Arsenal 0-0 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Line-ups

We made one change from the weekend, with Ross Barkley coming in for the injured Leon Osman meaning that Fellaini dropped back into midfield with Anichebe as the lone forward. Arsenal brought in Walcott, Mertesacker and Gibbs to the side that beat Norwich at the weekend.

Off the ball

Generally we did a good number on Arsenal’s passing game by swamping the middle of the park. The Gunners boast the highest pass completion (85.9%) and possession share (58.9%) in the top flight. In the first half particularly, we had them down to 79% for the majority, with their key link man and most frequent passer, the ex toffee Mikel Arteta recording just 55 passes during the game, way down on his 88 per game average.  The Spanish schemer on average is dispossessed just 0.8 times per game whilst tonight he was dispossessed 3 times – more than in any other game this season.

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The above takes into account pressing ‘contacts’ including tackles, interceptions, blocks and fouls broken down into 15 minute spells.

Fellaini was perhaps lucky to escape a booking early on for some rough stuff aimed at Mike Skinner tribute act Jack Wilshere whilst – despite the best efforts of Arteta – Darron Gibson just about stayed on the pitch after some tangles with Wilshere and Arteta. To be fair to the Spaniard, we didn’t mind him buying fouls and being a snide when he played for us! Overall we defended resolutely with Jagielka and Coleman particularly impressive in what was a high intensity tussle.

On the ball

On the ball, our own pass completion was decent,  in the first half peaking at 83% with us having more of the ball (50.3%) than the Gunners which is well up on our usual stats against the top sides when we tend to be more subservient.

In the second half Arsenal turned the screw more, eventually finishing the game with 57% of the ball as we sat deeper but failed to instigate as many counter attacks as we did at Spurs.

Anichebe endured a frustrating afternoon and didn’t really hold the ball up and bring in the wide attacking midfielders as he should have done with MIrallas and Barkley only receiving one pass each from the Nigerian. Overall he received 24 balls which led to just 9 passes, with just 5 completed successfully.

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The display of Ross Barkley in his ‘favoured’ role was one of the most promising aspects of the game going forward and he was more effective at linking the play than Anichebe.

Barkley received the most passes from Fellaini (7) and played in Mirallas (6) the most. His pass completion (86%) was well up on the 50% he posted vs Spurs and only bettered by Distin and Gibson (88%).  He also made the joint most shots, through balls and key passes with his sumptuous slide pass to Anichebe in the first half and his long range effort in the second our most threatening ‘moments’ in the game.

Conclusion

This was a decent effort by the Blues in a game which was at its best in the first half. Overall we didn’t really create a lot of chances, particularly in the second half of the game when Arsenal overturned the passing figures which we shaded in the first half. The point doesn’t really do much for us but given our shocking record against Arsenal and in the context of the pressure they put us under in the second half, this was a point gained rather than two lost.

EB

Spurs 2-2 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Tactics

Spurs lined up in a 4-3-3 of sorts with Holtby, Parker and Dembele in central midfield with width coming from Sigurdsson on the left and Dempsey on the right with Adebayor up front. As he did in the game at Goodison, Vertonghen came in at left full back with Walker on the opposite flank.

After last week’s three at the back experiment we reverted to a back four with the surprise inclusion of Ross Barkley in place of Jelavic the only personnel change.  Barkley initially lined up on the left but he, Mirallas and Osman all dovetailed a fair bit in an interchangeable trio of attacking mids in the first half. You could say it was 4-2-3-1 but basically it was 6 defenders and four counter attacking players.

First Half

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Spurs started the game in a rapid fashion with attacks focused down their left channel with Vertonghen, Holtby and Sigurdsson overloading down this side and putting significant pressure on Seamus Coleman.

Our start defensively couldn’t have been worse; with Mirallas not in position, Vertonghen was able to whip in a ball that was disastrously defended by Distin to allow Adebayor to slot home.

We then came back strongly with a really good 15 minute period of possession when pass completion peaked at 83%– better than any  other spell of the game. With Spurs pinned back we deservedly went in level when Jagielka headed home Baines delivery.

Passing Combinations

Spurs three bodies against our two in central midfield enabled Dembele, Parker and Holtby to be involved in the bulk of Spurs top 10 passing combinations as shown below;

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For ourselves, the blossoming Victor Anichebe was the key man, being involved in 50% of our top 10 passing combinations. In keeping with our game plan, Anichebe was the target for direct balls up field and was asked to link play with the trio in behind him with Mirallas and Osman the major beneficiaries.  Anichebe/Mirallas (14) was second only to Baines/Osman (15) in terms of total combinations both ways.

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Second Half

Ross Barkley was subbed in the 52nd minute after something of a patchy game. The youngster played a key role in forcing the corner for our opening goal but found the going tough against Spurs pressing game with 50% of his passes finding a white shirt – the lowest completion of any of the starting outfield players. Incidentally, the final pass which seemed to prompt the change came when a forward pass was on but the youngster unwisely opted to play a backwards pass that was intercepted.

