Everton 1-1 Birmingham

Anyone who thought the Newcastle victory would lead to a relentless surge into the Europa League places by the Blues would have been massively disappointed as a gutsy but ultimately blunt display leaves the Toffees marooned in midtabe and edging closer to the unwanted Premier League draw record…..

Lineups.

Everton made one enforced change in personnel with Jonny Heitinga a like for like replacement for Phil Neville in midfield. Strategy and formation wise it was the same from St James on Saturday, however an early injury to Arteta would see Leon Osman switch to the left flank and Coleman slot in on the right. Birmingham also suffered an early injury to Bentley so Murphy played left mid,  Larsson wide right with Beausejour the closest central midfield support to the often stranded Jerome.

Blunt Blues

The injury to Arteta was a massive blow to our chances of breaking down a Birmingham side who as mentioned in the preview are built on defensive shape and getting bodies between the ball and their goal. As soon as the Spaniard pulled up you could sense the feeling around the stadium that this wasn’t going to be our night. Fair play to Leon Osman though who slotted into the role of the most advanced midfielder and turned in a man of the match display, although Tony Hibbert ran him close to this honour with some great old school sliding tackles that you very rarely see in the modern non contact game of ‘The EPL’.

With Arteta sidelined we basically had 3 born and bred defenders (Heitinga, Rodwell & Coleman) playing in midfield and this was reflected in the lack of incision in Birmingham ’s final third. The chalkboard analysis below shows the passing of our 2 centre mids- notice how combined only 1 ball gets played into the Birmingham 18 yard box all night. Not for the first time this season our most threatening player was marauding full back Leighton Baines who was unlucky not to add to his growing back catalogue of assists with several delicious crosses, notably to Coleman in the first half.

Blues concede first again.

Not for the first time this season the Blues conceded the first goal of the game, and again the origin came down our left side, but as the screenshots show Heitinga was at fault….

Heitinga and Beausejour circled in the build up to the goal…Notice in the next shot below Heitinga shows poor concentration by switching off allowing Beausejour to drift into the box unmarked and head home


Quite damningly, it was the 7th time we have conceded from a cross into our  box in our last 8 games. In games against well organized but ultimately limited offensive sides like Birmingham ,with our own attacking deficiencies you simply have to keep a clean sheet to have a chance of winning the game. This has been endemic in us now racking up 13 draws – just 3 away from equalising the Premier League record of 16 – Birmingham have also chalked up the same tally.

We struggled to create any clear cut chances and the goal from Heitinga really came out of nothing. The Dutchman did superbly to curve a shot over a host of Birmingham players and into the roof of the net after Osman’s corner had been deflected into his path. For the most part watching the permanently angry Dutchman this campaign, he has lacked application and looked uncomfortable in any position he has been asked to deploy… but this goal was a gem

Birmingham shape – Brum’s defence is built on shape, notice how they have 2 banks of four in close proximity to each other to squeeze any space between the lines. They will not compromise this shape  – notice that when Saha drops deep (blue arrow) to look for the ball/create space Jiranek doesn’t track him and maintains his position. On the few occasions Birmingham’s centre backs did get pulled out of position there was no movement into the space created by Everton’s static centre mids.

Second Half

The second period was pretty much the same as the first, something of a poor man’s version of the Attack v Defence exercise witnessed at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, as Everton dominated the ball but, unlike Barca, simply couldn’t find a way around Big Eck’s well drilled unit. With their fullbacks tucking in and Mutch and Bowyer sat in front of the centre backs, Birmingham were happy for us to have the ball and only pressed us once we got 35 yards from their goal.

Conclusion

7 points from the last 9 available represents a tidy return for the Blue although many fans will be rightly dismayed that again we have failed to put a team from the league’s lower echelons to the sword at home. We have now failed to beat any of the bottom 5 clubs in the league at home, and the problem is blindingly obvious. You can bridge the financial gap to some extent with a well organized defensive unit and through belligerence, but in the final third money talks – until the grim financial situation changes at the club I fear the results and frustration which we have witnessed this campaign will continue.

