Following successive league defeats, a win here was imperative and Everton overcame a disjointed start to do just that. Disrupted by the early loss of Phil Jagielka, the home side were out of sorts for sections of the first half. Already adjusting to the pre-match loss of Tim Howard, the Toffees struggled to shift through the gears during the opening period. Fortunately, as the half wore on, David Moyes’ side began to assert themselves and took the lead with half time approaching.
Marouane Fellaini opened the scoring with his 11th league goal of the season. The Belgian guided a header beyond Stuart Taylor after sharp work from the industrious Seamus Coleman. The goal sparked Everton into life and the home side were a different animal after the break.
Using width to overrun the visitors, Everton threatened a cricket score at times. Led by the imperious wing play of Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, the home side exploited the Reading formation (shown below). With the visitors too narrow, the Everton full backs were able to push wide and cause problems. The average positions (shown below) help to highlight this, as Reading afforded too much space to Leighton Baines and Coleman, especially Coleman.
Since returning from injury, the Everton right back has breathed new life into the side. Although effective in defence, his real strengths lie in attack. Possessing pace, calmness in possession and belief in his own ability, Coleman is a stronger attacking option than the conservative options of Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville.
Despite looking to press forward throughout matches, Baines and Coleman never shirk their defensive duties – David Moyes would not let them – and the pair won the most tackles within the team; each winning three of the four tackles they contested. Coleman also made a game-high seven interceptions and his ability to turnover possession allowed Everton to build counterattacks.
While Coleman created three chances and provided the assist for the opening goal, Baines had a quiet game by his own high standards. Even though only one chance came from his left foot yesterday, it was a significant one. This solitary chance makes Baines the first player in Europe’s Top 5 leagues to create 90 chances this season.
In the more forward areas, the wide players led Everton to victory. Kevin Mirallas showed what he can bring to the side – pace, trickery, creativity and goals – and capped his performance with a well taken third. On the other flank, Steven Pienaar stole the show. Creating five chances, just one less than the of the Reading team (6), Pienaar also provided the assist for Mirallas and scored the goal of the game for Everton’s second.
Statistically, there was a rare occurrence for the Blues in this match. Due to the brilliant Baines and Pienaar partnership, 43% of Everton’s attacks have been down the left hand side – the highest percentage of any Premier League team this season.
That changed here, with Pienaar playing on the right for large parts and this shifted the line of attack. Working alongside the marauding Coleman, 41% of attacks were down the right side, with 30% centrally and just 29% on the left side. As Mirallas and Pienaar enjoyed their football, it showed the variety and creativity at Moyes’ disposal when Everton have their strongest midfield available.
It is worth remembering that this is only the fourth match this season that Everton have started with Mirallas, Darron Gibson, Leon Osman, Pienaar and Fellaini. Each player is comfortable on the ball and this is arguably the strongest midfield within the squad. It is imperative that these players remain fit as the season reaches a critical point and an FA Cup quarterfinal looms on the horizon.
Aside from the Jagielka injury, the only other blip was the Reading goal. Averaging a clean sheet every seven matches, with just four from 28 league games this season, only Reading (3) have recorded fewer clean sheets this season. As the attacking play shows signs of life, the defence needs to do likewise and tighten up. The ability / inability to keep clean sheets could be the difference between European football and European disappointment.
Write about Everton for ESPN and EPL Index. Evertonian with a keen interest in the tactical and statistical. Twitter: @lukeofarrell
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