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.


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 1-2 Chelsea


Teams and Selection

The Toffees were without four nailed on starters with Mirallas, Neville, Fellaini and Gibson all out due to injury and suspension. Moyes sprung a surprise in terms of shape by playing Pienaar central behind Jelavic and Anichebe on the left. Naismith came in on the right side of midfield with Heitinga coming in at centre back and Jagielka switching to right back. Chelsea started out in what looked like a 4-3-3 with Mata right and Ramires through the middle which was scrapped fairly early on moving to a 4-2-3-1 with Mata central behind Torres and Ramires as expected on the right to reign in Baines lateral marauding.

Possession / Territory Data

 Chelsea had more possession overall (54%) and more final third possession (53.5%) although we had more touches of the ball (226 v 204) in Chelsea’s defensive third than they did in ours. The game’s attacking moves were almost all exclusively down the Baines / Ramires flank with 10 of the 19 chances created by both sides coming from down this flank. Mata, Baines and Osman were all central to this and the trio had the joint most final third touches (40).

Everton Storm First Half

The Blues were dominant in the first half with midfield schemers Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar almost exclusively running our offensive game as has been the case since Fellaini’s suspension. The half was characterised by enterprising play from us down the left when on the ball and high octane pressure when the ball was lost.

Pienaar and Anichebe were interchanging well in the role of wide left and attacking central midfield, a tactic used rather disastrously in last season’s 0-3 reverse at Anfield. In the first half in particular, Heitinga would get the ball on the right of central defence and hit diagonals for Anichebe to attack in a physical miss-match against Azpilicueta. The Dutchman’s long ball accuracy was the best on the pitch and Anichebe won more aerials (6) than anyone from either side.

Pienaar’s role centrally was twofold; firstly he would look to link midfield and attack and secondly when not on the ball he would press Chelsea’ defence >attack linkman Luiz in central midfield. The results were impressive. Firstly, the South African opened the scoring from a central position, registering the quickest toffee goal in the Premier League since Yakubu struck after 47 seconds against Portsmouth four years ago. The move owed much to Pienaar in its inception, getting the ball centrally and playing Jagielka in behind a day dreaming Ashley Cole. Jags is a good crosser for a defender and when his centre was headed onto the post by  Anichebe it fell nicely for Pienaar to slot home for the second season running in this fixture. We have now scored in the last 17 league games which is our best since 24 in a row in the 85-86 season. In terms of his off the ball duties, Pienaar was equally industrious in the defensive zone and attempted more tackles (6) than any player on the pitch.

Chelsea Comeback

As has been the case all season, our defence was unable to withstand any form of pressure as Chelsea came back on us in the second period as our all action high pressure game began to dwindle with fatigue becoming a factor.  Ramires is a renowned flank shuttler with a great ‘engine’ and the fact he hadn’t started any of Chelsea’s Christmas programme with Lampard also having a week off was evident in their energy levels as the game developed. In comparison our key attacking triumvirate of Pienaar, Osman and Baines had played pretty much every minute in all 3 of our games in the last 8 days.

Chelsea crept back into the contest just before half time with Ramires the key man in the visitor’s comeback. Firstly, he was given the time to take a touch, control and pick out Lampard who ghosted into the box unmarked to head Chelsea level.  Ramires was again involved in the second goal as slack marking again enabled Lampard to prod home from close range after a Mata delivery.

Moyes switched to 4-3-3 with Velios joining Jelavic and Anichebe in a physical forward trio but in truth we had minimal options from the bench which could give Chelsea anything new to think about. Barkley’s cameo was also an example of why Moyes has been loathe to give him more game time since his return from Sheff Wed. If we can get Gibson back and perhaps bring in Vadis Odjidja  from Brugge it would probably be worth Barkley heading back to Hillsborough where he can continue to develop his game which is still a bit short for this level.

Final Verdict

This was a game the Blues deserved more from and will rightfully feel disappointed not to have taken at least a point. In the first half in particular we dominated proceedings and overall had more shots and struck the woodwork 3 times to Chelsea’s 0. There was always the worry that the pressure play would be hard to maintain for 90 minutes given how thin our squad is and so it proved as Chelsea were more involved in the second period with Mata and Ramires key to their more enterprising work on the break. There is little to be ashamed of in losing to the expensively assembled European Champions with fine margins and bad luck to blame for this narrow loss. With Fellaini back and a run of fixtures against some decidedly gash looking sides there is plenty to be optimistic for as we head into 2013.


