Why a lack of pressing is costing Everton dearly

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We’ve been so crud lately that this latest tale of woe didn’t really come as a surprise.  Having put the lid back on the barbiturates it’s time to chew through the fat of this latest toffee calamity with five key areas in particular coming under the microscope….

  1. Our defence is too deep

One possible explanation for the selection of Garbutt at left back with Baines in an advanced midfield spot was to accommodate our veteran centre back pairing of Distin (37) and Alcaraz (32) by injecting a bit more pace into a leggy back four.

Perhaps as a result of the aged partnership we defended way too deep and allowed Newcastle to dictate play 20 yards from our goal, which is extreme brinkmanship from Martinez given how bad we are at protecting our goal lately. Yesterday Distin and Barry in particular just couldn’t move the ball out of our defensive third, with Barry struggling badly against the pressure of Sissoko.

I see the logic in defending deep and bringing sides onto you for the space it creates at the other end, but if your shape is iffy it can be suicidal and yesterday ours was all over the place with big gaps both between and either side of the centre halves from the off.

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  1. Defensive errors

The result of defending deep is that when our backline makes defensive errors they are invariably in dangerous areas. It’s now 10 individual errors we’ve committed that have led to an opposition goal this season, which is more than any other side in the division.

For Goal 1 the defensive line is awful with Distin 2 yards behind the rest. Kone also switches off and allows his marker to get a run in behind him at Distin. When the ball is put back into the middle Coleman is also guilty of ballwatching which allows Cisse the space for his goal.

For goal 2, each of Robles, Barry and Baines has the chance to clear their lines in the move and failed, but its McGeady who makes the biggest error as he gets barged off the ball on our 18 yard line. Coleman is then guilty again of not getting tight enough, this time with Perez who slots through his legs and past Robles.

For Goal 3 the brainless Barkley makes a comedy gaffe, although the positioning of Alcaraz also creates a big space for Newcastle to move into.

What can we do to remedy this? Well interim we need better organisation but long term the requirement is surely better options at CB, preferably 2 more that can both pass the ball out of defence and into midfield under pressure and also with the recovery speed to negate the threat of being caught in behind should we press higher up the pitch.

  1. Lack of pressure on the ball

This is the big one for me.

The lack of pressure we make on our opponents is a massive problem all over the park. Unsurprisingly, we now press less than any side in the league; we make the 2nd fewest tackles in the divison, the 2nd fewest interceptions and the and 4th fewest blocks. If you take a look at the third goal, SEVEN Newcastle players are allowed to make passes from their 18 yard line to ours, none of which are even subject to a challenge from a blue shirt.

  1. Lack of defensive qualities

The back line are rightly being questioned at the moment, but the forward players do little to afford protection with the likes of McGeady, Barkley and Eto’o all guilty of providing a powder puff first line of defence which in turn puts huge pressure on a leggy midfield and a hopeless defence. Being coached to not press is one thing, but losing attempted tackles and being generally ‘too nice’ is another. Opponents stop our rhythm and counter attacks by tactical fouls, but its an approach which is seemingly discouraged at Finch Farm.

Unsurprisingly then, we make the fewest fouls in the league.

A couple of incidents summed this up in the first half. Firstly when Eto’o kicked the ball into touch in the final third when we had players in the Newcastle 18 yard box for an attack. Then shortly after Coleman is thwacked 3 times by Cisse and there is no reaction from the Irishman’s team-mates. I’m not advocating natural justice as a way of retribution, but seeing some kind of reaction from his colleagues would at least show some solidarity in the group.  it was similar to the Costa incident v Chelsea earlier this season when even our captain turned the other cheek.

All in all being too fucking nice is a legitimate beef that can be levelled at this current Everton side.

  1. Out passed, and out shot.

The only positive aspect of our forward play was the fluidity between Eto’o and Kone, certainly with the support Eto’o provided with the Cameroon star making 13 successful passes to the Ivorian. In our last three games the link from number 10 to number 9 has yielded less than half that amount of passes in each game. I thought Kone’s attacking game was good and he asked a lot more questions of the opposition defence than Lukaku has done in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, our amount of shots was not enough and was trumped by  Newcastle, plus our shooting accuracy was appalling, with just 25% of shots hitting the target – that’s our lowest return of the season. We also ‘lost the passing’ which is something we’ve only done on two other occasions this season (against Man City and Arsenal) and overall I thought Newcastle deserved the win.

Conclusion

The result leaves us teetering on the edge of the drop zone after a run of five defeats in six. We’ve now conceded 3 or more goals in consecutive Premier League away games for the first time in 10 years, and only QPR now have a worse defensive record than us in the league.