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In the  reshuffle that followed, Jelavic came on and Leon Osman moved across to the left flank with Mirallas – who superbly slotted our second goal – moving to play almost as a right sided forward and thus pushing back Vertonghen who had been Spurs prominent attacking full back in the first half. This move led to Kyle Walker becoming the main lateral threat in the second half with Baines being pushed even further back as the game unfolded.

As the second half player importance visual above shows, we were increasingly deeper positionally in the second period with the gap between our defensive 6 and forward 4 becoming a gulf. This led to us hitting 20% of our passes long, way up on the season average of 14%.

With legs tiring, mistakes on the ball became more frequent for the toffees and resulted in our pass completion from 75 minutes onwards plummeting to just 58%. Being unable to keep the ball for any prolonged period of time put increasing pressure on the backline and eventually it cracked with Sigurdsson scoring after Walker had skinned Baines down our left flank.

To be fair, Spurs are a top side and as well as being slick on the ball they press ferociously of it; despite having 62% of possession they regained play via tackle or interception as many times as we did (40) and also made double the amount of fouls than we did.

Conclusion

This was tactically a good performance by the Blues and was a game-plan we have seen executed on more than one occasion with a draw probably a fair result. Spurs will point to their territorial and possession dominance as pointers that they deserved all three points however due to our defensive operation they didn’t translate this possession into scoring chances and I felt that on the counter attack we looked equally if not more threatening and could have scored a couple more goals than we did in what was a frenetic second period.  The point doesn’t really do much for us in terms of making up ground on teams above us however as a game it was cracking entertainment and gave us 4 points from 6 against a very good Spurs side.

EB

Tactical Analysis: The Everton Back 3 Experiment

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The  Stoke Problem

Our recent record against Stoke has been  poor with no wins in our last 4 matches against Pulis side and no clean sheets. Often we have failed to win the territory / aerial battles and been outnumbered through the middle on the second balls.  The problem was even more problematic given the absence of Fellaini – one of our most aerially dominant players – due to suspension.

Ever the reactive tactician, Moyes looked to combat this through springing a surprise in his selection, opting to deploy three centre backs (circled blue) with Coleman and Baines providing the width (as they usually do anyway) as wing backs in a 3-4-3- ish system.

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In midfield,  Osman/Gibson supported an attacking trio of Mirallas, Anichebe and Jelavic with the Croatian through the middle and Anichebe (right) / Mirallas (left)  playing more supportive roles on the flanks (3-4-2-1) when we didn’t have the ball (circled yellow) and then when possession was regained Anichebe would come inside alongside Jelavic with Mirallas in behind (3-4-1-2). The tactical change was surprising given that such a setup is un-chartered territory for Moyes who always prefers a back four.

Many sides have used a similar back three setup against Stoke over the last season to combat the route one punts down the middle of the park – some with more success than others.  In terms of shape, Jagielka was the middle man who would predominantly attack the long deliveries –he won the most headers (8) on the pitch – whilst Distin came in on the left with Heitinga on the right.

Pros and Cons of 3 at the back

The key benefit of the back three is that it gave us a man advantage against Stoke’s two centre forwards Crouch and Jerome . This gave us better coverage through the middle and led to our figures in terms of aerials and second balls improving based on recent games against the Potters.

In this game we won 49% of the aerial duels which was a better figure than the game earlier this season (37%) and last season’s games home and away. Having more players in this central area meant we were better equipped bodies wise to hoover up the second balls too. In the corresponding fixture last season Stoke won  73% of their second balls whilst yesterday we restricted them significantly in this area to just 56%.  Heitinga is the better of the three on the ball and with Distin and Jagielka picking up Crouch/Jerome it meant Heitinga was usually  free to mop up and bring the ball out from the back unopposed. As the passing network shows he pushed the ball into midfield more than any of the 3, predominantly picking out Gibson who in turn looked to pick out Coleman to start attacks down the right.

In terms of the flanks it meant that wing backs  Baines/Coleman could focus more on the attacking role which is where their best attributes reside.

The disadvantage on the flanks was that we were numerically outnumbered and couldn’t engineer the 2 v 1 situations in the final third which is usually a hallmark of our attacking play.

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This is particularly evident when looking at the passing network with Baines only receiving 2 passes from Mirallas in front of him compared to the double figures he usually gets from Pienaar and thus Baines was largely reliant on Leon Osman for service down his flank. This led to us firing in just 20 crosses compared to the 44 we desperately hammered in last season against Stoke.

One of the reasons the back three system is favoured against Stoke is because the numerical deficit on the flanks isn’t really exploited due to Stoke’s full backs primarily tucking in and rarely crossing the half way line to exploit this  advantage with their wide midfielder.

Conclusions

The ends justifies the means and you would have to say the back three experiment did the job in what was always going to be a war of attrition against a hard to watch Stoke outfit.The result also puts us in good shape for some of the crucial battles against key rivals in the coming weeks.

Offensively the lack of numbers on the flanks meant we didn’t create much with the exception of Mirallas excellent goal. Defensively however we looked more secure through the middle and restricted Stoke to few scoring chances with the Potters as usual very reliant on set plays.

