score sheet. This is pretty much how it worked…

Kevin Mirallas principal job was to expose Arsenal’s right side by drifting inside and out.  He would drift into central positions to create the space for Baines to exploit on the flank by his forward runs which effectively gave Baines a 1v1 run at Sagna due to Arsenal’s right midfielder playing narrow and not helping out. With Sagna pre-occupied it basically meant we had a 3v3 situation in the final third with Mirallas, Naismith and Lukaku v Mertesacker, Vermealen and Monreal. Mirallas clever running outwards towards the by-line also had the impact of shunting Mertesacker across to cover this side of the pitch leaving gaps through the middle.

Romelu Lukaku was schooled in the reverse league game by Mertesacker and perhaps with this in mind Martinez looked to play him on the other side of the pitch against a physically weaker opponent (Monreal). Here there was more space to operate and enabled us to play to his strengths of being able to plough through with runs from outside inwards.

Lukaku stayed high up the pitch on that side as a right-sided forward  looking for quick transitions when possession was regained, mostly from the opposite flank by Mirallas.  Vermaelen was worried about his presence and was successfully dragged across to the flank as Mirallas did on the opposite side with Mertesacker. This meant both Arsenal centre backs where being dragged into the corners meaning big gaps opened up for Naismith through the middle.

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Sandwiched between Lukaku and Mirallas was arguably the key player of the trio, Steven Naismith. His starting position was quite withdrawn, almost as an advanced midfielder with his brief being to tempt the centre halves out of position with decoy runs so that the wide forward duo Mirallas for Lukaku could steam into. Naismith also got on the scoresheet and he’s made a habit of producing in the big games in his short spell at the club, scoring against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal at L4. What all this meant was Arsenal’s defence was all over the place and we exploited it superbly.

Arsenal

Repeating the trick won’t be easy though, after all Arsenal won more away games than any side in the top flight last season and are on a run of 6 straight wins since the aforementioned humbling.

Arsenal travelled to Besiktas in midweek meaning we’ve had 6 full days to prepare compared to Arsenal’s probable 1 which could impact on who starts for them and also how much they press, given that they have the return game to come next week. Whilst an inferior opponent, Wenger will also be mindful that the Turkish league doesn’t start til the end of the month so Besitkas will have more time to rest up before the return leg.

Former Toffeeman Mikel Arteta was crocked in that game and is likely to miss out again, probably replaced by hatchet-man Flamini. The only other significant absentees for the Gunners are Walcott and at left back where Gibbs will be replaced by the awful Monreal. Arsenal’s three World Cup Winners are supposedly ‘in contention’ for this one, which is nice.

Bong Prediction

We know Wenger is an idealist, stubborn and will rarely re-shape his approach to suit an opponent, nor will he compromise his philosophy and go long over an opponent who floods the midfield. Therefore we will probably impose a high press to combat Arsenal’s favoured game of passing triangles in the middle of the park.

The big question for Martinez is whether to go with the same game plan / side as last time and thus potentially drop last week’s star man Steven Pienaar and goalscorer McGeady. Mirallas played his best game in a blue shirt in this fixture last time round and came through a warm up game through the week and I think he will definitely start in place of McGeady. I think leaving Pienaar out would be harsh and I don’t see why he can’t play on the left side of a three man midfield in the slot Osman/Barkley played in last season’s game.

In terms of shape I think he’ll go with the same 4-3-1-2 that won the game last season. So this would be Barry at the base and McCarthy and either Osman/Pienaar alongside him in midfield. Naismith would play a similar role to last week and drop off  the front with Mirallas &  Lukaku in the wide forward positions. Off the ball, both Lukaku and Mirallas would drop back to defend the wide zones meaning we would be 4-6-0 without the ball.

Possible Line-ups;

Everton; Howard, Coleman, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Pienaar, Mirallas, Naismith, Lukaku

Arsenal; Szczesny, Debuchy, Monreal, Chambers, Koscielny,  Flamini, Wilshere, Ramsey, Sanchez, Oxlaide Chamberlain, Giroud

Martinez v Wenger Head to Head > Games Played: 12 Martinez Wins: 3 Draws: 2 Wenger wins: 7  Martinez Goals: 13 Wenger Goals; 28 Average Goals per game: 3.4

Recommended Bet: 3 goals or more: 17/20 BetVictor

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Leicester 2-2 Everton

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The Preamble

It’s probably fair to say that the Toffees staggered into this game following a winless pre season and with World Cup fitness hangovers running through the squad. By contrast, Leicester had been well and truly on the wagon with their close season more akin to a stress busting mini break; they remained unbeaten throughout pre season and all bar one of their squad were fresh from a summer free of football. Our hosts opened up with 4-4-2ish with 2 forwards in Ulloa and Nugent whilst we went with a leggy Lukaku supported by Naismith in the hole, Pienaar on the left cutting in and McGeady in the ‘deulofeu do what you want / no defensive responsibility’ role.

First Half

The key tactical take away from the first half was how Leicester struggled to control the movement and intricate passing triangles of Baines, Naismith and Pienaar down our left side. With Leicester operating a low block, Gareth Barry was able to pick out Pienaar or Baines with consummate ease in threatening areas, i.e. Leicester’s defensive third, as  shown by the below snapshot in the run up to our first goal.

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A ‘High’ defensive block is when the defensive line is on the edge of the centre circle in their half, a’ Low Block’ is when the defensive line is on the edge of its own 18 yard line (as per Leicester above) and ‘Medium Block’ is pretty much equidistant between the two. Leicester played the low block in the first half, then high block as the second half went on.

Aiden McGeady was the chief beneficiary of this with the aforementioned trio’s passing triangles enabling the winger 5 sights on goal including his spectacular opening strike which deservedly put us 1-0 up.

Leicester quickly got back into the game following a period of play when each of Jagielka, Barry and finally Distin had chances to clear crosses coming into our box but all miscued. Whilst a decent finish by Ulloa, the move was consistent with Leicester’s low quality first half openings, all of which coming from hopeful crosses, ricochets, deflections or keeper kick outs.

