Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 1-1 Man City

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Line-ups

Everton made 3 changes from the midweek cup draw against West Ham with Stones, Baines and McGeady coming in for Distin, Oviedo and Mirallas. Barkley moved inside,  Naismith shifted across to the left flank and McGeady began the game from the right side.

City were without their recognised first choice spine with Kompany and Aguero only fit enough for cameos from the bench and Toure away at the African Cup of Nations. As a result the much maligned Mangala partnered Demichelis in defence, former toffee target Fernando came into midfield and Jovetic led the line with close support from Nasri, Silva and Navas.

First Half

The bulk of the first half was played in our half with City dominating possession and pinging plenty of shots.  Luckily for us City’s shooting, perhaps due to the windy conditions or the personnel they had missing, was awful, recording a shooting accuracy of 17% which was the second lowest figure they have posted during Pellegrini’s reign.

Since Martinez took over our previously excellent record against City has given way to 3 successive defeats, and a failure to control spaces frequented by the likes of Nasri and Silva in between our defence and midfield lines has been the major reason. The duo were again influential here – creating 9 chances between them –  and in the first half we were guilty of giving them too much space, although to be fair Besic did his best to minimise damage alongside Barry in midfield.

The Bosnian is an interesting cat. He was in the thick of the action throughout and the game showcased both his developing qualities as a key man in the goodison engine room as well as his often high risk style. No player on the pitch won as many tackles as Besic and he played a key role in trying to reduce the influence of diminutive duo Silva and Nasri.

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His role off the ball was implicit given that we posted just 42% possession – the lowest of any game since Martinez took over. On the ball he also played a key role, making more passes than any Everton player and he was particularly effective in linking the right flank from Coleman to McGeady. Sadly the Irish duo both struggled, with McGeady putting in one of his ‘Peter Beagrie appreciation’ displays.

Besic can do some frankly mad stuff though, no more so than just before half time when he lost possession on the halfway line, then let silva run in behind him before going to ground with a high risk challenge in our box on the Spaniard.  His recovery running is excellent, however, but he just needs to jib off some of the daft bookings he can pick up early on in games.

Second half

Going forward we were much improved on Tuesday, and whilst we didn’t carve City open with the frequency we did against Allardyce’s mob there was plenty of dynamism on show in the final third.

Much was made after the cup tie about how we played a more direct game and the data would certainly concur yesterday; we average 12% of our passes long for the season whilst against City that figure shot up to 18%. I’m not too convinced that this is a direct result of any player meeting or a tactical masterstroke by Martinez, more likely its in response to players confidence levels still being low combined with the amount of pressure City’s forwards put us under.

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Comparing the use of Lukaku in the 2 recent City games, yesterday he was used less a linkman and seen less of the ball, but crucially a higher % of the passes he received where played into City’s final third

Lukaku has been the main beneficiary of this more direct approach and the Belgian went close with 2 efforts either side of half time. First after Besic fed Coleman down the right the Belgian steamed past Mangala only to be denied by Hart. Then after the break Barkley released Lukaku down the left and he again beasted past the hapless Mangala only to be foiled again by the City keeper. In between Coleman struck the bar, and whilst City had more chances it was the royal blues who created the better openings.

As the game entered its final stages a superb crunching challenge on Lukaku by Zabaleta was to precipitate more woe for the toffee hoards on 74 minutes. City have scored more counter attacking goals than any side in the league, so it perhaps wasn’t a big surprise that their goal would come from such a situation. As City broke up field good work from key schemers Silva and Nasri resulted in Fernandinho bundling home from close range.

Given the quality of opponent and our miserable data in terms of points taken from losing positions this season the worry was that we’d missed our opportunity to get something from the game, however for the second time in a week we showed great character to come back.

Four minutes after City’s opener another meaty challenge from Zabaleta down City’s right flank resulted in Jagielka being fouled 25 yards from goal. From the resulting centre Naismith – who in terms of goals is very much Everton’s man for the big occasion – gleefully headed home from Baines out swinging centre.

It was a deserved reward for Naismith who had been the main aerial outlet throughout and whose ability to graft and win free kicks enabled us to get further up the pitch at times when City were crushing us in terms of possession. It was our eighth set piece goal of the season – the 3rd most in the top flight behind Chelsea and West Ham – and it was also Baines 8th league assist which is the most of any defender in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

Conclusion

There are still plenty of things that need fixing at L4 and we often had to ride our luck here, but this was a deserved point and represented a step in the right direction for Martinez and Everton after the recent misery.

