Tactical Analysis: West Brom 1-1 Everton

Diego Lugano headed in a second half equalizer to give Pepe Mel a 1-1 draw with Everton in his first game as West Brom manager. Lugano was an unlikely hero- he had been largely responsible for Everton's opener after his slow reaction to a Romelu Lukaku flicked header left Kevin Mirallas through on goal to finish with ease.

It was a strange contest with few clear cut scoring opportunities. Everton were a far cry from the energetic, attacking side they've become known for under Roberto Martinez and West Brom didn't have the quality in the attacking third to offer a consistent goal scoring threat.

Martinez went with his usual 4-2-3-1. Ross Barkley remains sidelined with a broken toe and Steven Pienaar missed out with a groin injury so Martinez had to do some shuffling with his three attacking midfielders. Kevin Mirallas played through the middle, Leon Osman played on the left and Brian Oviedo on the right.

Mel opted for a 4-4-2 in his first game in charge. Matej Vydra partnered Nicolas Anelka up front. James Morrison was chosen ahead of Youssuf Mulumbu to partner Claudio Yacob in the middle of midfield. They were flanked by Christ Brunt on the left and Zoltan Gera on the right. Gareth McAuley was unable to recover in time from a hamstring injury and was replaced by Lugano at center back.

Probably the most interesting tactical feature of the first half was West Brom's pressing in midfield. They defended in banks of four. Morrison and Yacob would immediately close down Gareth Barry and James McCarthy when they received the ball in deep positions in midfield. Behind them, Olsson and Lugano would stick tight to the backs of Lukaku and Mirallas and follow them when they tried to drop off into midfield to find space. The midfield pressing limited the amount of time Barry and McCarthy had on the ball and forced them into making backwards and sideways passes. They struggled to play penetrating passes into the front four and as a result the pace of Everton's passing moves was much slower than we're used to seeing.

That Everton's goal came from an uncharacteristically direct move was in part due to West Brom's pressing. Martinez's side had been struggling to transition from the midfield to the attacking third when Sylvain Distin bypassed the midfield altogether and clipped a long ball into Lukaku making a diagonal run. Here, West Brom's tactics hurt them. Because Morrison and Yacob were pressing Barry and McCarthy in midfield, it meant neither were available to pick up the #10 Mirallas in between the lines. As a result, one of the two West Brom center backs had to step out and stick tight to him rather than tucking in and providing cover on Lukaku. The screen shots below show the sequence leading up to the goal. Lugano steps forward to get tight on the back of Mirallas while Olsson marks Lukaku (image 1). Lukaku makes a diagonal run in behind Lugano, forcing Olsson away from his left center back position towards the right channel, leaving an ocean of space through the middle of the pitch (image 2). Lukaku flicks a header on into that space and Mirallas spins off Lugano and beats him in behind for pace. Without a spare center back to provide cover it was an easy finish for Mirallas.

Image 1: Lugano and Olsson tight to Mirallas and Lukaku
Image 2: Olsson forced to track Lukaku's run towards right channel, Mirallas sprints into space left open in behind
West Brom's primary attacking approach in the first half was through the channels. Both Everton fullbacks Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are encouraged to provide width high up the pitch when Everton are in possession, thus leaving space in behind them for the opposition to counter into. Anelka would quickly drift wide into this space when West Brom won the ball back and receive outlet passes in the channels. He'd look for Vydra or one of the midfielders breaking forward but too often West Brom's passing was sloppy on the break and they couldn't take advantage of some favorable positions in wide areas.

Mel changes to 4-2-3-1
They key to West Brom getting back in the game was Mel's change in shape to 4-2-3-1 after he introduced Mulumbu for Gera in the 60th minute. Mulumbu played in midfield alongside Yacob, allowing Morrison to move into an advanced #10 position behind Victor Anichebe who had come on at half for Vydra. Anelka moved to the right wing. The shift to three in central midfield allowed West Brom to more comfortably keep possession in attacking areas. Morrison provided the link forward that had been missing when the shape was 4-4-2. West Brom had completed 56 passes in the attacking third in the first hour of play before the change. They completed 45 attacking third passes in the 30 minutes after it, a spell that saw them get an equalizer and close out the contest looking the more likely to find a winner.

The 1-1 result was fair as neither side did enough to win this. Despite looking less than their best Everton were the better side in the first half. West Brom improved in the second half and Mel deserves credit for the impact his switch from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 had on the balance of play.

Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 3-1 Everton

Manchester City avoided a third consecutive defeat with a fairly comfortable 3-1 win over Everton at the Etihad. Everton were in the normal 4-2-3-1 we've seen under Roberto Martinez. He made just one change to the side that beat Newcastle 3-2 on Monday. Gareth Barry was inelligible to play against his parent club so Leon Osman dropped from left midfield into Barry's holding role alongside James McCarthy. Steven Naismith was brought in on the left wing.

Manuel Pellegrini opted for a similar 4-4-2 shape to the one they used in the heavy midweek Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich though he made several personnel changes. Pablo Zabaleta and Alexander Kolarov replaced Micah Richards and Gael Clichy at the fullback positions. Joleon Lescott replaced Matija Nastasic in the center of defense though the Serbian center back had to replace an injured Vincent Kompany in the 34th minute. David Silva was fit enough to be given the start on the left and replaced Samir Nasri. James Milner replaced Jesus Navas on the right wing. Alvaro Negredo was given the start up front alongside Aguero over Edin Dzeko.

There were essentially four key tactical features in this contest.

1. Game stretched early
With Manchester City once again using two forwards, Everton had a 3 v. 2 advantage in midfield. City had been made to pay by Bayern Wednesday evening for opting to play a two forward system and leaving themselves a man down in the middle of the pitch. However, in that game the two forwards Aguero and Dzeko did very little tracking back to deny passes to Bayern's deepest midfielder Philip Lahm. As a result, Bayern always had a man free in midfield to offer a passing option and were able to boss possession.

Pelligrini looked to combat the inferior numbers in midfield today by having Aguero drop off when Everton were in possession and pick up their deepest midfielder, usually McCarthy. This enabled City to match up evenly in midfield on the defensive side. Although Everton enjoyed some decent early spells of possession, City weren't being made to chase shadows in the manner they were Wednesday.

The game's dangerous opportunities early on came mainly as a result of the game being stretched. As they have done all season, Everton had Coleman and Baines bomb forward from their outside back positions. While this gave them opportunities to overlap and receive the ball in wide areas high up the pitch, it also meant there was space for Manchester City to break into the channels when they won the ball back. Aguero would sprint in behind the Everton fullbacks when City recovered possession and collect long balls into the channels.

At the other end, Everton also had plenty of space to break into on the counter. When City were in possession, Yaya Toure was playing much higher up than Fernandinho to provide a link forward. City's fullbacks were also pushing up the pitch to provide width. As a result, there wasn't much defensive cover in front of Kompany and Lescott when Everton won the ball back. Lukaku would drop off the City center backs into the big spaces in midfield then use his strength to hold the ball up while Barkley, Naismith and Mirallas broke forward. With both teams looking to be proactive and getting plenty of bodies forward, there was loads of space for both on the break.

Everton's opener however was not the result of play being stretched but rather a really clever piece of movement from Lukaku. The Belgian striker was on Lescott's back shoulder and took a few quick steps back towards midfield like he was checking in between the lines to receive a pass with his back to goal. Lescott bit on the movement and took a step forward to follow him- Lukaku then spun off of him and made a run in behind. Jagielka found him with a ball over the top for the goal.

2. Silva tucks inside
As he always does, David Silva tucked in field from his starting left position, looking to find space in between the Everton defensive and midfield lines to link up play into the strikers. He did so excellently for City's equalizer, drifting away from Coleman on the left just between Everton's holding midfielders and center backs 30 yards from goal. Fernandinho picked him out where he cushioned a touch for Toure. Toure found Negredo peeling off around the right shoulder of Coleman for the goal.

Silva tucks in between the lines on Manchester City's equalizer
Silva completed an incredible 41 passes in the attacking third, 29 more than Everton's leader in attacking third passes Ross Barkley.

Silva also provided an outlet to spring counter attacks. He didn't track Coleman deep into City's defensive half when the Everton right back made runs forward and instead drifted into space so that when City won the ball back they had a quick passing option forward. For City's second he was behind the play that was developing with Everton in possession. Mirallas gave the ball away cheaply to Milner who was able to find Silva drifting in the center of midfield. Silva made a bursting run forward then played a ball through for Aguero to tuck home.

City forwards deny balls into McCarthy and Osman
Whereas in the Champions League defeat Wednesday City's forwards did little work tracking back defensively, Aguero and Negredo quietly performed their defensive duties well here today. Their work won't show up in tackle or interception statistics but was nonetheless important.

