Middlesbrough Tactical Match Review (H)

Ronald Koeman’s record breaking Everton were back in action on Saturday. Our best ever start in the Premier League football, or, if you’re watching at Sky: our best start since records began. Middlesbrough were the next lambs to the slaughter, at a sun drenched Goodison Park…

 

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The same side that started against Sunderland on Monday was named again by Koeman, which meant Ross Barkley coming back in after being subbed at half-time on Wearside, following his disappointing evening. Gareth Barry played his 600th Premier League game- to think we all got a little twitchy when he was handed a 3 year deal- he continues to set the standards for those around him, and those who will come after- even at 35 (and a half). Barry didn’t really have anything to prove when he left City, his motivation to continue to perform at the level he has, is a credit to him. At the risk of sounding like Roberto Martinez describing him, he really is ‘unique’. Middlesbrough (on the right of this graphic), were 9th before the weekends fixtures, and named a side that featured Victor Valdes, who has won just about anything you can name. It’s only a matter of time until Valdes inevitably wins the lot, and a ‘TS’ postcode is a winner on the postcode lottery- a grinning Valdes tells the camera how he’s ‘needed to get the boiler done’ as he pulls a cheque for £2,000 from an envelope in slow motion. He lived in, and played for Barcelona: now he’s on Teesside playing at that soulless, identikit bowl of a stadium. So keep that in mind when your alarm goes off for work on Monday morning, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Spare a thought for Victor.

It was a tepid start to the game. Particularly from Everton. There was no fluidity when in possession- we weren’t getting the ball into Mirallas, Barkley or Bolasie- and giving them the opportunity to turn at Middlesbrough. It was all a little clunky. Without the ball, we weren’t playing with the tempo it would appear Ronald Koeman wants us to. We weren’t as snappy, weren’t as forceful in closing down the opposition, and Middlesbrough made the brighter start, albeit one without really causing us too many issues in our defensive third- or at least until midway through the first half, that is, when they of course took the lead. It was a foul on Stekelenburg…

 

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But it wasn’t unstoppable, by any means. And the defending in the build up to the goal was a momentary regression back to some of the bad stuff we saw last season. Ready?

The ball was worked wide by Middlesbrough, and, as per our effort without the ball to this point, there wasn’t enough of an effort to get out and close down the man with the ball…

 

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Yannick Bolasie the man who was uncharacteristically short on effort to pressure the opposition. George Friend has time to get his cross in unopposed, as we saw all too often last season. So what’s happening in the middle?

 

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Ashley Williams is five yards deeper than the rest of the defence as the ball is worked wide. Again, like last season, the defence isn’t reading from the same hymn sheet. Williams is too deep, but he isn’t in the worst position, by any means. The bigger issue is that he’s not defending the same line as Baines, Jagielka and Coleman: and we saw this at Sunderland on Monday night, too…

 

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Five yards too deep. It might be force of habit: Swansea holding a slightly deeper line over the years, or it might be something slightly more concerning, in that he’s approaching the age when he’s becoming increasingly aware of being less able to rely on his pace in these kinds of situations. Time will tell on that. The line drops deeper to join Williams before the ball comes in: it’s not like he’s badly playing Negredo on side at that point, but it just may be something worth keeping an eye on as we go forward. Williams is aware of Negredo, and has him in his sights as the ball is worked wide to Friend. But from then on, he doesn’t look over his shoulder again. As the ball comes in, Williams has lost him, and doesn’t know where he is. The only reason Negredo manages to get a free run at Stekelenburg, and a clean leap to challenge for the ball as he does, is because he goes unchecked by Williams…

 

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Who tries (and fails) to box Negredo out as Stekelenburg prepares to jump. It isn’t great from Williams, but again- it was a foul, and it shouldn’t have stood: Koeman won’t be happy with what preceded Negredo’s challenge, however. He’s come to demand more from his rejuvenated toffees.

We were only behind for two minutes, and it was our favourite Gareth Barry who drew us level. Ashley Williams charged in at a Kevin Mirallas corner, and his studs could only have missed the face of Victor Valdes by a matter of inches- the referee seemingly choosing to ‘even things up’, as he didn’t blow for dangerous play, as you might’ve expected. Or maybe he was just that inept. Who knows? But the ball eventually wormed its way to Barry on the back post who curled in a composed equaliser, a nice moment on his big day.

Our midfield started to exert the kind of influence on the game that we would’ve expected before kick off. A special mention to Ross Barkley, who was putting in a mature performance after a difficult evening on Monday night, and the fallout from it- not least amongst our own fans. No Everton player had a higher pass completion rate than Barkley’s 91.7% (save for Tom Cleverley who had a 100% completion rate with literally his only touch of the ball). Barkley played 4 accurate long balls from 4 attempted, and nobody played more ‘key passes’ than him. It was a quiet game from Barkley, but it was a more efficient, responsible performance. Exactly the kind of thing Koeman appeared to be demanding of him after Monday night. So while his performance wasn’t pulling up any trees, hopefully it will be a needed boost to his confidence as he looks to play himself into some kind of form. Barkley was coming deeper for the ball, which will mean more space for the front three if he’s followed, and if we manage to get the ball into Barkley’s feet in more central areas, he’s far more suited to moving at speed over 30 yards towards goal than he is receiving the ball with his back to goal in crowded areas- the manager appears to already be aware of that.

