Tactical Deconstruction: Liverpool 1-1 Everton

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Teams & Setup

Potentially fearing a tonking after last season’s shellacking and this season’s defensive problems, Martinez deployed a more cautious looking side from our last league game.

Tony Hibbert started at right back with John Stones deployed at centre back meaning Distin was left out of the squad altogether. Besic came in for his league debut on the left side of a sort of midfield diamond with McCarthy right, Barry in between and Naismith at the attacking point. Lukaku and Mirallas started as the wide forwards on the left and right respectively. Libepewl played something like 4-2-3-1 with Lallana playing off Balotelli with Sterling (left) and Markovic (right) in the other attacking midfield spots.

Whereas last season we played a high line and left the space in behind for Liverpool to run into, this season the approach was to defend deeper, pretty much on our 18 yard line, and look to play on the break with quick, direct passes into the channels for Lukaku and Mirallas. The approach was a bit strange given that Liverpool –  with the exception of Sterling – lacked any real pace in their forward positions and that other sides have made decent gains against them this season by capitalising on this by pushing up and squeezing them in their own half.

First Half

Off the ball our defensive game plan was put under pressure by a frantic first 20 minutes from the home side. Despite having 2 defensive minded midfielders either side of him, you would have to describe Barry’s first half output as ‘extremely iffy’ to coin a tactical term. Booked after just 2 minutes, he gave away daft fouls in dangerous positions with Balotelli doing a good job at unsettling him when in possession  leading to him losing the ball a fair bit in dangerous areas. It’s hard to remember our midfield arl arse having a worse game in a blue shirt. Barry apart I thought we did ok to repel Liverpool in the first half with Stones looking assured and covering well when Liverpool did threaten to get in behind us.

They’re clearly not the side they were last season and without the racist they find it hard to pull defenders out of positions which makes it easier to keep them at arm’s length. Yes they had 20+ shots but the majority from Balotelli were not really in great positions and clear-cut chances were few and far between. Sterling was the only player who really seemed capable of unlocking us with his ingenuity, giving Hibbert his second roasting in a week after Swansea’s Montero tore him apart in midweek.

On the ball we created virtually nothing in the first half, or the entire game for that matter. Baines received hardly any decent service in the Liverpool half, and struggled to get into the game in an attacking sense. The most frequent pass of the game was Besic to Baines (20 times) however the bulk of these where in our own half where he could do little damage. On the right Hibbert didn’t want to get too far up the pitch for fear of not being able to get back and mostly focused on trying to get the ball down the flank to Lukaku. The Belgian did have the physical beating of Moreno on the right however the service to him was few and far between, and with the exception of a few bulldozing runs the usual shortcomings of his game in terms of linking play were again laid bare.

Second Half

Prior to halftime our task going forward became more complex when Kevin Mirallas  – one of the few who usually turns up in derbies – succumbed to a hamstring injury, much to the pleasure of the Libepewl faithful. With creative duo Pienaar and Barkley both injured too we were now without our first choice attacking midfield trio, and it showed.

Martinez seemed to be fairly happy with a point –  Moyes style – and showed no signs of making any attacking tweaks to his system or personnel. On the hour mark Liverpool brought off the anonymous Markovic and deployed Coutinho through the middle with Lallana moving to the left and Sterling to the right.

Gerrard, now unable to influence games in any capacity other than deadball situations, was then given his opportunity to make his mark.  Balotelli forced Barry into another mistake on the edge of the centre circle and the Italian then collapsed in a heap under a seemingly timid challenge from Baines. As is usually the case against us, Gerrard didn’t miss his opportunity and then went on a bizarre celebration reminiscent of Bill Murray in Kingpin.

With Liverpool now buzzing, Hibbert was again done up like a kipper by Sterling, this time resulting in Howard getting something on Balotelli’s goal bound shot.  Martinez was finally sprung into action, replacing Hibbert and Besic with the fresher more attacking legs of Browning and Eto’o.

It was developing into an ending nearly as horrific as the one in  Requiem for a Dream for Everton fans when , before you could utter the words UP YOURS MICK QUINN,  Phil Jagielka controlled a loose second ball and unleashed chaos with a 25 yard blockbuster into the roof of Mignolet’s net.

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40 minutes after the final whistle

In Conclusion

This was as far removed as you could possibly get from the flamboyant Everton we have seen going forward this season, albeit our offensive options were severely limited by injuries. As an attacking force we were awful, as was the manager with his tactics and inability to really jump-start us to life with any changes from the dugout.

