Everton’s unusually positive start to the season will have its foundations tested when arch-rivals Liverpool make the short trip to Goodison Park on Sunday. This fixture carries considerable baggage for the natives of Merseyside and every surrounding aspect before, during and after the contest will be intensely scrutinised long after the game. From tactics to systems, refereeing decisions and, of course, managerial selections.
For Everton this week, the spotlight has generally surrounded who best replaces the banned Steven Pienaar, and whether or not the injured duo of Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson can recover sufficiently enough to help the cause. All three players are vital, and the fact two of the three are likely to be missing is a substantial blow for the Toffees.
Another key selection dilemma for David Moyes that has flown slightly under the radar is who to use at right-back. An injury to Tony Hibbert has left Seamus Coleman as Everton’s right-sided full-back for the past four games, with Phil Neville having to cover for the club’s deficiency of fit central midfielders. Hibbert returned from injury for the reserve side on Monday, playing the full 90 minutes, and if he’s fit on Sunday he simply must play.
Here’s a quick look at how both Coleman and Hibbert have fared at right-back this season, starting off with some defensive statistics.
Admittedly, this is all very premature in the analysis, given the fledgling status of the season, but so far from these early results Coleman’s numbers fluctuate dramatically. Having been converted to a wide midfielder for the past two seasons, his return represents that of a player readjusting to a role, and understandably that’s why he’s very up and down. His tackle success has been better than Hibbert’s, and he has won the ball back more frequently in defence, but overall he is clearly second-best in the challenge at the moment, losing far too many 50-50s. Hibbert’s own 50-50 success-rate of 72% is impressive and his superior ability to read the game and clear his lines are both evident here as well.
With Glen Johnson switching to the left, generally playing in tandem with Raheem Sterling, Liverpool’s left is arguably their most potent side, and it is important Moyes considers which of his right-backs will provide the most extensive cover. Everton will predominantly be attacking from the left themselves with Leighton Baines, and the right-back will have to be the more cautious of the full-backs and be more willing to put in an defensive shift. Presently, with Coleman still reacquainting himself at the back, a fit again Hibbert would be a far more reliable option to do this job.
Here is a look at what both player’s have contributed going forward.
If this is to be Moyes’ thinking, and Hibbert does return, some would certainly perceive this to be a negative approach, especially at home. However, as these numbers depict, Coleman is not yet contributing what he is capable of going forward either. Overall, Hibbert’s passing has so far been better and in the final third it seems Coleman has almost lost his head at times, only able to record a very sloppy 61% accuracy – the third lowest percentage in the squad of those with 50+ passes. Last season Coleman was actually the Toffees’ third best passer overall, so these early passing numbers will disappoint him and again reflect his settling in period.
A statistic that may surprise a few is also the fact that, so far, both players have entered the final third the same amount per game. Hibbert is often viewed as a hopeless attacking force, but he has actually sent in a more regular supply of crosses, although Coleman has been far more accurate in this department. The final number that cements the greater need for Hibbert is the dispossessed category. Coleman has been robbed 12 times, a number only Leon Osman (13) and Fellaini (15) can marginally beat in the entire Everton squad – both of whom have played considerably more. Hibbert has been dispossessed once, and with Liverpool adopting even more possession-absorbing tactics under Brendan Rodgers, Coleman’s current tendency of coughing up the ball would be very unwelcome come Sunday.
It’s important to highlight how nothing here suggests Coleman won’t one day be the Toffees’ long term solution at right-back. Given time, he seems to have most of the required attributes to progress and with Hibbert and Neville both in the winter of their careers, he may well see more prolonged spells in defence as this season advances. Having honed his game to play in midfield for the past few seasons, he now needs time to re-acclimatise and gain confidence back in his original position, something that is likely to cause a few more errors in his game. Moyes cannot risk this against Liverpool.
Whilst Hibbert has never been a stand-out performer, his experience, temperament and all-round greater consistency are far more valuable in this pending fixture. It is very early in the season to delve into his statistics in particular, but even away from the numbers, at this stage of their careers he offers the far calmer presence at the back with Coleman still developing. Axing the Irishman may initially be a tough pill for him to swallow, but the way he was so easily beaten for Wigan’s first goal, and his clumsy touch that so nearly presented QPR with a penalty are two errors that cannot crop up on Sunday. They would not only harm his side’s chances of success, but could also severely affect his future progress should they be repeated on the grand stage of a derby. Hibbert must play if fit.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.