Stoke v Everton – 5 Point Tactical / Betting Preview

1.Team News

I’d expect the sides to line up a bit like this…

Gibson did come off against Fulham with a knock and there is the option Fellaini could spin back into midfield with Cahill restored to the midfield / forward pivot role. By pushing MF  forward you lose some bite in midfield but you gain the advantage of being able to use his energy to press better higher up field which is especially useful against sides who play out from the back like it was with Man United/Fulham. For Stoke its probably less worthwhile given that there is less opportunity to press in these zones given that stoke kick long from the keeper and thus bypass defenders and the Belgian’s height would be better utilised further back the pitch. If Gibson is fit I’d leave out Neville and go with Felli in midfield for his aerial assistance on Crouch from kick outs and restore Cahill to the frontline.

2.Dealing with the Stoke Style

Playing a high line enables us to impact where the long balls are coming from i.e. if Stoke are allowed to get within 10 yards of our 18 yard line the cross will be potent given the quality they have in the wing berths. If we keep a line higher the opponent gets the ball further from goal and the threat of the delivery is reduced. By playing higher upfield it pushes Stoke’s defence back and makes long balls to Crouch come shorter up the pitch.

One aspect which will need to change from our normal game is in terms of where we press. In the 4-2-3-1 we’ve been using lately we  press high upfield onto opposition’s fullbacks. Against Stoke though, there is little point in pressing these areas as neither of Stoke’s fullbacks are selected for marauding runs or for their distribution skills. Begovic will pump balls up to Crouch with the defence/midfield zones bypassed so there is no opportunity to press at Stoke’s defensive line. The alternative is to drop off and keep things tight between our back four and midfield 5 and hoover up the second balls.

Direct Balls into the box are Stoke’s key weapon; they have scored a Premier League high proportion of their goals from headers (39%) this season. They certainly play to their strengths having won the most aerial duels per game (15.2) in the league. Due to this they have the highest – by some distance  – % of goal attempts from inside the opposition 6 yard box (17%)

Enter  ‘The Delap-idator’. This phenomenon has waned in terms of its effectiveness but still brings back nightmares for Tim Howard and co from our first meeting at The Britannia when it caused havoc and created both Stoke goals on the day. The above image shows how we defended them last season. If Delap is selected (and I’m not too sure he will) I’d stick with this and try to turn the tables and look to use it against Stoke through quick counter-attacks as soon as we win the ball back to expose Stoke over committing players. It can be dangerous but the opposition then has to think about marking our players.

3.Toffee Tactics

It’s a given we will have more possession than our visitors on Tuesday; Stoke have posted the lowest possession (39%) and lowest pass completion (69%) per game in the top flight this season. Stoke play quite a flat midfield 4 (although Walters can sometimes drop to pick up the opposing side’s anchor man) so if we deploy 4-2-3-1 we will get some joy in between the lines and hopefully move the ball around the Stoke midfield.

Good movement is always a key factor in breaking down a stubborn opponent. Stoke will set up with 2 centre backs screened by two defensive midfielders players . Fullback’s Shotton and Wilson  will tuck inside close to their centre backs. To get through this defensive wall we will need to move the defenders about to create space.

In the past we have struggled to break down organised sides who sit deep due to our poor incision/movement in the final third – for the record we’ve scored just once in our last 360 minutes against Stoke but hopefully the incision of Pienaar and the movement and goal threat of Jelavic will remedy this.

4. Last Meeting

Despite having 67% of possession the Blues failed to create any goalscoring opportunities meaning that Sorensen didn’t make 1 save in the entire game which we lost 0-1. The team was basically setup in a 4-4-2 with Cahill and Velios upfront. Breaking down a side as rigid as Stoke is tricky but it is achievable with good movement being key. There was simply no movement from Cahill or Velios when we had possession. Both allowed themselves to be marked by their respective defenders meaning when we had the ball there was nothing happening through the middle of the pitch.