At the back, however, we were much improved and the shape seemed more solid with the extra defensive midfielder to support the backline. Finding a balance between the two has been Martinez major problem this season and we still don’t seem any closer to finding it, however this was a good point given that Liverpool were the better side and based on how little we created in the final third.

Hopefully this can now be the catalyst for us to go on a decent run, starting in Russia later this week.


Analysing Martinez and Everton’s defensive blind spots

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With the weekend trip to the tin mine almost upon us many Toffees will be wary of being on the end of another derby shellacking, especially given our recent defensive form.

Whilst we’ve been comically bad this season at the back, our rearguard record against the top sides has been poor since the turn of the year with Arsenal and Liverpool each putting four past us, City three and Chelsea six. In total we have shipped  17 goals  in 7 games this season which marks us down as the worst defence in the league and whilst some will pin point blame on individuals such an alarming change in fortunes surely can’t be down to any one player?

This brief analysis will look at ten themes which have contributed to our unravelling defensive predicament and try to judge if this is merely a momentary blip or if more deep-rooted ‘spooky’ trends are emerging.

1. Pressing effectively as a team

 Defending starts from the front of course, and Chelsea’s opening goal was a good example of what happens when you don’t press effectively from the top backwards as we allowed the league leaders to go from their 18 yard line to our net without so much as a challenge.

A quick look at our pressing data over the last three seasons shows the amount of times we press opponents and win the ball back is on the wane, maybe due to having more possession or maybe not. The amount of times we won the ball back from opposition per game in 12/13 was 34.5 dropping to 32.6 per game in Martinez first year in charge and this season dropping further to 25.6 per game.

Our three-year ‘tackles lost’ data gives an indication of our increasingly powder puff defending

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

2.Conceding shots in more dangerous areas

In terms of shots conceded our figures per game is actually less than last season which is encouraging given our goals conceded figure was comparable to the best in the league last term. However, there is a spike this season in where we are conceding these shots. Whereas in 12/13 and 13/14 the % of shots conceded in our 18 yard box was fairly steady at 54% this season the figure has risen to 59% which would indicate we are not defending the ball into our box well enough.

3.Losing the ball in the wrong areas

Moyes grand plan of playing a high line with 2 solid banks of four was that if you lost the ball you usually did so in the opposition half where it is less dangerous than in your own half.

Martinez on the other hand plays a more possession orientated game in our own half of the pitch, will look to pull opponents out of position and then exploit the space. This has been a contributory factor in what has made us not only successful but also a team that is easy on the eye and has more control of their own destiny.

Perhaps this is obvious given the bags of goals we have been scoring, but a  look at our ‘passes forward’ data this season shows just how much more positive we have been on the ball compared to last season.

Everton Forward passes per game 3 Year trend

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

The risk here from a defensive perspective is that the more offensive you play, particularly against sides adept at regaining possession, the more it poses risks when possession is turned over in your own half. Besic, arguably Martinez most defensive minded recruit, has epitomised this in the minimal gametime he’s had so far. First he lost possession in his own half leading to Chelsea’s sixth goal and then with his first touch against Swansea recklessly conceded the ball on his own 18 yard line which should have led to Swansea’s opening goal.

4.Concentration & Individual errors

This is probably the most obvious and important factor in our recent descent into defensive madness.

Errors have been aplenty, from Jagielka’s indecision to Howard’s flapping and most recently in midweek  Distin’s fear of using his right foot. Jagielka has made the most errors (3) and his own confidence is certainly a contributory factor here. England’s calamity World Cup bid was undone by poor defending and our skipper was the only defender to have been dropped from the disgruntled Owl’s backline in the recent round of internationals. Its more than possible that this mental doubt – a factor which can often precipitate mistakes – has sneaked into his psyche.

Confidence can be restored fairly quickly, though, and this spike in errors doesn’t worry me too much as a long-term factor for our season.

Everton Defensive Errors per game 3 Year Trend

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

5. Communication & Sniding

Martinez conceded this week that communication has been a problem for our defence –  a factor highlighted by the penalty conceded against Palace and the lack of a shout for Osman in the same game.

Gareth Barry we know won’t think twice about volleying someone up the arse when it’s needed, but he’s in the minority in the current crop with our fouls per game data below showing this.