What the forward duo did well was drop in the space between Everton's center backs and holding midfielders to deny entry passes into McCarthy and Osman. City were content to let Distin and Jagielka have the ball at center back in the second half. They dropped their defensive lines deeper and put ten men behind the ball. It was the job of Negredo and Aguero to cut off the passing lanes into Everton's deep lying midfielders who seek to control the tempo of the game. They performed the job excellently- Osman and McCarthy received just 66 passes combined. By comparison, City's two holding midfielders received 95.

Keeping the ball away from Osman and McCarthy forced Barkley to drop deep into midfield to provide an extra passing option where he was far less dangerous and not close enough to Lukaku to link play forward. Only 12 of Barkley's 41 passes were in the attacking third because he was consistently forced to drop back to provide a passing option for the center backs.

Barkley's dropping deep would have been less of an issue had Gareth Barry been available for selection, allowing Osman to start on the left. When Osman plays wide he can tuck inside to provide that link with the striker. However, Everton in Mirallas and Naismith, Everton were playing with two outside midfielders that stay in wider areas and aren't particularly clever with movement in field.

City were good value for their win. After Everton's opener they controlled the midfield and the movement of Negredo and Aguero caused problems running in behind Everton's back four.

Everton missed Gareth Barry whose positional awareness would likely have denied David Silva some of the space between the lines he enjoyed.

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.

5 questions to consider ahead of this weekend's Premier League fixtures

1. Will Ozil start? 
With Tomas Rosicky set to miss Arsenal's Saturday clash at Sunderland with a thigh injury he picked up on international duty with the Czech Republic, there's a strong chance Mesut Ozil will start in his first appearance for the Gunners. Wenger could alternatively opt to bring in Mathieu Flamini to play deeper in midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey and push Jack Wilshere into the #10 role. However, against a Sunderland side likely to set up defensively, the prospect of a center midfield trio with as much creativity and attacking ability as Ramsey, Wilshere and Ozil would likely appeal to Wenger. An attacking six of Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud offers the prospect of some truly exciting attacking football. Sunderland's 5 goals against are tied for the worst in the Premier League and the atmosphere is a little stale around the Stadium of Light with Paolo Di Canio continuing to publicly call out his own players- they'll need to be organized and get a big boost from the home crowd to have a chance at getting something out of this one.

(UPDATE: Ozil missed Arsenal's training session today with an illness but will travel with the team to Sunderland. Per Mertesacker also missed with illness and will not travel). 

2. West Ham vs. Southampton: who will win out in clash of styles?
The intrigue of this game is that it pairs two sides with two very different playing styles. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce places far more emphasis on territory than possession. His side is 16th in the league in average possession with 44.4% and have been outpossessed in all three of their opening fixtures. Those stats are particularly startling given two of those games were at home to Cardiff and Stoke, a newly promoted side and a side infamous for its inability to retain the ball (they were also outpossessed at Newcastle in match week 2). West Ham are organized and difficult to break down defensively. They shuttle the ball into wide areas, cross early and often and look for knock downs. They've attacked through the middle of the pitch less than any team this season. The loss to injury of towering forward Andy Carroll and talented crossers Joe Cole and Stewart Downing will certainly hurt West Ham's ability to play their preferred style effectively. Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side on the other hand currently sits third in the league in terms of average possession. They prefer a more patient, passing attack. The striking partnership of Dani Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert failed to produce a goal in Southampton's loss to Norwich two weekends ago so it'll be interesting to see if Pochettino goes with both those two up front again or decides to go with just one striker. In that loss at Norwich they struggled to defend the flanks which could provide West Ham opportunities to get crosses into the box to Modibo Maiga and Kevin Nolan. West Ham haven't won on their travels since March 2- with a depleted squad that's unlikely to change Sunday. Still, this should be an entertaining game for the clash of footballing philosophies on display.