Stoke are a specialist set piece side who live and breathe defending crosses. Our lack of attacking options meant that inevitably Baines was the only out ball and Stoke seemed fairly happy for him to have it, knowing that a cross would be incoming and with the heavy artillery they have in the air there was only going to be one winner. The sheer volume of numbers Stoke cram into their box , coupled with the deliberate blocking of our runners (Fellaini / Cahill especially) led to 33 of our crosses amounting to zero attempts on goal. When Stoke did cross their halfway line and we won the  ball back our passing was laboured meaning that by the time we did move the ball forward on the counter, Stoke’s compliment of defenders were all back behind the ball and in position ready for our next cross.


Congratulations to anyone who backed last weeks EB tip of Jelavic anytime /Everton win double vs Fulham at 5/2. The same bet is available for this fixture priced at 12/5 with Willie Hills, with  Jelavic 11/2 with bet365 to be the game’s first scorer. We are best priced at 7/4 with Stan James to win the game. Our last 5 league games have involved 4 goals or more which is 16/5 with Willie Hills. Since being pushed into a more forward role Fellaini has scored in both games and you can get him to score anytime /Everton win double at 10/1 with the same vendor.

Everton 4-0 Fulham – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Selection and Formations

The Blues setup in an unchanged 4-2-3-1 from Old Trafford with Fellaini, Osman and Pienaar providing close and often narrow support to Jelavic with the width coming from Distin and Hibbert in the fullback slots. Fulham brought in former Grasshopper Kerim Frei to play left wing with Dempsey moving inside from the left to play a central role behind Pogrebnyak in a 4-4-1-1.

The below heatmap shows the average position of the player’s and their font depicts the amount of touches of the ball.

2.Blues Pass & Press Better

The Blues were a lot sharper than Fulham in the opening period of the game both on and off the ball. Passing wise we completed 559 short passes compared to our average per game this season of 345. We had the majority share of the ball (52%) and in doing so registered a 90% pass completion which is up 13% on our average of 77%. We were helped somewhat by Fulham’s failure to press us on the ball; despite us being on the ball significantly more than our visitors we made 65 pressing contacts* compared to Fulham’s 56.

*Pressing contacts are a cumulative of tackles, fouls, interceptions and amount of times each side dispossessed their opposition

3.Pienaar on fire…again!

Pienaar’s display was extremely fluid. From the first whistle he was buzzing around making things happen and won an early foul from a trademark run inside. Jelavic’s resulting free kick was handled by Pogrebnyak and the Croatian coolly slotted home from his spot kick. The second came from a Pienaar corner which Fellaini headed home after Chucklebrother style defending from former toffee Senderos (marking) and Duff (air kick on line). When Fulham failed to track Pienaar’s run from his own half the mercurial playmaker’s resulting through ball was dispatched by the ruthless Jelavic to make it 3-0 as the Blues threatened to run riot. Fulham are the lowest scorers on their travels in the top flight and thus the game was as good as over as a contest by half time.

The influence Pienaar has made since arriving is hard to emphasise through stats alone but here are a few of the key ones; he averages the most key passes per game (2.5) in our squad, the most dribbles per game (1.1) and is our most fouled player (2.8 per game).  He also has 7 direct assists with 2 other fouls on the pint sized schemer having led to goals. He also has 3 goals to his credit. To put that into perspective, Man City’s David Silva has the most assists in the top flight (13) which has taken 2636 minutes to accumulate which is 1 every 202 minutes. Pienaar has played just 879 minutes and has claimed 7 –  thats 1 every 125 minutes – making him almost twice as prolific as Silva.

4.Fulham too narrow

Fulham didn’t threaten much at all in what was a fairly insipid display by our visitors. The Cottagers were reliant on playing out from the back with Hughes to Diarra to Demeble the pre rehearsed move. Rumoured L4 transfer target Clint Dempsey was looking less of a threat and more easily marked centrally than he is making ghosting runs off the flank. Whilst the American is very much a player in form he is 30 next year and with the age of our squad already imbalanced I’m unsure the American would significantly improve the options we have available given the budget we have.

As mentioned in the preview, Fulham play very narrow and attack centrally more than any side in the top flight. Frei and Duff both played on the flank of their unfavourable foot – an inverted winger if you like –  but failed to really penetrate us at any stage of the game. When in the defensive phase our wide players tucked in and overcrowded the centre of the field making it tricky for Fulham to play through us.