Everton Fouls Committed per game – Last 3 Seasons

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2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)


Arguably the fact we have no bell-end personalities – a strength – is also an inadvertent weakness here. You couldn’t imagine Distin, Jagielka or Baines sniding an emotionally vulnerable opponent such as  Balotelli. Coleman’s incident with Costa in the Chelsea game when Jagielka looked the other way was a pointer as to how our skipper looks to avoid conflict at all costs with Howard the only player to assist his teammate in the resulting melee.

Whilst only a marginal factor, being a tad too quiet and nice to play against isn’t helping us at the back.

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The Old Guard: Moyes attack/ midfield  players tended to be willing to put in a shift & were defensively aware, often at the expense of technical quality

6.Changing qualities

In terms of qualities on the ball, the previous regime would look to sign attackers for their ability to defend from the front. The Straq, for instance, was complete dog shit on the ball not to mention being blunt in front of goal, but he would toil relentlessly off the ball and stop defenders being able to play a pass through our forward and midfield lines. Similarly Moyes liked midfielders to buy into ‘putting in a shift’ for the team or quite often playing defenders in midfield to over compensate. The key emphasis was that players were subservient to the defensive needs of the team.

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New qualities: The players Martinez has brought in tend to be technically gifted, setup to beat their men, often at the expense of defensive or physical qualities

The more the offensive playing staff have turned over in the past 12 months the less defensive capability has resided in the midfield and attacking positions. The players Martinez wants are those who will cause their opponent’s problems, who will go for the throat of a defender and not be scared to take on their marker. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but its an indicator of why we are more open.

7.Different shape

Probably the most startling observation from the latest instalment of defensive misery against Swansea in midweek was how easy it was for our hosts to waltz through our midfield and defensive lines with consummate ease. At 0-2 Shelvey strolls 20 yards to our 18 yard line without so much as a challenge. Two minutes later fellow world beater Marvin Emnes does exactly the same, this time dealing a fatal blow.

This is the best move I could have hoped for. The manager has faith in  me. Some of his ways are totally different. He doesn’t want me to track back. Those were the instructions I received for games against  West Ham, Stevenage and Villa. My natural instinct is to track back and I started to do it a few times. But he told me to stay up  the pitch and let the opposition worry about me. It’s different from other managers I’ve had in the  past.”

We’ve trotted this quote out before but its pertinent to this point. A by-product of the changing qualities in the playing squad is a more open shape off the ball when possession is lost. We know in the 4-2-3-1 Martinez prefers that wingers push on to fullbacks rather than the 4-4-1-1 when they will retreat and support their fullbacks. Put simply, our fullbacks are afforded little protection which has resulted in opposition sides making decent 2v1 gains down our flanks.

8.Bad luck?

 The data shows then that we are conceding less shots per game than last season (12 vs 13.1) however opponents are being ridiculously ruthless against us. There’s 2 ways of looking at this I guess. Theory #1 is that Howard’s form is costing us big style, whilst theory #2 is that we’re having rotten luck . As with most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.

The below ‘saves per goal’ data shows how limited Howard has been in repelling opponents in the league this season

2014/15 (Red) 2013/14 (Blue) 2012/13 (Orange)

9. Transition

The combined average age of our first choice keeper, defence and defensive midfielders is now the wrong side of 30 and its conceivable that less than half of these 7 players will be considered a regular starter come the end of next season.

It’s fair to surmise, then, that our rearguard is in a state of flux. The  transition of Stones into one of the centre back berths alongside Jagielka will continue this season, but whilst he is clearly ace he is also inexperienced and will make mistakes as he cuts his teeth and the new defensive unit is moulded together.

It’s reminiscent of the seasons before Jagielka came in to partner Lescott when for a few years we experimented with various combinations with the likes of Stubbs, Weir, Ferrari, Kroldrup and Yobo all dipping in and out which led to a lack of certainty between goalkeeper, defence and midfield.

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10.Lessons Learned

Whilst burying your head in the sand is a valid strategy in dealing with many life situations, Martinez failure to heed previous errors is not.  He isn’t one to learn from his mistakes defensively;  he’s an idealist and won’t compromise his approach for anyone. In  2010 for example his Wigan side conceded 8 against Chelsea and then a further 6 against the same opponent just three months later. The weekend game was the third Crystal Palace manager he’s faced in 12 months and the third time he’s failed to record a win or even a decent performance.

Yes, Martinez has rightfully earned our respect and is lauded for what he has achieved in such a short space of time since taking over, but surely the hallmark of a great manager is learning from your mistakes?

