Everton continue to hold the Indian Sign over the team from South Wales with a perfect three wins from three games played against Swansea in the Premiership now.
Whilst the end result may not have been predicted, a win for Everton was not a huge surprise, what was a huge surprise was the manner of the victory. Not only were Swansea beaten but they were outplayed by an Everton team that dominated possession and dictated the tempo of the game from the outset.
There was a considerable number of changes to the Swansea side. The majority of which, were forced upon Michael Laudrup.
With Chico suspended and Neil Taylor out injured, there was a somewhat makeshift feel to the Swansea backline. Williams passed a late fitness test and was joined by Ben Davies deputising at left back. There was a rare start for Tate following his lengthy battle with injury.
Leon Britton was unable to start following illness with Ki being the replacement. Dyer made way for Pablo, given his début on the right side of attack.
Irrespective of the starting line up, Swansea took to the field in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
There were three changes to the Everton side who drew with Newcastle. Coleman and Anichibe replaced the injured duo of Hibbert and Jelavic whilst Heitinga was preferred over Distin in the centre of defence.
Everton set out broadly in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Fellani both supporting Anichibe or dropping deep if required in an effort to support midfield.
This was a game with two stand out features. The performance of Leighton Baines as an attacking left back and the aggressive nature of Everton’s pressing.
The Reactionary Nature of Everton
Much has been written about David Moyes being a reactionary manager with the discussion often revolving around the negative connotations of reactionary tactics. The term has emerged in recent times to describe an approach whereby a manager sets out a formation primarily designed firstly to negate the opponents’ strengths. Typically, this has resulted in one team using a highly defensive formation. The term has been damaged by the association with ultra defensive formations. There are reactionary elements in most managers. Very few teams would adopt the approach of someone like Barcelona who refuse to change their footballing philosophy. The extent to which a team is reactionary is important.
Moyes has successfully installed a pragmatic approach within his side. Yes, they are reactionary and their tactics on Saturday could be described as such but this was anything but a negative performance. This was an Everton side who took the game to their opponents, firstly preventing their opponents from settling into their normal rhythm and, thereafter, taking advantage of the chances which that disruption within Swansea helped foster.
The tone for this game was established immediately at the start of the game.
Everton started the game at a high tempo and disrupted Swansea from the outset with the Swans conceding a number of early free kicks as they struggled to match their opponents. Everton pressed their opponents, squeezing the game as much as possible with a high defensive line pushing up the pitch allowing Everton to stay compact but shut down the available space and the passing angles for their opponent effectively.
The graphic below captures the pressing perfectly. Williams has the ball but there are no short passing options with three Everton players in close proximity reducing options. Williams was forced to pass long over the halfway line where Everton regained possession and released Anichibe. The move ended when the recovering Williams tripped Anchibe and was fortunate to avoid a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
The pressure was maintained throughout the first half. Everton pushed high when Vorm had possession cutting off options and forcing the goalkeeper to go long enabling Everton to regain possession quickly. The Toffee’s won 60% of all aerial duels during the match.
The aerial dominance was equally matched on the ground. Everton won 62% of all ground duels, the manifestation of which was the high number of fouls that Swansea conceded as they sought to limit Everton. Swansea committed 23 fouls against Everton whilst the men from Merseyside committed just 9, a substantial difference and one which can be a telling issue when you have players with the technical skills of Leighton Baines who can take advantage of a dead ball scenario.
Next Page: Swansea Problems plus Leighton Baines & the Everton “Small Society” (includes top creators in league table)
When one team delivers an excellent performance, there is always conjecture surrounding the extent to just how good a performance it truly was. Was the performance perhaps due to the opponent being off form too? Swansea did have some key players missing which did not aid their cause however, given the level of performance that Everton delivered, a full strength Swansea would arguably still have been defeated on Saturday although the manner of any defeat would have been substantially different.
In his desire to make Swansea slightly more direct, able to convert their possession into more goalscoring chances, the shape of Swansea was different on Saturday. The compact nature of the team changed with the side being slightly more stretched from defence into attack. This means passes travel longer distances and can be intercepted more easily. Compounding this issue, the passing was slow and pedestrian at times allowing Everton time to regain their shape before pressing one more.