Losing to clueless operatives like Hughes and Pardew in as many days has put Martinez on a sticky wicket, although talk of him losing his position is way over the top for me – but he does needs a result from somewhere quickly.

EB

Roberto Martinez and the 7 Deadly Sins

 

New Picture (33)Our one step forward and two steps back season plummeted to its nadir on Saturday, as a horrific display ended with us slumping to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of a workmanlike Southampton second string. The line ‘this is the worst I’ve ever seen us under Martinez’ has  been trotted out at least 3 times in the last month by this misery guts, but this was surely as dire as we’ve ever seen under the Catalan tactician.

This ramble will zoom in on the seven  most frequent gripes levelled at RM from the fanbase. We’ll sift through the detritus and try to rationalise how legitimate these moans  are through a mixture of contrariness, metadata and sweeping generalisations.

Sin #1 – No plan B

Key Stat: The % of our shots  taken in the opposition box is currently at 48% for the season compared to 57%  last season.

This is arguably the biggest critique of Martinez’s often tantric, centralised approach. A reduction in width is shown by us going from making the most crosses per game in the division 2 seasons ago to our current status as making the fewest. Were not advocating punting crosses aimlessly into the box here, but making the pitch as big as possible with combinations between the wide players was one of the best aspects of our game but currently it’s nowhere to be seen.

A reduction in the % of our passes going long and a more inward approach have been indicative of a less varied approach which is often easy to defend especially when sides defend narrow and in numbers. Engineering opportunities in the opponent’s danger zone is clearly an issue and our chances created and shots taken figures are both down on last season’s figures.

A legitimate gripe of the Martinez approach is his reluctance to expose opposition weak links whether it be individually or collectively. Southampton, perhaps anticipating our preference to play through the middle, flooded the central areas of the pitch with 3 centre backs and a dog in front of them –  in doing so pretty much surrendering the flanks. Rather than look to make the pitch bigger and replace the injured Mirallas with McGeady, Martinez chose to leave him  on the sidelines and play with 3 number tens. It was all a bit shite.

New Picture (92)The Executioner’s Verdict:

Guilty

 

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Sin #2 – Corners

Key Stat: Only West Ham have scored more goals from set plays than Everton this season                    

Corners are currently a major source of irritation for a lot of fans, with the fume factor reaching ‘aldo after 15 pints of fosters’ levels every time Baines fails to beat the first man with his delivery.

Previous studies have shown it takes around 35 corners to score a goal, so if you get around 10 corners a game it doesn’t take much to deduce the likelihood of a goal  from this source is unlikely. Martinez has spoken before about his indifference with goals from set plays and how he prefers to retain possession and score from open play. If that is the case then why not play every corner short?

Our goals from corners this season (2) is about average for the top flight.  Sides with a bigger physical presence like Chelsea and West Ham have scored more than double that amount, but plenty of sides have the same or fewer.

For what its worth I don’t think this is as big a deal as people are making out. Firstly, we no longer have an abundance of players good in the air. Pip Neville’s motd ‘analysis’ suggested Lukaku is the best header of the  ball at the club, a comment which is even more ludicrous than his latest hairstyle. The Belgian is great at some things, albeit not much at the moment, but in terms of attacking crosses in the air he is last. All things considered, I don’t really see the point in us ‘putting the ball into the mixer’ with greater regularity with the players we have.

New Picture (92)The Executioner’s Verdict:

Not guilty

 

Sin #3 – Backpassing

Key Stat:  Everton’s  volume of forward passed per game (322) is comfortably better than most sides in the league, and equal to that of league leaders Chelsea.

Personally I don’t see this as one of the major issues either, despite the comedy boos last Monday night.

Despite us making more forward passes per game this season, the percentage of forward passes is actually down 2% on last season’s total, from 62% to 60% this season. Backward passes have gone up by 2%, but in general positivity on the ball isn’t a big problem for us in relation to other sides.

Whether you  like or loathe the Martinez approach, it’s principally about bringing teams onto us to create space at the other end, and sideways and backward passes are needed here in order to move opponents around and replenish energy levels.

New Picture (92)The Executioner’s Verdict:

Not guilty

 

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Sin #4 – Passing Tempo

Key Stat:  Everton’s passing tempo is the fourth slowest in the league this season, but it is statistically faster than last season

Whilst our forward passing isn’t a problem for me,  the tempo recently has been an issue.

We had a look a few years ago at our passing tempo under Moyes,  using the opta model of time in possession / passes made to calculate how fast we move the ball. The model showed we were 9th slowest in the league in terms of speed of distribution at the time. Using the same calculation we would currently be the 4th slowest in the league at the moment.