In summary…

The bottom line is that whilst we have become a lot more easy on the eye we have lost something at the other end. Leaving more gaps is probably expected to an extent given Martinez approach of placing more emphasis on what we do with the ball rather than without it, but becoming a soft touch (which we currently are) is certainly not.

You don’t suddenly become crud overnight, though, and whilst it could quite easily get worse before it gets better I’m sure Martinez methods of controlling games and introducing a new back line will see us return to winning ways soon. This in turn should restore confidence and reduce errors. However, as some of the trends we have rode through in this article shows, the days of rock-like defensive solidity and racking up clean sheets may have gone for good.



If you are looking to put money on whether our defence can hold out this weekend UK free bets has plenty of decent offers from various betting vendors that are well worth taking a look at.

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 4-1 Wolfsburg


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Teams and Tactics

Everton lined up with the same setup and personnel that claimed their first win of the season at West Brom at the weekend, meaning John Stones continued at the back with Phil Jagielka. Wolfsburg deployed arguably their strong side with all their big hitters on show. De Bruyne was predominantly roaming on the left of the three attacking mids with Caligiuri and Arnold joining him behind Olic in a forward four full of legs off the ball and enterprise when possession was regained.

Wolfsburg start well, then toffees take over

Wolfsburg started the first ten minutes as the better side with De Bruyne seeing plenty of the ball down our left side. Olic was making his trademark runs in behind defenders down the channels, particularly down our right side where Rodriguez was picking him out expertly with long, drilled passes. This was in turn pushing our backline towards our own goal, and this opened up the space between our defence and midfield for De Bruyne to find gaps, with the ex Chelsea man getting a couple of early sights on goal.  We looked strangely subdued and defensive, with even McGeady and Mirallas dropping back when possession was conceded.

Off the ball Wolfsburg pressed us high with 3 players onto our 3 defenders when we tried to play out from the back.  We showed plenty of confidence on the ball, however, and soon began to thread passes through the wolfsburg high press rather than going long.

“It’s fair to say Wolfsburg have energy so we stopped their pressure and if you stop that you stop them being a real threat. We tried to play through them and use the gaps. We used our pressure better than them and got some opportunities by being well organised.”

Martinez Post Match

Slowly but surely we began to squeeze Wolfsburg with our passing, ramping our share of the ball up to 64% culminating in an 18 pass move being bundled into his own net by Rodriguez under pressure from Naismith. It was brilliant approach play which encapsulated our approach perfectly;  slowly threading passes inside our own half from side to side, pulling Wolfsburg’s backline out of position and then quickly moving the ball forward when the gaps opened up, with notable contributions from  Baines and McCarthy.

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Wolfsburg self destruct

Wolfsburg had been well in the game up to this stage but two calamitous defensive errors in 3 minutes either side of the break put paid to their chances. Firstly Knoche, someone we noted in our preview that is prone to overplaying, played a blind ball straight to Lukaku and after Mirallas shot was parried Baines was first to the loose ball to tee up Coleman to slot home.

A minute after the interval and Knoche was involved again, this time misjudging a blind pass from Arnold before downing McGeady for a penalty Baines duly dispatched.

“I feel very disappointed by the performance. Actually I feel more annoyed than disappointed. The display from my players on the pitch made me wonder if they had even listened to me before the game.There was a lack of focus from our players and we made a lot of terrible mistakes which ultimately cost us. Obviously a coach like myself can’t be happy with that result. We were lacking in certain areas both in terms of finishing and in our defensive work as well. We were not smart enough and showed a lot of naivety in our game. I don’t expect my players to have that approach, we have got problems at the moment but I want to congratulate Everton for their performance and win.”

Dieter Hecking, Wolfsburg Manager

Yes, we pressed Wolfsburg well in their half but both of these goals were from errors with no everton player within 5 yards of the Wolfsburg players.

In between the goals Wolfsburg’s defensive midfielder Malanda, who was at fault in the build up to our first goal and who looked rash with his pressing, was hauled off for the more offensive Hunt as Wolfsburg prepared to throw the  kitchen sink at us.

Blues drop off, Wolfsburg dominate

Following the third goal we sat deeper and  found it harder to play out from the back with the gap to our forwards getting ever wider. Wolfsburg continued to pressure us and were able to make more gains, dominating the ball and creating plenty of chances particularly from wide areas but sadly for them Rodriguez quality of crossing was not matched by the application of his forwards in the  box.

