Teams and Tactics
Everton made a raft of changes from the weekend win against Aston Villa with Hibbert and Distin returning to the defence, Besic coming into midfield and McGeady, Pienaar and Eto’o deployed to the attacking berths. Lille went for a 4-3-3 of sorts with Gueye, Mavuba and Belmont in the middle of the park. Further forward, Corchia was predominantly positioned on the right flank with Rodelin coming short and Origi looking to run in behind.
In a cat and mouse opening 45 minute period, Samuel Eto’o was arguably our best attacking player. He and Barkley engaged in healthy debate before and during the game and whilst there was little end product some of the movement between the duo showed signs that it could develop into a decent partnership. Just as 90% of Hazard’s goals for Chelsea last season came in games Eto’o started, you fancy Barkley can have a similar dynamic with the Cameroon forward. By way of example there were a couple of occasions in the first half when Eto’o went short for the ball from Barry, took his defender with him and thus allowed young Barkley or McGeady to make runs into the space he’d vacated.
The issue was the lack of quality of the pass into these spaces, as often it resembled anaemic dog shit. Indeed, as the first half came to a close we hadn’t created a single chance with just 2 shots (from barkley and mcgeady) both of which were insipid efforts from long range. The one enterprising move of any real note came from Eto’o who played a nice one two with Pienaar, however the move was foiled by a bobble on the pitch that worked against Eto’o and resulted in play being turned over.
Lille were doing most of the running with their forward 3 players Rodelin, Corchia and Origi using the full width of the field to cause us plenty of problems particularly down our right flank where Origi was making some decent diagonal runs from the left, albeit with minimal end product. In midfield at times we got swamped in a 3v2 situation which enabled Balmont to dictate play. The baldy rascal had the most final third touches in the half and overall had more touches and created more chances than any player in the game.
The second half was almost as drab as the first, although the introduction of Lukaku did at least change the dynamic slightly from the first half borefest. With Lukaku on we were able to press more in the Lille half which helped us in a few different ways. Firstly, Kjaer’s long passes into the channels for Origi to run onto now dried up as he had Lukaku on his toes to deal with as well as Eto’o. This made Lille play shorter into midfield or forced them to backwards to Enyeama for kick outs which thus diluted the quality of service into the forwards.
Secondly, having 2 forwards meant Lille’s defenders couldn’t take as many risks trying to win the ball back when we had it and thus dropped off 10 yards meaning in turn their midfielders had to do so by the same distance. This is shown in the data; in the first half we won the ball back in Lille’s half just 4 times to Lille’s 9, whereas after the break it was 16 v 4 in our favour (this includes tackles, interceptions and blocks) . This meant we were able to be a bit more threatening closer to the Lille goal and Lukaku took advantage of this by playing in McGeady for our best chance of the night shortly after coming on. Alas, Enyeama was off his line quickly and snuffed out the chance.
The problem was the same as the first half, however, with virtually no end product from the attacking midfielders. Barkley had a poor evening through the middle and was then anonymous when shifted to the left to accommodate Lukaku. On the right McGeady had a stinker too, hardly seeing the ball and when he did holding onto it for too long and creating nothing. In total we had another 5 shots after the break, with Hibbert’s timid effort the only one to come from inside the Lille 18 yard box.
Lille were equally shite, showing an over reliance on crosses and pot shots, with 13 of their 14 attempts on goal coming from outside the box. Their profligacy in the final third was something we mentioned in the preview and this was here for all to see the longer the game went on. Origi was dire, completely dominated by Jagielka in what was the defender’s most assured game in a long while. comfortably sweeping up everytime the libepewl forward took him into the channels.
Our hosts brought on the pacey Ryan Mendes and Marvin Martin to try and provide that conduit between midfield and attack but our stubbornness and ability to repel passes into our box continued to be dogged. Martinez final meaningful action was to bring on Atsu for McGeady, however the wide man had little time to prove that he has anything more in his locker than the haphazard tk maxx shopping spree he’s offered up thus far.
Rearguards were on top in a game of high quality defending and low quality forward play. Our pre match betting forecast of there being no more than 1 goal in this game was based on Lille being as impotent in the final third as they are resolute in their own defensive third, and this is how the game played out.
There were positives to take from the game, principally how we finished on top indicates our fitness issues are a thing of the past, whilst Jagielka’s sweeping and also Barry’s penchant for violence was much-needed in the face of some top sniding by Lille. It was also our first back to back clean sheets of the season.
The point takes us to 5 in total and retains top spot, meaning that a win in the next home game with Lille would see us 5 ahead of them with just 6 to play, and that should be enough to see us through given Wolfsburg’s win in Krasnodar.