Tactical Analysis: Everton 3-2 Newcastle

After producing a dominant first half display, Everton held off a second half Newcastle comeback to run out 3-2 winners at Goodison Park. Romelu Lukaku put in the type of shift that will have Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho questioning why he loaned out the young Belgian striker, scoring twice and assisting Ross Barkley in the opening 45 minutes to give Everton a 3-0 going into the break. Half time substitute Johan Cabaye drew one back for the visitors with a fine strike in the 51st minute. Loic Remy tacked on a second in the 89th to make for a tense finish but the home side were able to hold on.

Roberto Martinez made several changes to the side that earned a dramatic 3-2 win over West Ham the last time out in the league. Lukaku replaced Nikica Jelavic up front. James McCarthy won his first start alongside Gareth Barry in the double pivot. Leon Osman was used further up the pitch in a left attacking midfield role meaning Steven Naismith was relegated to a spot on the bench.

Alan Pardew tends to use either 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formations but today it was more of a 4-2-3-1. Vernon Anita and Cheik Tiote played deep in midfield with Moussa Sissoko operating behind striker Loic Remy in a central attacking midfield role. Hatem Ben Arfa usually starts on the right side of midfield but was used on the left. Yoan Gouffran played on the right. Pardew presumably used Gouffran on the right because he thought he’d do a better job tracking Leighton Baines’ runs forward. The back four was unchanged from the side that lost 3-2 to Hull last weekend.

Newcastle fail to deal with Howard long balls
There were a number of interesting tactical features that impacted this match but both of Lukaku’s goals had more to do with poor defending from Newcastle than any overarching tactical feature. Lukaku’s goals were however quite interesting because they were uncharacteristic of a Roberto Martinez coached side. Martinez encourages his sides to build attacks patiently from the back and therefore prefers his goalkeepers role the ball out to ensure possession is kept rather than launching hopeful long balls forward. But both of Lukaku’s goals stemmed from balls played long by Howard. For Lukaku’s opener, Coloccini failed to adequately deal with Howard’s long clearance- the Newcastle center back headed it directly into the path of Mirallas who dribbled down the right wing before cutting back for Lukaku to finish.  Coloccini was again partially at fault for Lukaku’s second. The Argentine allowed Howard’s long ball forward to run past him and into the path of Lukaku. Krul should have been closer to the edge of his box to collect the ball before Lukaku could get on the end of it but failed to do so. Lukaku’s second goal in particular isn’t one you’d expect Everton to score many more of this season but shows what a direct threat the powerful Belgian can be in the rare occasions Everton do play long out of the back.

Baines and Coleman overload Newcastle fullbacks
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman operated more as wing backs (as has consistently been the case under Martinez) and pushed high up the pitch in possession. They looked to overlap Osman and Mirallas tucking inside from their wide midfield positions. The effects of this advanced positioning were twofold.  When Gouffran and Ben Arfa failed to track their forays forward, it left the Newcastle fullbacks to defend 1 v. 2 down the flanks. Everton combined well down the flanks all evening, particularly on the left where Baines and Osman combined for 23 passes. When Gouffran and Ben Arfa did track the runs of Baines and Coleman, it pushed the two Newcastle wide men deep into their own defensive half. When Newcastle won the ball back they couldn’t get back into the attacking third of the pitch quickly enough to provide support for Sissoko and Remy.

Newcastle could have exploited the space in behind Everton’s advanced fullbacks on the counter. However, they couldn’t find a quick outlet pass forward on which to spring those counters.

Osman and Barkley overload Anita
Another key element of the first half that ties in to Everton’s wide play was Osman’s tendency to tuck inside to a narrow position on the left. Not only did this provide space for Baines to overlap on the outside, it also gave Everton a man advantage in central areas. For the most part the matchup in the middle of the pitch was Sissoko on Barry, Tiote on McCarthy and Anita slightly deeper checking the movement of Barkley. Osman’s movement into the middle gave Everton a 4 v. 3 advantage. He tucked inside towards Barkley to create overloads on Anita. This opened up dangerous space for Barkley between the seams because Anita had to leave him and step to ball when Osman was in possession. Osman played 17 passes to Barkley, Everton’s highest pass combination.