The pressure Wolfsburg were building was quelled somewhat by the introduction of Samuel Eto’o on 69 minutes.

Lukaku had done well in the first half, going on plenty of steaming runs down Wolfsburg’s right channel and having a hand in the second goal, but again with his back to goal play was powder puff, frequently losing headers and in one situation being comically outmuscled by De Bruyne.

Some close control from Eto’o and the crafty through pass to Naismith which followed it was arguably the moment of the game and will wet fans appetite of what could be in store from the Cameroon maverick this season.

Eto’o then duly trumped his own trick shortly after by nutmegging the overworked Naldo with a sumptuous through pass to Mirallas who bagged his third in three games for our fourth goal. Eto’o was only on the pitch for 20 minutes yet created as many chances as anyone in a blue shirt and you wonder what damage he could with these late cameos as opposition defenders tire and the gaps become bigger and more frequent.

There was still time for Rodriguez to get the goal his game deserved, firing in a Baines style free kick to finally break Howard’s spirited resolve.

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This was a great win to start our Europa League campaign and our dismantling of Wolfsburg should rightly be lauded as the best result of any of the English teams in Europe this week. Its also a colossal 13 goals from our opening 5 games, which is a better return than any campaign in our recent history.

Wolfsburg had plenty of the ball, had more shots than us and did threaten, particularly after our third goal, but the bulk of these shots were from long range and you would usually expect that kind of spike in the game data from a side that far behind.

Our quick, forward passing when gaps arose in the first half was probably the best thing to come out of the game for us, plus the tantalising cameo of Eto’o in a less exciting second period.  Krasnodar’s draw with Lille was an added tonic and sets up our trip to Russia nicely in a couple of weeks time.


Analysing Everton’s Group H Opponents

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With our Europa League campaign getting under way in just a few days time it’s probably as good a time as any to take a look at the sizeable challenge we are up against between now and the new year. This preview will scrutinise the strengths and weaknesses of our three Group H rivals Wolfsburg, Lille and FC Krasnodar and zoom in on how I think we will fare against each side.

New Picture (82)Wolfsburg – Odds to win group:  21/10  Odds to qualify:  3/5  Current form: LWDDDLDLDD

Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg arguably represent the biggest threat to our ambitions of winning the group, and the German’s are first up at Goodison this week in a potentially high scoring match-up. The Germans have finished  8th, 15th, 8th,11th and  5th in the past five seasons since their sole Bundesliga title in 2009, achieved during the Dzeko-Grafite vintage.

They have deservedly earned a reputation of being the German side who entertain more than any other in the last 18 months, probably due to the fact that they are as ruthless going forward as they are error prone at the back. They’ve scored in their last 29 Bundesliga games – a club record – but have failed to keep a clean sheet in 17 matches, stats which are indicative of an extremely gung-ho approach. This is backed up by their data last season; they claimed just 5 clean sheets, amassed the most defensive errors in the league and  50% of their games were either won or lost by 2 clear goals.

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In a way they have similarities with ourselves, particularly in the fullback slots with Rodriguez and Jung last season recording  more assists than any defenders in the Bundesliga  – 16 in total.  Left back Rodriguez – who both looks and sounds like an evil drug overlord – also bagged 5 goals and recorded the most accurate crosses (72) in the league, helping Wolfsburg tot up the second most set piece goals in the division.

Between the wing back duo in the centre back slots are talented ball playing defender Knoche and his arl arse overworked sidekick Naldo. Knoche is a  two footed centre half who is confident and calm in possession can  use either foot. He can overplay, though. Naldo is a right footed Brazilian centre back and is a very good reader of the game, making the most interception (94) in the division last season. Arguably their problem is that three of the four first pick defenders are better on the ball than off it, something which came to a head last season when they conceded 6 in back to back games.  The defensive midfield shield in front of them is likely to be Guilavogui and  Luis Gustavo, formerly a treble winner with bayern and who recorded three red cards last season – the most in the bundesliga. The  20 year old box to box midfield general Junior Malanda is also highly rated and could get some runs out in the EL.

As you would expect of a side with such an expansive approach they have plenty of options in the forward positions. A lot of the creative burden will rest on ex Chelsea man Kevin De bruyne who will slot in either on the left or centre of the attacking midfield trio and he will look to beat  his man and create chances. Summer signing Aaron Hunt will also play in behind the forward, and he has a decent track record with 67 goals and assists in 184 games.

