Tactical Deconstruction: BSC Young Boys 1-4 Everton

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Teams and Tactics

Roberto Martinez made two changes to the side which narrowly lost to Chelsea last week with Kevin Mirallas coming in for Aaron Lennon on the right flank and James McCarthy replacing Mo Besic in midfield. The BSC Young Boys side was pretty much as we thought, with the only slight surprise being Sutter’s replacement by Hadergjonaj at right back for the home side. Both sides were pretty much 4-2-3-1 from the start.

First Half

From the off Everton were superb. The pitch perhaps played its part in making the ball zip a bit quicker, but  this was secondary to Everton’s brave attacking play that was characterised by quick counters from Barkley, Mirallas and Lukaku, all of whom had the beating of their markers 1v1.

After 10 minutes Everton could have had already been 3 goals to the good with  Lukaku (2) and Barkley all denied by  the impressive Mvogo, however in true Everton style the toffees contrived to find themselves a goal down as Young Boys scored with their first shot of the game.

After Coleman had conceded possession via a miscued cross into the Young Boys box the home side broke down our right side through Nuzzolo. When the ball was worked inside to one time Everton target Guillaume Hoarau  20 yards from goal, Phil Jagielka should perhaps have shifted the French unit onto his weaker foot but instead let him take aim and curl a lovely right footed effort over Howard’s outstretched left hand with the keeper perhaps too far off his line.

Despite the goal Everton were by far the better side at this point.

Due to the massive pace advantage we had over the home side in their final third, Young Boys were dropping off to the edge of their own box when we won the ball back which meant there was bags of room for us to manoeuvre  in between their defence and midfield lines.  Barry, Barkley and Naismith were the chief beneficiaries, creating plenty of overloads predominantly down Young Boys  right side.

Lukaku was having more joy in the air than usual, possibly due to Young Boys weak as piss centre back duo dropping off him so much. Having gone close with an earlier header from Oviedo’s cross,  a double take was then duly dispatched by the Belgian with Gareth Barry, who was majestic throughout, the creator from the left flank with a lovely left footed delivery.

Everton’s control at this point was total, dominating possession to the tune of 70%+ and the second goal arrived 4 minutes later. It followed a  slick 20+ pass move which had Young Boys defensive shape ‘ragged all over the place’ to coin a tactical soccer term. The move culminated in Naismith and Barkley – who dovetailed beautifully throughout the first half – playing an exquisite one two in the Young Boys box that ended with the relentless jocko drilling the ball across Mvogo for  Coleman to tap in at the far post.

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Naismith was having a monster of game, surpassing even his usual gritty standards by winning free kicks aplenty and generally running his tripe out for the cause. His defensive header from a BSC corner would set us on our way to goal number three just before the break in another rapid, quick fire counter. With Young Boys back peddling, Oviedo played a sumptuous back heel to the marauding  – don’t adjust your set – Gareth Barry, whose centre was tapped home by Lukaku.

With the home side in meltdown, further misery almost arrived at their door just prior to half time. Another  counter charge, this time led by Barkley, ended with Mirallas going clear however the Belgian forward was for once out muscled, meaning we went in 3-1 up at the interval.

Second Half

The second period developed as per the first with Young Boys again trying to pepper us with crosses from Steffen down our right side, presumably in the hope that Hoarau could make something from the first or second ball. The approach yielded minimal gains.

As with the first half, Everton’s  counters were relentless and on 58 minutes another break – again triggered by a Naismith header from inside his own box – ended in Barkley rolling in Lukaku to clip a great finish over Mvogo for goal #4.

Lukaku had 3 further great chances after this with Coleman, Barry and Garbutt all putting superb balls into the box for him to feed off, however on each occasion the forward’s finishing wasn’t as ruthless as it was earlier in the game. That shouldn’t detract from his display, though, as he had  a highly impressive 7 shots on target – the best return of his Everton career.

The only sour note was the red card for Stones for a professional foul on Hoarau following poor concentration from the youngster. The tussle with the big Frenchman will serve as a good lesson for Stones, who struggled all night against a player who is in essence a glittery Kevin Davies.

Young Boys threw on another striker and went more direct after the red card, but the switch was to prove futile.

