Tactical Deconstruction: Spurs 2-1 Everton


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Teams and Tactics

Martinez injected some fresh legs into the side which impressively seen off Wolfsburg in midweek with Coleman, Baines, Barry and Barkley all coming into the side for starts. The formation was the usual 4-2-2-2 with Eto’o and Barkley in the withdrawn attacking midfield slots behind runners Mirallas and Lukaku. Fullback duo Hibbert and Garbutt along with McCarthy and McGeady all dropped out.

Spurs shuffled their pack too, deploying a 4-4-2 with Kane and Soldado up top. In midfield Lennon was given the role of providing pace and width from the right flank with Erikson shifting out to the left. There was also a start for Chiriches –  usually deployed as a centre half –  at right back.

First Half

Everton settled the quicker of the two sides with Besic getting some early joy in the first 15 minutes with his switching of play from central areas to Mirallas on the left . The Belgian had the beating of an extremely uncomfortable looking Chiriches and won an early free kick after a clumsy foul by the Romanian after Mirallas had cut in from the left onto his right foot. From the resulting free kick Mirallas repeated the trick again, cutting inside his man and slamming a thunderbolt into the roof of the Spurs net.

Sadly that was pretty much as good as it got for the toffees.

Spurs coordinated pressure off the ball in our half was impressive and it pretty much eliminated the Jagielka forward pass into midfield from our attacking armoury. Instead Jagielka was invariably forced backwards to Howard or sideways to Distin, and just 4 minutes after taking the lead this dynamic was to lead to Spurs equalising goal.

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Top Passing combinations (first half) Jagielka’s forward passes are a key cog in our approach in playing out from the back but in the first half they were pretty much non existent with Spurs 2 forwards pressing and closing off angles, thus forcing him backwards.

With Jagielka marked, Howard rolled the ball to Distin who under pressure from Kane deployed an aimless ‘plan b’ punt into the direction of Lukaku. With possession turned-over a run from Soldado from central away from goal dragged our skipper out of position thus enabling Kane to drive into the space, brush Distin aside and  fire a right footed shot at Tim Howard. Our keeper is enduring a torrid time with significant gaffs in other big games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd already this campaign. He was again culpable here, kindly palming Kane’s shot into the path of Erikson for our host’s equaliser.

Defensively Spurs deployed 2 tight banks of 4 that we simply couldn’t penetrate, meaning the probing defence splitting pass was rarely on. Instead our possession was predominantly side to side before invariably losing possession.

Distin was making Ian Ormondroyd tribute act Harry Kane look like a monstering Christian Vieri in his pomp and the talcum powder applying forward was causing us all kinds of problems with his  workrate and closing down of forward passing angles highly commendable.

A Spurs goal now seemed inevitable and it duly arrived on the stroke of half time and again it was the slack-jawed forward who was central to events.

Kane smoked out a dithering Gareth Barry in our half which freed Lennon 25 yards from our goal. The winger was giving Baines a real headache and he was able to thread a pass into Soldado who duly rolled the ball into an open net after Howard kindly dived out of the way. The goal was the 7th defensive error we have made that has resulted in an opponents goal this season which is more than any side in the league albeit we’ve looked a lot sharper at the back in recent months.

EFC first half half player influence chart - Barkley and Eto'o to look to exploit the same spaces with no outlet on the right left us looking

EFC first half half player influence chart – Barkley and Eto’o often looking to exploit the same spaces centrally meant few passing options on the right for Coleman.

Repeat to fade

The second half followed a similar script and despite Martinez shuffling players around there remained a glaring lack of zip to our possession.

Instead conservatively slow, coma inducing sideways passes from the back ensued which allowed Spurs the time needed to regroup into their defensively tight 2 banks of 4.

Mirallas had looked the most likely to get us back into the game and he had by now pulled Chiriches around enough to have him his marker teetering on a yellow card. Rather than exploit him further Mirallas was then withdrawn with McGeady deployed on the opposite flank.

Eto’o contributed little and he was also replaced with Osman moving into Mirallas role on the left meaning Barkley had a bit more space in behind to operate. The youngster endured a frustrating afternoon, however, and with the exception of one cunning pass into Coleman there was little in terms substance on show from him or any of our other attacking players.