3. Will Martinez be brave against Chelsea?
Roberto Martinez is a far more proactive manager than his predecessor at Everton David Moyes. Whereas Moyes tends to react to the strengths of each opposition and organize his squad accordingly, Martinez focuses more on his own team's approach. Martinez's Wigan side played Chelsea in the opening fixture of last season and he showed he was unafraid to play expansive, attacking football. Wigan finished the match with more possession but were picked apart twice on the counter in the opening 10 minutes and Chelsea held on for a fairly comfortable 2-0 win. Herein lies the crucial question with Martinez. His sides generally play a brand of football that is attractive on the eye but is he willing to adjust his style to achieve better results? So far his Everton side lead the league in possession yet have managed just three draws. While much of that can be blamed on players getting used to the new system and the lack of an in form striker, questions remain regarding whether Martinez can combine style with substance. If his side continue the trend of bossing possession Saturday against Chelsea, they'll have to be extremely cautious about being caught on the counter. The Blues have a gaggle of talented midfielders capable of reeking havoc on the break and in Jose Mourinho a manager more comfortable playing a counter-attacking style. New signings James McCarthy and Gareth Barry will provide options for Martinez in the middle of midfield after the departure of Marouane Fellaini but on loan striker Romelu Lukaku will be unavailable to play against his parent club. It'll also be interesting to see whether Willian and Samuel Eto'o get their first minutes for Chelsea.

4. Will Kagawa play?
Since the appointment of David Moyes at Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa has played just 7 minutes of competitive football after coming on as a late substitute in the community shield. Moyes has instead opted to use Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck in Kagawa's preferred role behind main striker Robin Van Persie. A 0-0 draw to Chelsea followed by a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool saw Manchester United fail to score in successive games for the first time since August 2007. The lack of offensive output has many wondering why Moyes has refused to field a player with the creative ability of Kagawa. Concerns over Kagawa's ability to defend have been suggested and against stronger sides like Chelsea and Liverpool perhaps Moyes wanted first and foremost to ensure his side had a strong defensive shape. This wouldn't be a huge surprise given Moyes has always been a fairly reactive, conservative manager. However, with newly promoted Crystal Palace coming to Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney sidelined with an injury, not giving Kagawa a shot would make little sense this weekend.
5. Can Liverpool continue unbeaten run?
Brendan Rodgers' side has shown tremendous character opening the season with three difficult wins- an away victory over Aston Villa sandwiched between home wins over Stoke and Manchester United. It's the first time Liverpool have opened a league campaign with three wins since the 1994-95 season. All three wins of those wins have ended in a 1-0 scoreline and the Reds have had to dig deep in each. These were the type of fixtures they were dropping points in last season, points they'll need to pick up to have chance at a top four finish this campaign. They're the only side yet to have conceded. Daniel Sturridge is starting to show his promise having netted all three game winners. Rodgers managed to strengthen his side on transfer deadline day adding French center back Mamadou Sakho and winger Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea. It took Liverpool until October 20 to reach 9 points last season so there's plenty of reason for optimism at Anfield this time around, particularly given the strong form they showed in the second half of last season.

In traveling to Swansea Monday night they'll face another talented opponent. The Swans owe much of their current 16th place standing to a difficult run of opening fixtures, having opened the season with a home loss to champions Manchester United before being beaten by Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They managed their first win of the campaign 2-0 over West Brom at the Hawthornes two weekends ago and will look to use that win and a boisterous home crowd to motivate them Monday night. The Welsh side did however manage just 6 home league wins last season- the 7th fewest in the league.

Tactical Analysis (Brief): Arsenal 0-0 Everton

 Arsenal and Everton drew 0-0 at the Emirates this evening, a result that likely wouldn't satisfy either side as they chase a top four finish.

Although the game was lively and entertaining, it wasn't particularly interesting from a tactical perspective. Both sides have consistent systems they rarely stray away from and that was the case today.

Everton played their usual 4-4-1-1 formation. Leon Osman missed out for the first time in the league this season with an injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Ross Barkley who played in the advanced midfield role normally occupied by Marouane Fellani. Fellaini dropped in alongside Darron Gibson in a deeper midfield role- a spot he has stated he is most comfortable playing.

Arsenal made two changes to the side that beat Norwich 3-1 at the weekend. Theo Walcott replaced Gervinho on the right flank and Vermaelen was dropped for Per Mertesacker. Jack Wilshere played in his usual position off the center forward while Santi Cazorla was used on the left.

The opening half was a chippy one and neither side really developed any sort of offensive rhythm, evidenced by the fact we didn't see a shot on goal until Barkley's forced Wojech Szczesny into a save in the 39th minute.

Everton defended in two banks of four with Barkley and Anichebe staying higher up the pitch. Barkley looked to deny passes from Arsenal's center backs into Arteta, forcing Ramsey to also drop into deep areas to provide Koscielny and Mertesacker with a pass forward. When Ramsey received passes in front of the Everton midfield four, Fellaini would quickly step out and pressure him, forcing him into quick decisions.