Martinez went 4-3-2 with Barkley and Naismith moving inside to join Barry to clog up midfield with Lukaku and Mirallas left up front for quick breaks. The move was a wise one as the Blues still managed to control the game even with a man less, to the tune of 55% of possession in the final 20 minutes.

In summary this was an ace, end to end game between two sides committed to attack. We finally seem to have found the balance  between keeping things tight and looking a genuine threat in the final third – an equilibrium that has eluded us for most of the season. With key players seemingly coming back into form and a decent run of fixtures ahead of us it sets things up nicely for the last few months of the season.

Up the toffees!

EB

A first glance at BSC Young Boys

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With the Premier League ‘campaign’ pretty much a dead duck for us, the Europa League is now the only remaining opportunity to salvage something from what has been a pretty crud season. Standing in the way of a place in the last 16 are BSC Young Boys – one of the leading lights in what is a fairly average Swiss League – in what should be a pretty tight affair over the two legs. Being a proper sad meff I’ve watched some of Young Boys Europa group games and what follows is my protracted assessment of what lies in store over the two legs, starting with the boss Uli Forte.

New Picture (124)The Boss: Uli Forte (Win Ratio as manager 57%)

A defender by trade, second generation Italian Forte’s first big gig came as boss of St Gallen, inheriting a side who had just been relegated to the second tier of Swiss football. Forte overseen promotion in his first season and then stabilised things before getting the bullet in his third season, a campaign which would ultimately result in relegation.

His next job would be at Grasshopper and although he was only there for 1 full season it would be a fruitful one; he improved the clubs points total by 43 on the previous season, moving from 3rd bottom to 2nd top, returned the club to the Champions League and bagged the Swiss cup.

Whilst trophies haven’t followed yet at Young Boys he has overseen great improvements, with a 16 point swing in his first campaign and this season his points per game ratio has also steadily risen. It’s especially impressive given that a lot of the big hitters from the squad he inherited have moved onto bigger leagues, indeed from the side that beat Spurs in the ECL playoff 2 years ago only English born Sutter is likely to start next week.

Its hard to really define his team’s style. In their games so far in the EL they haven’t dominated possession, nor have they dominated territory. They are more set up to play counter attack but with Hoarau up top they can be more direct should they wish.

Ok, so what about the team….

The Defensive Unit

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New Picture (119)Yvon Mvogo  (Keeper) Only 20 years of age but has been preferred to Swiss International and former club captain Wolfili for the bulk of this season, and especially in Europe. The Napoli away defeat provided a decent microcosm of his good and bad qualities, firstly with an impressive 7 saves which kept the score respectable. On the flip side  his command of the area was poor, continually struggling with crosses and making a truly comedy gaffe to gift Napoli their second goal.

New Picture (98)Scott Sutter (RB) Formerly a junior at Charlton, London born Sutter is a right back who can also play in midfield and – less convincingly- at left back. A mainstay of the side, he played a vital role bombing forward in the win over Spurs 2 seasons ago  and was equally impressive vs Bratislava away, crucially picking up 2 assists from the right flank.

New Picture (13)Jan Lecjaks (LB) – Big, physically imposing left back who is comfortable shuffling across to centre back. Poses little threat on the ball and is generally uncomfortable going forward in possession. His back-up Rochat played vs Napoli but endured a miserable night that culminated in gifting clown keck’s mob their third goal.

New Picture (12)Milan Vilotic (DC)- 28 year old right footed Serbian International centre back who previously spent 3 seasons at Red Star in his homeland. His time in Belgrade came to a sticky end after a feud with Robert Prosinecki, and it’s not the first time his mentality has been called into question. A tall, aggressive ball winning defender, he can be caught out in 1v1’s and perhaps likes to go to ground a bit too easily. Not massively comfortable on the ball and can be caught in possession.

New Picture (99)Steve Von Bergen (DC)- Skipper and decent covering defender with good levels of concentration. Has good pedigree having played in the Bundesliga and Serie A plus he has featured in x2 World Cups for Switzerland. Will play on the left of centre alongside Vilotic.

Midfield

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New Picture (14)Sekou Sanogo Junior (DMC)- Defensive midfielder from the Ivory Coast who will play on the left of central midfield. Can drive forward and beat players using his physique, gives a good aerial presence and isn’t afraid of ruffing things up in midfield, often going to ground and giving away unnecessary fouls. Along with Hoarau he will be the main target for free kicks and corners.