The issue this creates is of course that opposition defenders are afforded the time to get back and into their shape before we get into dangerous areas.

New Picture (92)The Executioner’s Verdict:

Guilty

 

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Sin #5 – Defensive naivety

Key Stat: Everton have conceded the same amount of shots (13) per game as they did last season.

Data wise we are conceding the same amount of shots as last season, a campaign in which we had the third best defensive record in the league.  Fast forward 6 months and we now find ourselves with the third worst defence in the league.

So what is behind such a turn around?

We said at the start of the season that defensively we are a team in transition. To emphasise this point Martinez line-up in the recent defeat to City was the oldest since the dying days of the Walter and Archie car crash, with 6 of our 7 defensive players all in their 30’s. Managing this transition is proving difficult but individual errors have been the most crucial factor.

Chief culprit is the blundering oaf Tim Howard, albeit he’s been aided and abetted by the bungling duo in front of him, Messrs Jagielka and Distin.

The bearded keeper’s performances have been error strewn in what will surely be his last season as number one, with his  saves/ shots  ratio  the worst of his Everton career, down from 2.83 last year to 1.28 this campaign –  one of the worst in the division. The comical defeats to Palace and Southampton are perhaps the saddest indictment of his plight, conceding 6 goals from the 6 shots he faced.

Whilst Martinez is stubborn he could point to Howard  having his best ever campaign last campaign as a logical reason to persist with him this year.

New Picture (92)The Executioner’s Verdict:

Suspended sentence

 

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Sin #6 – Selections 

Key stats: In the 4 games Barkley and Eto’o have started together we’ve won none and as a team scored just 1 goal from open play

Whether it be the constant tinkering of Barkley’s position or the vanity project of persistently starting with Eto’o rather than using him more sparingly from the bench, Martinez calls in the attacking midfield slots have been enough to make a lot fans think that daddy’s hat has fallen off and he’s now  just standing there naked.

I see what he is trying to achieve with the duo.This analysis shows the impact Eto’o’s movement had with Hazard last season, and playing to one of Eto’o’s strengths that hasn’t been affected by his age is in theory a plausible approach. However it just isn’t working for either of them when both deployed behind Lukaku and more conviction is needed from the manager here and if necessary sacrificing a big name for the good of the team.

Injuries to Barkley and Mirallas have played a part too. Granted, some of Barkley’s displays since his return have been more disjointed than a lemo head watching Donnie Darko, but him and Mirallas in the same team makes us a different proposition. The slow passing, draw them on strategy in our own half works if its combined with their dynamism and direct running, and this is evidenced by our points per game tally which is almost doubles in the league games the duo have both started.

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The Executioners Verdict:

Suspended sentence

Sin #7 – Substitutions

Key Stat:  Everton are 5 points and 4 goals worse off from substitutions than at the same stage last season

Bemused fans at the St Mary’s watched as Martinez became the first manager in over 12 months of Premier League football to go an entire game without making a substitution.  It wasn’t the first time this campaign that his changes, or lack of them, from the bench had been subject to much derision.

This resistance to fix something that was clearly broken had many scratching their heads and questioning what had happened to the manager whose changes in personnel and tactics from the bench last season were chiefly responsible for us claiming a stack of points  from losing positions.

New Picture (92)The Executioners Verdict:

Guilty

 

Final Verdict

I still feel there’s a lot more that’s good than bad about Martinez and that he and us will both ride again soon. I also think we’ll get better after the turn of the year and there is plenty still to play for this season if we can wheel our first choice team out more often than not.

Nobody is beyond reproach, however, and  Martinez is rightly feeling some heat at the moment for the situation we are in. No side with as few points as we have at this stage has ever got into the top six, let alone the top four,  in the final standings, so 7th is already looking as good as it’s likely to get this season. A review  of our targets and priorities is certainly needed then, and a lot will be determined by how he addresses the issues we’ve already discussed above.

I guess it’s always darkest before dawn, and on Boxing Day lets hope that Martinez blue sky will eclipse, and subsequently cave in, all its recent frustrations squarely onto the grid of granny haired snide Mark Hughes.

Up the toffees.

EB

p.s Many thanks for your time in reading this blog during 2014. Seasons greetings and see you in 2015!

 

Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-1 QPR

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Teams and Tactics

Roberto Martinez made 3 changes from the team that lost narrowly to Man City last week, with the side named looking a lot less leggy. In came hip young gunslingers Barkley, McGeady and Naismith with veteran triumvirate Hibbert, Eto’o and Barry stepping aside.