Newcaste lack creativity through the middle
The most obvious tactical feature of the opening half was Newcastle’s lack of creativity in the middle of midfield. Anita, Tiote and Sissoko are known more for their physical attributes and energy than their expansive passing. Anita and Tiote played almost completely level with one another when Newcastle were in possession, hitting passes side to side without threatening to penetrate Everton’s midfield bank of four with vertical balls. Everton were content to let them have possession deep in midfield, confident they didn’t have the ability to play forward passes that would split their compact banks of four. Because both Anita and Tiote were sitting deep and not threatening to move into advanced positions themselves, Barry and McCarthy only had to worry about defending Sissoko between the lines. With a 2 v. 1 advantage in Newcastle’s more advanced area of midfield, it was easy for Everton to cope comfortably. Sissoko received 22 passes in the first half. Almost none of them were in dangerous areas in the center of the pitch. He was able to complete just 4 passes in the attacking third in the first half.

Newcastle’s three center midfielders combined for just 15 passes in the attacking third in the first half, a reflection of both how poor their vertical passing was and how impotent the entire squad was moving off the ball. 

Pardew's subs 
Pardew’s second half changes made a big difference and Newcastle nearly ended up getting something out of a game that looked a lost cause at halftime. While he deserves credit for the way his substitutions altered the contest, questions still must be asked of how he got the starting 11 so wrong in the first place. He replaced Ben Arfa with Cabaye at halftime and brought on Michael Williamson for Yanga-Mbiwa. Cabaye played centrally in the #10 role, Sissoko moved wide to the right and Gouffran switched sides to the left. Cabaye’s movement between the lines was better than Sissoko had shown in the first half and he provided a quality on the ball Newcastle had lacked. Within three minutes of his introduction Cabaye bisected Everton’s midfield line with a clever pass through to Sissoko. Sissoko dummied the pass intelligently for the overlapping Debuchy but the right back’s delivery into the box was poor. Moments later Cabaye would have Newcastle on the score sheet. He moved towards the left channel to collect a pass from Gouffran and dispatched a terrific strike into the top far corner from 25 yards out.

Pardew replaced Anita with Papiss Cisse in the 69th and moved to a 4-4-2. Cisse went up top alongside Remy and Cabaye dropped to more of a box-to-box role with Tiote. Newcastle became much more direct, looking to either get the ball wide and cross towards the two forwards or play it long early into the forwards and try to get on the end of second balls. The more physical, direct style made Everton uncomfortable but they managed to keep the away side from getting a second until the 89th minute. Cabaye played a ball from the left flank towards the back post. Debuchy rose well and provided a knock down for Remy to tuck home. Remy nearly equalized with a 20 yard volley moments later when Everton again struggled to deal with a series of hopeful balls hit into the box but the home side were just able to hold on for the 3 points.  

Martinez may be unhappy with his side’s inability to keep the ball in the second half when Newcastle switched to 4-4-2. The change meant Everton had a 3 v. 2 advantage in midfield so they should have been able to boss possession. With the score at 3-1, too often they looked to break quickly on the counter in search of a fourth goal, making the game more stretched than was necessary. The counter was often on because Newcastle were pushing numbers forward but at that stage of the game, with a two goal advantage, they should have looked to slow the pace of the game down in possession from time to time.

Everton were good value for their lead in the first half. They worked the channels excellently through the overlapping runs of Baines and Coleman. Lukaku and Barkley were a constant threat around the penalty box. Both are very direct players that are sure to make life difficult for Premier League defenses. Perhaps had they done a better job slowing the tempo of the match in the second half they'd have won more comfortably. Still, this was another positive performance for Martinez. Three wins from three have his side sitting fourth in the table.

Newcastle will feel all three goals they conceded were avoidable. Two came from Coloccini mistakes, the third from an aimless pass forward from Yanga-Mbiwa. With Cabaye on the bench n the first half, they were avoid of ideas in the attacking third. They tried to take on a more direct approach in switching to 4-4-2 in the second half to make up for the shortage of midfield creativity. It nearly ended up getting them a draw on the evening but they'll have to improve their link up play in the attacking third moving forward.