New Picture (15)Milan Gajic (DMC)- 28 year old Serbian central midfielder, a good passer but who has dubious levels of concentration and defensively isn’t great. Plays right of centre but is left footed so it would be worth running at his weaker side. His Balkan battle in the middle of the park with Besic cold be one to keep an eye on.

New Picture (122)Yuya Kubo (AMC)- 21 year old two footed second striker who will predominantly drift to the left. Came through the ranks at Kyoto Sanga  which is one of the J-League’s most prolific talent production lines .Fellow BSC creative sparks Josef Martinez and Michael Frey have moved onto Serie A and Ligue 1 respectively, meaning Kubo is now pretty much a first pick, Has good acceleration and will look to pick up the ball in deep areas and drive into the opposition half. Can be easily dispossessed against more physically robust opponents.

Forwards

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New Picture (120)Guillaume Hoarau (FC) One time Everton target under Moyes, Hoarau is a one man battering ram. Has scored 5 in 5 starts in the Europa this season and having previously turned out for PSG and Bordeaux he has plenty of pedigree and big game experience to call on and no forward has won more aerials per game in the tournament than he has. Jags and co will be well served by keeping a high-ish line to prevent him doing damage from crosses and also keeping him on his weaker right foot. Bagged 2 in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Grasshoppers which helped BSC leapfrog Zurich into 2nd spot in the table.

New Picture (121)Raphael Nuzzolo (FL)- Converted from a forward into a winger, Nuzzolo is a right footed wide attacker who will play on the left and look to cut inside onto his better foot. He is clever, can head, volley and dink nice one touch goals. Top Young Boys scorer in the league this season with 5 goals and scored against Liverpool in the EL a few seasons ago.

New Picture (123)Renato Steffan (FR) I like this cat. Left footed wide midfielder, he is a good dribbler and crosser. For me he is their chief danger man – he is at his best running at defenders and made the crucial assist for goal 2 v napoli. The main creative force with plenty of assists in his locker, he is also the joint top scorer for the club in the league this season. Is also good at picking up free kicks and has decent movement in the opposition 6 yard box, particularly in the air.

Likely ressies….

Ghana forward Afum offers a pacy alternative although in front of goal he is very erratic with just 2 goals in 15 Swiss League games this season. Right sided Argentine Zarate is a much more credible gunslinger from the bench, and he scored against the RS in the group stage a few seasons ago.

Betting points to consider

  • Despite finishing second in their group Young Boys won more points and scored more goals in their group than we did
  • They are particularly strong at home in Europe, having won 7 on the spin and scoring 19 goals in the process, conceding only 2.
  • When the sides meet this week  Young Boys would have played only twice since the last round of Europa League games (1 win and 1 draw) compared to the twelve games we have been involved in.
  • Young Boys have scored 3 goals in each of their last 2 home games against English opponents at home (Spurs & Liverpool).

Bong Verdict

Young Boys will be a difficult side to get the better of and it wouldn’t surprise me if we narrowly lost the opening leg, such is the strength of their home form . Man for man they are weaker than Lille and Wolfsburg, though, and I could see us putting three past them at Goodison.

EFC to win 4-3 on aggregate.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Chelsea 1-0 Everton

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Teams

Roberto Martinez brought back Tim Howard and Ross Barkley whilst handing a debut to  Aaron ‘Buzzing’ Lennon. The unfortunate Robles along with Mirallas and McCarthy made was for the trio. Shape wise it was more forward thinking than the dreary derby with an extra forward player and a return to 4-2-3-1.

Chelsea remained without piss boiling neanderthal Costa (suspended) and his snide sidekick Fabregas, which was a positive given that they absolutely destroyed us at Goodison back in September. The increasingly tedious Mourinho opted to go with Remy  up front with Willian, Hazard and Cuadrado in behind in a similar 4-2-3-1.