Final word

Overall Spurs game plan of organised pressure and attacking gains down our left side  was commendable and they were worthy winners, albeit they were aided and abetted by a clueless display by us when in possession.


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 2-1 West Ham

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Everton’s side was significantly changed from the last game at Sunderland a fortnight ago with key duo Barry and Baines missing out due to injury along with the rested pair Eto’o and McGeady. Twitter fume reached new levels as ‘much maligned duo’ Osman and Hibbert were drafted in by Martinez as their replacements along with Naismith and the returning Mirallas.

West Ham were also besieged by injuries to players pivotal in their recent revival, including influential forward trio Sakho, Valencia and Downing. That meant that lumbering triumvirate Carroll, Cole and Nolan all rolled off the bench for this one.

First Half

The first half had Everton playing the more controlled football (61% possession) and generally having the better of things albeit West Ham had more territory and got the ball into our box with greater regularity.

There was little in terms of subtlety about the Eastenders play in the first half.Much has been made of their more aesthetically pleasing brand of football this season with less emphasis on putting the ball ‘in the mixer’, however such free-flowing football was nowhere to be seen here.

Instead Allardyce appeared to revert to type by pummeling long balls into the rough direction of our centre backs – seemingly it’s an itch ‘Big Sam’ can’t help but to scratch. This meant the Hammers played more than double (59 v 25) the amount of chipped passes than we did, predominantly into ultimo-grok duo Cole and Carroll, who were ably assisted by Kevin ‘hold me back lads’ Nolan.

The use of width by West Ham and our own ploy of playing through the middle was demonstrated by the fullback’s use of the ball; Jenkinson and Creswell fired in 26 of the Hammers 46 crosses whilst Hibbert and Coleman put in a combined 0 of our 6.

New Picture (98)It was a physical challenge which suited Jagielka and Distin and the duo dealt with it magnificently, both in competing for the first ball and then mopping up the second ball. Despite West Ham’s first half huff their wasn’t a great deal to be worried about in terms of their attacking play.

With the exception of one sumptuous early through pass by Barkley to an offside Mirallas there was little threat from us either and the attacking midfield duo quickly swopped flanks before Barkley then moved inside. The changes did little to change the dynamic and we continued to struggle to turn possession into chances against a well drilled narrow back four.

Hibbert’s inclusion attracted the most consternation from the home support with the move deemed by many pre match as a Moyes move by Martinez. You have to balance this out with the fact that if the untried Garbutt would have played he’d have likely been subjected to ‘The full Allardici’ and presumably would have been targeted aerially by one of the two aforementioned groks.

Against such an opponent who pumps balls into the box at will the role of the fullback can often be more about core defensive duties such as assisting CBs aerially in repelling crosses from the opposite flank and dealing with the elbows and general thuggery you get from any side managed by Allardyce. All things considered I think in this fixture Martinez got his selection spot on.

Going forward however we lacked any real width on the left going forward as with Barkley ahead of Hibbert we had two righties on the left meaning everything came inside from Hibbert,  usually to Osman to switch play to the right flank.

Due to the above Osman was seeing plenty of the ball and he was the creator of the only real quality opening carved out in the first half. The veteran midfielder brilliantly dissected the Hammers defence with a pass in behind for Coleman only for the Irishman’s pull back to be ballooned into the Park End by Naismith.

Shortly after we took the lead and again Osman was involved, initially combining with Naismith to tee up Barkley for a shot on the edge of the West Ham 18 yard line. The young tyke then unleashed a half volley which was blocked before the rebound was gleefully lashed home by an offside Lukaku. It was the Belgian’s 20th league goal in his 40th start.

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Second half

After the break West Ham had more of the ball than us (55%) and for long spells pinned us back with their territory based game. This was mostly due to the different type of threat they now offered following a positive double change just after the break. Allardyce replaced the injured Noble and the incompetent Cole with Zarate and Jarvis, and the visitors instantly looked more of a threat due to having more cunning in how they moved the ball into our box.

With our backline way too deep the gap to our midfield was gaping and in Amalfitano and Zarate our visitors were now finding plenty of pockets of space to manoeuvre. Zarate previously scored against us for Birmingham back in 2009 and he was able to repeat the trick after just 5 minutes of coming on as a sub when his shot deflected off Jagielka and over Howard to level matters.

