Width: the secret to Everton’s success so far this season
With just five games played, it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions from the 2012-13 Premier League campaign – but it’s indisputable that Everton’s uncharacteristically positive start followed an unusually encouraging transfer window. David Moyes’ squad still isn’t particularly deep, but it is perfectly geared towards the type of football he wants to play.
Moyes lost two big names in the summer, Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, but neither was a significant loss in terms of tactics. Cahill scored at a rate of once every 3.5 games throughout his first seven seasons, but there was a lingering question about what else he contributed. Last season he managed just two goals, and therefore was of little use to the side. Selling Rodwell for £12m – potentially rising to £17m – was a fantastic piece of business; while a fine young talent, it was never certain what type of midfielder he was.
When deciding on their replacements, Moyes sought width. Steven Pienaar returned to reprise his partnership with Leighton Baines [pictured] down the left, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith can play on either flank, while Costa Rican Bryan Oviedo is a versatile left-sided player. Two youngsters, Scot Matthew Kennedy and Irishman Ben McLaughlin, won’t have a significant impact this season, but are a winger and a right-back respectively. Two nondescript central players sold, six wide players signed.
It may not be a radical shift in style, but there’s now an overwhelming focus upon intelligent play down the flanks. A key feature of Moyes’ training sessions is encouraging two-against-one situations in wide zones, often on the opposite side of the pitch to where the ball is, with Moyes demanding quick switches of play from flank to flank. Mikel Arteta was perfect for that role, but Rodwell and Cahill were more direct and combative. Everton are better off with tactically aware players such as Darron Gibson, Phil Neville and Leon Osman providing unfussy, efficient service to the wide players.
From there, Everton cross: an effective strategy considering they’ve recorded 102 shots so far this season, the most in the Premier League. Marouane Fellaini has headed three goals already, while Nikica Jelavic is a specialist at making near-post runs, usually scoring with a one-touch finish. The way their nine goals so far this term have been scored summarises the approach perfectly. Six were assisted directly by a cross from a wide position. Another, Victor Anichebe’s at Swansea, also followed a cross (although Fellaini helped the ball on, so was credited with the assist). The other two – Baines’ strike against Newcastle, and Steven Pienaar’s away at Aston Villa – were fine strikes following interplay on the left.
Baines and Pienaar’s partnership is Everton’s main strength. Pienaar drifts inside while Baines overlaps, and there’s a huge bias towards that side of the pitch – 45 per cent of Everton’s passes are played down the left wing, compared to only 27 per cent down the right. Their relationship was particularly effective on the opening day against Manchester United, when those two and Fellaini exploited the makeshift right side of Man United’s defence, comprised of Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick.
Baines, even by his standards, has started brilliantly – he’s created 24 goalscoring chances this season, many from set-pieces, which is more than any other player in Europe’s major five leagues.
An early Capital One Cup exit at Leeds this week was a disappointment, but Moyes will want to commit full resources to the Premier League fight. Everton have three winnable games against Southampton, Wigan and QPR before a home derby against Liverpool. Merseyside derbies are usually about tackles rather than technique, but with Moyes’ focus on crossing against Brendan Rodgers’ insistence on short passing, it should be a fascinating encounter.
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Watch Everton live on BT Vision:
QPR v Everton, 3.30pm, 21 October, Sky Sports 1
Everton v Liverpool, 1pm, 28 October, Sky Sports 1
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