The Swansea that Rodgers built was focused upon the retention of possession and creation of passing angles as the team progressed up the pitch as one unit. Laudrup seeks to move the play forward quicker and on Saturday he was unable to find any solutions to the problems which Everton presented. The squad is one which cannot yet play in a substantially different style.
Yet there were moments when Swansea passed sharply and created chances but any semblance of pressure on Everton was fleeting and not sustained.
The game effectively ended when Dyer was sent off for two rash moments early in the second half. Swansea reverted to a 4-3-2 formation with Ki already in an unfamiliar centre back role due to Tate’s withdrawal. Swansea lacked width allowing Leighton Baines more freedom on the left.
Angel Rangel had managed to move into some positive positions during different phases of the game but did his attacking instincts suit the Everton approach? Did Moyes react and counter Rangel’s positive movements? Was this why Baines enjoyed such a fine game?
Leighton Baines & The Everton “Small Society”
The excellent football writer, Santapelota, recounts the views of the relatively unknown Brazilian coach Paulo Autori who argues that rather than focus on partnerships, a team should seek to create triangles of mutual understanding. Autori calls these triangles “small societies”. The society tends to exist within the symmetry of the team’s shape. Once you learn of the concept it’s easy to identify the presence of such “small societies” in present day teams e.g. Alves – Xavi – Messi at Barcelona.
We are now seeing the emergence of a “small society” at Everton with Pienaar, Fellani and arguably the most important member of the society, Leighton Baines. When Everton attack, the right footed Pienaar naturally cuts inward allowing space for Baines to over lap on the outside. His ability to whip in crosses whilst moving at pace provides a constant stream of chances for the likes of Jelavic and Fellani to feed upon. Fellani now occupies his preferred position within the team, behind the striker but able to advance in the attacking phase of the game before withdrawing when necessary to stabilise the midfield in the defensive phase. Although he does move across the pitch, he is frequently found on the left, occupying space that Pienaar has vacated. Whilst this progresses, Baines remains the constant feature, advancing whilst holding a wide position.
With five games gone so far this season, the most creative player in the Premiership thus far statistically is Leighton Baines.
Baines set piece delivery is well known but the most surprising statistic from the above table is that 46% of the chances Baines is creating is from open play. The relationship that Baines and Pienaar are developing along with assistance from Fellani has the potential to cause all Premiership teams significant problems.
On Saturday, Baines delivered the free kick from which Fellani provided the assist to Anichibe and then late on provided the assist for Fellani, again via a free kick (which Baines himself won after being tripped by Michu following an uncontested run forward). Yet there were countless other examples of Baines forward surges on Saturday, particularly during the second half when Baines provided crosses which Everton failed to take advantage of. That is perhaps the one disappointing feature from Everton’s play on Saturday. A multitude of chances were squandered as Baines now delivers a chance for Everton roughly every 18minutes. It’s a fantastic statistic for a left back and demonstrates not only his development but that to of the team as the system encourages that attacking aspect.
This was a tremendous performance by an Everton side who are performing very well. Moyes now appears to have constructed a squad with quality replacements and which should challenge for a Europa League spot.
The work ethic has been mixed with guile and craft to produce a lovely blend allowing Everton to pass the ball when the situation presents itself or alternatively, go long and become more physical.
As the strength of Everton’s left becomes more apparent, opponents will seek to exploit the marauding runs from Baines and the space he vacates. Moyes must temper this attribute carefully.
A second straight defeat for Swansea will have the prophets of doom quickly running and bringing out the cliched “second season syndrome”. Laudrup should be concerned over the manner of the defeat and the way in which a team renowned for passing was so easily disposed by an aggressive press. This is still a squad in a transitional phase and the early victories perhaps raised expectations. Once all members adjust and the team fully understands what Laudrup is seeking, Swansea should be fine. Just as the early season victories were not the precursor to an assault on the Champions League places, nor should successive defeats be viewed as a recipe for relegation.