At this point West Ham looked the likely winner as we continued to defend deep and struggled to keep West Ham at arm’s length due to our inability to carve out any sustained periods of possession. Our policy of brinkmanship in defending on our 18 yard line was to pay dividend shortly after, however, and again it would be a substitution which changed the direction of the contest.

Mirallas looked way off the pace throughout; he was languid in possession and late in the tackle and his replacement by Eto’o should arguably have happened sooner than it did. Within seven minutes the leather shorts wearing Cameroon star had made his mark as a rapid counter attack led to him brilliantly teeing up Leon Osman for the winner. The move came after Clattenburg had played an advantage after benchmark yard-dog Collins clotheslined Lukaku in the centre circle.

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For Osman it was a fitting finale to a game which he had for long spells controlled from a deeper position than he has usually been deployed since Martinez took over.The schemer’s ability to find space, receive play and link in the final third has always been a feature of his play and it was again evident here, but in this fixture his ability to show and quickly switch possession was arguably more crucial.Osman created the most chances, had the most touches of the ball and found his man more accurately than anyone else on the pitch. Credit must also go to beer swilling, tinned spam eating goon Kevin Nolan who kindly watched and admired the Eto’o pass rather than track Osman’s run to the back post.

Allardyce referred to the goal afterwards as “one punt up the middle” but the great work from Naismith in intercepting play to supply Lukaku and the quality of how we moved the ball so quickly and accurately from our 18 yard line to goal was superb.

In the words of Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano “some people are so far behind  they actually believe they’re leading


Tactical Deconstruction: Sunderland 1-1 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

In terms of changes, Roberto Martinez made 3 from the side that emphatically dismissed Lille on Thursday night with Coleman, Barkley and Eto’o coming in for Osman, Naismith and Hibbert. Barkley started on the left of the attacking midfield trio behind Lukaku, with Eto’o in the number ten spot and McGeady in his usual position on the right in more of a 4-2-3-1.

Sunderland also strayed from their usual line-up with Cattermole’s suspension meaning Bridcutt came in to play the anchor role, with Johnson (right) and Wickham (left) in the wider attacking roles in support of lone forward Steve Fletcher. System wise the Black Cats lined up in a 4-1-4-1.

First Half

The Toffees started the game at a high tempo and in the third minute  Eto’o combined brilliantly with Lukaku in a series of quick fire one-twos in Sunderland’s final third. Sadly the Cameroon forward’s finish was uncharacteristically lacking in composure and his wayward effort ballooned into the home crowd.

Top Passing Combinations (First Half)

Top Passing Combinations (First Half)

Moments later we received a huge blow when a snide challenge from Gomez ended Barry’s afternoon with the midfield general seemingly suffering a bad knock above his ankle. Darron Gibson came on and although he is right footed was deployed in Barry’s left sided anchor slot.

The injury didn’t derail our momentum, though, and in the first 30 minutes of the first half we were on top to the tune of a 63% share of the ball. Aiden McGeady was motoring after his assist double on Thursday night and he  was our star turn in a first half that was high in  possession but low in end product. The Irish winger’s first contribution was to fizz in one great cross that was deserving of a forward runner and he then combined nicely with Barkley prior to the youngster blazing high and wide. Haphazard finishing was a theme of the half with Gibson blasting 10 yards over the bar shortly after from a decent position on the edge of Sunderland’s 18 yard line.

At the other end Sunderland initially only threatened sporadically with most of their attacks springing from long Pantilimon kick outs to Wickham down our right with Gomez and Fletcher moving to that side to create overloads.  This meant that McGeady – who usually stays further forward when possession is turned over – was having to track back and support Coleman, something which he did pretty well.

If Gareth Barry is out for a while then it’s a problem. The portly Gibson is an equal to Barry in terms of passing short and long, but defensively his positioning is suspect. The protection he offers the backline is incomparable to Barry and an example occurred just prior to half time when he dithered on the ball in his own box, a situation which resulted in Howard having to make a smart stop. The home side did have more of the ball at this point and applied greater pressure on us as the half unfolded but luckily Distin was having his best game of the campaign alongside Jagielka.

