Everton completed a smash and grab job to claim 3 points in what was a pretty disjointed display by the Blues characterised by poor passing in the second period.
Everton opened up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Anichebe leading the line with Osman behind him, Barkley from the right and Arteta left side. The 3 attacking midfielders interchanged a fair bit with Arteta moving inside more as the game went on with Osman shifting to the right. Blackburn played more of a 4-4-1-1 with Hoilett playing through the middle off Jason Roberts. Injuries to Pedersen and Dunn would see Hoilett switch back to the flank midway through the first period.
Our first half display was decent, with Arteta playing well and Barkley again carrying our main threat – the youngster had a productive first half and even though he was withdrawn early in the second half he still completed more dribbles and created more chances than his teammates
Passing game collapses
The second half was a horror show for the Blues. As the stats show below, we couldn’t get hold of the ball and when we did our pass completion dipped. Blackburn made considerably fewer passes but made more of their possession than the Blues – their % of long balls was 3% higher than the Blues and they worked the ball into our box much quicker.
The Blues defence continued to drop deeper and deeper as the second period progressed – Distin made a huge 16 clearances but 50% of these surrendered possession to Blackburn. Our passing was increasingly poor – both Blackburn penalties came from passing miscues – firstly Barkley and then Cahill later on.
The Blues rode their luck to get 3 points here; Blackburn missed two penalties and also lost their 2 most creative players to injury. The positives where good defensive shifts for the team from Fellaini and Anichebe – who both won over 90% of their aerial duels supporting a defence that looked shaky with Jagielka again out of sorts. Osman was anonymous in one of his poorest games in a long time. Tim Howard will take the plaudits as he saved the Blues and buried the ghost of his nightmare at Ewood 12 months ago.
Ultimately last season we started the campaign battering teams with possession and getting nothing, so 3points and a clean sheet will do nicely although we certainly need to improve in terms of passing based on today’s showing.
The Blues are waking up to another opening day hangover after a defeat which provided a microcosm of the familiar woes faced last season, chiefly a lack of cutting edge with Cahill the #1 culprit. We lined up in a pretty orthodox 4-4-2 with Heitinga holding and Osman given the attacking duties from central midfield. Cahill played right up top with the dire Beckford. QPR lined up in 4-2-3-1 with Smith and Taarabt in the wide roles but attacking predominantly down their left flank with Smith angling runs from the right.
Personnel wise, the Heitinga/Osman central midfield and Beckford/Cahill axis didn’t look convincing and resembled players who had rarely been paired together. The team generally looked unbalanced with 2 central midfielders playing on the flanks. Rodwell was again accommodated, this time in a wide midfield role with the onus to get forward and create when possible. As discussed in my When Skies are Grey column pre match, Rodwell lacks a creative spark to his play and is quite robotic on the ball; for instance last season he created a chance for an opponent every 202 minutes. As the chalkboard below shows (bottom chalkboard), he made just 2 forward passes in the opposition half all game – I’d play him anchor man or not at all.
Barkley’s display was unquestionably the only positive – he does possess the ability to take a player on which we lack. The chalkboard (left, top) shows his passing adventure with a significant amount of forward passes. Barkley had more shots and more dribbles than his teammates and was also our most fouled player, picking up useful free kicks on the edge of the QPR goal. I would personally start him next week at Blackburn in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Arteta and Osman and behind Saha.
QPR Goal Deconstructed
Our hosts where decent in possession and in Alejandro Faurlin had the games most effective performer, just shading Barkley in terms of output. The Argentinian midfielder completed 81% of his passes (well above the QPR average of 69%) and won 10 tackles. His role was to break up play and feed the attacking midfielders, something he did in the build up to the goal. As the below shot shows we afforded Buzsaky too much space following a prolonged period of possession from the Hoops.
The Hungarian finds time and space to roll the ball into Tommy Smith to slot past Tim Howard. It was a terrible goal to concede. Baines and Jagielka both had opportunities to clear their lines but rushed clearances and returned possession to QPR. As the move progressed, Jagielka was again guilty, this time of poor marking (circled) he has Smith marked but then gets sucked in enabling Smith the time and space to slot.
The second half was more of the same from the Blues; Barkley switched to the right to accommodate Arteta on the left. Beckford was then withdrawn with Cahill furthest forward with Fellaini supporting him – a move that made us look more threatening but ultimately to no avail.
The Blues were slack and lacked a cutting edge but still created enough goal scoring chances to take at least a point –it was a familiar story of square pegs in round holes selection wise and a lack of bite in the final third. A reaction will be required against a woeful looking Blackburn side next week – as mentioned above I would return to 4-2-3-1 with Osman further forward.
Fair play to QPR – they had a plan and stuck to it – and in Faurlin they have a class act who will claim many plaudits this season with more showings like this.