Everton came into this match with only one victory in their past six matches and alarmingly had conceded 11 goals during that run.
Speaking after their last home match, an unconvincing come-from-behind 2-1 win over Sunderland, manager David Moyes said: “I am concerned about leaking goals, we need to work on a few things.”
For this match he was without the injured Kevin Mirallas, Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe, and Darron Gibson and most importantly was missing Marouane Fellaini, who was suspended. The Belgian international has played exclusively just off the front man this season, linking with the midfield and full backs and with him in the stands for this game, it was clear Moyes attempted something different.
Everton still lined in up in a 4-2-3-1, which effectively turned into 4-4-1-1 in defence, asking his wide midfielders to track back against Norwich’s wingers Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington. Moyes dropped Seamus Coleman at right back, who has not played well lately, opting for Phil Jagielka to move wide, the first indication, even before kick off, for the need to stay tighter and narrow.
Chris Hughton’s Norwich were as expected, making just the one forced change at centre back, the injured Michael Turner replaced by Ryan Bennett. Wes Hoolahan once again was asked to play the pivotal role behind Grant Holt, something he’s done very well in the past month.
Piennar & Naismith
When the game began Steven Pienaar, usually asked to play wide left, started in the ‘Fellaini role’ with Steven Naismith again continuing on the right where he has deputized admirably since Mirallas hurt his hamstring. However, it soon became very clear that both were asked to interchange often. It appeared Naismith was his manager’s preferred choice on the flank when defending, but the pair didn’t seem to be following direct instructions this way. The constant movement and swapping of positions between the two caused Norwich problems immediately, particularly Bradley Johnson, who was often worried about leaving Javier Garrido exposed, meaning that space in the middle opened up.
That’s precisely how Everton opened the scoring, Thomas Hitlsperger spraying a ball over to Bryan Oviedo on the left and after Steven Whittaker mistimed his run, the Costa Rican international cut in and found a wide-open Naismith in the box. The Scot had made a run from deep the moment the ball went to the left and Johnson, pre-occupied by Pienaar, now out wide, was too late tracking Naismith and Everton had the lead.
Anyone tuning in and hearing Everton had scored a goal from the wide left area will not have been surprised and although the goal came from an avenue the Toffees have run down often this season, it was a street they rarely occupied afterwards.
Baines stays deeper & makes runs centrally to find Pienaar
Much has been made of the relationship between Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar this season with the duo causing problems for many teams down the left side. However, Fellaini’s role centrally just off them plays a vital part, as he holds the ball up and draws defenders towards him.
Stats Zone shows how many passes Fellaini made towards the left side against Reading last week and how many passes Baines received as an attacking threat.
According to Who Scored, the Everton left back leads the Premier League in accurate crosses per game, at 3.8. With Fellaini in the side, a player who wins more aerial duels than he loses, it is not hard to understand why. Yet without Fellaini, Moyes asked Baines to change his style. The manager directed Oviedo to stay tight to the line and very wide, but when Baines received the ball there was a clear instruction for him to go inside towards Pienaar/Naismith rather than create overlaps. The first time he did it, on 16 minutes, the left back saw a shot saved by John Ruddy after a neat 1-2 with Pienaar again confused Johnson. Three more times in the first half, the former Wigan left back picked up the ball deep, sprinted inwards and connected well with his South African team-mate. In the end, Baines, who averages almost four successful crosses per match, had only one the entire game and that was a long corner that ended on the foot of a team-mate, initially, it wasn’t planned for. Something very different to the last match at Goodison Park.
With Baines holding his runs and coming narrow when he did penetrate, Jagielka staying deeper and Naismith and Pienaar swapping centrally, Everton were uncharacteristically very narrow, which affected the amount of balls that came into the box. The amount of width your side has doesn’t always connect to the amount of crosses you attempt per match but it certainly plays a factor. Stats Zone says Everton have attempted 311 crosses per game before this match in the Premier League, converting 96 of them. That averages out to 8/26 per match, yet against Norwich the results weren’t close to that:
Can a team cross too much?
It is clearly a question Moyes has asked himself this week. You only have to watch Sunderland, for example, to know teams can stretch a field too much, leave gaps centrally and carelessly give the ball away with random, hopeful balls into the box. Everton are better than Sunderland and do not fall under that category but without their star man clearly wanted to change their style in this match in an attempt to create as many chances, while at the same time keeping a better tactical shape at the back by keeping their full backs deeper. The lack of crosses actually didn’t have a direct impact on the amount of times they created chances to score (although Nikica Jelavic was quieter than normal) and they should have put the game to bed before Sebastien Bassong headed a controversial free kick home in the final minute to deny Moyes three points.
Not wanting to focus too much on the fact the foul on Steve Morison that led to the set-piece was very harsh, the Everton boss went in another direction post match: “The basis of being successful is trying to get no goals against, and we have to do that more often. We cannot be relying on scoring two or three every week to win.”
It’s now close to two months since Everton got a clean sheet in the Premier League. With their next three games coming against Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, it will be interesting to see if Moyes keeps with this style now that Fellaini is ready to come back. His comments would indicate he plans to.