Everton somewhat surprisingly kept the same starting eleven which rather limply lost out to Arsenal last week, with Saha retaining the role as misfiring striker. Heitinga’s positioning and the depth he plays in the anchor role often depends on the opposition formation and to a lesser extent Everton’s game plan. With Sunderland playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 and no player between the lines of defence and midfield the want away Dutchman played level with Arteta almost as an orthodox central midfielder, albeit both where noticeably playing deep.
Gyan’s injury for Sunderland meant that Darren Bent came straight back into the starting line-up to partner Welbeck up front. One calamity defender replaced another as Anton Ferdinand took a break from court appearances to fill in for Bramble in the Mackems backline.
Everton started the brighter and were in front after just 6 minutes. Classic interplay between Pienaar and Baines down the Everton left concluded with Baines delightful cross being tucked in by Everton’s talismanic Cahill. It is a well rehearsed manoeuvre which Everton regularly execute superbly, with Pienaar tucking in, sucking the full back inside with him giving Baines the freedom of the flank to expose (shown in diagram below)
Rather than kick on, Everton began to be sloppy in possession, with countless balls either lashed into touch or to the opposition by Distin in particular, although to be fair Sunderland’s pressing was notably improving. Just as the left side is Everton’s most attacking weapon, defensively it is alarmingly the Achilles heel. Pienaar’s powder puff challenge on the ageing Zenden was as sloppy as Baines attempted challenge, allowing the former Anfield misfit to slot in the hard working Welbeck who got between Jagielka and Distin to equalize. It was a goal which from a defensive point of view was easily avoidable.
Everton then kicked on, Pienaar coming more inside in advanced positions with the Arteta/Heitinga platform sitting quite deep as protection in a 4-2-3-1. Everton were still dominating the ball and where occupying a higher line than Sunderland, shown by the below diagram which highlights the average position players held during the game. Notice how the majority of Everton’s players occupied positions in the Sunderland half in comparison to their hosts whose average position was on the whole in their own half.
Saha struggling to make an impact
The lack of pace and penetration offered by Everton’s forwards has been a feature of this season, and this was to continue tonight. Yakubu has been pillared in the past for his limited work rate but Saha’s display tonight was truly shocking. In comparison to Welbeck, a player of considerably less quality, Saha’s heinous outing is all the more galling. As shown in the chalkboard below, Welbeck successfully linked play down the flanks and through the middle, completing 24 passes and forcing 5 shots. Saha completed 50% less passes and forced just one weak effort on goal. Evertonian’s will to an extent forgive a striker who fails to score but not one who fails to give 100%.
More problems down the left
Despite Everton having comfortably more of the ball than their hosts as the second half unfolded, they were again hit by a sucker punch with the origin of the goal an all too familiar source. After Arteta had lost the ball in midfield in a similar manner to last weeks second goal against Arsenal, the resulting play led to Welbeck capitalising on poor marking to head home after a good cross from Richardson. Cameras later proved the x box loving wannabe had been in an off side position when he crossed the ball. The goal was the 11TH time Everton have conceded a goal from the left side this season. With 15 goals conceded in total its clear this is a weakness teams are exploiting.
Everton threw on Rodwell and then made a double change with Beckford and Yakubu coming on. With pressure mounting, it was Baines again who was instrumental in providing traction to the Blues attack, teeing up Arteta who shanked a ball that didn’t appear to be troubling Gordon until the ‘Scottish International’ Bardsley deflected the ball past his keeper. It was a stroke of luck the Blues deserved given their dominance of possession (55% v 45%) and fighting spirit. It was Baines 7th assist of the season and the 11th of Everton’s 16 goals which have come from the left flank. We should then have gone on to win the game, as Jagielka’s hopeful last ditch punt down field was met by Beckford who got under the ball and propelled his strike into the stands.
The trend of draws continues as Everton recorded their 11th deadlock in their last 21 games. Our passing and movement was again of a pretty decent standard but this good work was undone by sloppy defending. Saying that, Sunderland are a decent side and their pressing when not in possession was generally better than ours. In conclusion, I feel that Improved performances by some of Everton’s more senior players such as Heitinga , Saha and to an extent Arteta would surely have seen us edge this entertaining tussle.