Second Half

After the break the game became more stretched and clear-cut chances began to present themselves more frequently.

Lukaku was presented with a great chance on 50 minutes when Bridcutt horribly miscued a pass to inadvertently play the Belgian in 1v1 with Pantilimon.  Sadly the Belgian was enduring a torrid afternoon and his second touch was awful which enabled the gormless looking keeper to easily reclaim the ball at Lukaku’s feet.  Shortly after Lukaku was played in again, this time after McCarthy brilliantly regained possession and played in Eto’o down the Sunderland left. The Cameroon forward was at this stage completing running the game and his slide rule pass to Lukaku led to his strike partner beating his man but rather than go across the keeper he got his angles all wrong and  the ball sliced into the side netting.

The next couple of substitutions would play a significant part in swinging the game first one way and then the next.

On 64 minutes Buckley came on for the inept Adam Johnson and the former Brighton midfielder’s positive runs would give a much-needed shot in the arm to the home side. Within 4 minutes of his arrival he drew a foul from Baines which presented our hosts with a free kick in a dangerous position. With Howard giving Larsson the entire goal to aim at, O’Shea’s nudge on Barkley enabled the Swede enough space to ping the ball through the wall and into the corner.

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The next change seen McGeady – who was arguably our best player to this point – replaced by Naismith. The Scot had little impact on the ball but his positioning inside meant Coleman, whose space on the flank had previously been inhibited by McGeady, now had the full flank to steam into.

For the last 20 minutes Coleman ran his fullback ragged and along with Eto’o was our most enterprising attacking player. On 72 minutes Eto’o,  who made more final third passes than anyone on the pitch, picked Coleman out in the box expertly only for the Irish marauder’s pass into Lukaku to be intercepted. Sunderland didn’t heed the warning and a minute later Eto’o repeated the same trick, this time releasing Coleman a few yards closer to goal which resulted in him being wrestled to the ground by Wickham for a penalty. It was an opportunity for redemption that Baines took with both hands, tucking his penalty under Pantilimon for 1-1 with 20 minutes to play.

Sunderland were by now increasingly ragged with 11 men, and you could make a pretty good case given how most of our away games have unfolded under Martinez that the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach would probably have yielded another goal should Gomez, Wickham or both had been dismissed.

That said, we had McCarthy to thank in the final minute for a goal line clearance at the other end from Brown’s header from a Bridcutt delivery. The free kick which initially led to this opportunity came from an error from Lukaku in the Sunderland half and this gaffe was a microcosm of the striker’s afternoon. Against Lille his touch outside the box was much better, playing a part in 2 of the three goals, but here it was abysmal. He lost possession more than any player on the pitch and this invariably led to him then conceding clumsy fouls in trying to atone for the errors. I guess the only way he will improve his back to goal game is by playing more games (and making more errors) but we maybe need to come up with a way in the meantime of mitigating this weakness and playing more to his strengths i.e getting the ball to feet and running at goal in wider areas where this is more space.

In Conclusion…

Given the fact that this game pitted the two sides who had conceded the most goals from individual errors in the league it was appropriate that both goals came from awful defensive challenges.

This was a game we could and probably should  have won given the amount of possession we had in Sunderland’s half and the frequency of openings we had in comparison to our hosts.

The away form in general is good, though, with only Chelsea and Man City having picked up more points on the road than us. If we can get our home form back on track we might be able to start really climbing the table but until that time arrives we will remain marooned in midtable and unfortunately based on our league displays thus far we probably don’t deserve to be any further up the table than we currently are.


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-0 Lille

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Teams and Tactics

After their final third toils in Lille, Martinez switched around the forwards for this one with slots for Osman, Naismith and Lukaku in the starting line-up meaning that Eto’o, Pienaar and Barkley were ousted to the bench. Everything else was pretty much ‘as is’ from the bore draw over in France. Lille kept the same 4-3-3 system, but shuffled the pack personnel wise with Beria and Rodelin benched for strike duo Mendez and Frey who joined Origi in attack meaning Corchia switched to right back.

