EFC 2-1 SAFC: Tactical Deconstruction of game changing substitution

Teams and Tactics

Moyes named an unchanged team from last week’s draw at Fulham in a 4-2-3-1 with O’Neill’s shape 4-4-1-1 with James McLean on the left and Adam Johnson right. Hatchet man Lee Cattermole was ruled out so Larsson moved into the middle alongside Colback.  In defence, Rose came in at left full back with Gardner on the opposite flank.

Mirallas / Naismith

We started the game really well, as the below pass completion visual shows, particularly in the 16-30 minute period when Mirallas was on fire on the left  flank cutting in, with Pienaar shifted to the right.


The Belgian was committing players and making things happen, attempting a whopping 7 dribbles. Crucially, teams are fearful of his pace  and will stand off him which pushes us further up the pitch. Naismith is no like for like replacement; the Scot has his qualities but doesn’t have the pace or trickery for take on’s –  in comparison he made no dribble in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch after Mirallas injury.

Blues dominated ball, Sunderland counter

O’Neill’s side unsurprisingly sat deep and looked to counter attack, enabling us to dominate possession with 60% of the ball including 74%  final third possession. Our pass completion in the final third of 82% vs Sunderland’s  62% enabled us to create 16 chances to our visitor’s 6.

With Mirallas off, Sunderland were now pushing a bit further up the pitch and they had their most positive spell of the game in the 31-45 minute period that followed Mirallas injury as the below forward passing visual shows. It was the only spell Sunderland really showed any ambition in the game and led to the opening goal, with Leon Osman guilty of switching off at the back post.

Despite his Movember mussie giving him the look of a sex offender, Osman again had his cigar on passing wise, making the most passes and crucially posting 85% completion in the final third with 60% of his passes forwards . His  passes to Baines and Pienaar were the most used combinations in the game. Crucially  he was instrumental in the comeback with his runs from midfield supplying Fellaini for both goals.

Moyes tactical switch

Sunderland were defending rigidly on their 18 yard line with O’Shea and Cueller forming a robust axis in the centre to deny us space. Moyes brought on Velios for Neville and withdrew Fellaini into a deeper role. Interestingly, the strikers played very wide with Jelavic left / Velios right and Fellaini looking to run from deep to exploit the space in between

If we look at the Sunderland positions in the spell before the substitution and then in the 73-80 mins period that followed (and produced both goals) the previously small gap between O’Shea and Cueller now becomes very stretched with O’Shea in particular drawn out of defence into no-mans land. With more space to manoeuvre the goals duly followed.

Final verdict

Our powers of resolve where once again on show when for the sixth game on the spin we took something from a game we trailed in – a Premier League record. Crucially, despite never really hitting the heights performance wise of previous drawn games we were able to eek out a win. It was particularly pleasurable given Arsenal’s slip at home to Fulham and Spurs defeat which gave us a cushion on our main rivals for 4th spot.


Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Sunderland

Next up is a home game against Martin O’Neill’s struggling Sunderland as the Blues look to end a frustrating series of 4 draws on the spin. Games between O’Neill and Moyes have been characterised by bags of goals as both like to attack down the flanks so the games are always stretched with large alleys of space between centre backs and full backs.  The Irishman has never been much of a tactician, playing percentage football and getting the ball ‘in the mixer’ as often as possible, mostly through crosses.  With new manager syndrome now worn off, the initial upturn in results following the exit of the steak headed Steve Bruce appears a distant memory with major issues relating to creativity and goal scoring having now reached crisis point. So much so they’ve signed veterans James McFadden and Louis Saha.

Going forward

Martin O’Neill’s sides like width and using pace in counter attacking situations with an emphasis on wide men whipping balls into the box. Crossing is of course largely an imprecise art – it takes on average 57 to score a goal – and last time out against Villa their over reliance on crossing was evident…

In the Villa game the second most used passing combination was Mignolet to Fletcher, which is perhaps indicative of a more direct style of play to create chances. Sessegnon does have incision in his locker but hasn’t turned up all season, making them wholly reliant on crosses from Johnson/Larsson/McLean. Their struggles are reminiscent of our own winter of discontent last year when the only way we looked like scoring was from a Baines delivery.  The Mackems have struggled to get the ball in the net and have comfortably made the fewest shots per game in the league with no Sunderland player scoring for over 8 hours. The reliance on Fletcher is such that the forward has bagged 83% of their goals this term, all with his left foot. The below shots visual from the recent home derby against Newcastle (who played with 10 men for the most part) gives an indication of their struggles.


