Teams & Tactics
Everton kept the same keeper / defence from the weekend derby draw, however in midfield and attack it was wholesale change from Martinez. Darron Gibson replaced the rested James McCarthy in midfield, whilst Atsu and McGeady started on the flanks with Osman sandwiched between them. Up front Eto’o led the line with Lukaku starting from the bench in what looked at first glance a rather leggy line-up.
Krasnodar started without their two benchmark Brazilian’s, with Joaozinho suspended and Wanderson rested. Their third and less well renowned Samba star, Ari, led the line with Pererya the prominent attacking midfielder and Izmailov and Laborde providing support from wide areas. They were pretty much 4-1-4-1 with Gazinsky anchoring things in the ‘Lee Carsley’ role.
The first half started and finished badly for us. In the first 10 minutes we were penned in by some prolific, well choreographed pressing from Krasnodar everytime we looked to play out from the back. Jagielka seemed to be pinpointed as the main target for this, and every time he received the ball and took a touch he was swarmed on by the Krasnodar forwards.
The problem this gave us was twofold. Firstly it meant that when Krasnodar won the ball back it was invariably in our half ,with Gibson (twice) and Atsu guilty of being careless in losing possession leading to our host’s three best openings in the first 30 minutes. Krasnodar’s work rate of the ball was impressive, and they repeatedly closed off angles for us to play the ball out from the back into midfield, making a whopping 27 interceptions. To put that into context Man U average the most interceptions in the prem this season with 19 per game.
Secondly it meant that due to the high press we invariably went back to Howard who would then kick long – overall we made 40% more long passes than we have averaged in the prem per game this season. With 4 of Krasnodar’s 5 main defensive players physically categorised as ‘big groks’ they easily gobbled up Howard’s down-field punts , with the American’s long ball completion at a shockingly bad 20% – the outcome being our possession turned over very quickly.
Krasnodar packed the centre of the pitch meaning the main spaces were to be had on the flanks, but because of our sloppy play on the ball we couldn’t capitalise. On the left Baines hardly received a pass in the opposition half whilst Atsu, despite having the beating of his veteran marker for pace, was poor and created hardly anything of note. In fairness to Atsu he didn’t see much of the ball due to the problems we were having in manipulating possession into the opposition half.
Gibson was also having an absolutely abysmal half on and off the ball, and his failure to press the impressive Pereyra just before half time was to prove costly.
The Uruguayan dinked a ball in between Jagielka and Stones which led to our skipper inadvertently playing in Ari to half volley home. Hibbert didn’t cover himself in glory either by not coming inside to cover the space vacated by Jagielka/Stones. The goal had been coming, though, with Krasnodar having all the possession from 35 minutes onwards.
Credit should go to Martinez for being decisive at half time. We’ve criticised his changes, or the lack of them recently, but his call to replace the awful Atsu with Lukaku turned the game in our favour.
With Lukaku on we now had more of a physical threat in the final third to compete for long passes and Lukaku contributed to pushing the Krasnodar back line by 20 yards to where they were positioned in the first half, thus creating more spaces in between the Krasnodar defence and midfield lines.
It also meant that in Osman positioning himself more on the left, Baines now had the midfield conduit he needs to service him with passes in the final third, something which happened more and more as Krasnodar ran out of gas as the second half unravelled.
The more the half went on the more easy it was to by-pass Krasnodar’s high press which had previously been every inch the iron curtain we thought it would be pre-kick off. On the 81st minute the permanently up and down McGeady forced a corner after a decent run down the right flank where he was now deployed. After the subsequent dead ball was repelled by Krasnodar, a full on ‘reducer’ of a challenge from Stones enabled Eto’o to delightfully exchange passes with Baines, culminating in the Cameroon star kneeing in the wing back’s whipped centre.
Whilst he didn’t directly contribute, the presence of Lukaku was enough to attract the attention of two Krasnodar defenders which allowed Eto’o to stroll into the space behind for our equalising goal.
This was a really good point for the Toffees with the main positives being the second half cameo of Lukaku and Barry / Stones impressive propping up of their midfield and defensive partners. It wasn’t a great display by any stretch of the imagination, however. There are certainly questions that need to be asked, with squad filler like Atsu and Gibson perhaps demonstrating again if it was needed that after our first 13-14 players the squad isn’t particularly strong in terms of top quality meaning that ‘rotation’ invariably doesn’t work.
On the plus side the result means we have now manoeuvred our toughest home and away games in the group pretty well, accruing 4 points, putting us in the box seat of the group. Given that last season no side failed to qualify from the group phase with 7 points or more its conceivable that we only need 1 win from the next four games, which is nice.