The visitor’s woes were compounded in the second period when they again failed to track a midfield run with Pienaar able to pick up his third assist after a nice one two with Cahill resulted in the Aussie volleying home after a delicate scoop from the South African craftsman.

5.Final thought

This was as routine a game as you will ever get in the top flight. Granted, Fulham were slack especially in the first half but our passing and pressure off the ball early on were superb. The second half was something of a stroll but was productive in being able to give Barkley a stint in the midfield-attack pivot role – a position he could find himself deployed into with more regularity next season. The win keeps our great form ticking along nicely and we now take on Stoke midweek, a team we have scored just 1 goal against in our last 4 meetings. With the creation of Pienaar and the ruthless finishing of Jelavic however its hard to not see us opening them up at least once.

Deconstructed: Moyes 3 Phase Strategy for defeating Swansea

Team News

The Blues drafted in Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka as like for like replacements for Fellaini and Heitinga. With rumours abound that he had been sacked by the club, Royston Drenthe was not in the match day squad and was replaced on the right flank by Osman with Gibson taking his spot in the centre. The Swans set up in a 4-2-3-1-ish system with Graham leading the line supported by the key danger man Sigurdsson.  Moyes tactical plan could be broken down into 3 key phases;

Phase 1 – Containment

Our hosts had most of the ball (62%) kept it better (86% v 76%) and made more passes (585 v 359) but pre match we had an idea this would be the case given Swan’s excellent style in keeping the ball.  The key factor was whether we could disrupt their fluidity in playing through us. Swansea’s key man this season has arguably been Leon Britton whose 93% pass completion is the best retention rate in the top flight. He is key to Swansea’s rhythm and linking defence to midfield. Our game plan from the off was to position ourselves to block off the angles from Vorm to the defenders with Osman and Pienaar positioning themselves high up the pitch. Cahill was asked to basically stand on Britton’s toes and ensure the midfielder had no space or angles to distribute forwards when the ball was played into him. This tactic really frustrated their key midfield man and one of the key themes of the first half was him constantly moving around the midfield zone looking for space, closely followed by Cahill. Unsurprisingly the duo covered the most – and almost exactly the same – distance in the first half from players on either side; Britton 2.78 miles and Cahill 2.76 miles respectively.

Phase 2 – Possession and Goals

The Bainaar axis was key to us getting a foothold in the game in the second period. The below graphic shows the players average positions and their font size demonstrates the volume of touches they had of the ball (the bigger the font the more touches). This shows the importance of Baines and Pienaar.

The duo combined superbly down the left in the second period and one of their signature moves culminated in the Swan’s key defender Williams upending Pienaar. From the resulting freekick Baines curled home a superb effort into the top corner of Vorm’s net. Pienaar and Osman were at their impish best on either flank; setting up 6 chances between them as the Blues missed a host of other chances before Jelavic – having just missed a sitter after another Pienaar run – was able to slot home after Fellaini’s physicality enabled him to turn away from Williams who was now being ragged all over the pitch. The Belgian had come on just before Baines opener and provided more of a threat than Cahill who lacked shattered after his tireless running in the first half.

Phase 3 – Lockdown

With the goals in the bag we looked to shut up shop, get men behind the ball and restrict Swansea from creating openings. Howard was incredibly well screened and only had one save to make in the 90mins as the Blues shape meant that Swansea couldn’t get behind our back line and were resorted to making speculative efforts from long range with 64% of their efforts pot shots and 0% from inside our 6 yard box. This image shows this (Swans left, Everton right) . In total the Blues made a huge 20 interceptions from deploying this tactic of cutting off forward angles. This great positional play and strong shape also enabled the Blues to conserve energy for the most part as Swansea’s possession was mostly confined to their own half and often broke down before reaching the final third.

As the game drew to a close we continued to look threatening on the break and were unlucky not to add to our tally. Stracquilarsi was snarling on the touchline and ready for action and on 82 minutes Moyes unlocked the key to his cage and as has become custom the belligerent Argentine galloped onto the pitch like a tiger who had been kept in a pen against his will and in need of some meat to satisfy his hunger. Straight away he was sharpening his claws on unsuspecting prey Williams and Caulker – making  as many fouls in 8 mins as any of teammates had done in 90mins. He should have scored at least once – perhaps twice if I’m being tough – but 2-0 was the final score in what was a terrific display from the Blues. In the case of the last 45minutes it was arguably our best offensive display of the season against a side who have rarely been brushed aside with such ease….Bring on Sunderland!!