O’Neill will be happy to not be in possession, invite teams onto them and then exploit the space in behind – so our style will suit them. They have conceded the second most amount of shots in the top flight although they don’t ship many goals with only Arsenal having let in fewer goals this season. They will sit tight and happily defend the aerial ball into their box so our new found creative spark and Jelavic’s ability to find space in the box to get a goal out of nothing will probably be more vital than Fellaini in this match up.  On the subject of the Belgian, his deployment on Saturday will be interesting. He has been ace in the final third but has notably struggled against snide, aerially dominant centre backs like McAuley and Caldwell. Cueller is of a similar ilk and it might be better to have Fellaini supporting defensively to help deal with kick outs and crosses and use Mirallas centrally running at the Sunderland centre backs to capitalise on their lack of agility. The Belgian is a colossal figure at the moment though and what is really befuddling opposition backlines is the fact they don’t know whether were going to hit it long into him or play it on the deck.  Last week this completely stumped Fulham who in the second half especially never knew when to go tight or when to drop off. For this reason he’ll probably start further forward but given the interchangeability of the attacking players we now have don’t be surprised to see positional movement.

Selection wise, Mignolet is a quality shot stopper and in front of him expect Bardsley/Colback to slot into the full back berths with O’Shea and Cuellar in the centre back spots.  Larsson and  Johnson will probably start on the flanks but will regularly alternate. Tattooed simpleton James McLean was recently dropped but is another option on the flanks. All 3 are very one footed.  I’d go for Hibbert to come back in for Coleman especially given the Irishman’s previous struggles against the physical Bardsley.  In midfield the cantankerous enforcer Lee Cattermole will travel to Merseyside armed with his usual carrier bag of supermarket ale and pestilence hell bent on inflicting mass misery on others whilst simultaneously crying on the inside. Utility man Craig Gardner will most likely partner him in the middle. Further forward the enigmatic Sessegnon will loiter behind Fletcher.  Darron Gibson is ‘close to a return and should be back next week’  – the same line the official site copy and pasted for 12 months during Paul Gascoigne’s last season at the club so personnel wise I wouldn’t expect much change from last week.


Moyes record against O’Neill isn’t great; during his time at Villa O’Neil never lost in 8 league games against Moyes.  Moyes has never lost to Sunderland home or away in his 10 years + in charge at L4, including 2 wins and 2 draws in the 4 matches last season. Sunderland do draw a lot though, with 4/5 on their travels with their games characterised by under 2.5 goals. With our current habit of draws, nobody in the Prem has drawn as many as Everton or Sunderland.  We’ve also conceded first in our last six games but have avoided defeat in each so Sunderland H/T Everton F/T is an option. Given the way we have been playing lately you get the feeling somebody will be on the end of a thrashing soon. In the meeting last season Sunderland were as bad as any side I’ve seen at Goodison in 25 years and under O’Neill when they have been bad they have been truly shocking. Hopefully that big win will come on Saturday. If you are having a flutter check out Paddy Power for some juicy toffee related odds.

Finally, if your on the look out for an early christmas present James Corbett’s latest offering ‘The Everton Encyclopedia’ is an excellent read and a ‘must have’ for any evertonian young or old.  Released earlier this week, the book is the definitive text of all things toffee related including detailed player profiles with incredible attention to detail. You can check it out at the Decoubertin book shop here


Sunderland 2-2 Everton


Everton somewhat surprisingly kept the same starting eleven which rather limply lost out to Arsenal last week, with Saha retaining the role as misfiring striker. Heitinga’s positioning and the depth he plays in the anchor role often depends on the opposition formation and to a lesser extent Everton’s game plan.  With Sunderland playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 and no player between the lines of defence and midfield the want away Dutchman played level with Arteta almost as an orthodox central midfielder, albeit both where noticeably playing deep.