First Half

Everton settled into the game well and had the best chance of the half inside the first fifteen minutes. The move started when Gareth Barry regained possession well on our 18 yard line from Remy and launched a long ball to Lukaku to forage for.  Decent work then ensued from Lennon and Barkley to engineer an opening for Lukaku 20 yards from goal on his right foot.  Cech wrongly anticipated that the ball would go across him but smartly left out a leg and repelled the goalbound effort. With Zouma’s pace on the right of Chelsea’s defence the ball down the left  side of Terry looked like an area Lukaku could expose if played him in correctly.

For the first 20 minutes we dominated the ball (60%) albeit most of our possession was in Chelsea’s half with our hosts controlling the space better with significantly more territory than us.Chelsea kept three players on our 18 yard line when Howard had it so there wasn’t really much chance of us playing out from the back.

Matic is a monster for hoovering up second balls and when  possession was turned over in our half it was inevitably the big Serbian who was the winner of the ball, predominantly feeding Willian who in turn would look to Hazard down the left to run at Besic. The Bosnian was increasingly on a sticky wicket after his early yellow card for a foul on Hazard and his predicament wasn’t helped by  Gareth Barry also going into the book for a foul on Cuadrado. This consequently put both our defensive midfielders in a difficult position when Chelsea broke as, with our wingbacks upfield, Lennon and Naismith increasingly had to ‘put in a shift’ defensively more than they would like so that Besic/Barry weren’t left 1v1.

Despite being 50-50 in terms of possession at half time we had for the most part struggled to get out of our half and when we did Naismith often chose the wrong option.

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Second Half

Besic’s high risk strategy cost him his place in the team for the second  half with McCarthy coming on to replace him.

After the break it was less fluid on the ball from the Blues and more about a rearguard action, which to be fair was superbly marshalled by Everton’s best two players on the night, Phil Jagielka and John Stones. Our problem was that we just couldn’t get any decent possession to relieve the pressure on the duo and whereas possession in the first half was 50-50 it increasingly became a landslide in Chelsea’s favour after the break.

We did have some decent moments, albeit they were few and far between.

In a rare counter attacking situation Barkley’s pass into Lukaku’s feet was good, however the Belgian’s run was ill-timed and the linesman correctly flagged him offside. After having the best chance in the first half the big man then had the best in the second, and this one was even better. After Oviedo’s initial centre had been blocked, McCarthy superbly picked him out again down the Chelsea right and the Costa Rican’s delivery was of pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately Lukaku failed to steer the ball away from Cech whose save – again with his feet – was pretty impressive.

Aaron Lennon endured a mixed full debut, but after the break it was more bad than good. His major issue seems to be that he’s too ‘head down’ and whilst getting the ball into the box is refreshing – and  something we’ve been in dire need of all season –  he’ll need to lift his head up more before putting the ball into the box if he’s to make an impact at L4.

Azpilicueta in the Ashley Cole 'hold me back lads' role

Azpilicueta in the Ashley Cole ‘hold me back lads’ role

Mourinho now made a double change,  bringing on Fabregas and Drogba for Remy and Cuadrado in an attempt to get the ball into the box earlier as prior to this it had been too slow with our defensive shape rigid enough to repel anything that was thrown at us.

Chelsea had dominated possession and the shot count, but there wasn’t a great deal of ingenuity in the final third by the champions elect. Their 45 crosses was a sign of both a lack of ideas and desperation, however as the game edged towards the 90th minute there was almost an inevitability that they would eek one over the line somehow (as they did in this fixture last season) and so it proved.

The trigger was a second booking for Gareth Barry, who I thought had a decent game and won more tackles and interceptions than any  player from either side. His red card led to a free kick down our right side which was duly punted into our box.

Willian was to prove the match winner, pinging in a great shot that went through a ruck of bodies and inside Howard’s left hand post after the free kick had initially been cleared.  In true Everton style Ivanovic was involved in creating the opportunity after a minute earlier attempting a WWE style manoeuvre on McCarthy for which the block headed, balding tramp received no punishment.

Howard had previously made 3 smart saves from Matic, Willian and Remy and whilst the goal did come from a deflection of Naismith there will be questions over his punch which proceeded it –  legitimate scrutiny given Robles recent run of clean sheets which preceded Howard’s return. You could also raise the question as to why Martinez left Barry on when he was finely dangling on a yellow and instead took Barkley off.

