An even game which could have gone either way ended in a 0-2 win to Everton thanks to second half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Leon Osman.
Aston Villa started in a 4-4-2 shape with Weimann and Tonev playing wide and Agbonlahor and Benteke up front. Everton continued playing 4-2-3-1 with Lukaku the main man up front, with Barkley behind, Mirallas and Pienaar wide and Barry and McCarthy in midfield.
The Dynamic Of The Game
The early stages of the match were fairly direct and open. Neither team was trying to settle down into a passing rhythm early on – instead of linking the lines in build up through short passing and movement through midfield, both teams were playing it long from the back. Aston Villa were trying to force Everton to initiate play through the centre backs with Agbonlahor looking to get close to Barry coming deep to receive and trying to entice Everton to leave space for them to attack quickly into on transition.
Indeed transitions summed up the main flow of the game early on. Mirallas was looking for instant depth in his running when Everton regained possession with Aston Villa up the field and because Barry was often free when the ball was regained, he had time and space to play the ball behind Luna for Mirallas to run onto. This almost created a good chance for Lukaku in the opening minute and created a dangerous situation five minutes in for Mirallas himself. The way Everton targeted this area on transition continued to cause Aston Villa problems for a lot of the match.
Aston Villa as usual were a threat on counter attacks, looking for depth behind through Benteke, Agbonlahor and Weimann, trying to take advantage of the space Everton left behind through the positions they took up in possession. Even as early on as the seventh minute when Benteke won a penalty, although Villa weren’t counter attacking, it was clear they wanted to play behind Everton’s backline – the link up between Benteke and Weimann was effective in that even if they weren’t combining with each other in terms of passing, their movement and appreciation of each other’s movement was creating space for each other.
Tim Howard’s save from Benteke’s penalty didn’t particularly do much in changing the game – from that point on for the rest of the first half, the game settled down into more of a pattern but it probably would have done without that isolated incident. Everton dominated possession and started trying to link play more – Barkley dropped deeper to receive as did McCarthy, there was more positional mobility in possession, with Pienaar playing off the space created and Aston Villa sometimes losing shape in defence trying to cope with Everton’s numerical superiority in midfield while waiting to spring quickly behind when the ball was regained, either with long kicks or throws from Guzan in goal or just playing off the speed and power created through Benteke, Agbonlahor, Weimann and even Tonlev from right wing.
One thing that both sides struggled with was their marking in defence. The centre backs for both sides did not want to give space to Benteke and Lukaku respectively and so often followed them between the lines. What this did though was create space behind. Although this wasn’t a factor that was taken advantage of by either side, it was a weakness that seemed to be at least noticed by both managers – both Benteke and Lukaku were pulling off and enticing the centre backs to come with them and encouraging runs from the second line behind.
Aside from the penalty, Aston Villa had two or three very good opportunities created through counter attacks in the first half. Benteke and Weimann had 1v1s with Howard created as Everton lost shape in defence and were caught high up having lost possession. Had these chances been taken the game would have been hugely favourable for Villa, able to play a fairly low block and continue to wait for counter attack opportunities in the knowledge that they had a lead. As it was they weren’t taken and this turned against them as the match went on.
Everton also had good opportunities created through Lukaku finding space within the backline but again the goalkeeper came out on top. The open dynamic of the game and the chances created from both sides made it difficult to believe that there were no goals at half time but that indeed turned out to be the case.
In the second half the dynamic of the game partly seemed to change. Indeed Aston Villa started to dominate possession and Everton dropped deeper. Both teams were again leaving themselves open at the back through man marking too tightly and the two target men, Benteke and Lukaku, were clever in creating space to be used.
It was Everton who made the breakthrough though. It was Pienaar’s receiving and movement of the ball that broke the Aston Villa lines. Vlaar came out with him and was too slow to react to Osman’s run in the channel, as was Clarke and Baker who were too slow in their horizontal covering.
That event didn’t particularly affect the intensity of Villa’s play – Everton were dropping deep and conceding too much space and time in ‘zone 14’, with Barry’s lack of speed and mobility being highlighted in this area in putting pressure on the ball too slowly and then not tracking Agbonlahor’s run into the box in the 75th minute, which he spurned.
In possession though, Everton were more impressive. They kept hold of the ball better and clearly started to concentrate on slowing the temp, retaining possession and making it difficult for Villa to regain and counter quickly. Osman more or less finished the game off in the 81st minute from a Barry pull back.
An interesting open game that could have gone either way. Both teams looked dangerous attacking quickly and using the spaces behind and created chances through this. Ultimately good finishing gave Everton the victory on this occasion