Stoke look in big trouble; despite investing  heavily in the playing squad they are on course for their worst points total since returning to the top flight as well as their lowest goals output and seem incapable of creating anything from open play.

EB

Everton 2-0 Man City – Tactical Deconstruction

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Teams and Tactics

The Toffee’s made two changes from the limp FA Cup exit with Jelavic and Neville carrying the can and replaced by Anichebe and Gibson.  City looked to combat our aerial assault by conceding the flanks and overloading in central zones with three centre halves Kolo Toure, Nastasic and Zabaleta. On the left, Kolorov made his first start since the last game against us back in December in place of Clichy presumably for his height and delivery as we will usually push City out to the flanks. On the right, vanilla flavoured James Milner has started the last 3 at Goodison in an attempt to reign in Baines mischief so it was equally unsurprising that he was deployed here from the start.

First 60 Minutes…

The Toffee’s used a ‘contract and expand’ type approach to this match; when City had the ball we formed a compact block and when possession was regained we’d make the pitch as large as possible with Coleman and Baines pushing right up field.  Coleman was the out-ball throughout with Gibson (7) and Mucha (6) feeding the full back most frequently.

We know City would look to play through the middle so when we lost the ball our players would shrink the middle of the pitch with wide players tucking inside and closing off passing angles to the likes of Silva and Tevez who increasingly had to funnel across to wide areas to pick up passes.

Southampton make the most interceptions in the top flight with an average of 19.9 per game however yesterday we made a whopping 26 with the below visual showing how predominantly they came in-field and not down the flanks with the clearly ace Gibson (7) making the most.

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The game’s opening goal came after some patient build up play by the Blues with Osman switching play from left to right, feeding the excellent Seamus Coleman. The Irishman moved the ball inside for Osman and with City standing off him – as they did later for the Jelavic goal – the pint sized schemer was able to pop a cracker into the top corner of block headed gaming enthusiast Joe Hart’s net.  Mancini then switched to a back four prior to half time with Zabaleta pushing out to right back, Milner pushing into midfield and Silva moving to left midfield.

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Post Red Card

With a man disadvantage, Operation Goodison lockdown commenced with more of a focus on the defensive game than the previous full throttle attacking overload from the first half.  Moyes withdrew Fellaini into a deeper midfield role and Osman pushed out to the left flank with Anichebe thus increasingly isolated, feeding predominantly of long balls which he did superbly. The less dynamic Naismith was brought on for Mirallas presumably for his better defensive capabilities particularly as an aerial outlet.  Credit must go to the much maligned Scot as his industry was crucial in winning the ball back for Fellaini to tee up Jelavic for goal two.

City brought on Nasri to play through the middle in place of the awful Gareth Barry in a bid to give their passing a bit more depth and incision which worked to an extent. City unsurprisingly swelled possession in the last 30 mins and with more space to manoeuvre in the centre of the pitch for the likes of Silva and Nasri chances became more frequent with 9 of their 17 opportunities coming within this time period.

As the game developed we relied increasingly on the lion hearted running of Seamus Coleman,  who made more successful dribble than anyone on the pitch. Goodness knows what slow releasing energy foodstuffs they feed the young wingback at Finch Farm for his breakfast. With most players dead on their feet in the dying embers of the battle, Coleman’s late bursts where the football equivalent of a withered clubber re-energised at dawn courtesy of an ill judged double drop of love beans. Alexsander Kolorov will certainly be happy to see the back of him.

Conclusion

Just as last week was a microcosm of the negative aspects of Moyes, today provided a reminder of the good things with hard work, bloody minded determination combined with quality and a streetwise cunning in the important zones.

For Mancini, Everton will always be his ‘laces out’ Ray Finkle moment. The Italian spoke after the 1-1 draw in December about how there is ‘no solution’ to playing Everton. He must feel like a man banging his head against a brick wall as everything he tried failed. This time out he went with 3 centre backs, then switched to a back four and then back to a back 3 in the final period of the game. The formations changed but whichever shape he went for City were second best in the face of an opponent fired up by the fall-out from last week.

We’ve now webbed United and City this season – a feat only matched by Real Madrid – but now need to follow this up with results at rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs plus the local dispute at the Tin Mine. All the above are places we have continually failed to get points in past campaigns but which will ultimately define our season.

EB

Everton 3-1 Reading – Tactical Deconstruction

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Passing / Territory Stats

The Toffee’s comfortably had more of the ball (60% v 40% ) and kept it better (80% v 70%) with better final third completion (82% v 74%) leading to us creating 18 chances to Reading’s 6.

This is fairly consistent with Reading this season with McDermott preferring a territory based game in the opponents half of the pitch and often by-passing the middle of the park. To achieve this he uses 2 forwards to keep opposition defenders ‘penned in’ and will look to hit them early from the back. This formula worked to an extent with the Royals shading territory 50.4% to 49.6%.

Right Side

The key to this win was utilising the right side which had a hand in all 3 goals and created 47% of our chances compared to just 26% from the left side.

The below passing network gives an indication of who passed to who….

