Tactics Watch: Everton vs Chelsea

ESPNSTAR.com examines the tactics behind Chelsea’s comeback 2-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park.

David Moyes, Rafa Benitez, Chelsea, Everton
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

Chelsea appeared to have the advantage coming into this game as Everton were shorn of Marouane Fellaini, Phil Neville and Darron Gibson, who were recognised as the ‘hard' midfield players in their side.

Rafa Benitez started Ramires on the right wing - a logical choice given that the Brazilian's work rate will help in tracking back to curb the threat of Leighton Baines on the overlap. Otherwise, Benitez fielded the same side that thrashed Aston Villa 8-0 last weekend.

As for Everton, David Moyes had to make do with a 'makeshift' midfield due to the injuries and suspension mentioned earlier and he with Thomas Hitzlsperger and Leon Osman holding the middle while John Heitinga made a return to the starting eleven to partner Sylvian Distin in defence.

The biggest surprise in the line up was the role of Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe. Pienaar was expected to play on the left to utilise his telepathic understanding with Baines while Anichebe usually plays as a second striker but their roles were reversed; Anichebe started out on the left while Pienaar shifted into the middle as an attacking midfielder.

Everton's game plan

It was clear that Everton were never going to win the physical battle in the middle without their regular starters, and it was even more surprising that Moyes chose to deploy Pienaar there and break up the Baines-Pienaar partnership in the process, but it proved to be a risk that paid off.

The plan for Everton was to bypass the middle of the pitch entirely by making use of Pienaar's speed and passing to shift the ball out onto either flanks quickly, leaving David Luiz and Lampard with little to do in terms of actual defending.

From the flanks, the main target for crosses in the box targeted at the left side (or right, from Chelsea's perspective), for Anichebe, who would make a late run to drag Cesar Azpilicueta with him to create a mismatch in the aerial battle.

The early goal came in that pattern - Pienaar shifted the ball down the flank early for Jagielka before Anichebe headed Jagielka's cross into the post for Pienaar to sneak in the rebound. There was another chance in the 69th minute that had a similiar pattern - Pienaar released Baines down the left early, Baines crossed to the left side of the box but Jelavic's header struck the post.

Credit should be given to Moyes - Everton usually relied on Fellaini's presence in front of their opponent's box to gain control of the match but in the Belgian's absence, Moyes adapted his side with a sound game plan to play to his side's strengths.

David Luiz vs Steven Pienaar
It's worth highlighting David Luiz's role in the match as this was his toughest opponents yet since his recent switch to a midfield role.

It was clear that Luiz is still not entirely adept at playing a holding midfield in this performance in terms of his defensive performance. He failed to stick close to Pienaar and was too slow to make the transition from attack back to defence - a glaring example would be at the start when Pienaar started the move which led to Everton's goal.

For now, the Brazilian's unfamiliarity with the nuances of covering midfield spaces defensively may mean that he will be better off facing 'patient' midfielders, rather than going up against fast ones who like to transit play fast. To cite an example, Luiz would have done well against someone like Gylfi Sigurdsson but would struggle against Shinji Kagawa.

Of course, Luiz will improve with experience, but it's still a glaring weakness which was exposed against Everton when Pienaar easily sneaked behind him to launch Everton's attacks.

The Jagielka-Heitinga gap

It was interesting to see Fernando Torres constantly make runs between Baines and Distin throughout the match but it was a weakness in the other half of the defence between Jagielka and Heitinga which had a glaring hole which led to both Chelsea's goals.

Lampard's first goal came from a cross where Heitinga shifted forward but Jagielka failed to follow - it could be blamed on a simple lack of communication and/or practice together in dealing with crosses - a basic drill which teams would have trained for regularly.

As for the second goal, Heitinga was nowhere to be found when Lampard pounced on the area where the Dutch defender should have been. Heitinga was at fault here - he went chasing after the ball which fell outside the box for Mata instead of protecting his zone when Osman was perfectly placed to pressure Mata in the first place, leaving Jagielka to deal with both Lampard and Hazard.

The goals conceded make a good case of why good defences in the league tend to have the same defenders lining up together week in and out to develop the understanding.

Conclusion

While it may sound like Chelsea were poor in the game due to the lack of emphasis on their play, it was far from it. They played well enough to create the chances for the goals but Moyes had the better game plan in terms of tactics - he dared to risk and it almost paid off, which was evident by the fact that Everton were denied by an excellent Cech and the woodwork on several occasions.


Kelvin will be analysing a Premier League match every Monday in Tactics Watch. You can reach him by following his twitter account @plevyakin for more tactical insights and football updates.



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