Martinez spoke last season of Baines dwindling assist stats and how we should focus more on ‘the pass before the pass’ and our second goal was a good example of this. Receiving the ball out wide and then playing a one two with his long time wingman, the South African bamboozled a withered looking De Laet and rolled in Naismith to emphatically put us back in front just before half time.

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We said last week in our season preview that Martinez most difficult recruitment exercise in the coming years will be replacing the brilliant South African, and hopefully his return to form and fitness will soften the blow of losing Barkley until the new year.

Second Half

After the break there was virtually nothing on show from us as Leicester pressed higher up the pitch, winning the ball back through either tackle, interception or 2nd ball three times more in our half of the pitch than they did in the first half (15 v 5). This pressure pushed us back and meant Barry was now receiving less of the ball and when he did get it was in deeper and more congested areas as shown below.

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The Pienaar passing visual further up the article shows how Barry was his chief supplier, however Pienaar received 70% of these passes from Barry in the first half. Baines was still a useful out-ball and received as many passes after the break as he did before it, but due to us being pushed back he was now getting the ball in poorer areas, with 50% less passes received in the final third compared to his first half service.

Martinez spoke after the game of his disappointment at a ‘lack of tempo’ after the break and he wasn’t wrong. On the ball we created just 1 real chance in open play and off the ball we won possession back in the Leicester half significantly less than we did in the opening half.

Could he have done more to stem the flow though? The game was clearly getting away from us a good 10-15 mins before Leicester’s equaliser with the impressive Mahrez given too much space to drift infield from the right flank. Prior to the equaliser he’d sent Schlupp clean through on goal with a threaded pass in the pocket between stones and jagielka, only for the substitute to almost clear the roof of the king powered by bantz stadium. 

We’re probably just spoiled by the amount of match winning subs Martinez made last season, but he seemed unusually hesitant from the sidelines whilst Rome was burning. The tactical switch to a back 5 a minute before the goal was one more associated with his pragmatic predecessor.  The equaliser then came after an initial mistake from his first sub mirallas and then Stones – who looked iffy throughout – switching off after initially having Wood marked as shown in the below screenshot.

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In Conclusion…

So we start this season as we did the last one, throwing away a lead to draw 2-2 draw against a capable if limited side. Given the disjointed pre season there was always a chance that this could happen and we now have two tough but winnable tests coming up at L4 against Arsenal and Chelsea. Leicester were impressive after the break, they created marginally more than us in open play and their strengths as identified in our preview last week were all crucial in them coming back from a losing position twice to take a deserved point.

EB

Scout Scribbles #1 – Leicester City

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Saturday’s opening fixture of the season sees us up against Nigel Pearson’s newly promoted Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

It’s fair to say that Pearson’s mob won the Championship at a canter last season with promotion secured with a fair bit left in reserve. The Foxes achieved this by virtue of a short passing game, making the fewest long passes in the division and scoring the 2nd most goals from open play, which would imply their strength is weighted more heavily going forward than back towards their own goal.They have no significant set piece specialist (they scored the 2nd fewest set play goals in the league) so I don’t see them playing direct or adopting overly spoiling defensive tactics in the hope of pinching a set play goal.

This is counter balanced by the step up in quality and the fact they no longer have the edge on opponents in terms of personnel. Indeed, they are to a man weaker than us in pretty much every position. Pearson is a pragmatic customer and deep down he will know this, so I expect he will be looking at game plan of containment in the hope that the sum of Leicester’s parts can bridge this gap in quality.

Last season Leicester predominantly played in a 442 but also played with 5 in midfield at times and did so in last week’s final friendly v Bremen when they were pretty much 4-2-3-1. Pearson doesn’t seem to have a default setup and given their injury problems in midfield I think he’ll go with x2 banks of four quite deep and 2 forwards for this one.

Strengths

One of their key strengths last season was a solid home record (they lost just once at home post Xmas) and consistency of selection; they only used 21 players (we used 28) and 13 of the 21 started over 20 games each which helps greatly with things like combination play. They also kept the same team back to back in 20 games last season and given this group has been together for a few years they will be acutely aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They’re also a young and hungry group with most players under the age of 25 sprinkled with a couple of older heads. Their pre season has also been a good one both in terms of stability and results. They only had only 1 player (Mahrez) at the World Cup, so have had a much more settled pre season compared to our own benny hill style hop on hop off tour of remote outposts. Results wise they’ve been unbeaten with 6 wins and a draw and crucially they have lost none of their key men albeit Lloyd Dyer has been released.

Weakness 

The weakness I guess is their lack of top flight experience with only Nugent, Konchesky and de laet of the likely starters having played any time in the top flight, none of which with any distinction. Matt Upson has been brought in to beef them up in this respect but is absent due to injury.

The same can be said of their manager, Nigel Pearson.  The man who scored the first ever Premier League at Goodison Park certainly knows the lower league’s well and his characteristics are to approach each game in isolation, to tweak his tactics to negate opposition strengths with the initial objective being to keep a clean sheet.

Does he have the tools to outwit managers at the top tier, though?  He has played at the highest level for Wednesday but aside from a few unsuccessful spells in the dugout as a coach /caretaker boss at Newcastle and as whisky nose Bryan Robson’s number two at west brom he has limited experience of competing against top level strategists. Exhaustive preparation  for games is one thing but being able to tweak tactics and address problems in game is quite another.

Likely line-up

Their settled spine is Schmeichel in goal, experienced lower league skipper Wes Morgan at centre back alongside the more mobile legs of Liam Moore. Defensively suspect ex-red Konchesky and de Leat are cert starters in the full back spots.

In midfield, Drinkwater is the chief passing outlet alongside Matty James with both screening the back four and neither likely to get too far forward. Their most creative player last season stats wise was winger Knockaert but he is absent due to injury and there is also a question mark over the fitness of the industrious if limited Vardy and new signing Albrighton, meaning Mahrez is a shoe in on the wing.