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Notes on ‘The Passing Network’: Only displays players who have played for the bulk of the game. The vertical axis shows the player who has made the pass with the horizontal showing the receiver, i.e. Coleman played 19 passes to Gibson / Gibson played 18 to Coleman. The larger the font of the number the more the passes.

With Reading overloading to negate out left side, the shift in play from left to right was crucial as there was always acres of space to play into if we played the switch quickly. Particularly in the second half, Gibson was  able to facilitate this by getting the ball out of his feet and moving it accurately to Coleman to develop attacking moves.

Coleman was the games most involved performer with his combination with Gibson the most frequent from either side. The Irishman’s return to action has been timely and the opening goal was indicative of how ruthless he can be when left 1 v 1.  Coleman is still very much a work in progress but if we can train his brain to think a bit more in terms of where to go after he has passed the ball in 2 v 1 situations then he can really kick on in the coming years.

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In the first period we had been ok in patches but as the above visual shows, we moved the ball a lot quicker in the second period, particularly in the 61-75 minute period when we crushed Reading passing wise and created a third of our 18 scoring opportunities.

In terms of game changing quality, Pienaar was the stand out performer with his shift to the right side instrumental in our second half dominance. His fifth league goal of the season – a personal best – was truly outstanding, as was his through pass to Mirallas for goal three. The speedy Belgian took his goal well and grew in importance as the game developed.

With his skinny, quick legs and mischievous streetwise cunning, Mirallas is the footballing equivalent of an urban fox.

As the passing network shows he and Osman’s link up with Jelavic was particularly good but were ultimately unsuccessful in ending the Croatian’s continuing goal drought.

Some brief thoughts on the defence…

At the back we did ok considering we were without our regular keeper and best centre half.

Making his first appearance since a cameo as a malnourished extra in Romper Stomper, Jan Mucha had an ok game in the nets with his pass completion 35%, compared to Howard’s 38% in the Reading game earlier this season. He didn’t look too comfortable on crosses and mostly stayed on his line although he did make one superb stop from Noel Hunt in the second half. Hopefully Howard will be back next week, as fist pumping phony Jonny Heitinga is sure to be having nightmares about his re-match with Aroune Kone all week.

On the right of the back four, Coleman did well in terms of blocking crosses (Reading’s key attacking weapon) with 7 interceptions. Overall we repelled the lateral threat ok with 12 crosses blocked to Reading’s 4. However, we did concede a soft goal late on after a re-shuffle had seen Anichebe move in front of Coleman on the right side of midfield where he is less assured defensively. Worryingly, it was the 4th goal we have conceded this week with each one resulting in us not being able to defend the high ball into our box.

In Conclusion…

This was a fairly routine win against one of the weakest sides we have faced at Goodison in a while and should set us up nicely for Wigan next week. Coleman, Mirallas and Pienaar all excelled whilst Fellaini did ok in patches although his influence was nowhere near as pivotal as the derisory analysis served up by Hansen and the laughing imbecile Shearer on motd would have you believe.

In conclusion, we are now up to 45 points from 28 games which is an average 1.6 points per game. This would roughly bring us out with 61 points in the final reckoning, the same total that got us 4th spot on in 2004/5 . Whilst an improvement on last season it would still leave us short of our best ever points haul under Moyes in 2007/8 when we amassed 65 points, an average of 1.7 points per game.

EB

Norwich 2-1 Everton – Tactical Deconstruction

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Saturday’s abysmal collapse to Norwich was a bitter pill to swallow in a game that virtually ended our hopes of finishing fourth. Not because of the points difference – six is not an insurmountable figure to claw back – its more the fact we continue to not learn from our mistakes and repeatedly flounder against limited operatives at the foot of the table.

Teams

The Toffee’s made just two changes from the Oldham draw with the ‘much maligned’ mono-paced Steven Naismith coming in for Victor Anichebe and Seamus Coleman replacing Phil Neville at right back. Norwich lined up with Becchio and Holt in the jforward berths, although ex Leeds schemer Robert Snodgrass was basically playing as a wide forward in the space vacated behind Baines. This was Norwich’s main attacking trick with Russell Martin >; Snodgrass their most frequent passing combination, occurring 16 times.

Going forward….

It had all started so well for the Toffees. Fellaini (circled) as he likes to do, comes across to the left flank to give us an extra man and draw in opposing defenders which creates space for Baines (arrow) to whizz up the flank and plant a sumptuous delivery on the head of Leon Osman for the game’s opening goal.

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Generally the Blues were on top thereafter but threatened very little against a side who haven’t been able to buy a win of late.

Whilst we had more of the ball there was little end product, particularly in the second half when we created no chances from open play.

The in-effective Naismith churned out another tepid display with Kevin Mirallas left on the bench for the bulk of a game where a second goal would have surely knocked the stuffing out of the home side.

Possession / Territory Data

In a game the Toffee’s controlled for large spells, we had the bulk of possession (55.2%), had more territory (53.7%) and had more of the ball in the final third (132 v 76 completed passes).

Norwich made more of their time on the ball considerably with 50% of their 10 shots hitting the target compared to 20% of our 15 efforts on goal.

Crosses

This game featured two of the most prominent crossing teams in the division and all 3 goals came from such situations.

