Everton boosted their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League after a ruthless 3-0 away win at Newcastle United on Tuesday night reduced the margin between themselves and Arsenal in the race for fourth.
A stunning solo effort from Ross Barkley sent the Toffees on their way to their first away victory of 2014, with Romelu Lukaku doubling their lead after 52 minutes before Leon Osman wrapped up the victory soon after and helped push Everton into fifth place, who are now just six points behind Arsenal with a game in-hand.
The Merseysiders were fired-up, hungry and oozed defiance as every player in royal blue contributed to what was arguably Roberto Martínez’s side’s best Premier League outing on the road this season.
Gerard Deulofeu played a crucial part in all three goals, Gareth Barry kept possession ticking over extremely well and John Stones was composed on the ball and heroic without it, whilst club skipper Osman produced a magnificent display that saw him shine in every pleasing aspect of Everton’s performance in the North East.
Everton continued their traditional theme this campaign and deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation against Newcastle, which occasionally builds itself from a 3-4-3 whenever Barry drops in between either centre-back to collect play, swivel and then dictate as he carries it forward, whereas sometimes Tim Howard plays it long within the 4-2-3-1 setup.
Martínez made two changes from the Everton side that downed Swansea City 3-2 at Goodison Park last Saturday with Osman and Deulofeu coming in for Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas respectively, and these two introductions made by the Catalan proved to be decisive in the overall display and result.
Particularly at Wigan Athletic, Martínez has always preferred his sides to boast variation in their play and thus he likes to have one direct winger to run at the opposition and one link-up player on the opposite flank, who has an intelligent appreciation for space yet will track back more than a second out-and-out winger would.
This was seen through the likes of Victor Moses or Callum McManaman at the DW Stadium, both acting as the direct option in different seasons, whilst Shaun Maloney for example was the important player to create overloads and construct play through his quick feet and ability to become ‘free’ from the opposition by moving into open areas on the pitch.
Against Newcastle, Martínez opted for exactly this through Deulofeu – who grabbed two assists and completed six out of 13 attempted take-ons – relentlessly torturing Paul Dummett down the right-hand side all night, and exposing Yoan Gouffran occasionally switching off from his defensive duty to track back by isolating Dummett one-on-one to perfection.
Osman, on the other hand, impeccably found space in-and-around Newcastle’s two banks of four, brought the likes of Leighton Baines into the game through his close control and working of the left channel, whilst he also supported him superbly whenever the Magpies were on the break themselves in a 4-4-1-1 system without the ball, with Barkley sitting just in front of the midfield four and behind Lukaku.
In recent away fixtures, Everton have often dominated possession and created a good number of chances, such as against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, yet they’ve lacked a killer edge in front of goal and often looked toothless.
However whilst Everton were compact and courageously kept out Newcastle at one end, at the other, Martínez’s team smelt blood on Tuesday – with the opportunity to close the gap on Arsenal and fourth on the line – and were clinical in their finishing, in particular on the counter which is a phase of attack that has mainly seen golden opportunities wasted and frustration caused of late.
In the midst of a masterclass performance from every Everton player, Martínez got his choices on the flanks spot on and whilst Deulofeu was deservedly many people’s Man of the Match, Osman – who operated more central but did drift onto the left to craft build-up play and support defensively, similarly to what Steven Pienaar does when he plays – put in a showing that was a joy to behold for 93 minutes.
In a transition that has saw Martínez embed fresh, bold and exciting concepts within the Everton squad so far this season, arguably one of the most important notions – which is crucial to his philosophy of how football should be played and also how to make Everton a more attacking unit – is to encourage his players to roam and play with more freedom on the ball.
Unlike David Moyes who preferred his Everton side to hold designated jobs on the field rather than to wander and cover, Martínez’s Everton constantly move around the pitch, emptying and filling spaces vacated by one another which confuses the opponent, and he trusts that they can make the right decision whenever they’re in good positions to create, or score, goals.
As seen above here against Newcastle, as Gareth Barry empties his central role to create the left-hand side build-up play – rather than the direct isolation that Martínez wants the right-sided player to manufacture – Osman drifts into the space Barry vacated in the centre.
With this type of movement having occurred all season, Osman – used to running from deep under Moyes’ Everton setup which had more focus on shifting the ball out wide rather than mixing it up in the middle of the field which Martínez craves – the 32-year-old often popped up on the left against Newcastle to create overloads against Pardew’s side, but he was always looking to station himself narrow.
“Leon is a bright, bright footballer. He’s someone who takes ideas on board, he understands the reasons and he makes teams think. I think if you look at his quick feet in tight spaces he always gives you something. He understands where the space is, is quick and alert and he has a lot to offer” – Martínez spoke on Osman’s creative flair back in December last year.
Osman, who received the ball 13 times from Baines in what was Everton’s highest pass combination on the night, supported Baines sufficiently in defensive terms and also brought him into the game by dragging Newcastle players out of their positions, therefore creating the space that Baines could then drive into through either overlapping or underlapping from left-back.
The midfielder also received the ball from Barry 11 times, which was the second highest Everton pass combination against Newcastle, and Osman often swapped with Barkley – thus his creative influence and responsibility increased in stages, in which he stepped up to plate and was magnificent throughout in that respect.