Wiley old campaigner Gary Taylor Fletcher, looking increasingly like a pre weight loss Phil the Power Taylor, can also impact games at this level as he showed sporadically whilst at Blackpool. The rotund schemer got the winner in the insipid pre season encounter between the clubs too, but there’s little that can be gleamed from that game given that Barry will probably be our only starter from that game.

Toffees fan David Nugent plundered 20+ goals last season but accrued only six in two spells in the top flight with Portsmouth and Burnley a few years back. He is intelligent enough to play in behind too at 10 – a role Vardy also played a fair bit last season – however Ulloa, the club record signing from Brighton,  is the likely starter at 9.

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Leicester expected line-up (4-2-3-1) Schmeichel – Morgan, Moore De Laet, Konchesky – James, Drinkwater, – Mahrez, Nugent, Albrighton  – Ulloa

The Toffees

As for us, Roberto Martinez will be looking to put the unique opportunity of a winless pre season to bed and hit the ground running, by delivering his first phenomenal moment of the new season.

It can’t have escaped the über optimist that after Leicester we then have Chelsea and Arsenal to come, and no wins from three would swiftly be followed by empty headed goons like Merson and Savage queuing up to deliver their ”second season syndrome’ synopsis.

Forward duo Lukaku and Mirallas extended summer breaks mean the pair have only played 45 mins each in one behind closed doors friendly this week (Lukaku scoring twice in a 4-2 win) so you’d think it will be touch and go whether both will start the game. Lukaku trained at old club Anderlecht prior to rejoining us this month and given the healthier options we have in attacking midfield than up front I think he is the  more likely starter.

Seamus Coleman is back in training and should hopefully start in the usual ‘first pick’ back four and handling Ulloa and Nugent will be a decent test of their match sharpness.  Ulloa is a big physical groc who is decent in the air but like Nugent has minimal pace to speak of, so it wouldn’t be a risk for our backline to squeeze up the pitch with a high block. 

Everton expected line-up Howard – Coleman, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, – McCarthy, Barry – Barkley, Pienaar, Naismith – Lukaku 

The Bong verdict

Leicester are on the back of an unbeaten pre season and will probably fancy their chances of getting a point especially if they look at how we struggled at promoted/struggling sides last season, particularly in the early months of the season.

They’re likely come out on the offensive and the first part of the game could well be a containment job for us. I suspect Leicester’s problem will be how they service the forward duo given we are likely to dominate the ball in their half for the majority of the game.

I fancy us to weather any early storm and then look to dominate possession and wear Leicester down in the second half. Subs like Osman, Mirallas and McGeady could be significant in this respect and I fancy us to sneak it late on.

Prediction: 1-0 Everton

Recommended Bet: Everton to win the 2nd half 9/5 BetVictor

EB

Everton in the Psychologist’s Chair: a Season Preview

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By @nataliebargery

The season is nearly upon us following an eventful summer; the World Cup was brilliant, Chewy Luis inevitably manufactured a move to foreign shores and Evertonian’s have been desperately grasping on to any transfer rumour that rears its dubious head (even those suggested by TalkSport-we really must have been desperate.) Thoughts now turn away from the thrills and spills of our quadrennial international treat to our ‘bread and butter’, the Premier league.

This season we have the added addition of a Europa League (EL)campaign that many believe, to continue the food analogies; will be the coffee one in a bag of Revels! Martinez faces a tough task as he tries to better his debut season, players are returning with a point to prove and some are looking to continue their excellent form from last season. 2014/15 could be a pivotal season for the blues but there are many psychological challenges ahead.

The World Cup

Luckily for Everton only six members of last season’s squad played in the World Cup, although that figure has increased with the signing of Besic. The lack of World Cup action for the majority of the squad could prove important come the end of the season as tired bodies and minds can affect the run in. However, it is possible that the early season will also be affected by a World Cup hangover for our international stars who had varying success in Brazil. Any underperforming World Cup players are unlikely to be doing so because they are tired as they have just had a break and the effects of a shortened summer on their bodies – this is more likely set in around Christmas. In truth, the hangover will more likely be for psychological reasons.   

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Our England trio of Baines, Jags and Barkley had the most disappointing summer. The question is can they ‘floosh’ (to coin a Martinez-ism) it out of their system quickly? All three players will have dreamed of playing in a World Cup since childhood. However, for Baines and Jagielka that may have been their only chance to shine in one. So, the disappointment of getting knocked out at the group stage and without a win could understandably be a difficult pill to swallow.

Baines omission from the 2010 squad, which left a bitter taste in the mouth, will have certainly increased his desire to succeed at the 2014 tournament. Barkley on the other hand will have more World Cups and the zeal of youth will probably leave the 20-year-old unaffected by any disappointment  from the experience.

However, both Baines and Jags spoke of the ‘gut-wrenching’ disappointment they felt immediately after England’s exclusion but a holiday with the family and returning home to the Everton lads can do wonders. At least we hope it can.

Players invest a lot of time, emotional and physical energy into preparing for a World cup. Some will move to a new club hundreds of miles away from their home 6 months before the tournament, resulting in massive upheaval for their family, purely to stand a better chance of getting into their countries squad. So, there are a lot of stressful costs. To then leave the tournament unsuccessfully after such a large investment is a huge disappointment. This can lead to an excess of anxiety and stress which can result in burnout.

Burnout is not simply lacking energy but a problem that causes withdrawal and a lack of interest in your job. However, both Baines and Jags will benefit from the support they will have received from the ultra-positive Bobby and the tight knit squad we have at Everton. Social support helps individuals threatened with burnout greatly. Nevertheless, Baines and Jagielka are both strong characters who I’m sure will not feel the effects of burnout at the start of the season.

Kevin Mirallas had an inconsistent tournament. A super sub appearance led to him starting the next game and an insipid performance followed resulting in him being dropped. Inconsistency has been a problem during the Belgian’s two seasons with us. He is regularly a top performer in big matches, particularly derby matches, but can easily slide back to mediocrity the next week. It is very difficult to pinpoint why a player lacks consistency. It can be down to lack of focus, needing a set pre-match routine or a player can struggle to psych themselves up enough for certain matches or that can become so psyched up they become tense. Mirallas appears to find it easier to play well in bigger matches which suggests he struggles to get himself fired up for the seemingly lesser matches. However, surely every game in Belgium’s World Cup run was a big game to Kev, so it doesn’t explain his non-existent performances in the games he started.