Whilst we are statistically conceding fewer chances from headers and set plays per game this season based on last, rather damningly we have conceded the most headed goals in the top flight.

Norwich had 30 crosses to our 26, with a slightly better accuracy (16% v 15%). My usual gripe with Moyes is that we tend to invite crosses with our approach being to pack the box sufficiently enough to evade trouble when the ball lands in the danger areas. This tactic is stupid against sides who possess heavier aerial artillery than us like Norwich or Stoke for example and to be fair we did try and stop the crosses coming in, with 7 blocked crosses to Norwich’s 1, however our defending when the ball came in was utter crud.

In the first goal, Fellaini has to take the blame for failing to get tight on Kamara and block his run off as the sub is able to get a run on the Belgian (circled). Fellaini has form for doing this in the last twelve months, most notably in the semi final surrender last season.

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On goal two, Coleman has tucked in which means Naismith goes into the right back spot and Gibson shuffles across to the Scot’s position to double up with him, which is fine. Osman however doesn’t shuffle into Gibson’s position meaning Martin (circled) has time to take a touch and spin in a delivery.

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When the cross comes in Distin is the only player who attacks the ball, compared to Norwich’s three at the back post (Holt, Kamara and Bassong) with the motionless Baines guilty of ball watching. The defensive line for Goal Two is also ridiculously too deep, just as it was for Norwich’s equaliser at Goodison earlier this season.

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Conclusion

This game was in many ways a microcosm of the themes which have held us back this season with our abundance of possession not translated into chances created, combined with us not being able to defend from set plays and conceding sloppy goals, predominantly late in games.

In comparison to our closest rivals we haven’t been able to beat sides such as Reading, Norwich (twice) QPR and Wigan and thus don’t really deserve to be in the ‘shake up’ for the Champions League spots. Moyes has to take the bulk of the flack here for some overly cautious substitutions when the game was there to be won, combined with our continued failure to address problems with defending balls into our box.

EB

9 Point Tactical Deconstruction on Man Utd 2-0 Everton

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Some thoughts on our defeat yesterday at Old Trafford…..

1. Defensively, the following 3 sub-points are taken ‘as a given’

  • The gap between Heitinga and Baines was too wide throughout the first half.
  • Our high line for the second goal was suicidal even by our standards….and if we are going to do apply such a risky tactic the midfield needs to apply more pressure so balls can’t be threaded through like Rafael did for van persie.
  • Neville was crud throughout. Whilst the veteran campaigner remains a useful midfield option his days as a credible right back alternative look as legitimate as his need for blonde highlights.

2. Neville had a lot of the ball

With Jones following Fellaini when the Belgian marauded forward, Cleverley was left outnumbered in the central zone against Osman and Gibson. This meant that Giggs was ‘sucked’ inside leaving Pip free on the right flank. Thus, as the matrix below shows, Neville enjoyed more of the ball than Baines on the other flank. This was negated by Ferguson prior to half time when he dropped Rooney into the left mid slot to relieve the pressure on Giggs and allow the Welshman to play more central.

EFC Passing Matrix vs Man Utd

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5 points on the passing matrix > (1)The size of the player’s head is relevant to how many passes he makes, i.e Gibson made the most, Anichebe the fewest hence their appropriately sized skulls  (2) The thicker and darker the line, the more times the pass combination was made, i.e the thicker, darker lines e.g Heitinga to Jagielka emphasise that the combination was made a lot (3) If there is no line between players there was no passes made  (4) Click on the image to enlarge (5)The idea for this passing matrix is mostly adopted/ ripped off from the  excellent 2+2=11 blog. Anyone who subscribes to football nerding will love it (6) the position of the players  in the diagram is loosely based on where they are positioned on the pitch 

3. United play down our left

United ‘s central midfield duo looked to push the ball out to the right and build attacks as often as possible with Rafael – and less so Valencia- very impressive. United’s top 3 passing combinations were Valencia>Rafael (13) Cleverley>Valencia(13) and Jones to Rafeal (11).

4.Baines impact minimised

As a result of Point 3, Baines was largely ineffectual and spent the majority of the first half back peddling trying to deal with the threat of Rafael and Valencia. He and his best mate Pienaar (who started on the right but then switched to the left) created hardly any serious chances from open play in the game.

5.Gibson  sees most of the ball

As the passing matrix shows via Gibson’s big steak-head, the Irishman had most of the ball for the Blues and was the principal link man between defence and attack. However in reality he ended up linking defence with midfield or back to defence. Overall he combined most with either backward passes to Jer-jelka or sideways balls to Neville.

6.Pienaar didn’t find Anichebe once

Pienaar had most joy in the 20 minute spell prior to half time; however the South African schemer was largely ineffectual and didn’t make any passes to Victor Anichebe during the game. The Big Nigerian, for the most part was starved of service, seemed to be under the misconception that you can get free kicks and penalties at Old Trafford.

7. Fellaini frustrated

The Belgian did minimal all game with his threat effectively neutralised by the lumbering galloot  Phil Jones. The ex-Blackburn lackey’s  pre match prozone briefing pack presumably stated about Fellaini;  ‘get in his face’ and ‘up and at em’ and was probably penned by Phil Brown.