Arsenal's attacking midfield three was quite fluid, as is often the case when Cazorla and Wilshere are in the same lineup. Both players often drifted to the right side of the field looking to create overloads for Leon Osman and Steven Peinaar. The graphic below of Arsenal's first half passes in the attacking third shows how focused their attack was down the right side in the first half. The graphic also shows Cazorla's attacking third passes in the first half. The number of those passes that occurred on the right side of the pitch is surprising for a player lining up as a left midfielder.

The game opened up a bit in the second half and Arsenal were the more dangerous of the two sides. The mostly ineffective Wilshere was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott was replaced by Lukas Podolski on 68 minutes. Cazorla moved into the middle with Podolski to his left and Oxlade-Chamberlain to his right. The Spaniard tends to be much more effective playing through the middle where he has fewer defensive responsibilities and can get on the ball more often between the seams. The personnel change and shift in positions nearly had an immediate impact. On 78 minutes Podolski recovered possession deep in Arsenal's defensive third and played a smart outlet ball to Cazorla who had drifted into a dangerous area behind the Everton midfielders to spring an Arsenal counter. Cazorla found Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking down the right edge of the penalty area unmarked. Oxlade-Chamberlain could have taken a shot himself but instead opted to slip the ball across the six for Giroud. The ball was played behind the French forward however and ended up in Tim Howard's grateful hands.

Although Fellaini unsurprisingly didn't have the same offensive impact we're use to seeing when he plays in the #10 role, he was excellent occupying a defensive midfield position and was arguably the game's best player. He was consistently perfectly positioned to slow down Arsenal counter attacks and did a fine job both tracking bursts forward from Ramsey and providing cover on the right side where Arsenal continually looked to attack. He had 6 successful tackles, more than any other player in the game, and 4 interceptions, the third most of any player. He also completed more passes than any Everton player with 51.

Three at the back for City wrong decision against Everton

I tweeted Saturday during Everton's 2-0 win over Man City how surprised I was Roberto Mancini opted for a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation against an Everton side that attacks primarily down the wings and wanted to mention it here.

Plenty has already been written about Mancini's decision- Richard Jolly wrote an interesting piece on it at Soccernet- so I'll be brief.

Mancini has experimented with three at the back on a few occasions this year with little success. This is a formation primarily used by Italian sides in modern football so it's not a huge surprise City's Italian manager would look to use the formation from time to time.

Three at the back tends to be best suited for when the opposition is playing with two forwards. Two of the center backs can stick tight with the opposition forwards and the third can provide cover in behind. Athletic Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa nearly always plays with one more center back than the opposition has forwards so there is always a spare man to provide cover (in other words three center backs against two forwards, two center backs against one forward). Everton only plays with one forward which meant City's three center backs, Zabaleta, Kolo Toure and Nastasic, were all in relatively narrow areas with only one direct opposition- Victor Anichebe. One center back could stick tight with Anichebe, another could provide cover but the third wasn't needed and meant City were outmanned elsewhere- in this case on the wings.

Everton are a team that are very good attacking from wide areas. Only Reading attacks through the middle less than the Toffees. Mirallas and Peinaar tuck in field from their wide midfield positions and open up space on the wings for the fullbacks to overlap into. Baines is of course a very good attacking fullback but on Saturday Everton also had Seamus Coleman on the other side- another quick fullback that likes to get forward. City's wingbacks Kolarov and Milner were left to defend Everton's wide midfielders and outside backs 1 v. 2. Time and again Everton were able to use their man advantage on the wings to advance the ball forward and take City's wingbacks out of the picture. It was little surprise when Leon Osman's opener came from a ball from Coleman after he'd advanced unmarked down the wing and Mancini quickly switched to four at the back.

It was surprising to see Mancini go with such a narrow lineup against a team that loves to attack from the wings. Footage from the game appeared to show Mancini and David Platt arguing on the sideline- you wonder how much of that had to do with the formation.

Tactical Analysis: Everton 0-0 Southampton

Click for larger image
Southampton earned a point in Mauricio Pochettino's first game in charge following the sacking of Nigel Adkins. It was a less dour contest than the 0-0 scoreline suggests but there was a profound lack of quality in the final third from both teams, summed up by Nikica Jelavic's second half whiff from 10 yards out.