Inconsistency is difficult to manage as it can be so hard to discover the root cause of it. It seems unlikely that a player with a gold Bentley, flashy dress sense and seemingly unerring self-belief could in fact lack self-confidence. However, that could all be a façade. Alternatively, Kev may find it difficult to focus during certain matches and to sustain focus for more than one or two games per week. This may spell trouble for his chances of performing well in and around the EL. However, it is frustratingly difficult to truly understand why and I’m sure Martinez has been working to help Mirallas find more consistency. However, his World Cup has probably not affected him greatly for good or bad as his inconsistency will probably continue regardless, although we hope not.

One Everton player who did suffer at the hands of the World cup was Bryan Oviedo. As if, missing out due to a broken leg wasn’t bad enough, but to have to watch your teammates defy the predictions of every football fan and pundit and reach the quarter finals must have been difficult. Of course, part of him would have been thrilled at his countries exploits but the frustration of missing out on such a huge achievement will more than likely have been his overriding emotion. Sadly for Oviedo, he has to wait to begin playing again for Everton which will only increase his disappointment and frustration as he spends his time in Finch Farm’s physio room. 

Finally, Tim Howard returns an American hero. His confidence should be sky high. The only problem for Howard next season may be feeling the additional pressure of knowing that a man of the match performance might be followed by another awkward phone call from Barack Obama!

Returning from Injury

It is not only World cup stars who face potential challenges in the coming season.

Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone will be like ‘two new signings’ when or if they get fully fit and they will be needed with the EL in mind. We know Gibson is a good player and but for his injury record may well have nailed down a place in the blues midfield under Martinez. However, Gibson has had to watch Gareth Barry dominate in the holding midfield role and had little opportunity before injury struck to impress. Consequently, Gibbo has had to sit and watch as the new manager analyses his squad and decides who he needs and who is surplus to requirements which will have led to an uncertain 2013/14 season.

Arouna Kone was struck by injury last season too, but has the opposite problem to Gibson in that Martinez is fully convinced of his capabilities whilst fans are not so certain with the striker having had little chance to prove his worth to the supporters. An interview earlier this summer shows Kone is very aware of the need to impress:

‘It’s all about working hard so the fans can see the best of Arouna Kone. The season coming for me is where I have to prove my worth and I am ready to take on that challenge.’

This is a very positive statement and he may well be ready for the challenge or he could be a bit too aware of the need to impress, increasing the pressure on him. 

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Both players experienced a season of turmoil and both had a choice as to how they responded. Common psychological consequences of injury include exaggerating the severity of the injury, personalising the injury; which includes doing a Balotelli and asking ‘Why always me?’, thinking of others who never fully recovered from injury and telling themselves they are no use to the team because they are injured. These thoughts will obviously have very negative consequences for the player but a good medical team and the opportunity to still feel part of the squad will help to diminish these thoughts.

Although both players are approaching a return to full fitness they still have psychological demons to face. Players often become very aware of the time and effort that has been invested in them and doubt themselves as they approach their return. Furthermore, they face the possibility of failure as they return to fitness, which can trigger anxiety. To reduce these issues players need to focus on the quality of their rehabilitation, recognise they are ready to return and remember their desire to play football. Alternatively, players can attempt to take a more positive approach and view their time away as a motivation which increases their desire to succeed on their return. This can be difficult for players during a long injury and in truth players will have positive and negative days during their lay-off. The key for Gibson and Kone now is to grasp the opportunity when they return and not become too bogged down with who they need to impress.

Cup Psychology 

Many of the issues players face can be diminished by their manager. It may be uncertainty over your role in the team or the need to bounce back after a soul-destroying World Cup. I don’t think it is too wide of the mark to suggest Roberto is one of the best in the league when it comes to these situations. His participative leadership style along with his innate positivity mean he can discuss problems with players and get them bouncing into training even if they have just been told they have to sit through videos of Michael Owen commentaries! Yet, Martinez’ undying positivity may face a stern test this season as he attempts to better a record points total and hopefully trump it by winning a trophy. We know how vital a cup triumph is to Evertonians but we always seem to falter just when it is looking likely. We can forget the League Cup – there seems to be a Benfica style curse hanging over us with that one – but an FA cup or dare I say it, a EL victory would be huge for the club.

A player and manager’s psychology must alter depending on whether the forthcoming fixture is a league or cup match. You only get one go at a cup match. Choosing the wrong tactics, prepare incorrectly or if any other minute detail goes wrong and you could be out. This brings an added pressure and motivation to perform. Our litany of hard luck stories in recent years adds even more pressure in this respect. Roberto has the experience of winning a major trophy with Wigan but they were underdogs in a number of matches during their cup run. However, he now has to deal with the weight of expectation. Last season saw the usual league cup disappointment at the hands of a dodgy Fulham side and a quarter final FA cup defeat at the Emirates. Although, the 4-1 score line flattered Arsenal and THAT Ross Barkley miss could have changed the final result dramatically, we still came up short.

It appears our players have frozen or choked in the past under the pressure to perform in one-off cup games. Choking is a symptom of anxiety when a player focuses too much on executing a skill rather than just letting it flow and as a result they begin to overthink something that should be natural to them.

Anxiety is a natural consequence of the need to perform in an important match. Viewing anxiety in this way can diminish any negative effects. However, interpreting anxiety as unwanted will more than likely disturb a player’s performance. Brazil froze so much during their World cup semi-final thrashing at the hands of Germany that they could have been chipped into ice cubes and served in every Caipirinha in Belo Horizonte that night. There was a large pre- World Cup focus amongst Brazil’s squad on staying calm and being at ease, hoowever they were then met with the stress and pressure of a country expecting great things. They were not prepared to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ or accept stress as natural and a petrol for performance. So, rather than avoiding stress, players should be encouraged to face stressful situations and learn how to deal with them. For example, the rest of the Brazil team should have been prepared to feel the stress of seeing David Luiz tearing round the pitch out of position and learnt to accept it! We do not know what sort of emphasis was put on our players build-up before cup games but potentially a stress-free approach may have not have served them too well. Although with Royston Drenthe around, prior to the FA cup semi-final in 2012, a stress-free build up was definitely not possible.         