Up front the menacing Ivica Olic is very much the main man. I’ve always liked this cat – he will never shirk putting in a shift, can score and create goals and is a general pain in the arse in dragging centre backs into positions they don’t want to go, a bit like tevez minus the toxic personality. He has won league titles in Russia, Croatia and in Germany  and was top scorer for the Wolves last season with 14 goals. They have other goal threats with the likes of 18 year old Max Arnold and penalty box predator Bas Dost. Nicklas Bendtner also arrived in the summer from Arsenal.

Strongest Team: (4-2-3-1) Grun – Jung, Rodriguez, Knoche, Naldo – Gustavo, Guilavogui – Vierinha, De Bruyne, Hunt – Olic

Key Player: Ivica Olic

Bong Prediction: The Wolves will no doubt win many friends with their swashbuckling forward play and brinkmanship at the back. Given our new-found liberalism in defence the games between us and them could be goals galore and I think they will qualify either as winners or runners-up. Neither us or Wolfsburg lose many games at home and I could see us winning at home against them, particularly given Wolfsburg’s iffy start to the season with just 2 points from their first 3 games.

New Picture (94)FC Krasnador – Odds (To win group) 8/1 Odds to Qualify 7/2  Current Form: DWDWWLWWLL

Whereas Lille and Wolfsburg have both won their domestic league in recent years, Krasnodar certainly represent the unknown quantity in the group.

The club are very much a developing force in the Russian league under billionaire owner Sergey Galitsky. The Krasnodar born oligarch has a personal fortune of $8bn from his career in retail, and as well as currently building their new stadium he has pumped truck loads of liquid cash into the academy, with his ‘mission statement’ being to organically grow a fully home based Krasnodar team in the coming years.

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Their manager Aleh Konanau has a 61% win rate since taking charge at the start of last season, which is significantly better than his two predecessors. He has experience as a player in Russia and Belarus and also worked as a coach in Moldova with title holders Sheriff before becoming a boss in his own right with Ukrainian Premier League club Karpaty Lviv  where he impressively qualified for the 2010–11 UEFA Europa League,after knocking out Galatasaray  on the way. Their squad has plenty of experience with 5 of their regular starters 30 or over –  they even have a 40 year left winger! In keeping with a lot of clubs from Ukraine and Russia nowadays they are flooded with foreign players with 3 of their main attacking threats in Wanderson, Joaozinho and Ari all hailing from Brazil.

Like Lille, they are arguably better at the back then going forward, with 8 clean sheets in their first 13 competitive games of the season. This frugal defence is marshalled by former Wigan man Granqvist and Icelandic Sigurdsson, a solid partnership who were picked up for just short of 8 million euros. Creating this defensive stonewall has probably been the Belarussian’s finest work since taking the helm last summer. When he joined they were known for being easy on the eye but had one of the leakiest rear guards in the league which was swiftly remedied by his acquisition of experienced fullbacks Jedrejczyk and Kaleshin. His subsequent molding of them with the two centre backs has enabled Krasnadar to now have arguably the best backline in the Russian league. I would say that Kaleshin at full back could be a weak link given his age and often rashness in the tackle when challenged with pace.

Despite tightening up at the back their brand of football remains easy on the eye, playing a short passing game and in truth they don’t really have a big grok style forward to play long balls into. They keep it on the deck with more emphasis on creating space in the final third through short passing and intricate movement between the forward four, mostly looking to slide through balls between defenders rather than pumping crosses into the box.

Chief creators of mayhem are 2 of the aforementioned Brazilian’s,  Joaozinho and Wanderson, picked up for a combined £1.5m and now worth at least 10 times that figure. Left footed Joaozinho will start on the left of the three attacking mids but will cut in and sometimes play centrally. His final third scheming is crucial – he created the most chances per game in the Russian league last season and has recorded a colossal 23 assists in his last 2 campaigns. His compatriot is the dynamic right footed striker Wanderson who top scored for the club with 9 goals last season. Ari completes the samba forward line-up although he has been more on the periphery this season. Other notable players include the Uruguayan playmaker Pereyra and the trio recruited from Anzhi in the summer; midfielders Ahmedov,  Burmistrov and Bystrov.

