Everton further fuelled the positive vibes currently permeating the club with a deserved victory over West Brom on Saturday. Goals from Leon Osman, via a huge deflection, and Victor Anichebe were enough to secure the three points and take the Toffees up to seventh in the table.
It has become something of a formality for Everton to douse memories of an inept, lethargic start to a season with a sudden rampant late season surge, and yet again David Moyes seems to have inspired his squad into prime form at the business end of the season. It is now three 2-0 wins in a row in all competitions and, in the league, only two defeats in 11, with three wins in the last five .
Post match, David Moyes expressed his initial concern at the prospect of his players suffering mental fatigue after their midweek heroics in the FA Cup. Although there were signs of tiredness and spells of limited urgency, Everton still did enough to merit their win. They dominated large periods, and still carved out 14 chances, their fifth highest tally of the season.
So what has contributed to this latest bout of late season form? Clearly the defence has tightened up. Being the third lowest scorers in the Premier League this season, the back four have often had to remedy some attacking deficiencies with some resilient displays. At the start of the season they were gritty as unit, these last few months they have simply been colossal.
Johnny Heitinga and Sylvain Distin have both enjoyed some of the best form of their careers in recent weeks, and deserve a lot of credit for the recent stingy showings. Ousted from the starting line-up due to injury and his peers’ form, Phil Jagielka has also impressed when given an opportunity in recent weeks. Saturday’s clean sheet makes it five in nine for Everton in the league and four in the last five league games at Goodison Park. Only the two Manchester clubs have shipped fewer goals this season.
Away from the back four which – with West Brom only mustering seven chances and two shots on target – were not relied upon too severely at the weekend, Everton’s upward momentum this year has been largely down to the input of the quartet of new arrivals David Moyes captured in January.
Landon Donovan, sadly already departed on loan, fitted in seamlessly. Familiar with the surroundings, at home with the fans, he provided pace and an instant energy boost, badly needed by his team-mates. He arguably instigated the initial shift, and his second stint at the club was again a success. However, with the American gone, it was his fellow January arrivals that produced much of yesterday’s better moments.
Since Darron Gibson arrived, he has quietly become a vital cog in the heart of Everton’s midfield. Often unspectacular in what he does, even unnoticed at times, he simply mops what’s in front of him, sprays his passes around imaginatively and accurately, and adds a handy goal threat with his venomous shot.
Most importantly he seems the best partner for Everton’s key component, Marouane Fellaini. Gibson has enough creative nous and passing ability to allow the Belgian to concentrate on his more natural defensive duties of hassling, hounding and harassing any opposing player that comes near him with the ball. He is the league’s premier ball winner. On the same note, there seems to be enough intuition between the pair to cover the other should one venture forward.
Yesterday, Gibson again did the simple things right, he created a chance, reeled off a decent shot, passed well enough (at 79%) but mainly gave his side a balanced structure in the middle of the park. When necessary, he was prominent at both ends. Gibson’s most striking statistics is how he is now unbeaten in 10 appearances for Everton, and indeed in his last 23 league games. Some certainly questioned his pedigree when first signed, although now he can surely only be viewed as a genuine coup.
Up front, Nikica Jelavic has provided David Moyes with what he has craved for years. He has added a distinct presence, a seemingly rapacious hunger to score, some cunning movement, and, of course, goals. A particularly beneficial trait is that he appears unaffected if he fluffs a chance, instead only keener to find the net with his next effort. Recently, Goodison Park has witnessed many home strikers wilt, and have their confidence sapped away should they falter in-front of goal. The Croatian’s recent arrival has also reinvigorated the form of Tim Cahill, and he will go on to make many others look better players with his well-rounded game.
Next Page: Jelavic Stats Compared to Louis Saha…
Jelavic – Saha Comparison
Compared to Saha, Jelavic has been a revelation. He is far more conspicuous and involved in play. He seems to read the game better, he has been sharper in the penalty area and he has also fashioned out a number of opportunities for his team-mates. A considerable amount more than what Saha was doing during his final weeks on Merseyside.
Jelavic was a constant threat against West Brom. He kept possession well, and passed tidily. In the final third he hit five shots, set up Leon Osman’s finish (although the own-goal ruling deprives him of an official assist here), and laid off three further chances for others. Keen to impress in front of his watching national coach, Slaven Bilic, the Croatian can certainly be pleased with his overall performance, although he will know he should have finished at least one of his chances off.
As good as Gibson and Jelavic were, the most integral ingredient to Saturday’s win was Steven Pienaar, the final January signing, brought in on loan from Tottenham during the final few seconds of deadline day. Another already familiar with his surroundings at Goodison Park, he has also settled in smoothly, demonstrating that perhaps he may have been wrong to reject a new contract at Everton, when he instead opted to move away to Spurs.
Unfortunately for West Brom, they saw Pienaar at his creative best. He was chief attacking architect for the Toffees, expertly orchestrating most forays forward. His passing was exquisite, accurately spreading the play at 92%. His 67 successful passes are the most made by an Everton player all season – and by a considerable margin.
Elsewhere, Pienaar also created three chances, laid off an assist for Anichebe’s strike, and should have capped his game off with a goal, after some clever interplay with Jelavic.
The main perk of his return to Everton is the chemistry and understanding he shares with Leighton Baines down Everton’s left-hand side. This has undoubtedly augmented the Toffees’ offensive department considerably since January.
Baines’ energy and willingness to overlap allows the right-footed Pienaar to hold and attack a narrower channel, leaving defenders positionally indecisive and unsure. The duo are a persistent threat, often even playing blind passes with each other, instinctively knowing where the other has made a run to. It was telling how Everton’s play dipped at the start of the second half on Saturday, when Pienaar briefly shifted sides to incorporate the left-footed Gueye, understandably not a ploy Moyes stuck to for long.
As is shown above, the duo have been vital to Everton’s resurgence this season, making the Toffees’ left one of the most productive flanks in the Premier League. The fact that just the two of them have crafted almost as many chances as every single other player used in the past four games speaks volumes for their value to Everton. David Moyes must look at the possibilities of bringing Pienaar back permanently in the summer.
Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini also gave impressive performances at the weekend, as they have done for much of the season, but most of the plaudits will rightly go to the trio of January arrivals. All were significant contributors against West Borm, and have all made a telling difference in their short time at the club. It has been rare for Moyes to bring in new players in January, but the way these fresh faces have instantly installed such quality may way alter his future dealings.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.