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The Europa League (The coffee one)

In contrast, we are also embarking on a cup campaign with a mini-league and two-legged ties in the latter stages. Combined with the challenges of playing Thursday and Sunday regularly, the EL provides a number of psychological tests. Many managers believe it has been a hindrance and has caused their side’s downfall in recent years. Extra matches for squads who may not always be prepared for European football and the lack of recuperation time between matches has meant team’s league form has potentially suffered. Indeed, there are many fans who may have wished that we hadn’t qualified for the EL. It will undoubtedly put a strain on our resources but I believe the right attitude can get you the right results. When we were regularly in Europe’s second competition a few years ago we approached it with a positive attitude. We wanted to be in it and  went on an unbeaten run in the league and UEFA cup between the 25th October and 20th December, the dates of the first and last UEFA cup group games. It appears the extra matches helped us build up momentum and we couldn’t stop performing well and winning.

This time around we will certainly continue with the positive mind-set under Martinez. Roberto has been quite bullish about our participation stating ‘whoever complains about playing in the Europa league hasn’t got a real love for the game’. This is great to hear and the fact that he won’t ‘accept that it (the Europa league) is going to affect our league campaign’ is even better.

The opportunity to gain momentum will once again be there. However, momentum is not always positive and as much as winning can become a habit so can losing. This is where a high number of games in a short time can be a problem. Research has argued as to whether momentum is real or illusionary but even if it is an illusion it is still very powerful. No one can predict or stimulate momentum. Instead, it appears to be a moment or period of time when everything comes together to reach its optimum levels for performance, such as skill level, motivation, anxiety levels and the crowd. This can happen in the opposite direction and everything comes together to provoke poor performance for negative momentum also. The confidence positive momentum brings then feeds to every member of the team stimulating continuous high performance levels. The ingredients are all there for Everton to succeed – we just have to wait and see if we can be as consistent as we were last season.  

The Transfer Window

The increased number of matches has demanded we add to our squad. To date, the additions of Gareth Barry, Muhamed (Messi in my back pocket) Besic, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Atsu, subject to a medical, after losing Deulofeu and Traore have left us with the same numbers we had last season.

However, the boost the whole club has received from the signing of Rom alone accounts for two or three signings! I believe, in recent seasons our summer transfer activity had a massive impact on our early season form. Our results dramatically improved when there was positivity surrounding the signings of, for example, Andy Johnson and Kevin Mirallas. However, we also had long barren summers with signings totalling little money which often led to poor starts. The negativity surrounding the club had a massive impact on the performances and I feel, contributed heavily towards our lack-lustre starts. Fortunately, Lukaku has ensured that will not be a problem this season.

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 New signings increase competition for places and so, usually increase motivation. Luckily, we don’t have any prima donna’s who spit their dummy out if they see a bit of competition so friendly rivalry will more than likely be the overriding attitude in the current squad.

Moreover, we do not appear to be suffering from the usual pre-season attempts of newspapers to sell our best players. Martinez felt that the question marks over Baines and Fellaini last season made it difficult for us in the first three games of the season and this is understandable as the threat of losing key players affects the whole team. Players care about the future of the team they play for and about if their mate is leaving. So it is bound to distract everyone not just the player at the centre of the transfer. However, Barkley and Coleman’s new contracts mean the only player the papers can tout around is McCarthy. Although, I don’t want to jinx anything, it seems very unlikely that we would sell the man who made such an impact during his debut season for us. Consequently, the window should only provide positives between now and deadline day, although we are Everton, so you never know.

The season ahead promises much – ignoring our pre-season form entirely –  but there are challenges ahead. We need key players to perform and as few injuries as possible would help. Consistency will be vital to our success again this season, however, that is difficult to maintain in a season with potentially 50+ matches. Martinez’ capacity to keep players motivated through difficult patches or physically draining periods will be vital and represent a stern test of his capabilities.

Let’s just hope we are all munching on a bag of Polish Revels in Warsaw in May, even the coffee ones!

Thanks for reading

@nataliebargery

 

Everton Season Preview 2014/15

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Welcome to the new season at EB and one of many pre season pieces coming your way in the next week or so until we inevitably get bored and normal service resumes. Plenty has happened since last time with the transfer record broken, our manager signing a new deal and most importantly no one jumping ship. Plus we have the added delight of the Europa League to pontificate over. This sort of preview to the new season will take a look at the current health of the squad and ponder what lies ahead over the next 9  months.

So then, has it been a positive pre season?

 Its a resounded ‘yes’ from this misery guts.

Obviously if problems with the new kit, thunderspunking money on any old shite as long as its done by June 1st, or pre season results are your bag then it’s not been a great one. But even an RT from Alan Myers couldn’t remedy any of that misery. The Europa League being shite narrative is also a load of old codswallop, as I go into more elaborately in this ramble.

Anyone looking for a reason to be cheerful should take a look at this pre season quote from 2007 from Moyes;

I think it will be as hard to get into the top ten of the Premier League this year as maybe it has been to get into the top four in the past. Blackburn, Villa, West Ham, Portsmouth,  Manchester City are all doing well, so it will be really tough.

Or this cracker from 2011;

I have said many times we are going to have a tough season, it’s going to be hard for us, but I’m hoping the experience we have got, the players we’ve got, will come through and show their quality.I am expecting us to push on if we can, but I have always thought this would be a tough season for us. I don’t know exactly in what way, but I have always thought this would be a hard season because we know what we have not got,’

Give me Martinez and his ridiculous over optimism anyday.  Anyway, I’m going violently off the subject.