Conclusion

This was a really good defensive display from the Blues with some stylish and often stubborn defensive play from the backline. Alas, as with the Liverpool game we were unable to link midfield to attack well enough and despite having the best 2  chances of the game there was precious little else from us on the ball and this inability to relieve the pressure on the defence with any sustained periods of possession in the opposition half meant that a Chelsea goal was always likely.

Two wins in sixteen isn’t great and whilst the defensive displays have been much improved since the horror of Hull we still seem desperately short going forward with the conundrum of finding a balance between the two continuing to elude Martinez.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Catenaccio and Mouse derby ends all square

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Preamble

This Merseyside Derby won’t be one that will live long in the memory as a tedious tactical joust between Martinez the phenomenal and Brenny the outstanding ended in abject stalemate.

After the 6 goal humdinger last season there was anticipation aplenty that this game could deliver a similar yield of both goals and excitement, although that was probably misguided given that both sides were without key attacking performers from last season. Added to this, the away defence had not been breached once in open play this year whilst we had just recorded  back to back clean sheets for the first time this season. All things considered, stalemate was perhaps the more likely outcome.

Still, for us to record just one shot on target, and crucially only create three chances in the entire game – the worst return of any game under Roberto Martinez – was something of a surprise.

High pressure triangle

Obviously sacrificing a forward player (McGeady) for a predominantly defensive one (McCarthy) meant we were more cut out for the defensive side of things than bombing forward. The Irishman started alongside Barry and Besic in a high pressure triangle in the middle of the Goodison midfield and was the pick of the three, winning more first and second balls than any player from either side.

Liverpool have had some joy since the turn of the year by deploying a four man square in midfield and Martinez had clearly done his due diligence. Besic and McCarthy occupied the forward corners of the square (picking up Stevie me and Coutinho respectively) with Barry the spare man on the ball in between the duo.

In terms of pressure, the main approach from us was to allow Sakho to receive the ball and then play on his lack of composure, but it worked only a couple of times. Mostly we let Liverpool have the ball in their half and allowed coma-inducing sideways shuffler Allen to knock balls to and from his centre backs. It was only when it was pinged into Gerrard (apparently playing in his last Derby)and Coutinho when Besic and McCarthy quickly engaged to close the spaces down.

Gerard’s passing was as slack as Henderson’s jaw at times, but luckily Brenny’s sentimentality kept him on for the full 90 despite Coutinho creating more openings in half the time of his leggy colleague.

Overall Liverpool had more quality on the ball to get from the halfway line into our box than we did, albeit Robles was barely forced into a serious save all afternoon.

Forward failings

Sadly our endeavour off the ball wasn’t matched by our quality on it, particularly in the final third.

The main forward pass (Barry to Lukaku) was sprung ten times, however this service was largely squandered by the big man. Lukaku struggled to either beat his man or link play effectively with one particularly bad piece of control in the first half after Mirallas had zipped one into his feet 25 yards from Liverpool’s goal costing us a decent opportunity to hit Liverpool on the counter. At other times the timing of his runs was equally erratic,  often going too quick and leading to him being caught offside 4 times.

Naismith is great at finding space and doing the donkey work for the Belgians, but with the ball at his feet in the final third he comes up short too, and he lost possession more than any player on the pitch. Mirallas on the right showed a similar lack of thrust in what is usually one of his more enterprising fixtures.

All in all the trio didn’t receive enough ball but when they did the return was poor.

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The only time we really stirred was on 78 mins after Jordan ‘Hendo’ Henderson attempted an Ashley Cole style ‘hold me back lads’ kebab shop confrontation on Naismith after Besic had pulled his flick knife on Ibe. The G-Star raw clobbered bell whiff’s plassie hardman act was as transparent as his complete lack of football ability, which seemingly consists of little other than running.

The incident was followed by Barkley coming on for Naismith and a reshuffle which seen Alcaraz coming into the backline and Stones pushing further forward. It was then that we had the game’s best chance with Coleman being superbly played in by Barkley only for Mignolet to impressively repel his goal bound shot.

Conclusion

Given that West Ham are the only side we’ve beaten in the top half of the table I guess a point against Liverpool is good in the context of the season, but overall this wasn’t great fare. Martinez problem all season has been an inability to find the right balance, principally to be able to harness good attacking play with a resolute defence.