Man City 1-2 Everton

Line-ups

David Moyes sprang a surprise by starting with Victor Anichebe in attack with Leon Osman returning from injury to replace Steven Pienaar on the leftside of the Blues midfield in a familiar 4-5-1 setup. Man City shuffled their pack also with Kolorov coming back from suspension on the left side of defence and the hapless Milner coming in for De Jong in the City engine room in a similar 4-5-1 formation with Tevez playing the ‘Ghost Nine’ role with the narrow support provided by Silva, Yaya Toure & Balotelli.

Early goals boost Blues

Everton where out the traps and right on the offensive, taking the lead after just four minutes when a trademark steam up the left by Baines resulted in the ball switching to the right flank . Coleman beat him man and popped a pinpoint cross to Cahill who did what he does best against City and score. It must be said that he was assisted by some truly comedy marking by Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany.  Everton’s attacking intent was surprising City and the Blues continued to enjoy decent possession in the City half. City’s rightback Zabaleta was off the field receiving treatment for a gashed eye for almost 8 minutes, and this was to prove fatal. As mentioned in the preview, David Silva cuts inside a lot and doesn’t retain his position on the right, and with Milner filling in for Zabaleta Everton played a lovely move with Baines and Anichebe getting a 2 on 1 situation down the left, combining to pass into Cahill who teed up Baines for a right foot curler into Hart’s left hand post. Textbook.

A – Passes                                    B – Shots                                    C – City Crosses

Everton sit back

Content with the 2 goals, Everton then sat back as City began to dominate possession.  Everton where solid through the middle and forcing City out to the flanks where they are weaker, shown by screenshots A, B & C. When City did work a shooting chance they where met by a sea of blue, summed up nicely in screenshot D where Silva is met by 10 Everton players between the ball and goal. This mass of bodies through the middle led City out to the flanks, leading to a staggering 28 crosses being unsuccessfully delivered. This really played into our hands given our aerial edge. City where dominating play, making in total 584 successful passes to our 233 but often their play resulted in poor crossing or shooting from distance. Indeed, of the 34 chances they carved out only 5 required Howard to make saves. The City dominance was aided and abetted by our own tactics with David Moyes seemingly encouraging us to sit back further and soak up pressure, with Anichebe playing more as a left sided player and Osman cutting inside often leaving us with 6 players screening the back four. This was successfully quelling City attacks but it left Cahill isolated as the furthest forward of our players.

Screen shot A Everton happy to let City have the ball in this area

Screen shot B – Fellaini presses and forces City out wide

Screen shot C – As soon as a shooting chance arises, 2 men close it down

Screen shot D – Silva prepares to shoot but is faced by a sea of blue

Second Half.

The second period began as the first ended with City in control of the ball, with substitute Adam Johnson causing problems down our left side and Tevez seeing more of the ball in the final third. We where still playing very deep with Fellaini in particular having a stormer, achieving 100% completion in his passing stats. This tenacity in the tackle was a theme of the evening with the Blues making 16 blocks and 21 interceptions in the game. The game erupted into controvesery midway through the second half when Anichebe was dismissed for 2 quick fire harsh bookings. There was no malice in the Nigerian’s challenges and where more to do with his obvious tiredness just as Moyes was set to replace him for Saha.  City then turned up the heat and after Jagielka unluckily turned Yaya Toure’s cross into his own net, Balotelli then hit the post as City where looking as though they where turning the screw on the Blues.

Saha then make an appearance, along with Billy, for Osman and Coleman in the last 15 minutes . These changes helped to quell the City threat in giving us an outlet further forward as beforehand we had continued to invite City pressure with our resistance tested intensely.

Conclusion

We rode our luck tonight at times but for the shear hard work and determination we showed this was 3 points well deserved. Moyes deserves much credit for tactically getting this spot on. We have dominated plenty of games in terms of possession and chances created this season just like City did to us tonight, so it was glad to be the team who took its chances this time. This win should give us the confidence to kick on and take a decent point’s hall from the Christmas programme.