For the first summer in a long time we’re not going into the new campaign minus a big hitting first teamer or one that remains albeit with a turned head, plus the club have secured last season’s key man Gareth Barry. We have also broke the transfer record for Lukaku and freshened up the midfeild with the potentially ace Besic coming in for relative buttons. The acquisitions of young tykes Galloway and (possibly) Henen represent a clear investment in youth. This, coupled with the long term deals secured for impish colts Barkley and Stones has given an ageing squad that had the whiff of a real ale society bore into a much more hip, bitchin gunslinger vibe.

How is the squad looking?

 In goal…

 Tim Howard will no doubt be energised by a decent, if perhaps  hyperbole world cup after arguably his best ever all round season last time. His deputy and newly installed boo boy figure Joel Robles doesn’t inspire confidence with the fans. Arguably it would be better to bring in an arl arse keeper with experience who could fill in for Howard and let Robles make the mistakes he needs to in less pressure environments than the FA Cup quarter finals. Whilst shaky he is still young and could be a good keeper for us, just not right now. U21 Czech keeper Jindrich Stanek will slot in as third choice keeper but is still to make a first team appearance either at Goodison or previous club Sparta Prague.  Previous third choice stopper Mason Springthorpe has been released.

Wing Backs…

Seamus Coleman has missed most of pre season due to injury as has Bryan Oviedo although  hopefully the Irishman will be ok for the big kick off next week. Tyias Browning has played in various positions across the back four in pre season and could be a versatile asset as we compete on 4 fronts this season. Tony Hibbert may feel lucky to have bagged a 2 year deal, and presumably this was in part due to our Europa League (EL) squad needing to contain 4 players UEFA classified as  “local club trained players” which means they must have trained at the club for 3 years between the ages of 15 and 21. Luke Garbutt impressed against Tranmere as well as in the spirit crushing Leicester pre season game and looks to have benefited from his various loans in recent years. Whilst Leighton Baines is unquestionably still ‘first pick’ young Garbutt could feature against either the EL bottom feeders or in the dead rubbers should we progress with games to spare. At 21 he also covers one of the 4 “locally trained players” slots.

Centre Backs…

Big things will be expected of John Stones given his impact at the tail end of last season which almost ended with a World Cup spot. The young Yorkie is obviously ace but does makes a fair few mistakes positionally and can get caught in possession as happened last week in the Celta Vigo friendly. The good signficantly outweighs the bad though, and I’d imagine he will start 15-20 games as cover to ageing senior duo Phil Jagaielka and Sylvain Distin. Fellow veteran Antolin Alcarez will be fourth choice followed by Shane Duffy at 5th pick and you’d imagine he’ll go out on loan again after his decent spell at Yeovil last season. MK Dons rookie Brendan Galloway has also been brought in for a fee which could rise to as much as £5m. A left sided centre half who can also play in a defensive midfield role, you would imagine the thought is he can be groomed into Distin’s slot when (or should that be if?!) the big man ever retires. I’d be surprised if he gets a sniff of first team action this season.

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Defensive Midfield…

As a centre midfielder himself, Martinez has overhauled this area of the pitch more than any other since taking office last summer. If you remember the Wigan cup debacle when square pegs Neville and Fellaini occupied the midfield engine room the situation now couldn’t be more transformed. We now have potentially 7 players who can play the 2 anchor roles, each with their own particular skillset enabling Martinez better options depending on the opponent.

Mo Besic is a potentially astute purchase in the holding midfield slot. His long range passing is very good and his positioning and awareness to plug gaps defensively seem good, plus as he can also play at the back which gives Martinez the option of moving from a back 4 to 3 to close out games without having to waste a substitution. Besic’s lean exterior, hunger and snide factor combined with his penchant for ruthless violence will hopefully see him ruffing up the bloated cheeky nando’s identikit prem midfielders in a similar fashion to Furio Giunta’s arrival from Naples in 2001.

The risk of course is that his desire to win the ball back can leave a hole in behind if he is bypassed. In the Paderborn game for example he made 5 fouls in the first 15 mins and was booked after 2 mins and I fancy he will bring an inevitable raft and pointless bookings.. The obvious caveat here is that he’s never competed in a serious European league before so it could take a bit of time to get up to speed.

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As well as the first choice of Besic, McCarthy, Barry you have the returning Darron Gibson and you could also thrown into the pot the idea of Baines starting there (originally an idea put forward by the hapless Steve Round) and young Ryan Ledson could get some gametime in the EL. From the looks of his gait in pre season you wouldn’t fancy Gibson to be thrown into battle alongside fellow fatty – albeit on a lower scale – Barry and with Barry first pick Gibson’s chances of gametime look increasingly remote.

Attacking mids….

In the attacking midfield berths the situation is less clear. Ross Barkley can also play in DM but will more than likely play in the No 10 spot and his output will more than likely go up compared to last season. He will likely dovetail with  Leon Osman who you would imagine would continue to provide vital cameo’s as he did last season especially given that we haven’t strengthened numbers wise in this zone. Kevin Mirallas had a go here against Cardiff but is more effective in the wide spaces and he’ll be looking to improve again in terms of goals / assists as he did last season.

Gerard Deulofeu’s departure has left a hole which looks Christian Atsu shaped, but the Chelsea winger’s loan is still subject to a work permit. Atsu doesn’t possess the trickery of Deulofeu but could provide more substance than his predecessor certainly based on his outputs in the Dutch league. Although there is a gulf in the quality of the leagues we can draw conclusions that Atsu will put in more of a shift going back towards his own goal, is more of a team player and is also more erratic. The African Cup of Nations is the obvious fly in the ointment to this deal.

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Steven Pienaar was peripheral due to injuries last season – and lesser so the style of play – and given his age it remains to be seen if he can scale the heights of previous campaigns. For me he’d still be a first pick and replacing someone of like for like quality will unquestionably be Martinez most difficult recruitment project in the next few years.  Aidan McGeady’s cameos pretty much won us 4 points alone against West Ham and Fulham last season and whilst he still probably doesn’t have the tools or consistency to be a first pick his trickery and ability to commit tiring defenders is a great option in the final thirty minutes of games.