In the Goodison game, Fellaini’s role was to receive long passes and then feed the wide-men as the the passing combination grid here shows. Due to the service being cut to the Belgian he couldn’t feed the wide-men, hence the Belgian didn’t make one pass to his compatriot Kevin Mirallas. More was expected of Fellaini here and in games such as this you expect your big hitters to turn up. He didn’t.

8.Mirallas peripheral

Kevin Mirallas was particularly peripheral and struggled to make much headway in the game. Unsurprisingly, the period he looked most effective was in the 20 minute spell prior to half time. During this spell Pienaar was picking up the ball in central areas and feeding him on the right;  this combination occurred 6 times in this 20 minute spell but didn’t happen before or after this time period.

9. Conclusions…..

The hope pre match was that last season’s gung-ho 4-4 would be the blueprint as to how we could get a result, however post match it appeared that last season’s gargantuan draw would be the exception to the rule.   The dynamism of the last 12 months was nowhere to be seen , replaced by the default efc powder puff display at Old Trafford that we have come to expect garnished with the usual condescending ‘praise’ from Taggart.

As usual we kindly gave the opposition a head start and were then forever chasing our tails with Vidic colossal for United aerially. In the second period, United basically played a ‘rest in possession’ approach and given our leggy midfield we struggled to get the ball back and when we did seemed completely goosed to do anything progressive with it.  Whilst the sides had the same amount of chances (11) United hit the target three times more than us and always seemed to be able to up another gear if required.

All in all then it’s been a pretty gash weekend for the Toffee’s.  Realistically, achieving the dying ember of 4th spot would mean us having to go to Spurs and Arsenal and win both, which is unlikely in our current form. Thus, the FA Cup now appears a more realistic proposition in terms of ending a season which has promised so much with some kind of tangible outcome.

EB

EFC 3-3 Aston Villa: Everton Defending Deconstructed

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Teams and Formations

The Blues made one change from the midweek win over West Brom, with Gibson coming in for Neville whose weary old legs couldn’t muster 3 games in a week. This meant that Jagielka continued at right back with the out of form Heitinga remaining in the centre with Distin. There was also a positional change with Osman returning to his deeper midfield role with Fellaini moving further forward, presumably to exploit Villa’s defensive weaknesses in the air. Our visitor’s lined up in a similar 4-2-3-1 with Weimann and Agbonlahor as the wide attacking mids with N’Zogbia behind target man Benteke.  Weimann’s inclusion was interesting given that he hasn’t started on the right in any of Villa’s recent league games. Lambert is a known tactical tinkerer as we know from last season at Norwich and his selection of the Austrian in this area usually vacated by Baines on the left appeared a deliberate counter attacking ploy.

Key Data

In terms of possession, the Toffee’s were more dominant of the ball than in any game this season. Overall we had 68.3% of possession and a massive 78.5% of final third possession with 147 passes in the final third compared to Villa’s 41. We also kept the ball better with 76% pass completion compared to Villa’s 66% and were more positive in possession with 51% of our passes going forward compared to Villa’s 48%. Whilst we created more scoring opportunities (21 v 8) Villa were more productive in terms of creating chances relevant to their possession, requiring just 5 final third passes to create a chance compared to our 7. Off the ball, Villa worked tirelessly making 34 interceptions to our 12 and repeatedly looked to break up play, committing 23 fouls to our 7.

Toffee’s Defensive Woes….

Going forward we played some excellent stuff, with the return of Kevin Mirallas and the superb current form of Victor Anichebe both significant in our scoring woes easing in recent games.  With there being no issues from an offensive point of view, we will take a look at the defending calamities that ultimately cost us dear with 2 of the 3 goals shipped very shoddy from a blue perspective.  Heitinga’s display was particularly poor however he was not the only player at fault as we will show with our  focus on the positioning of our central defenders in the build up to each of the goals…..

Villa played a ruthless counter attacking game focused on our left side and looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible; to demonstrate this their most frequent passing combination was their keeper Brad Guzan’s long balls to Benteke, with this combination used successfully 7 times.

Goal 1 (Benteke)

Positionally we are ok here initially, with N’Zogbia pressed by a back peddling Baines and Gibson….however the duo don’t do enough to snuff out the danger meaning that Distin (circled) has to move across to fill in for Baines on the left leaving Heitinga (also circled) moving into Distin’s position.

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With Distin moving across to the left there is a sizeable gap for Benteke to move into and take the pass from N’Zogbia. When faced with a one on one situation, Heitinga’s physical shortcomings are alarmingly exposed as the Belgian brushes him off effortlessly and slots past Howard.

Goal 2 (Agbonlahor)

This goal was also a shocking goal to concede with Heitinga again at fault. Attacking down our left side, Villa have a man spare on the touchline (Westwood) with Baines coming inside to fill in for Distin (circled) who is caught out of position. Pienaar should really slot in here to cover his full back but he is also caught out of position.

