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)
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.
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.
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.
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.