Southampton were much the better side in the first half but weren't clinical enough in front of goal as they failed to convert a host of decent opportunities. Everton created the better chances in the second half but didn't do enough to deserve the win.

Pochettino recalled Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert to the starting 11 meaning Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis, starters in the 2-2 midweek draw with Chelsea, were left on the substitutes bench. David Moyes' only change to the side that drew 0-0 with Swansea was to replace Victor Anichebe with Steven Naismith at right midfield.

First Half
The most interesting tactical feature of the first half was Southampton's pressing and their defensive positioning against Everton's favored left flank.

The Saints' four most advanced players Puncheon, Ramirez, Del Prado and Lambert looked to quickly close down Neville, Osman, Jagielka and Distin in Everton's defensive half. You could hear Pochettino through the television mics urging his players to press high up the field. The strategy made sense- the Neville-Osman midfield combination isn't especially fluid and too often there was a large gap between the two and Fellaini. As a result, Everton struggled to link play with its more advanced players through the middle. Without being afforded the time and space to play comfortably between their center backs and holding midfielders, Everton's only passing option up the field was often a long ball from the back towards Fellaini. The Saints' pressing allowed them to nick possession in Everton's half and spring dangerous attacking moves. The graphic below shows passes received by Fellaini in the opening half, many of which came from long balls, and Southampton's first half interceptions.

At times this season Everton have used long balls into Fellaini to great effect. He's able to use his size to hold off opposition defenders and flick balls on for the striker or wingers making narrow runs in behind. This strategy was largely responsible for the Toffees season-opening win over Manchester United, when the Belgian used his physical advantage to bully Michael Carrick in the center of the park (due to injuries Carrick was playing out of position at center back that evening). However, against a side sitting towards the bottom of the table, Moyes surely wouldn't have expected his side to be so outplayed in the center of the pitch.

That Everton's deficiencies in the center of the pitch were so noticeable is attributable to how effectively Southampton defended Peinaar and Baines down the left channel. The Toffees rarely rely on their central midfielders to provide the link between defense and offense- instead they advance the ball into the attacking third through the combination play of Baines and Peinaar on the left. Peinaar frequently tucks inside from the left, forcing the opposition right back in field with him and allowing space for Baines to overlap near the touchline and whip in crosses.

Southampton employed a clever defensive approach that denied Baines opportunities to overlap into space. Rather than having the right back Nathaniel Clyne track Peinaar in field, thereby opening space for Baines to overlap down the wing, Jack Cork shifted to his right from center midfield to pick up Peinaar when he came in field. This allowed Clyne to sit deeper and deny any passes into Baines high up the field. As a result, Baines was forced to receive the ball in much deeper areas than he's used to in the first half, denying him the opportunity to get in positions to apply his trademark crosses. He didn't complete a pass in the attacking third in the first half and managed just one cross from open play from a deep position (the other two crosses in the graphic below were a corner and an Everton free kick in the middle of the pitch near the halfway line).

Rickie Lambert lacks the pace to get in behind defenses. Everton therefore played a high defensive line to keep him away from the box where his size and strength can be put to greater use. However, their pressing and efficient use of the channels enabled them to create some decent opportunities. They frequently looked for Lambert peeling off to the back post to knock the ball back across the six.

Second half
The game began to shift towards David Moyes' side after he was forced to make a 58th minute substitution for Seamus Coleman after the right back suffered an injury. Moyes brought on Anichebe to replace Coleman; Neville dropped to right back, Fellaini dropped to a deeper midfield role alongside Osman and Anichebe went up top alongside Jelavic in a 4-4-2. Fellaini's switch to a deeper role, which he views as his best position, immediately made Everton more fluid in midfield, with the Belgian offering more attacking thrust than Neville. After a poor outing Jelavic was replaced in the 67th minute by Kevin Mirallas- making his first appearance since Dec. 9 after being sidelined by injury. Everton moved back into more of a 4-2-3-1 with Mirallas playing off of Anichebe. The move further increased Everton's fluidity in midfield and the tempo of their play noticeably grew. Mirallas's movement in between the lines was good- however his lack of match sharpness showed as he missed a good opportunity after controlling the ball well and misplaced a few passes.

Southampton's press was less effective in the second half. In the opening 45 minutes they won 7 tackles and 9 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. In the second half they managed 4 tackles and 5 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. As a result, they were unable to spring the same types of quick attacks they created in the first half and failed to register a shot on goal in the second 45 minutes.