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With no pressure on the ball, Westwood is able to whip in a delivery that Agbonlahor heads home with Heitinga (circled) again guilty of sloppy marking.  Defending balls into our box has been an achilles heel all season and to underline this we have conceded more headed goals than any side in the top flight.

Goal 3  (Benteke)

This was a superb goal from Villa and it’d be harsh to apportion blame here.  Shortly before Benteke’s second goal Baines had been guilty of some crass marking, allowing his man Wiemann to move away from him and go clear on Howard. Luckily the winger’s composure didn’t match his excellent movement which had enabled him to instigate this clear cut opportunity.

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Shortly after though, after some slick play again down our left side, Lowton gets free and with Distin again alerted to the danger and coming across to the left flank, Heitinga is left alone with Benteke who again wins the physical miss-match to slot Villa’s third and seemingly secure all three points.

In Conclusion…..

This was a great game with attacking players firmly on top, aided and abetted by comedy defending from both sides with our left side ruthlessly exposed on the counter attack. Luckily for us, Ron Vlaar’s marking was equally as inept as the hapless Jonny Heitinga’s and in the end a 3-3 draw was probably the right outcome.  With Spurs and Arsenal both winning the quest for fourth spot looks even more tricky than ever especially with some tough fixtures on the horizon for the toffee’s. Such games have brought the best out of the Blues in the last twelve months though and if we can quickly fix the obvious defensive problem it wouldn’t surprise me if we bounced back and got a positive result next week at Old Trafford.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Did Swansea tactics nullify our left side?

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Passing / Territory Data

Overall, the Blues had more possession (55.4%) and kept the ball better (82% v 75%) than our visitors. Our pass completion was also better in Swansea’s half although Swansea’s retention was superior in the final third (82% v 76.6%). Territory wise, we also bossed things with 56.9% of the game played in Swansea’s half and more than double the amount of touches in Swansea’s final third (278) than they made in our defensive zone (122).

Teams and Approach

The two sides lined up in similar 4-2-3-1 systems with Pienaar for Oviedo the only toffee change from the 5-1 rout at Cheltenham on Monday night.  Swansea had a re-shuffle given their cup heroics on Wednesday night, with Dyer playing quite centrally with Michu behind and Hernandez on the left. It was on the right side where most of the tactical stuff happened, with right back Angel Rangel selected in an advanced right sided midfield role with Tiendalli at right back. Rangel’s role was predominantly to pick up Baines and stop his forward surges, as shown below when he picks up Baines in the right back spot.

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A feature of our game’s this season has been what opposition managers do to counter act the numerical advantage we instigate by overloading down the left side. More reactive tacticians such as  Steve Clarke and Portly Rafa  have deployed a ‘shuttler’ (Dorrans / Ramires)in the midfield zone to track Baines up and down the pitch – a move similar to that deployed by Moyes regularly on Gareth Bale with two full backs doubling up  on their opponent.  Other manager’s like Villas-Boas have played attacking players like Lennon to push him back whilst some like Pardew have opted for the ‘hide under the table, close your eyes and hope for the best’ method. Interestingly,  two of the three sides who have beaten us WBA and Chelsea have been the ones who have best neutralised the Baines threat.

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Overall, I’d say overall Rangel provided more cover to his fullback than Hernandez did for him in the game earlier this season at Goodison  when the Spaniard was repeatedly over-run. Figures wise, Baines/Pienaar on average create 6 goalscoring chances per game between them whilst yesterday they created 11 so I’d say this approach alone didn’t stifle us as we created enough chances to win the game.

Did Swansea ‘park the bus’ ?

Firstly, apologies for the bus cliché.

We spoke in the preview of how there would be few goals in this contest and so it proved. Swansea’s defensive operation is amongst the best in the division and statistically the best on the road with just 9 goals ‘shipped’ all season. Their approach when not in possession was a ‘stand by’ operation rather than an aggressive one, i.e. they looked to induce the opponent to lose possession through positional play rather than persistently look to win the ball back.

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When sides line up in similar formation as we did yesterday, the difference is usually which side can ‘shift’ players more effectively to create numerical advantages in certain areas of the pitch. Moyes approach is heavily weighted on such ‘shifts’ , usually down the left side of the final third.  Moyes said post match that we passed the ball too slowly; this speed is implicit in developing such situations and catching opponents up-field when their shape is compromised. Due to our movement of the ball being too slow Swansea were able to get back into their shape and outnumber us, as shown in the above visual where they have 5 players to our 3 in the key zoned area we look to exploit.

Final word

This was a frustrating afternoon for the Toffeemen against a stubborn, compact opponent. Our best chances where from crosses when we could use our aerial advantage, but sadly our finishing was not at its best. On a positive note we secured our first clean sheet since September – incidentally against the same opponent – in what was the first goal-less Goodison draw in 49 games, a run going back to December 2010. With Arsenal losing and Spurs only drawing it hasn’t been a critical setback  and with our key rivals facing Chelsea and Man United next week our trip to Southampton could represent an opportunity to see us return to fourth spot.