QPR had top scorer Charlie Austin suspended and perhaps to combat our expected midfield dominance Arry retreated from his usual 4-4-2 and deployed an extra midfielder, with Barton anchoring the engine room. Fer and Mutch played in front of Barton, Phillips and Hoilett occupied the flanks and Vargas was deployed on his own up front.

First Half

Without Barry, Osman, Pienaar or Eto’o in the starting line-up there was certainly a feeling that brain wise there wasn’t much going on and that when we did make the breakthrough it’d probably be the result of brawn rather than brains.

Our midfield trio is usually a 2-1 triangle with Barry and McCarthy at the base and then 1 further forward. For this game the triangle was flipped to a 1-2 meaning Besic played a central anchor role with Naismith and Barkley playing either side of him but slightly further up the pitch. The role suited Besic well as he was predominantly consumed with breaking down play and supporting the wingbacks defensively, something he did doggedly, with the Bosnian attempting more tackles (9) than anyone on the pitch. As noted in previous posts, the midfielder can take too many chances in possession in his own half, plus he could do with spending the summer in Smokey Mo’s beefing up on ribs and zagnuts, but he has plenty of qualities that can help us.

Likewise, Barkley was enjoying his new deeper role. Unlike Barry or McCarthy’s approach, Barkley won’t look to release the ball to his wingback and then cover whilst they bomb on. Instead he’ll look to pick out the most advanced forward or simply bulldoze through midfield on his own. This was perfectly demonstrated in the first half, firstly when he pinged a great 40 yard pass to put Naismith clear in our first threatening move of the game.

Then on 32 minutes Barkley collected a pass from Besic on the halfway line and smartly exchanged passes with Lukaku before shellacking a brilliant 60mph exocet into the roof of Green’s net with his weaker left foot. A special mention should also go out to Joey Barton who kindly presented the ball to besic in the first place.

The self facilitating media node then served up further L4 Christmas cheer shortly before half time, this time jabbing a brainless elbow on Naismith 25 yards from the qpr goal. From the resulting dead ball Kevin Mirallas goal bound twister violently rebounded off Vargas and wrong footed Green for 2-0. It was our 7th goal from outside the box this season – a league high – and given the passivity of our visitors in the final third it was pretty much game over.

Second Half

QPR have conceded the most shots on target in the top flight and you can see why.

On 52 minutes a horrendous kick out by the hapless Green triggered a chain of calamitous events which would lead to goal #3. With Dunne unable to deal decisively with the first ball, Mirallas was able to feed McGeady and the wingers sublime jinking run was duly dispatched by Naismith via a kind deflection.

With the third goal in the bag the grim state of Arry and his decomposing grid on the sidelines was palpable. The hatchet faced old mess delved into his tactical playbook of 25 years of football management and selected his tried and tested 4-4-2, meaning an aerial onslaught ensued.

This being Everton however there is never such thing as a routine victory and our momentum would  be checked by a trio of incidents which all threatened to spoil what had been a relatively successful afternoon to this point.

Firstly QPR pulled a goal back when a combination of crass keeping from Howard and ball watching from Baines enabled Zamora to tap home for 1-3.

A nasty looking ankle injury to Kevin Mirallas was then compounded by comedy booing from sections of an edgy crowd seemingly unimpressed by one back pass too many. There’s clearly a section of the home support who remain unimpressed by the tantric methods of Martinez and who perhaps long for the quick knee trembling model of his predecessor, but the booing achieves nothing.

What it does achieve is eroding confidence and makes defenders already jittery in possession go with the safe option of a back pass or forced punt forward rather than the pass into midfield which is what they should be doing.

For what it’s worth I think when Stones returns to the line-up our forward passing from the back will improve considerably. The absence of the youngster has been most accentuated in games when visiting sides only play 1 up top which puts the onus on the unmarked centre back to step into midfield with the ball, something Distin struggles to do when the opportunities arise.

In Conclusion

This was a much-needed win which takes us back into the top half, albeit it was against arguably the worst side in the league.

The display of Barkley was probably the most positive note of the evening, with Besic’s work rate to cover the gullies behind both him and Naismith also admirable.

The critique would be the lack of fluidity in our play. With Osman rarely deployed from the start thesedays and Pienaar’s recent cameos hinting that his decline could be terminal, Baines is increasingly a spare part on the left. Passing combinations and overloads down his flank have been crucial to us controlling games and crafting chances in the opposition half and without this we don’t create enough chances or engineer enough shots on goal.

Whilst this  display won’t exactly have struck fear into sides in the top half  – and we’ll need to up our game considerably to get anything at Southampton this weekend –  it was a step in the right direction and hopefully it can be the start of an upturn in results and performances.