First Half

The key feature of the first half was the movement and application of our forward foursome who were all heavily involved at the sharp end of things. Lukaku (central) and McGeady (right) looked to maximise their pace in behind which stretched the Lille defence back to their 18 yard line meaning big spaces were emerging between the French outfit’s defence and midfield lines. The key beneficiary of the gaps were the more intelligent space finders Osman and Naismith, who dovetailed nicely  either side of Lille’s principal midfield anchor Mavuba.

It’s fair to say that Aiden McGeady’s outputs have divided opinion amongst the fanbase this season, with support for the erratic wideman increasingly in short supply at L4.  Data wise data this season McGeady’s shots and chances created per minute are both up on last season’s figures, whilst his dribbles have gone down, suggesting there is perhaps a bit more end product to his play.

We identified Lille left back Souare as the weak link in our preview to the first game a few weeks ago and McGeady had the beating of him 1v1 in this fixture. The Irish winger helped make the pitch big by hugging the touchline in an advanced position, and pinged in 5 accurate crosses in the first half which is pretty impressive given that Baines averages the most successful crosses per game for us (1.4) this season.

Our first goal was from the aforementioned source and was a corker, with Barry initially zipping a nice pass into Lukaku whose first time touch with his left foot to play in McCarthy was superb. The midfield kingpin was then able to play in McGeady down the right flank and his compatriot’s centre was expertly dispatched back into the opposite corner from fellow boo boy favourite Leon Osman.

In terms of ‘the pass before the pass’ i.e. the pass prior to the assist in our goals this season, McCarthy has chalked up 4  which is more than any of his teammates and shows he has an equally vital role going forward as that of his day-job in mopping up midfield mess.

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It was one of McCarthy’s trademark tackles which was to set us on the way to goal number two just before half time, with Naismith latching onto it only to see his goal bound effort repelled by the Lille keeper. From the resulting corner, McGeady put in a brilliant dipping delivery which was nodded home by Jagielka with Lille’s defence and Basa in particular ‘at sixes and sevens’ or, more succinctly, anaemic dog shit. It was well deserved for McGeady who claimed his third assist of the season and he could have had another two but for Lukaku and Nasimith’s finishing.

It was a half we had total control of to the tune of 64% possession, but unlike the Swansea game it was incisive rather than sterile dominance of the ball.

Indeed, one of the key features of our passing this season had been the positivity we have shown on the ball . We make the 3rd most forward passes in the league behind Chelsea and City, with a sizeable 45 more forward passes per game than last season and a whopping 76 more pg than in Moyes final season. Here we made 182 forward passes to Lille’s 86 in the opening half with Jagielka supplementing his goal by making the most forward passes.

Second Half

The tricky blues continued where they left off after the break and swiftly finished off any ill-judged hopes of a Lille fight back. First Lukaku went close with a free kick after his graft outside the box had impressively won a deadball on the edge of the Lille box. The Big Belgian was looking as dangerous and edgy as Creepy Brenny’s web browser history, and the final blow to Lille’s hopes of a comeback was now only just round the corner.

After an 18 pass move from back to front Lukaku picked up the ball down Lille’s right side and played a perfectly weighted pass into Baines whose delivery was typically ace for Naismith to smash home left footed. The Scot had been setting fire to tears all night and richly deserved his 5th goal of a blossoming campaign.

Lille then made a load of pointless substitutions with Roux, Beria and Rodelin coming on for Mendez, Frey and Corchia. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever with Lille by now having thrown in the towel. With the exception of the bald runt Balmont they created nothing, with Origi’s head down running and finely tuned tactic of losing possession with nobody near him a joy to behold. Hopefully Libepewl’s latest costly recruit can take solace by the fact that winning is so passe thesedays and that its moral victories that we should now all aspire to achieve.

Martinez also made a raft of changes with fringe trio Atsu, Gibson and Besic replacing  Barry, McCarthy and McGeady. The only real moment of note after the Naismith goal was a sweet move  instigated by another excellent forward pass from defence from Jagielka. Receiving the ball in the centre circle, McCarthy then played  a delicious defence splitting pass to Lukaku who thwacked home. Sadly the forward – who had an excellent game particularly outside the box – was wrongly ruled out for offside.

The win takes us to 8 points which pretty much guarantees qualification – no team with 7 points didn’t qualify from the group phase last season – and this was as balanced and complete a display as we’ve seen all season from the toffees.