In a recent interview with Everton fan media back in January, Martínez described Osman as a “footballing brain” and this description delivered by his ultra positive manager was incredibly justified against Newcastle, in a performance which left many Evertonians feeling that they don’t always perhaps give him the credit he deserves.
Along with scoring his third goal of the season with a sumptuous strike that put the match to bed, Osman was Everton’s highest passer of the ball against Newcastle by completing 49 out of an attempted 54 passes, leaving him with a brilliant 91% accuracy whilst he was also the Blues’ most successful distributor in the final third by completing 13 of his 15 attempted balls in that zone.
In terms of stats, Osman’s creativity on the night isn’t thoroughly reflected. With just the one chance created coming in the first-half through a gifted first-time through ball to Lukaku, he also played a remarkable switch from the middle to the right which set Deulofeu on his way to creating Everton’s second goal and this was one of many times that he kicked off attacks with the initial pass.
There was also another instance where Osman was sitting centrally and threaded a crafty ball through to James McCarthy down the side of Fabricio Coloccini, although nothing came of it in the end.
Whilst his nimble footwork in tight zones has always been one of the best parts of his game – with Osman completing three take-ons out of an attempted six against Newcastle – it was perhaps his most positive application of nurturing and controlling possession on Tuesday all season, as he heavily needed to support Barry in the start-up of Everton’s attacks and in general, passing from central areas.
Barry, who has completed more passes than any other English player so far this season with 1429, has been Everton’s chief passer this season but with Newcastle posing a two striker press in Papiss Cissé and Luuk de Jong, the Manchester City loanee constantly needed to drop in between both Stones and Sylvain Distin in support by giving them an additional option to play out from the back and hold a numerical advantage, too.
With both Seamus Coleman and Baines advanced too, Osman became pivotal to drifting centrally into Barry’s position and dictating play whenever he was aiding both central defenders from both Newcastle forwards pressing Stones and Distin sporadically.
”I felt he [Osman] was a true captain. I thought he was a leader, he brings a great understanding of what is needed in the game and I thought he got himself in awkward spaces for Newcastle to pick and obviously that opens up the spaces higher up the pitch. I thought he was very influential in that respect but his work rate was, at the end, rewarded with a sensational finish and I think that is Leon, with that leadership, understanding of the game, know-how and a star in everything he does…” – Martínez praised Osman’s authoritative performance in his post-match reflection of the Newcastle game on Tuesday.
Along with his crisp and highly purposeful passing and movement, Osman also played a big part in helping out Baines defensively throughout the game against Newcastle, in what was a complete performance from the Englishman.
With Newcastle choosing to line-up with two out-and-out poachers in de Jong and Cissé, it was clear that the hosts had the burning intention on getting balls in the box – with the Toon completing six out of 27 attempted crosses – and hope the likes of Moussa Sissoko and Gouffran could exploit any space in-behind both Coleman and Baines as they looked to repeatedly advance up the pitch.
With Sissoko – who has created the fourth most chances (70) in the Premier League this season and 41 more than Newcastle’s second highest in Hatem Ben Arfa (29), boasting a flawless blend of power and speed down the right, it was essential that Osman dropped back into the 4-4-1-1 structure Everton held without the ball in order to prevent the Frenchman from getting the edge on Baines.
Beforehand, many Evertonians had questioned Martínez’s decision to rotate McGeady – who performed well in his last two appearances against Cardiff City and Swansea respectively – but playing just one natural winger in Deulofeu and one link-up man in Osman was fundamental – not just considering the need for another centrally-orientated player on the pitch as Barry was required to drop deep at times – but also because quick tracking back was desired to thwart Newcastle’s counter-attacks.
Against Newcastle, Osman won six out of his seven attempted tackles whilst Baines completed all eight of his tackles as Sissoko’s threat was by and large cancelled out – with the former Toulouse man creating just two chances in the game and one of those came from down the left-hand side rather than Baines and Osman’s flank, although he did get in-behind Baines and Osman’s side twice in the first ten minutes of the game.
Besides the need to come central for Barry and also through switching with the likes of Barkley, Osman won two interceptions in the middle of the pitch and once that possession was won, Everton occasionally outnumbered Newcastle’s two sitting midfielders in Cheick Tioté and Vurnon Anita – with McCarthy, himself, Barkley and a deep Lukaku all within that area.
Amongst other defensive stats, Osman made four clearances and one block as Everton earned a crucial victory that amplifies their Champions League dreams for next season.
Overall, Martínez once again showed his tactical acumen through his decision to bring Deulofeu and Osman into the team and both played major roles in Everton earning one of their most complete wins of the season so far, which was sealed due to a performance that boasted strong mental fitness to accompany quality finishing and defensive solidity.
Osman, who has now captained Everton to 11 wins and just two defeats in the 13 times he’s worn the armband for the club, was particularly excellent when considering the need to come central for balance and creativity – with Barry needing to hold another responsibility of dropping deep on the night – and also the defensive shielding of Baines, added to roaming to free-up his team-mates and uplift his own inventiveness.
Leon Osman heat map via Daily Mail Online ‘Match Zone’ & Stats images via the excellent FourFourTwo StatsZone app.
Matthew is currently studying a Journalism degree at Liverpool John Moores University and writes Player Focuses, Team Focuses, Player Analyses, Transfer Reports, Scout Reports and much more for EPL Index. He is also a writer for FTBpro and an Everton juror every two to three weeks for the Liverpool ECHO newspaper.
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