In attack….

Up front, the protracted and ultimately successful purchase of Lukaku represented a ‘phenomenal moment’ for the football club. Big Rom has plenty of holes in his game, notably his link up play outside the box and attacking crosses in the air, but these are all coachable. If he can focus on ironing out these creases and not harping on about how great he is then the 1 in 2 goal ratio he brings to the table could be crucial in where we finish. Alongside him, Steven Naismith is probably the most serious alternative based on his many ‘unbelievable moments’ last season.

Arouna Kone is no way near as bad as some make out and if he can avoid injury should be good for 8-10 goals. Improving our scoring on the road is the principal development area for us this season and arguably the key component in us finishing higher than last season. Whilst we had the 2nd best defence on the road last season we weren’t even in the top six for goals scored away from L4 with a miserable return of just 2 goals from our trips to the other sides who made up the top six. Kone could be a factor here in supplementing the expected yield from Lukaku both in terms of goals and in applying serious pressure for his place and filling in when his form dips which it will at least once.

Beligan youth David Henen is a wide forward whose sum total of club experience is for Monaco B so I’d expect he will  slot into the u21 side if he ever actually signs. Some of the Moyes shrapnel like Velios and Gueye have been taken out the back and shot in the head .  Ressie strikers Long, and Hope and McAleny all got gametime in pre season but you’d suspect that if we bring in a final striker on loan that 2 or all 3 of them will secure loan deals of some sort.  Certainly after his excellent goal against Paderborn you would think that Long could be the one who stays and gets the most sniff of first team action.

Have we got enough bodies then?

Based on what the manager said earlier this summer its a resounding ‘No’ ,unfortunately.  Martinez stated that “You need around 27 players plus the keepers for Europe.”. I make it that we have 20 senior outfields players so we would be 7 short based on this logic.

Defenders: Coleman, Hibbert, Baines Distin, Jagielka Alcaraz, Stones Oviedo, Midfielders: McCarthy, Gibson, Barry Besic, McGeady, Pienaar, Barkley, Osman Forwards: Mirallas, Naismith, Kone, Lukaku

Garbutt and Browning have both featured in most of the pre season games and I’d be surprised if either was allowed out on loan so could supplement that figure to 22. Plus the final signing which we think may be Atsu or another winger would give us 23, so we would be 4 players short of Martinez magic 27 figure.

Surveying the terrain….

Last season was the closest we have come points wise to 4th spot since 2009/10 when we also finished 9 points off this position, albeit last season we accured 7 more points. From 7th down the league looks weak and even if we did dip due to the EL –  which is in no way a given –  it’d take a rapid decline to see us finish any lower than 7th which would probably ensure at least europa qualification

In terms of the sides we were competing with closest last season, namely Arsenal, Spurs Man United,  2 of the 3 have changed managers, both appointing more credible stewards. All three squads are stronger than ours but in the case of Spurs and United both are unbalanced with one side having no credible strikers and neither having any really competent defenders. Arsenal’s relative stability and the capture of Alexis Sanchez combined with Libepewl’s loss of the racist will probably see these two swap positions so I’d expect the slog for 4th to be between us and those 3 sides with Chelsea and Man City followed by Arsenal ensconced in the top three.

Last season our main struggles and loss of points came when 2 or 3 of the first choice eleven succumbed to injuries just after Christmas when all of the back four plus Lukaku missed games due to injury. I’d say the squad hasn’t been beefed up enough for this to not happen again so hitting the 72 point marker could be tricky. That said I think a lower points total could get 4th this season so we could  conceivably fare worse points wise and still achieve what is the number one objective.

EB

Why the Europa League is a good thing for Everton

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In some sections of the fan-base discussions about our impending voyage into The Europa League  carry the lingering whiff of human shit.

The narrative amongst the sceptics is that the injection of regular midweek continental dalliance to the toffee libido will violently distract us like some kind of nuclear bag of magic. Yes there are undoubtedly challenges to be faced with balancing these forays into European backwaters whilst simultaneously maintaining league form and avoiding the by-product of injuries , for me this unsavoury reputation is ill deserved and this lengthy ramble will try to objectively explain why.

Aside from the potential excursions to sunny San Sebastian and seductively salubrious Slovakia there are legitimate reasons why on the pitch the tournament should be viewed as a positive.  Being an incredibly contrary individual as I am, this piece will look at all the various scaremongering theories doing the rounds about how our season will crumble and assess the validity of these projections. There’s a fair bit of data to digest along with a lot of sweeping generalisations and also some unfounded  character assassinations, mostly regarding Spurs. There is also no mention of the term second season syndrome.

Theory #1 ‘Playing Thursday and Sunday means more injuries’

Using data from the excellent Physio Room website, we took a look at the injury records of top flight clubs from England over the last 4 years who have competed in the Europa League (EL) to see if there was an upturn in injuries in the season they competed in the EL compared to the previous season that they qualified. So for example, Fulham received 16 more injuries in the season they competed in EL compared to the previous season. The only snag with this data is that Spurs qualified for the EL in consecutive seasons, but we will zoom in on Spurs later on in this post.

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The outcome above shows that on average sides from the English top flight competing in the EL have accrued x4 additional injuries per season (for info, the average injuries accrued per team in the prem is 24), so this would equate to an increase of 16% due to the EL which is why Martinez decreed at the back-end of last season that he wanted to bolster the squad numbers wise by 6-7 players this summer. So based on this there is a clear challenge faced, but it’s not an insurmountable one if managed properly.

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Back in the pub by halftime. The Benfica drubbing was our EL low point.

Theory #2 ‘The Europa league affects league form’

 Moyes win rate as Everton boss over his 11 year tenure was 42%, however his record in the 24 games following European games, the bulk of which were played on a Thursday,  drops considerably to 27%. Does this mean our league form is at risk then? Not necessarily.

