Story of a Match: Everton (H)
The first part of the Easter doubleheader saw Everton come to Fortress Carrow for what shaped up to be a very tough looking encounter. Everton have recently hit their traditional 2nd half of the season form and with a couple of new faces looked to be quite a threat. At the start of the match I said that I’d take a draw, and we ended up with one. It was probably a fair reflection of the game, but the performance of Andre Marriner certainly left it a bit sourer than expected…
This match saw part 412 of Paul Lambert: Tactical Tinkerman, with the team changing away from the back 3/5 of recent games and trying out something altogether new. The team lined up broadly as you can see on the right, with Hoolahan taking up a wide left position for the first time in two or three years. Howson was deployed much higher than he has been so far, tasked with putting the Everton back four under pressure and giving Holt some support, while left the defensive work down to Surman and Fox, with Bennett providing help from the right. Bennett was in fact more of a wide midfielder than a wide forward, playing deeper than Hoolahan, but more on that later.
At the back Martin and Drury were installed at full-back, a surprise to some given their inevitable usage at Spurs on Monday where Naughton would be unvailable, but it was a sign of confidence in the players from Lambert that he started them here too.
At the outset, this formation was designed to do two things; stop Everton playing out via their defence, and outnumber their midfield. They had a midfield two of Neville and Gibson supported by the more advanced Cahill, so the numbers initially matched up, but with Bennett or, more notably, Hoolahan dropping in to support, we managed to frequently outnumber them in midfield and disrupt their passing game, stringing together some lovely passing moves ourselves. The disruption to their normal game can be seen with the image below…
Normally their defence and midfield get enough time on the ball to play their own way, trying to use Baines and Pienaar on the flank to support a lone striker. However, we applied enough pressure on the back four and disrupted the midfield that we forced them to play loads of backpasses back to Howard who would then hoof it up the field instead. Jelavic, a talented twat of a striker, was more interested in trying to win freekicks than win balls – a bit like Holt can be. And in fact it was from a dubious Jelavic freekick that the passing move came for their opener.
Following that we began to play with a bit more urgency and Howson got more and more involved in the game. It wasn’t much of a surprise when he scored the goal.
And you can see him involved in the buildup in the first frame above. Dropping deep he collects the ball and lays it off to Fox, who slides it along to Surman. Drury is then in absolute acres of space with Gueye for some reason keeping very close inside. Drury breaks away and occupies Hibbert, allowing Wes to slip in behind wide on the left, and its a simple cutback for Howson, having sprinted 50 yards from starting the move, to slot it into the net. A simple goal that took advantage of some positional stupidity from Everton. Clinical.
Now the midfield really was key to how we played, and how it changed throughout the match is interesting to look at, as it shows a couple of different looks. With the team ostensibly in a 4-3-3/4-5-1, a lot of our play was going through the left hand channel through the excellent interplay between Drury, Surman and Hoolahan. They outnumbered Gueye and Hibbert over on that right flank and while the final ball/cross may not have been good, it showed enough promise to be looked at again with all 3 coming out with credit.
Surman and Wes were the two standouts here, both being excellent in possession, getting the ball behind fullbacks or playing tight, close passes to open up angles and create space. With Wes’ tendency to sometimes wander, Surman would take up a more wide position to cover the flank, but he was mainly used as a central player.
Above you can see a couple of the different shapes taken up depending on the circumstance. On the left you can see the triangle made by Drury, Surman and Wes who were able to pass their way out of that situation with ease and open up a counter at speed. This was repeated all the way up the pitch and was helped by Surman being back to his best after a couple of average games. On the right hand side you can see the midfield line up in a more traditional flat 4, with Howson advanced up the pitch in support of Holt. This was the look taken up usually when Everton had possession, leaving Howson and Holt to close down the defence, or when Norwich were being patient with their buildup rather than more direct.
And this leads me to my next point. Regular readers will know of my love for Fox and the way we often play our best when he plays. I’m a huge fan of his ability to be calm and composed in the middle, keep possession of the ball and provide some solidity, but its a trait thats mainly useful when we’re either in the lead or being patient in our buildup. Fox isn’t a player who plays with much tempo, like Wes for example. This isn’t always the case, but what it means is when we’re chasing a goal, Fox is often the player sacrificed because while we lose out in pass completion and ball retention, we may gain in tempo through being more direct.
This was the case on Saturday. After Everton retook the lead through a ridiculous goal that was part ref cock up and part defence switch off, Norwich had to again chase the game. Our passing up to that point can be seen on the left, and as you can see was mainly around the centre and left (where the Drury/Wes/Surman triangle was), and Fox was dictating play. We weren’t doing great at getting the ball into the box, though we were creating chances. With Fox replaced by Wilbraham and us in a more orthodox 4-4-2 (though with Wes and Bennett pushed high up the pitch), our pass completion went down (74% to 69%) but through being direct and playing with a higher tempo, we created more chances and got the ball into the box more. We offered more of a threat down the right, and Howson dropped deeper slightly to replace the job Fox was doing, partnering Surman in the centre. What we gained in tempo and chances we lost in stability, with the game being more and more open and with both teams having chances as the game wore on. It’s an interesting look at Fox’s game and what he brings to the side, because for many games this season he’s been a key midfielder, but the purchase of Howson may mean our reliance on him to provide stability and possession is lessened. At the same time, playing that way is not always required – as seen, we lost out in pass completion, but we chased the game back.
On the right hand side Elliott Bennett had a sort of game that helped him prepare for Spurs. He was providing cover for Russell Martin against the dual talents of Pienaar and Baines, and so wasn’t as high up the pitch at times as Wes, and provided more cover.
The dashboard above shows his tackles (crosses), clearances (circles), interceptions (diamond) and shots blocked (that grey line), and shows a player who was just useful in providing cover and limiting the opposition as he was in providing an outlet. This will of course be very useful when coming up against the Spurs wingers…
In the end, a draw was probably the fair result, but the staggering incompetence of Andre Marriner left a sour taste. Not only did he bottle sending off Baines in the first half, but his ineptitude with the 2nd goal gave Everton a break and left us chasing the game when we shouldn’t have been. But like I said, on balance it was probably fair – both teams played with energy and desire that is often lost in these ‘meaningless’ end of season games, both created chances and both could have won. From our perspective it was interesting to see yet another tactic up the sleeves of Lambert and Culverhouse, with Wes showing his ability to offer an attacking threat and defensive presence on the left, and Surman back to his best. The performances of new boys Howson and Bennett was also good to see, with both putting in great shifts.