Strongest Team: (4-2-3-1) Sinistyn, Jedrejczyk, Kaleshin, Sigurdsson, Granqvist – Gazinskiy, Ahmedov – Bystrov, Pereyra, Joaozinho – Wanderson

Key player: Joaozinho

Bong Prediction:Arguably the strongest of all sides from Pot 4, their Brazilian duo have been an attacking force in Russian football for a couple of years now and with the tweaks Konanau has made to the defence they are now capable of going after teams and not getting caught out at the other end. It’ll be tricky but I think we can get a point at their place and then, if needed, we should get the win at Goodison in matchday 6 – but in all honesty I think things will be settled by then.

New Picture (92)Lille – Odds (To win group) 4/1 Odds (to qualify) 11/8  Current form: WWDDWLWLDW

Lille boss Rene Girard won the French top flight 1 in 2012 as Montpellier boss, pipping money thunderspunkers PSG at the death in one of the closest run title races in french football history. He did so with the best defence in the division, conceding just 34 goals in 38 games and his approach at Lille is along the same lines.

He inherited the defensive nucleus of Rudi Garcia’s 2011 title-winning side, albeit stripped of the attacking heavyweights Sow, Hazard, Cabaye  and Gervinho. Since the title success Lille have become less of an irresistible force and more that of an immovable object – partly due to financial implications with their arsenal style stadium project and partly due to Girard’s cautious approach.

Last season their keeper Enyeama kept 21  clean sheets which was more than any keeper in the top 5 European leagues as Lille comfortably recorded the best defensive record in the top flight. This defensive frugality has remained this season, conceding just once in their opening five games and their defensive options were also boosted in the close season with the acquisition of highly rated Danish covering centre half Simon Kjaer from group rivals Wolfsburg.

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Girard favours a 4-3-1-2 setup, not looking to press much and he will look for his side to control possession as the best form of keeping the opposition at bay. Neither full back is great going forward and this lack of width is probably an area we can look to expose.

Going forward it’d be fair to say that, despite having some great approach play, they struggle for goals They created the 4th most chances last season in their domestic league but were the lowest scorers in the top half of the league and have been further weakened by the defection of top scorer Kalou to Hertha – he got 46% of their goals last season. Libepwel’s new buy Origi (now back at Lille on loan) bagged just six last season and has scored just once in open play this season.  This profligacy was exposed in the ECL playoffs recently as they failed to score home and away against a Porto who are not all that.

They have plenty of options in the attacking midfield slots, including the ageing Ben Kingsley lookalike Florent Balmont, a good crosser who polled the most assists for Lille last season. He will be assisted by right footed playmaker Marvin Martin who a few seasons ago claimed 17 assists in just 1 season at Socheaux and who has 15 intl caps to his name. Other notable players include skipper and French International Rio Mavuba, forward Nolan Roux , onloan Man City star Marcos Lopes and the pacy Ryan Mendes.

Strongest Team: (4-3-1-2) Enyeama – Corchia, Beria, Kjaer, Basa – Mavuba, Gueye, Balmont – Martin – Origi, Roux

Key man: Marvin Martin

Prediction: Defensive solidity will be crucial to Lille getting into the next phase of the competition. Their key issue will be whether they can score enough goals to see them turn possession dominance and draws into wins in the tighter games. I could see the double header against them next month being tight affairs with both sides looking to dominate the ball. The game at their place should be a low scoring encounter, probably a draw and I’d back us to shade it at L4 in the return fixture . They are unbeaten in 9 games on the road, though,  so it won’t be a given.

In conclusion…

7 points from 18 should be enough to get us through and I think our home games alone will take care of that. It’s a tough group though – arguably the toughest of all 10 groups – and if we win it’s unlikely we’ll face anyone as good quality wise in the first knockout rounds.

The bookies certainly fancy us to progress to the next round – the best price currently available for us to qualify is 4/9 with Bet Victor with Bet365 offering our best outright group winner odds at 15/8. If you don’t have much to play with you could pick 4 group winners to widen the odds – for example a fiver stake on us along with  Spurs (4/6)   Fiorentina (5/6) and Metalist (2/1) will return around £130.

Finally, for the uber optimists amongst you the toffees are currently best priced 28/1 with Coral to lift the trophy!


Tactical Deconstruction: West Brom 0-2 Everton

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The Preamble

West Brom have been a thorn in our side in recent years and Everton wins have usually been hard to come by, particularly at the Hawthorns. Their rigid shape combined with our lack of incision has been a combination which invariably ends in stalemate as both games did last season. This season they are a somewhat different proposition and look to be trying to evolve into a more fluid attacking style, perhaps at the expense of the defensive shape which was the the order of the day under the previous regimes of Hodgson and Clarke.