EB

Notes on a Scandal – The Everton Winter of Discontent Part IV

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The latest instalment of yuletide toffee misery took us to Hull for a six pointer with steak-bake faced motivator Steve Bruce.

Martinez went back to his preferred approach at Wigan with three centre backs – something he also tried to bed  in towards the end of games at Goodison last season. Given that we don’t have one in form fit centre back at the club it seemed a bit of a forced move with Barry coming in as the third centre half alongside Jagielka and Alcaraz.

That said, the opening exchanges were relatively encouraging with Coleman from the right having the beating of Robertson and Kone looking like he could do some damage down the same flank, albeit the Ivorian can lack urgency and gets caught in possession a bit more than what he should do. All things considered the first 30 minutes were ok compared to what we’ve seen of late.

Those of a nervous disposition  look away now.

Ultimately the players should determine the system rather than the other way around, and Martinez tinkering (he hasn’t kept an unchanged team all season) looks  increasingly that of a man who is changing things incessantly in the hope that he eventually finds something that will stick.

The comments after the Newcastle game from Luke Garbutt hinted that the changes have been difficult for the players to comprehend, and our whole approach does now seem a tad watered down. Whether that’s true or not, the players seem to be using the confusion as an excuse to hide on the ball and certainly not show the ‘swagger’ that Martinez likes to refer to. This was  reflected in our passing data as we posted both our lowest amount of passes made (309) and the lowest pass completion total (78%) of the season.

The first goal came from one such situation as Jagielka panicked on the ball despite there being nobody within 10 yards of him. Rather than put distance and height on the clearance to allow his defence to push up, the skipper delivered a flat pass straight to a Hull player. A hopeful punt into our box ensued, and whereas most sides would simply repel the cross Baines is guilty of being yards off his man which enables Elmohamady to head home.

In  fairness to Baines he was one of the few who were at least  running their tripe out,  however there continued to be no real coordinated approach to press when possession was lost.

Martinez took time out from his most recent blue sky press conference to mention that we needed to get  ‘back to basics’ which conjures up the image of an ‘up and atem’  ‘in your face’ approach favoured by former Hull life coach guru Phil Brown, but there was little sign of it here.

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Everton’s failure to win tackles and effectively press under Martinez has been a feature of our recent descent, with success now running at just 42% compared to the 57% prior to his arrival

 

In terms of the first ball, we regained possession via tackles or interceptions just 25 times compared to Hull’s 47, whilst on the second  ball we fared little better, winning 58 to Hull’s 78.

The second goal was a perfect example of this.  To begin with Robles launched the ball forward in the rough direction of Naismith which led to  the Scot unsurprisingly being out jumped by Davies. When the  ball bounces in the centre circle the slight frame of Besic is then outmuscled for the second ball.

What happens next is the personification of amateur hour as Barry tries to play some sort of offside trap before turning his back on the ball and allowing Jelavic a clear run on Robles. The limited Croatian’s job is then made even easier by the bumbling galoot falling to his knees like he’d been tazered, thus allowing the ex toffee to lob a half volley into the vacant net.

There seemed little confidence in Robles particularly with the accuracy of his long kicking which yielding only a 1 in 4 strike rate to a blue shirt. Naismith gave him an absolute bollocking in the second half after Hull almost scored again following another disastrous kick out, but it’d be unfair to lay blame exclusively at the feet of the young keeper.

Going forward there was never any real hope that Everton would turn this one around. The tepid 4 chances we created was the lowest yield of any of our league games this season and Hull were simply better than us in every area of the pitch, both on and off the ball.

Conclusion

The latest loss has Martinez looking down the barrel of a gun following a trio of defeats against Hughes, Pardew and Bruce –  hardly the intelligentsia of British football management.

The worry is that the our  next 3 league games all look awful, with City followed by 2 sides with new managers, both of whom got the better of Martinez last time round at their former clubs. Either side of these fixtures are a probable dog of a game against West Ham in the Cup and then the derby, with 4 of these 5 games taking place in the current reverse-bear pit atmos of Goodison.

Quite how we have unravelled so quickly is anyone’s guess and the stick Martinez is getting is increasingly difficult to bat back, with legitimate beefs being made about selections and approach with every game.

Sadly you get the feeling that it could get even worse before it gets better.

EB