EB

Tactical Deconstruction: Newcastle 1-2 Everton

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Teams & Formations

Selection wise, Moyes brought back Marouanne Fellaini for the unfortunate Victor Anichebe with Steven Pienaar moving back to his normal spot on the left with Phil Neville also returning at the expense of Thomas Hitzlsperger in the usual 4-2-3-1 setup.

Newcastle had to deal with the midday withdrawal of talisman Demba Ba and rather than re-shuffle his selections Pardew just made one like for like replacement with Shola Ameobi starting as the lone forward. This meant that that our major threat Baines would be patrolled by a striker playing right wing in Papiss Cisse.  Behind Cisse was James Perch at full back who has struggled in the previous two meetings to contain Baines / Pienaar; in last season’s game at L4 he was substituted at half time and earlier in the corresponding game this season was moved into midfield after being repeatedly exposed. Newcastle lined up in a fairly similar 4-2-3-1 setup with Marveaux central and Obertan coming in on the left.

Passing / Territory Data

In the first period we shaded possession (51%) and territory (54%) although Newcastle’s second half pressure after our goal resulted in them overall having more of the ball in the 90 minutes (50.5% v 49.5%). Newcastle’s pass completion was better overall (80% v 77%) although our completion was better in the final third than our hosts (80% v 76%).

Our territorial advantage  increased to 55.9% over the 90 minutes. As an example, Fellaini, Baines and Pienaar had 125 touches of the ball in the Newcastle final third; our hosts had just 145 touches in our defensive third.

In terms of cutting edge, Newcastle were more effective at fashioning chances (9 v 7) and had more shots than us (16 v 13)

Passing Combinations

The key differential on the night was that we had more cohesion about our attacking interplay with the combination play of Baines, Pienaar, Osman and Fellaini predominantly on the left side of the pitch crucial. With the exception of Pienaar’s gap year at Spurs the foursome have played together for five years and know each other’s games inside out and their enterprising passing triangles were a feature of what was at times quite a bruising contest.

Unsurprisingly, ten of the twelve most frequent passing combinations where between Everton players with  Baines and Pienaar linking up 23 times.  The balance of the midfield looks significantly better when Osman is positioned to the left of centre in closer proximity to join his fellow mini marvels in invoking impish impudence.

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The home side struggled badly to contain these combinations, making 20 fouls to our 10 in a ‘get in their faces’ approach to disrupt rhythm.  Our strategy is hard to contain though; when we overload down the left we outnumber the opposition in this area, meaning that even when possession is lost we have strength in numbers to press and quickly win the ball back or it forces opponents to panic and clear long balls either back to us or into touch.

Goals

Newcastle’s opening goal had a familiar feel to it. The Geordies statistically make more long passes than any side in the top flight – unsurprising given they have played the bulk of the season without their two most creative players Cabaye and Ben Arfa – and the direct approach was to prove their favoured method here. Cisse was left free in the box to lob Howard in a move that started following a Tim Krul up and under which was horribly dealt with by the Everton backline with Heitinga’s aerial deficiencies again on show and Baines guilty of poor positional play…something he was soon to make up for. The nature of the home side’s opening goal was all the more galling given that the long ball / knock down approach was exactly how they equalised in the game at Goodison earlier on in the season.  Newcastle dominated the first 15 minutes and could easily have gone another goal up with Obertan getting joy against makeshift right back Jagielka down the left flank.

For the next half hour though it was all about the Toffees and our response was excellent with the interplay mentioned above really kicking in. In the 16-30 minute period we began to control the game, with our pass completion up to 93% from 80% in the first 15 minute period. In the third 15 minute period before half time we pulverized the home side on the ball in a prolonged period of possession making 111 successful passes, which was more in a fifteen minute spell than we completed in the entire second half.

Baines was soon to make amends for his early error. Fellaini usually patrols the left side of the pitch but received all ten of his passes from Tim Howard kick out’s on Newcastle’s left side, presumably targeting Santon in the air. From a fortuitously won free kick for a foul on Fellaini,  The Velvet Underground loving wing back hit a free kick at 67 mph from almost 40 yards that almost ripped the net. It was another truly ace Leighton Baines moment.

On 58 minutes Moyes brought on Anichebe for Naismith and the switch paid instant rewards when after just 2 minutes the Nigerian took advantage of some slack concentration from Santon to attack the near post and poke home the winning goal. The Toffees have won 17, drawn 5 and lost none of the 22 games Anichebe has scored in. As well as the interplay between Baines, Fellaini and Pienaar in the build-up to the goal, Jelavic also deserves a notable mention for some superb and un-selfish work down the channel to present the opportunity to the Nigerian.  The Croatian hasn’t scored in any of the Christmas fixtures but he has run himself into the ground for the cause in each fixture.

Final Verdict

This was a great win for the Toffees and gives us a healthy return of 9 points from 12 over the festive period – quite an achievement given the games we have faced and how thin on the ground our squad is. Newcastle will perhaps feel they deserved a point given they created more openings but whilst both sides were happy to play it long to their physical forwards we had a bit more variety to our play and played the better football on the floor. We now have a break from the league programme  before the visit of Swansea to Goodison and a more favourable looking run of fixtures before the next serious test against Man United next month.

EB