We now seem more able to shut up shop -we’ve now only conceded 1 goal in 4 league games – but it has generally been at the detriment of our attacking play with an increasingly feeble return going forward.

Martinez biggest obstacle in being able to successfully  jump-start the season is by finding an equilibrium between the two, and ideally sometime in the next month.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Crystal Palace 0-1 Everton

New Picture (98)The Preamble

The latest instalment in Everton’s new year season-salvage operation took us to Selhurst Park for a showdown with cock piss pardew and Crystal Palace.

In his 8 previous tussles with the joop whiffing ming, both he and martinez have shared 4 wins each, with Pardew coming out on top in the most recent face-off at St James at the end of December.

The Eagles excellent form since the tkmaxx Swiss Tony took charge,  coupled with the catastrofuck showings we have churned out away from L4 of late  made the home side most people’s favourites for this one before kick off. The fear of impending doom was particularly potent given that Palace had slayed us in our last 2 meetings, although you could argue those wins were a tad fortuitous given they scored 6 times from just 7 shots on target.

Teams and Tactics

In terms of selection, the much maligned Aiden McGeady returned to the toffees starting elven at the expense of Ross Barkley, and formed a jet healed front three with fellow speedsters Mirallas and lukaku. Naismith played the duel role of target man and midfield dogsbody.

Palace were without 2 of their more effective players with tough tackling Jedinak and toffee oppressor Bolasie (both in international duty) missing out. The home side lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Puncheon and Gayle on the flanks and Chamakh behind Sanogo up front.

Counter Attack Toffees

Given the personnel Martinez selected, our game was even more suited to counter attacking than usual and the opening goal after just 2 minutes was a classic.

Stones played a long pass into Palaces left channel and after some brain dead defending by Delaney the ever willing Steven Naismith went through on goal. Although Speroni repelled the Scotsman’s initial effort Romelu Lukaku was on hand to bundle home the loose ball for his 10th goal of the campaign.

The late goals of last season may well have dried up, but we do get out of the traps early this campaign –  no side in the league has scored as many goals in the opening 10 minutes of games this season as have the toffees.

Given our setup and the fact Palace were chasing the game there was an inevitability about the onslaught on Robles goal that ensued.

Palace had more possession and territory but they didn’t really create too much.

The home side huffed and puffed but were pretty much out of ideas by the interval, resorting to peppering Robles 18 yard box with cross after cross – 38 in total- in a futile exercise of brainless football.  Robles stood his ground well, though, and made an impressive 9 claims from crosses – a figure Howard has failed to surpass in any game this season.

Defensive strengths return

At the back it was a defence masterclass that Josephine Karlsson would have been proud of.

Whether this was down to fresher legs from the warm weather training camp in Qatar is unclear, but there was a significant spike in Everton’s workrate off the ball in this game.  In total we made  81 defensive actions in the game (defensive actions = interceptions + clearances + blocks) which was the highest figure in any game since Martinez took charge. To put that into context our average per game this season is 52.

Naismith, Barry and Besic were pretty ordinary on the ball but off it they run their tripe out in a midfield pressure triangle of terror. At the back Jagielka had one of his most commanding games in ages, crucially repelling Palaces best chance off the line shortly after we had taken the lead. The skipper made more defensive actions (24) than any of his colleagues and was a worthy shout for man of the match.

On the ball we can certainly do better, and our ball share and pass completion figures were both the 3rd worst we have posted this season, although there was mitigating factors in place.  Besic and Barry looked to play to our strengths on the break, so there was little desire to dominate possession.Instead we let Palace have the ball in our half and when play was regained the midfield duo would look to play longer, more direct forward passes into the gulleys for the wide players to run into, albeit it had mixed results.

In Conclusion

This one was all about the result with the key takeaway being our impressive capability off the ball to dig in and repel everything Palace could throw at us. The result means we are unbeaten in five since the horror of Hull and that back to back clean sheets have been secured for the first time this season – an indicator that the ship is finally steering itself out of stormy waters.

There is a feeling now that this could be the launch of a prolonged assault at rectifying the madness of Christmas in the league and also in the Europa – hopefully continuing next week by turning the rs over at L4.

Up the toffees!

EB

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