Southampton were stronger in the first half; Everton were better in the second. Both sides had opportunities to win the game but both lacked composure in front of goal. In the end it was probably a fair result.

Pochettino will likely be the more pleased of the two managers. His side were well organized and showed good energy levels to press for the majority of the game. More clinical finishing would have given his team a massive three points, but a difficult point to a top five side should be applauded.

Moyes will rue another missed opportunity at 3 points. He'd have viewed this as a good chance to cut into Tottenham's lead in the race for fourth. It's his sides 11th draw of the season, tied with Stoke for most in the Premier League.

Everton 3-0 Swansea: Everton attack down left and exploit Fellaini's aerial ability

Everton used Marauane Fellaini's height advantage on dead balls and attacked almost entirely down the left through Leighton Baines and Steven Peinaar in a dominant 3-0 win over Swansea at Liberty Stadium.

David Moyes' side set out in a 4-4-1-1 with Victor Anichebe getting the start at center forward for the injured Nikica Jelavic with Fellaini tucked in behind him. Swansea played their normal 4-2-3-1 with Pablo Hernandez given the start on the right over Nathan Dyer and Leon Britton left on the subs bench.

Everton Press
Defensively, Everton pressed the Swansea back four with Anichebe, Peinaar, Fellaini, and right midfielder Kevin Mirallas. Leon Osman and Phil Neville sat deeper in the center of the midfield closer to the Toffees' back four. This created a gap between the four players pressing and the two holding midfielders but it wasn't space Swansea was able to exploit. The high pressing of Everton's four most advanced players prevented Swansea from settling into any sort of a rhythm in the attacking third of the field. The Swans completed 322 passes in the game, just 29 fewer than Everton, but only 69 of those were in the attacking third (21%). Everton were happy to allow the Swansea back four to pass the ball sideways amongst themselves and the Welsh side rarely looked like penetrating into the attacking third.

Everton Attack
Going forward, Everton focused its attack on the left side of the pitch where Baines and Peinaar combined throughout the afternoon with some tidy interchanges. The two accounted for the second and fourth most pass combinations in the game- there were 15 Baines to Peinaar combinations and 14 Peinaar to Baines combinations. Often Anichebe would drift to the left as well, overloading the right side of the Swansea defense while Fellaini would move into the center of the box, offering a dangerous physical presence to feed the ball into. The graphic below shows Everton's passes in the final third. Notice the number of those that occurred down the left hand side.

Interestingly, Everton's one goal that didn't result from a set piece came from a rare counter down the right flank. Fellaini won the ball deep in his own half and found an outlet pass to Peinaar who had drifted to the opposite side of the field. The South African found Mirallas bursting through the middle and the Belgian tucked it home.

Moyes also clearly set out to exploit Fellaini's height on set pieces, as he did in their season opening win over Manchester United. Any free kick the Toffees earned within 50 yards of the goal they'd get numbers into the box and lump it to the back post for Fellaini. Swansea had a miserable time dealing with the tall Belgian all afternoon and the tactic bore fruit for Everton in the 22nd minute when Fellaini won a high dead ball at the back post and flicked on for Anichebe who finished from 6 yards out to open the scoring. Replays showed Fellaini had clearly handled the ball into the path of Anichebe but the defending was poor from Ashley Williams to allow Fellaini to get the initial touch with his chest. The Belgian would go on to score himself in the 82nd minute, heading in another set piece from the left side at the front post.

Everton's four man high press prevented Swansea from getting any sort of meaningful possession in the attacking third. Swansea were entirely unable to cope with Baines and Peinaar down Everton's left side and failed to deal with aerial challenges with Fellaini. In the end the home side was fortunate it was only 3-0 as Anichebe was guilty of missing a couple of very good opportunities. Moyes will be thrilled with his side's performance as they continue their uncharacteristically bright start to the season. 

Quick reflection on Donovan's Everton contribution thus far

Landon Donovan's excellent form for Everton continued in last night's 1-0 win over league leaders Manchester City where the on loan American assisted Darron Gibson's second half winner. In Everton's 7 games with Donovan in the lineup, they have scored 9 goals for an average of 1.29 gpg. While this is hardly an overwhelming goal scoring total, Everton had netted just 6 in their 7 games prior to Donovan's arrival. Donovan has assisted 5 of those 9 goals (2 in the league, 3 in the FA Cup). Everton have a 4 wins, 2 draws, and a single defeat in Donovan's 7 games.