Like us they were also spanked in their last match and with 24 players either coming or going in the summer their doesn’t seem to be much fluency to their play yet, which I guess is expected with a new manager and so much flux on the playing staff. One crumb of comfort going into the game for us was that Martinez record against the Baggies is pretty good –  just 1 defeat in 9 – plus he’d won both his previous managerial face-offs against former toffee Alan Irvine.

First Half

West Brom started with two up front (Ideye and Berahinho) and their approach of using them was twofold; when we had the ball their job was to occupy Jagielka and Stones, or get “in their faces” to coin a Phil Brown term,  and stop the ball being played out from the back. When possession was regained the tactic was simple, get the ball into the box as frequently as possible.

Lukaku’s stunning right footed curler on 2 minutes actually came from us springing through this high press approach, with Barry dropping in between Stones and Jagielka to twice play the ball from the centre back position into midfield in the build up. Other than that, West Brom’s gameplan worked pretty much as planned in the first half; they won the ball back in our half more than we did in theirs (7 v 1)  dominated territory in our half, and tossed balls into our box with great regularity (20 crosses to our 1).  The aerial bombardment didn’t really yield much, though, and for all their huff and puff the half came and went without our hosts testing Tim Howard once and, with the exception of left back Pocognoli, the Baggies found it hard to deliver precise service to the two forwards.

Lukaku’s goal apart we created hardly anything in the opening 45 minutes.  Dorrans, who was deployed to his twice annual role of minding Baines from the right-wing, did pretty well to stop him. Baines did see plenty of the ball but the forward pass inside (to Naismith) was usually blocked off, meaning the duo combined just 5 times in the opening period (once in the build up to our opening goal), with Baines instead predominantly going backwards to Jagielka.

One area we did get some joy in was in between West Brom’s defensive and midfield lines as without Mulumbu the Baggies had two midfielders more accustomed to forward forays then protecting their back line, meaning there was no real shield to protect a rickety defence. With their defence deep and forwards pressing high a big chasm opened up every time we broke forward, with Mirallas exposing this space just before the end of the first half with a run and shot – it was a warning of what was to come after the break

Still, as the teams went in for half time I think we were a tad lucky to be in front on the balance of play.

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Second Half

After the break it was a different game altogether and it followed a similar blue print to most of our away games last season. Baines was now able to get the ball in more threatening areas and in the opening 20 minutes of the second half he and Naismith combined 3 times more frequently than they did in the entire first half, much to the befuddlement of poor old Andre Wisdom at right back. The Liverpool ressie who was subjected to a similar dry bumming in his previous game against us back in 2012  would eventually be switched  to left back to save him from further embarrassment. By then, however, the damage was done.

The gap we earlier mentioned in between West Brom’s defence and midfield was again evident in the moments leading up to our second goal as Lukaku was able to drive through and unleash a decent shot, this time with his left foot, which was saved by Foster before an offside Naismith uncharacteristically blazed over. Shortly after Mirallas received again from Baines down the left and his shot was allowed to squirm under Foster in true Dave Beasant style for 2-0 which pretty much ended the game as a contest. With our hosts chasing the game more than ever the gaps in their half of the pitch were now even  more obvious, and McGeady and then Osman nearly exposed these holes soon after when a third goal looked imminent.

West Brom sent on Samaras which precipitated more long balls and if there is one slight worry it’s that we looked a bit unsteady at times in dealing with the aerial ball into our box with neither Stones or Jagielka really an aggressive ball-winning centre half. Both are excellent, covering defenders as Stones in particular showed with a last gasp challenge in the second half,  but neither are comfortable winning balls in the air, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Distin is fit again.


This was an away win which followed the same script of many of our away wins last season. In the first half we did ok by getting our noses in front, encountered a tough opponent who closed down our passing space pretty well and on occasion we weathered the storm when needed. As the game went on and West Brom tired, more spaces popped up and we were able to dominate the ball in more dangerous areas and get the crucial second goal, albeit aided and abetted by two comedy clangers from Olsson and Foster. Arguably the key difference was that West Brom didn’t protect their back four and 18 yard line well whereas Gareth Barry did a great job for us in this role, winning back possession expertly and igniting attacks from the back when we regained possession, including on our opening goal. All in all though this was a deserved win for the toffees, a much-needed clean sheet and something to build on as we enter a hectic schedule of fixtures.