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.


Everton 2-2 Aston Villa


Everton made enforced changes, with Heitinga and Billy coming in for Rodwell and Cahill as the Blues lined up 4-4-1-1, with Osman playing off Beckford. It shows how threadbare our squad is that there was a combined total of 0 premier league starts from the lads on our bench. Villa sprang a surprise going with 2 strikers, with Agbonlahor and Bent up top with Downing switching to the right to accommodate Ashley Young on the left in a more orthodox 4-4-2.

Blues in control

Diniyar Bilyaledtinov had an eventful game today. The Russian’s output has been questioned in some quarters and today’s game showed the good and bad side of his game. Going forward he created 3  really good goal scoring chances (all for Osman). The first of which led to the games opening goal as Billy robbed the ball from Kyle Walker before rolling the ball to Osman. The quick footed midfielder is on a hot streak of form at the moment, and his nice dummy bamboozled the flat footed Collins before sliding the ball past Fridel. The goal was a classic Osman strike, and showed the benefit of a player being good with both feet.

High on excitement, low in quality

Whilst the game was an exciting one, the quality was quite poor in terms of passing. Villa had more of the ball in terms of passes made (413 v 344) but Everton had a better pass completion (64% v 59%) This was still our lowest pass completion figure of the season and the lowest amount of successful passes we have completed in a home game this season. Villa’s pass completion of 59% was the second lowest of our opponents this season, with only the route one Stoke having recorded a lower figure.

Left side vulnerability

As good as our left side is going forward, it can leave us vulnerable at the back and this was exploited just after the break. Going back to Billy, the defensive side of his game needs to be developed by the coaching staff. He is weak in terms of physicality, particularly in the air where he lost 7 of his 10 aerial duels yesterday. Villa’s equaliser came when the ball was worked out wide to Downing with Billy looking on (below). In fairness, Downing is a quality player and Villa’s threat on the break was evident all afternoon.

Poor communication between Billy and Baines here, Billy (circled) should really be busting a gut to get out to Downing here to assist Baines as shown by the arrow, he doesn’t and Downing is allowed a one on one to slot to Bent for the equaliser.

There will no doubt be calls for goaline technology following Jermaine Beckford’s ‘ghost goal’ shortly after, when put through by Magaye. Even more ghost like was Everton’s defence from the restart, clearly switching off as Bent is allowed the freedom of Goodison to slot the ball past Tim Howard into the vacated goal.

Build up to Bent’s 2nd goal. Initially circled with his marker Distin, Bent makes a clever spinning run off Distin in between him and Hibbet, and is not tracked by Distin until its too late.

The introduction of Magaye was a good switch from Moyes and he looks like a really promising kid, injecting some much needed penetration. He provided something we had really been lacking on the flanks all-day, with Coleman clearly not fit and Billy not prepared to take players on. In the 38 minutes he was on the pitch he took on an opponent 9 times (beating his marker 4 times). Billy in comparison took on his marker just once.

There was more controversy with the clock ticking down, as a very rare attacking surge from Phil Jagielka was cut short by Makoun. The penalty award seemed very dubious, but given what had happened earlier and in the context of the game it was deserved and Baines duly lashed it home.


When looking at the players unavailable today this was certainly a good point for the Blues. Under Moyes we sometimes seem better when our options are reduced in terms of personnel and this was again the case today. Given the clear cut chances spurned though, we could have taken the 3 points here against a Villa side that are impressive going forward but have a defensive fragility.

Everton v Aston Villa Preview

Everton’s injury ravaged troops take to the field looking to build on a great run of form against a Villa side ravaged by internal fallouts and on going poor management by our old friend Mr Houllier in what is one of the classic games in the English Football calendar….


Villa Strategy/Intel

Villa arrive at Goodison amidst a poor run of form, particularly on their travels with just 2 wins on the road all season representing the second worst defensive record away from home in the league with no clean sheets and with only Fulham and Wolves picking up fewer points on their travels. It’s clearly an unhappy ship at Villa. Whilst O’Neil’s brand of football was blatantly direct and often horrible to watch, it did provide a great defensive platform for Villa to go and get results. Their strategy was to invite teams onto them and then break with pace in wide areas and up front. Since coming in, Houllier has opted for revolution and not evolution.The decision to appoint a washed up old mess like Houllier was incredibly dubious. He has tried to change the playing style to a more possession based game and in doing so to overhaul the squad but he has found to his cost that too much change too quick can have catastrophic results. With some people it really is hard to be objective and Houllier is one of these individuals. A massively overrated manager, he must secretly wonder just how he has got another top job in England. How long he will last though is another thing, with another ex-red, the portly Rafa Benitez, supposedly being lined up to replace him following his double sacking misery last year.

Villa will setup 4-4-1-1 with the known tormentor of Blues right backs in the past Ashley Young playing as a central winger in behind Bent. Villa are strong down the flanks with Downing and the impressive Albrighton often swopping wings. Their chief creator this season has been Downing, who has created 66 chances, creating a chance for an opponent every 41mins, resulting in 6 assists so far this campaign. Ashley Young has a lower chance creation total but the same amount of assists and also holds the dubious honour of having been fouled more than any other player in the league. Their midfield anchors will be Makoun and chief enforcer Nigel Reo Coker, who makes a successful tackle every 31 mins, in contrast to Heitinga who will presumably occupy this role for us who does so every 57 mins. The main goal threat will be Darren Bent, a man who was once offered to Everton whilst at Ipswich Town and who represents everything the Blues need up front. The England forward averages a shot on target every 81 minutes with 11 league goals this campaign and an impressive 84 in the top flight to his name.

Everton tactics and strategy

The Blues are in the midst of a major injury crisis with key personnel such as Saha, Rodwell and Fellaini all out for the remainder of the season and Arteta still some way off a return. Cahill and Coleman have also been nursing injuries but I would expect them to play through the pain barrier in this one. I would see us using the same formation  (4-4-2) as against Fulham, with the only personnel changes being Heitinga and Beckford for Rodwell and Saha.

The only fly in the ointment with this plan is that our Dutch utility man Jonny “probably in the top 4 centre backs in the world” Heitinga has again been shooting his mouth of in the press (although as usual he has been misquoted) so whether Moyes will want to play him is unclear. The back up option would be to shift Osman inside and play Billy left mid, although with Osman’s great form this month from that advanced left side I doubt Moyes would want to upset the apple cart.

Our main threat will be carried down the left with our play flowing predominantly to the Baines/Osman axis. I would expect some joy as Villa’s right side has proved to be something of an Achilles heel defensively this season, with the speedy Kyle Walker (another player who nearly signed for the Blues!) and Albrighton both boasting enviable attacking flair, but considerably less in terms of defensive shape and solidity. Baines will be looking for his 12th assist of the season – from defence, only Barca’s Dani Alves has more assists in Europe’s top leagues.

In the reverse fixture back in September the Blues dominated the game, completing more than double the passes of their hosts ( 457v174) but in what was to characterize our play pre Christmas, we simply had no end product. Since the turn of the year though (notably with the departure of Pienaar) our passes made and pass completion levels have both dropped, whilst Villa’s has improved as Houllier has looked to change O’Neill’s direct style of play.



This should be a fairly open game as neither team has collected many clean sheets this campaign, so I would expect goals. With the FA & League cup outcomes now rendering a Europa League placing pretty much out of our hands, the Blues only focus is to finish as high up the league as possible, and I’m going for us to edge it 2-1