Before this league game, Everton had become the first team in Premier League history to both score and concede in 16 consecutive league matches. So, a goalless draw against such a team tells you that Swansea’s newly developed pragmatism is effective in stopping the opposition from scoring but is also compromising on their ability to attack with spite.
[pullquote_right]“It could quite easily cost us if we don’t turn these into wins”[/pullquote_right]Everton have suffered only 3 defeats this season, which is as many as the league leaders, but have now recorded a massive 10 draws, which is only behind Stoke City’s 11. “It could quite easily cost us if we don’t turn these into wins,” said Everton manager David Moyes after watching his side failing to win a match they completely dominated.
The starting line-ups and formations of both teams reflected a plan especially made for their opponents on the day.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup deployed Nathan Dyer as the centre forward in a bid to use his pace to implement the team’s counter-attacking ploy, while the in-form Michu played in what he claims is his preferred position just behind the striker. Dwight Tiendalli started at right-back for The Swans but Angel Rangel, who is the Welsh side’s first-choice right-back, was deployed on the right side of midfield to counter the lethal pairing of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines on Everton’s left.
In the absence of Darren Gibson, Moyes fielded Phil Neville (like he did against Newcastle) instead of Thomas Hitzlsperger (who started against Chelsea) to lend a bit of industry to Everton’s central midfield against a side known for its incisive passing. Moyes also chose to use Victor Anichebe over both Steven Naismith and Bryan Oviedo on the right flank, suggesting that an emphasis was placed on exploiting Swansea’s aerial problems from set-pieces and open play.
The match was an open affair with neither side choosing to really press the opposition without the ball. While it was a typical Everton performance, Swansea’s was a highly uncharacteristic one – extremely defensive, defending very deep, ineffective in possession and no pressing high up the pitch.
As a result, Everton were allowed to make a massive 69.7% of their passes in the attacking half and 38.4% in the final third. Everton centre-back Phil Jagielka was allowed time and space to carry the ball forward. He attempted the most number of passes in the match (78) with an accuracy of 87%. More tellingly, 38 of those were made in the attacking half and 19 were made in the final third, which are huge numbers for a central defender.
The lack of pressing also meant that the away side did not win possession back in their attacking third even once in the match. They relied solely on counter-attacks and gambled on quick and incisive passing to produce a goal, and came close when Michu’s chip over Tim Howard struck the bar – a move that consisted of only three quick passes from back to front.
Swansea have averaged 75% passing accuracy in the attacking half this season, but were only a lowly 67% in this game due to the lack of numbers they had going forward. This, in turn, affected their ability to create chances – only 4 in comparison to Everton’s 16 chances.
When Laudrup set his stall out to defend deep, he was essentially gambling on the competence of his defenders, especially his two centre-backs. In reality though, it was Everton’s incompetence in front of goal that allowed Swansea to keep a clean sheet. Swansea City worked overtime to fend Everton off, making 50 clearances – exactly twice as many as the home side.
Although centre-backs Ashley Williams and Chico Flores made 32 clearances between them and the latter was arguably Swansea’s best player, they did ride their luck. Everton were completely dominant in the air. The home side won a massive 71% of their aerial duels in the match and won 65% of aerial duels when competing directly with Swansea’s defensive four. The home team should’ve scored at least one, if not two, goals. Gilt-edged chances were missed by Nikica Jelavic, Leon Osman and Sylvain Distin, and both Jelavic and Anichebe also saw their headers cleared off the line.
It is well-documented that the majority of Everton’s attacks come down the left flank. Swansea’s two right-backs (one of them placed as a right winger) certainly did keep Baines – the most prolific creator of chances in the league – relatively quiet. Everton responded to this ploy by increasing numbers on the left wing with Nikica Jelavic and Marouane Fellaini often overloading that flank in an attempt to free up Baines.
Such is the quality and importance of the English left-back though, that he did manage to create 7 of Everton’s 16 chances (3 from open play) but his trademark lung-busting runs into the penalty box were missing since he was well tracked throughout the game.
David Moyes’ side has always been lopsided in attack, favouring the left more than the right due to the difference in quality of players on either flank. But with the curious selection of Anichebe on the right wing and his natural habit of drifting naturally into the centre, right-back Seamus Coleman was offered little to no support in attack. Moyes did address this situation but perhaps too late in the game.
Steven Naismith was introduced into the game in place of Phil Neville with twenty minutes left on the clock, which meant Anichebe joined Jelavic upfront and Fellaini dropped into centre midfield alongside Osman. The rest of the substitutes were like for like swaps except for when Jonathan De Guzman replaced Nathan Dyer to shore up the away side’s midfield, which meant Michu shifted further forward.
It wasn’t the pretty performance that we have been accustomed to seeing from the Welsh club, but it has now been effective in two tough away matches – Stamford Bridge being the first. “For two games now, Wednesday and today, we didn’t have the ball as much as we are used to and still we performed so well.” It seems Michael Laudrup is doing well in inculcating pragmatism into his side. And as long as they don’t forget their idealistic principles, it is certainly an effective weapon to possess.
Akarsh Sharma is a freelance football journalist who works for Goal.com and also acts as editor and columnist for 90 Minutes (India's premier football magazine). Due to his writing capabilities - especially his tactical acumen - he has been invited by and is a regular contributor to a number of popular football blogs. Being an unadventurous teetotaler, Akarsh's only bad habit is to ruin relationships with people for the sake of football. At 6'1", he mirrors Peter Crouch on the field and is forced to look down upon people.
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