Everton 0-1 Arsenal – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Selection & Tactics

The Blues made 2 changes from the side which drew the FA Cup Quarter Final earlier in the week; Steven Pienaar came in for the injured Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert replaced skipper Phil Neville. The system was the usual 4-4-1-1 with Cahill initially pivoting between midfield and attack in support of Jelavic. The Gunners only significant change was to bring back the talented Aaron Ramsey from injury with the Welshman deployed in an attacking midfield berth from the left drifting inside onto Hibbert’s left foot– something the fullback struggles to cope with. Wenger’s side lined up in more of a 4-2-3-1.

2.Gunners In the groove

The opening 20 minute spell was a complete non starter for the Toffees. Arsenal, clearly coming into the game with great confidence on the back of recent results, were pinging the ball around with some aplomb and repeatedly carving open a back four which had conceded just 1 Goodison goal in its last 9 hours of action. The hallmarks of the recent slayings of the league’s top clubs were not on show with virtually no pressure on the ball and an increasingly deep defensive line standing off and inviting pressure from the Gunners. The below image shows Arteta unmarked in acres of space in the build up to an early chance which the away side spurned.

Despite some really fluid play it was a corner that witnessed the Londoners take the lead as the ever productive Van Persie whipped in a left footed in swinger which was nodded home by the impressive Vermaelen after he wrong footed his marker Fellaini by fainting to run near post and then angled his run centrally. It was a criminal goal to give away by the Blues but in truth given the opportunities they missed we were lucky to still be in the game at the midway point of the first half.

3. Cahill / Fellaini Switch

With Arsenal and especially our old friend Mikel Arteta swelling possession in the centre the Blues continued to toil which led to Moyes swapping Cahill and Fellaini. The big Belgian is our best presser but in the early stages was out manoeuvred as his aggressive darts were being bypassed by quick triangular passing movements by the Gunners. As Moyes did with 30mins to go in the Sunderland game, Fellaini was pushed forward – playing pretty much as a central striker to occupy the Arsenal centre-backs – with Cahill dropping deep.

The bonus this had was twofold; firstly Fellaini (circled) was able to press the Gunners CB’s to stop them playing out from the back to Arteta and secondly it enabled us to get from back to front quicker using his significant height advantage and upper body strength to hold up play. This enabled the Blues to move further up the pitch and push our defensive line up a tad. The tactic now was to play more direct diagonal balls from Howard and Heitinga to the Gunners right side and specifically Sagna in the hope of winning flick ons or second balls. Sagna is decent in the air and won 14 aerials – 4 more than our team put together – but we did collect a lot of the second balls with Sagna dispossessed more times (4) than any other player on the pitch.

The only negative impact of this was that our bypassing of the middle ground with longer passes negated the offering from Leon Osman who was thus on the periphery of things for most of the evening before eventually getting the hook.

4.Gunners Defensive Line

As noted in the preview, both side’s high lines in the early season fixture at the Emirates led to the most offsides (15) in a prem game this season. The Gunners defensive line was such an obvious tactical approach last night that even the auto-pilot corpse that is Alan Hansen on motd would have been able to pick it out….or not! The Gunners caught us offside a whopping 10 times (average per team per game in the prem is 2). Moyes questioned 5/10 of the calls and it’s clear that Drenthe was at least 2 yards onside when he stroked the ball into  Szczesny’s net following good work from Cahill. The Blues were now at least asking questions of the previously un-worked visitor’s backline. The high line dynamic continued in the second period and despite a greater intensity from the Blues as the game went on the equalising goal just wouldn’t come.

5.Final Thought

This was a strange game that we could easily have been 0-3 down in at one stage yet by the close of play we could count ourselves a tad unlucky not to take a point. Credit to Arsenal, their passing and movement in the fist 20mins was something to behold and we couldn’t handle them. Defensively they restricted us to few clear cut opportunities, albeit with some help from the officials on the Drenthe ‘offside’ goal.

With the momentum of the 9 game unbeaten run now compromised the worry is that our season has already peaked as we head to Swansea on Saturday for a very tricky looking fixture. A positive result would be a real boost before heading to the Stadium of Light on Tuesday for a game which will ultimately define the remainder of the season.