EB

 

Tactical Deconstruction: Man City 1-0 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

Perhaps with last season’s iffy defensive showings against City in mind, Martinez selection was something of a fusion of his two Scottish predecessors in the L4 hotseat.

City often do their damage down the left side and with that in mind Osman made way for Hibbert who took up a kind of quasi right back/right centre back slot with Coleman ahead of him. The out of form Barkley was also left out for Eto’o, meaning the starting eleven was the oldest Everton side to take to the field since the last month’s of Walter Smith’s coma inducing regime.

Our depleted hosts had injuries to first picks Kompany and Silva, a problem that was made worse when Aguero pulled up with a knee problem just a few minutes after the first whistle.

First Half

The first half was something of a continuation of the other awful displays we have churned out this week.

Despite having more possession, City were not exactly opening us up at will in the opening period of the half, but as has been the recurring theme of our season an individual error was to hand them the initiative. Albeit this was aided and abetted by some crass officiating.

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For the second time this week an error by Gareth Barry in his own half was the trigger. Barry is usually a percentage man but his decision to play a backheel in such a dangerous area was incredibly rash and it enabled Milner to pick his pocket. The home improvements loving midfielder then exchanging passes with Toure before a challenge by Jagielka prompted Marriner to excitedly point to the spot.

With Toure scoring the resulting penalty, City were now playing with more confidence and delivering the more enterprising football of the two sides. This danger was predominantly taking place down our right flank, with the combination play of Clichy, Nasri and Toure giving Besic, Jagielka and Hibbert big problems to contend with.

City’s shot count of 11 v 2 in the first period was an indication of their dominance and our policy of adopting a low block and handing City the initiative to play 20 yards from our goal appeared brinkmanship in the extreme from Martinez.

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The role of Nasri, as with Silva in this fixture last year, was pivotal and this was demonstrated by him being involved in the 6 most frequent passing combinations.

No one enjoyed this more than Nasri – comfortably the game’s best player – who was able to drop off from central to wide areas and thread passes between full back and centre half almost at will.

Indeed, the Frenchman pretty much did to us what Silva did last season in this fixture, creating 6 key passes and comfortably making more touches (118) than any player on the pitch. Crucially, not only is he great on the ball but he also has a brain, a quality  few of our midfielder’s possess.

In stark contrast we created pretty much nothing in the first half barring a couple of Mirallas pot shots.

Coleman and Baines played pretty much as high as each other on the flanks but neither had midfielders in front of them to initiate wide combinations and again everything was a bit too inward, lacking in width and generally easy for City to defend against. Most of this was due to us having no control of the ball,  in fact it was our second worst display data wise in terms of both possession share and keeping hold of the ball this season.

Second Half

City were less fluid in the second period albeit they still had more of the ball in our final third than we did in theirs and marginally out shot us by 8 to 7.

Their best chance had come earlier in the half and again the architect was Nasri as he worked the ball from the centre to Milner down our right side with a great long range switch.  Luckily for us Pozo’s finish from Milner’s cross was matched by an excellent save with his feet from Tim Howard.

The second half from us was much improved with the catalyst being the introduction of  Barkley for the ineffectual Besic in the number 8 role.

Barkley chipped in with 3 key passes himself, which was more than the rest of the team put together. and his positivity led to us having  5 more shots and 10 more dribbles than we did in the opening half.

Usually appearing as a ten or off the flank, Barkley showed signs that he could be better suited to the deeper role and he was at least willing to drive through midfield rather than make sideways passes. His drives from deep into more dangerous areas meant City’s anchor man Fernando now had a problem as he was becoming engaged by Barkley which in turn meant that Eto’o was freed of his marker and was now able to find better spaces to manoeuvre on the edge of City’s area.

Eto’o was now making things happen with his dribbling in the final third and his brilliant flick from Barry’s excellent pass was to create our best chance of the game for Lukaku. Sadly for us the Belgian’s brilliant first time volley was met by an equally astute piece of keeping by grooming obsessive bell whiff Joe Hart in the City goal.

Sadly that was pretty much it, and on the balance of play City deserved the win.

Final word

Defensively we looked fairly resolute but at the other end there was a glaring lack of incision in the final third with just 5 chances created in the whole game – our lowest figure of the season.

The context of this I guess is that we were up against the champions on their own turf who despite being under strength due to injuries had the advantage of some dire officiating by Mariner.

The bottom line is that we have 10 points fewer than we did after 15 matches last season. League wise, Bagpuss and his mutant infested gang of texans are next up a week on Monday at Goodison, and failure to beat a side without a single away point would  quickly escalate the current predicament, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

EB