Everton hosted Wigan at Goodison Park. Everton were 2-4-0 in their last six games, while Wigan posted a not-so-impressive 1-1-4.
Everton made one change from their game against West Ham. Heitinga dropped to the bench in favour of Hitzlsperger. Neville moved to right back, while Gibson kept his place with his red card appeal pending (now rescinded). The result was a relatively narrow 4-4-2 formation to allow Baines and Neville to overlap.
Wigan lined up in an interesting 3-5-1-1 formation. This differed both from their relatively stable 3-4-1-2 seen most of the season, and the 2-1-4-3 variant against Arsenal. McCarthy was relieved of his duty as defensive anchor in favour of the RCM position. Caldwell came into the central CB position in favour of di Santo who dropped to the bench. Maloney was given the task to link between the central three and Kone. Based on the line-up, it was evident Martinez wanted to outnumber and boss the central midfield, opting for three instead of his usual two.
The first half was a strong defensive performance from the right side of Wigan. Statistically, Leighton Baines has created the most chances in the Premier League (65), approximately half of which come from open play. Before this game Baines had produced 164 crosses (9.1 per game), but only managed 2 crosses versus Wigan. This was largely a result of Ronnie Stam’s tireless tracking. For all his flaws in the area of crossing (he went 0 for 8 vs. Arsenal, 0 for 3 vs. Everton), Stam did a more than respectable job defensively in this game.
The problem was not getting the ball to Baines, but simply getting in the correct position for the cross. Baines had a total of 47 open play passes, barely below his season average of 49. Instead, Baines relinquished the ball to both Pienaar (5 crosses, 1 successful) and Hitzlsperger (3 open play crosses, 2 successful).
Limiting Baines was not Martinez’s only success. His decision to pit three central midfielders versus Everton’s two was equally successful. Wigan controlled central area of the field. Kone and Maloney would stand high on Distin and Jagielka whenever Howard (88% of passes into the Attacking Half) had the ball, forcing the American to hit it long towards Jelavic or Anichebe. Wigan would more often than not regain possession and attempt to pass their way back up the field.
In the first half, the Wigan triangle attempted 19 more passes than the Everton CMs + Osman (who was the narrowest wide-midfielder). Without Osman, the Wigan trio attempted 34 more passes than their center-midfield counterparts.
The problem Wigan faced was a lack of cutting edge once they worked the ball to the final third. Wigan achieved only 62% (74/120) final third pass completion, as opposed to Everton’s 70% final third pass completion (120/174). These numbers also highlight the different approaches and their respective successes. Wigan may have controlled the middle of the field, but had 46 fewer completed passes in the final third. Everton, on the other hand, bypassed the centre and either went long from Howard, or built up play out wide.
Gibson went off injured at half time, replaced by Steven Naismith. Osman moved to the center and Naismith took up the right midfield position. Wigan remained unchanged.
The Osman change into the center immediately benefitted Everton. While Gibson, like Hitzlsperger, prefers to sit a little deeper in a more deep-lying playmaker role – spreading the ball wide or shooting when the opportunity arises – Osman is more direct and gets in the box.
While Osman also continued the trend of moving the ball out wide, he also moved into a much more advanced position. His ability to beat a man (2 of 2, notated by the orange circles) was pivotal to Everton’s early second half dominance. While the first half was largely a stalemate, Osman’s agility and dribbling created the space for his (and Everton’s) first shot on target, and subsequently the goal a few minutes later. Note: both take-ons occurred immediately preceding these attempts.
After the Osman goal, Wigan took more control of the game. Maloney could have had a penalty after a foul by Osman, and Kone had an attempt blocked by Neville from close range. Moyes responded by taking off Hitzlsperger and Anichebe and putting on Heitinga and Oviedo. He changed formation to a more familiar 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, with Pienaar behind Jelavic, Oviedo as LM, and Heitinga in as CM. Martinez subsequently removed Jones and put on di Santo, reverting to the more recognisable 3-4-1-2 formation, with Maloney linking McCarthy and McArthur with the strikers. Without Anichebe on the field, Naismith became the primary target of the Everton long balls with strong success.
It was a Naismith flick on from an aerial duel that led to the corner from which Everton scored their second. A short corner to an unmarked Neville followed by a thunderous header by Jagielka. Martinez will have been disappointed considering Wigan’s earlier success at limiting crossing from the Everton full backs.
At 2-0 down, Wigan changed formation to 4-3-3, removing Stam and introducing Jordi Gomez. Boyce went to right back, Gomez took position at top of the midfield triangle, and Maloney moved up front. Wigan began a more direct approach, and it was a Caldwell 30 yard pass – on the ground, bypassing the midfield, and straight to di Santo – that led to Kone’s goal.
Everton sat deeper and proceeded to defend well. However, they did struggle to keep the ball. Their pass completion dropped from 80% to 65%. While they may not have conceded another goal, the sloppiness in possession should be a note of concern. With the Chelsea game fast approaching, they cannot afford to invite on the same level of pressure in the final 10 minutes of the game.
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