In a study of the last 13 assaults on the EL by clubs in the English top flight, a glance at the below graph will show that there is no downward trend in points differential for clubs competing in the EL based on their previous season’s points tally. If you take out the 2 glaring anomalies (pardew’s calamitous campaign & clown keck’s final meltdown season with the RS) overall side’s pretty much accrue the same points (+0.36) as they did the previous season.

Cock Piss Pardew has been particularly critical of the EL for the impact it had on the Toon Army domestically in the 12/13 season, however the following season in 13/14 they accrued 8 points less without the supposed distraction of European football, indicating that their Thursday forays into Europe were nothing more than a convenient excuse for his blundering mis-management of the situation.

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* Birmingham and Wigan have been excluded from this analysis as they played their Europa League season in the Championship.

The EL equation tends to be that if you play an equivalent or better team away from home who hasn’t played midweek then you are screwed. Given this I’ve listed  below the games in bold that could potentially give us problems next season following EL games. You can see that there is an even split of 7 home and 7 away and that the draw hasn’t been favourable for us as we potentially have to play last season’s 3 biggest rivals all away from home. Dogleash would call that a conspiracy.

Potential EFC games impacted by Europa League 14/15

Group Stage

Last year the highest points haul by a team in the group stage to not get through was 7 points, so 8+points from our first 12 available should be enough to qualify. To this end its  conceivable (and yes I know this is everton) that qualification  could be assured quite easily with 2 games to spare. This would give us more flexibility with personnel prior to the potentially crucial visit to Spurs.

Crystal Palace (h)

Man Utd (a)

Burnley (a)

Sunderland (a)

Tottenham (a)

QPR (h)

Knockout Rounds

Leicester (h)

Arsenal (a)

Newcastle (h)

QPR (a)

Burnley (h)

Man Utd (h)

Sunderland (h)

West Ham (a)

The Spurs Case Study

My issue with a lot of the data we’ve chewed through so far is that it’s not exactly feasible to compare ourselves with sides like Swansea, Manchester City and Fulham as it’s not really a fair comparison in terms of league aspirations and squad quality.

Whilst EL regulars Spurs have a bigger budget than ourselves, there is little difference in terms of quality of the respective sides first 20 players and we have pretty much gone toe to toe with them over the last 10 seasons in the league give or take a few wobbly seasons. Analysing their points and injuries record then gives us a much better indicator.

Their ex boss – Bagpuss faced  illiterate Arry Redknapp – is one such manager who has been  derogatory about the competition and the negative impact it had on Spurs fortunes, but does the meat faced mutant have a point?  Suffocatingly informative analyst Raymond Verheijen certainly thinks so. The physio focused commentator  noted at the back end of last season that Spurs have played the EL on Thursday before 9 of their last 10 losses in the English top flight – this was on the back of a 27,000 game study he led on the subject.

One unfounded generalisation you could make here is that Spurs players have always been something of a flimsy bunch in terms of being mentally tough and that this poor record on the road following EL is possibly evidence that they simply don’t possess the mentality to handle the dynamic of back to back games on the road and the built in excuses this offers.

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*the green dot indicates season Spurs competed in Europa League, Yellow dot when they competed in ECL and red dot when they did not compete in Europe.

Looking at the above graph we can see that Spurs accrued 70 points when taking 4th in 2010 to qualify for the ECL, although they racked their higher ever points tally in 12/13 (72) in a season when they competed in the Europa league. Spurs also finished 4th in 2011/12 whilst competing in the Europa league, and were only denied qualification to Europe’s top table by Chelsea’s somewhat improbable success in winning the tournament. The curve above shows that Spurs competing in the EL down the years has not negatively impacted their fortunes in the Premier League.

More so, spurs points per game following europa league games over the last 3 seasons is 1.9, slightly up on their season average of 1.84 over the last 3 seasons.

In terms of injuries in their last 5 Europa campaigns, Spurs have accrued more than the prem average in 4 of these seasons,  usually picking up 6 more injuries per season. Only on 2 occasions during the date range did we accrue more injuries than Spurs;  in 2008 when both competed in the Europa and in 2009 when we had a freak season of serious injuries en route to the cup final.

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The question you could pose is whether we have a squad equivalent to Spurs to sustain the required edge needed in both domestic and continental competition. Spurs spending compared to ours is clearly not comparable, however in terms of experience and numbers there is little between the sides. Nine of our current squad have competed in the Champions League with a further 7 able to draw on experience from the Europa League. We also selected the same number of players (28) in the Premier League as Spurs last season.

Theory #3 ‘Its impossible to compete on both fronts’

Most fans would say that getting to the EL semi finals and replicating last season’s league form would constitute a good season for the toffees. We took a look at the league form of the last 16 semi finalists of the Europa League in the season they got to the last four based on their previous league campaign to try to understand if the increase in games associated with getting to the last four has a negative impact on the league campaign.

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On average the semi finalists faired less than a point (-0.43) worse off the following season. Of these 16 sides who made the semi finals in the last four season’s 10 also qualified via their domestic league for the Champions League that same season so I’d say it’s definitely possible to compete on both fronts with the correct management.

Theory #4 ‘The Europa league is dog shit’

Bizarrely this is one that is trotted out by many football fans despite it representing a potential route to glory, foreign trips, ace food/ale and as from this season the prize of automatic qualification for the Champions League.

More so, compared to the Premier League its a more level playing field without the distortion of the likes of City and Chelsea to get past. Granted, Channel Five’s self harm inducing  duo Clark Carlisle and Jim Beglin are nothing to write home about  but  there is little else in the Europa League’s negative column.

In Summary…

From this unnecessarily long analysis I’d say we could draw the following qualitative and quantitative conclusions on the Europa League;

  • There is no comparable analysis to support that playing Thursday – Sunday impacts league form over the course of the season.
  • The Europa League is a very convenient excuse for shit management
  • In general, there is a small spike in the number of injuries accrued during the domestic season for Europa League participants.
  • Sides who do well in the Europa League (and play more games) aren’t impacted points wise in their domestic championship. infact, they are more than likely to qualify for the Champions League

Thanks for reading

EB