We took the lead minutes before half-time, and it was like watching Seamus Coleman from 2013. So often under Martinez we’d see Coleman stood up as high as the opposition full-back when we were in possession, but it never really worked: it negated Coleman’s biggest strength- his athleticism: when he had a head of steam up, he was difficult for anyone to live with. Clearly Coleman was mismanaged under Martinez, but his own standards slipped, too. He looked like he had his boots on the wrong feet so often, but this was Coleman at his best- and he’s got Romelu Lukaku to thank, too…

 

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Here, Lukaku is being marked closely by Ben Gibson at centre-half, as Coleman turns the ball infield to Idrissa Gueye. Lukaku then moves Gibson out of position as he comes looking for the ball, leaving a huge gap to Daniel Ayala at right centre-half…

 

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Coleman instinctively senses the space, and Lukaku’s deft touch into his path is perfect. Coleman’s just ahead of his marker, and this is when he’s so dangerous. This is where Martinez didn’t put him in enough positions to try and get the best from him. He’s too quick to catch if you end up on the wrong side of him, and he has a clear run on goal from here on out. Ayala comes across, but Coleman shifts the ball past him, wrong footing him, and then Valdes, as he clips the ball in at the front post with his left foot. Coleman at his absolute best, and hopefully- the first signs of recovery in his own form. Getting him back approaching anywhere near his best would be a huge boost to the team. It’s been a long time since ’60 grand’ has properly reverberated round Goodison.

A third came on the stroke of half-time, Lukaku claiming a touch on a Bolasie cross, but I’m happy to think of that as Bolasie’s first, despite Lukaku’s reaction being enough to convince ‘Rossy’ or whichever Radio Shitty fart they’ve got on the PA these days at Goodison. Middlesbrough’s afternoon unravelled with the third- they’d have been content enough going into half-time at 2-1, having played well enough as the away side, but the third was a killer. It was a score that wasn’t really in keeping with the play to that point, but we appear to be a more explosive side under Koeman, and we took the game away from Middlesbrough in a matter of minutes, just as we had against Sunderland. We conceded in bunches last season: we conceded two goals within seven minutes of one another on eleven occasions under Roberto Martinez in 15/16, we’ve scored two within seven minutes of each other in two of our five premier league games already this season- three, if you want to bump it up to eight minutes. A very nice habit to have.

We were well on our way to our best start in 38 years. Roberto Martinez managed four league wins in his last five months at Everton(!)- Ronald Koeman has managed to guide us to four in our first five games. A very encouraging start to life at L4. Moreover, it’s the second time Everton have come from behind to win in Koeman’s first five league games, having had just two wins from losing positions over the previous 90 league games, prior to his arrival. No, we haven’t beaten anyone decent yet, but we couldn’t have asked for more a month into the new regime at Goodison.

The second 45 was pleasingly dull. So much so, I’m barely even going to talk about it- that little happened.  The only blemish of the half being a knock to Lukaku which forced him off, but it was a thoroughly professional performance from us, seeing the game out in a way that always seemed too much to ask of the sides managed by Roberto Martinez over the last couple of years. Middlesbrough didn’t have enough quality to trouble our defence in the final third- but they struggled to get past Barry and both Gueye’s in midfield to even find our defence. Barry was his usual Rolls Royce self in the middle, but Gueye was head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch in the second half. Just the 8 tackles for Gueye on Saturday, 3 more than anyone else on the pitch. He’s now won 31 tackles this season, the player with the second most in the league- Sam Clucas (Hull)- has won 22… Gueye has won 50% more tackles than the player with the second most in the league. It’s ridiculously good. No player in Europe’s top five leagues have won more tackles than Gueye. He’s everywhere, and he’s growing more and more confident when in possession, too: showing a good understanding of when Lukaku wants the ball rolled into his feet when he’s isolated with a centre-half. Next time you get a bad appraisal at work, tell your boss someone at Aston Villa agreed to a £7.1 million release clause in Idrissa Gueye’s contract. Having signed him for 9 million just 12 months earlier. We’re now down to having allowed an average of just 2.2 shots on target on our goal this season, and Gueye’s played as big a part in that as anybody.

Given the standard of the opposition we’ve faced so far, we can’t get too carried away- it’s like running a good bend from the inside lane in the 200 metres final at the Olympics- it’s quite difficult to gauge where we actually are at the moment: the acid test will come when we get a difficult run of fixtures. But between now and then, if we keep picking up points like this, there’s nothing wrong with a big fat dollop of optimism.

For more really flawed logic, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

One Comment

  • Howard Parr  18/09/2016 at 22:20

    Looks like we’ve found our Peter Reid at last! Sensible observation on Ashley though… but guessing its positional familiarity and they’ll sort it. Waggy had to watch from the stands before he sussed how to play with The Rat… but RK’s nouse plus all the hi-tech kit should sort that. Thought Ross did well… though needs to pick ball up in 8 position not 6 or 10. Feels like we’re blessed with leaders now too. Blue smiles in work so good to see!

    Reply

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