Gyan’s injury for Sunderland meant that Darren Bent came straight back into the starting line-up to partner Welbeck up front.  One calamity defender replaced another as Anton Ferdinand took a break from court appearances to fill in for Bramble in the Mackems backline.

Early Exchanges

Everton started the brighter and were in front after just 6 minutes. Classic interplay between Pienaar and Baines down the Everton left concluded with Baines delightful cross being tucked in by Everton’s talismanic Cahill. It is a well rehearsed manoeuvre  which Everton regularly execute superbly, with Pienaar tucking in, sucking the full back inside with him giving Baines the freedom of the flank to expose (shown in diagram below)

Baines/Pienaar interplay

Rather than kick on, Everton began to be sloppy in possession, with countless balls either lashed into touch or to the opposition by Distin in particular, although to be fair Sunderland’s pressing was notably improving.  Just as the left side is Everton’s most attacking weapon, defensively it is alarmingly the Achilles heel. Pienaar’s powder puff challenge on the ageing Zenden was as sloppy as Baines attempted challenge, allowing the former Anfield misfit to slot in the hard working Welbeck who got between Jagielka and Distin to equalize. It was a goal which from a defensive point of view was easily avoidable.

Everton then kicked on, Pienaar coming more inside in advanced positions with the Arteta/Heitinga platform sitting quite deep as protection in a 4-2-3-1. Everton were still dominating the ball and where occupying a higher line than Sunderland, shown by the below diagram which highlights the average position players held during the game. Notice how the majority of Everton’s players occupied positions in the Sunderland half in comparison to their hosts whose average position was on the whole in their own half.

Saha struggling to make an impact

The lack of pace and penetration offered by Everton’s forwards has been a feature of this season, and this was to continue tonight. Yakubu has been pillared in the past for his limited work rate but Saha’s display tonight was truly shocking. In comparison to Welbeck, a player of considerably less quality, Saha’s heinous outing is all the more galling. As shown in the chalkboard below, Welbeck successfully linked play down the flanks and through the middle, completing 24 passes and forcing 5 shots. Saha completed 50% less passes and forced just one weak effort on goal. Evertonian’s will to an extent forgive a striker who fails to score but not one who fails to give 100%.

More problems down the left

Despite Everton having comfortably more of the ball than their hosts as the second half unfolded, they were again hit by a sucker punch with the origin of the goal an all too familiar source. After Arteta had lost the ball in midfield in a similar manner to last weeks second goal against Arsenal, the resulting play led to Welbeck capitalising on poor marking to head home after a good cross from Richardson. Cameras later proved the x box loving wannabe had been in an off side position when he crossed the ball. The goal was the 11TH time Everton have conceded a goal from the left side this season. With 15 goals conceded in total its clear this is a weakness teams are exploiting.

Late Equaliser

Everton threw on Rodwell and then made a double change with Beckford and Yakubu coming on. With pressure mounting, it was Baines again who was instrumental in providing traction to the Blues attack, teeing up Arteta who shanked a ball that didn’t appear to be troubling Gordon until the ‘Scottish International’ Bardsley deflected the ball past his keeper. It was a stroke of luck the Blues deserved given their dominance of possession (55% v 45%) and fighting spirit. It was Baines 7th assist of the season and the 11th of Everton’s 16 goals which have come from the left flank.  We should then have gone on to win the game, as Jagielka’s hopeful last ditch punt down field was met by Beckford who got under the ball and propelled his strike into the stands.


The trend of draws continues as Everton recorded their 11th deadlock in their last 21 games.  Our passing and movement was again of a pretty decent standard but this good work was undone by sloppy defending.  Saying that, Sunderland are a decent side and their pressing when not in possession was generally better than ours. In conclusion, I feel that Improved performances by some of Everton’s more senior players such as Heitinga , Saha and to an extent Arteta  would surely have seen us edge this entertaining tussle.