Everton produced a dramatic second half comeback to secure a point against Premier League strugglers Aston Villa. Key to Everton’s recovery was their use of width, particularly from left back Leighton Baines, and the impressive display from lone striker Victor Anichebe…
David Moyes’ team went for a familiar looking 4-2-3-1 that focussed on getting the ball out wide at nearly every opportunity. In goal was Tim Howard, behind a solid-looking back four from right to left of Phil Jagielka, Johnny Heitinga, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines.
In midfield, Darron Gibson sat alongside Leon Osman who was given less creative freedom today and instead was tasked with a more disciplined role. Out wide on the left was Steven Pienaar, with Kevin Mirallas on the right wing. Marouane Fellaini played in the hole and the excellent Victor Anichebe was the lone striker.
Villa boss Paul Lambert has experimented with his side playing as a back five this season, but today he made the decision to play as a 4-4-2. Brad Guzan started in goal with Ron Vlaar partnered by Ciaran Clark at centre back. Joe Bennett started at left back, with Matt Lowton on the other side and Ashley Westwood and Karim El Ahmadi playing in central midfield.
Villa’s side was very much so made up of six defensive players and four attacking ones, with very little transition. Christian Benteke started up front with Charles N’Zogbia playing just off him. Andreas Wiemann started from the right wing with Gabby Agbonlahor playing on the left.
Before neither side had managed to gain a decent spell of possession, Villa took the lead as Benteke highlighted both his superior pace and strength over Heitinga to knock the ball past the Dutch international and finish emphatically past Howard.
The key to Everton in recent years has been getting the ball wide and delivering plenty of crosses. When playing Villa, it is often rewarding to target their full backs as they are the least experienced players on the pitch in most cases, and so there was a very definite game plan for Everton attacks. However, with Mirallas starting on the right, the Belgian often moved inside to play closer with Fellaini, resulting in the majority of Everton attacks being initiated down their left and not both flanks.
As soon as Everton won possession, Pienaar made the same diagonal run inside time after time, dragging Lowton with him, to create room for Baines to push into. The left back often found himself in acres of space and spent the majority of the match looking like more of a left winger than an attacking left back due to his incredibly high starting position – this was made possible by Weimann’s unwillingness to track the Englishman all the way into the final third of the pitch.
When Pienaar drifted inside, he often positioned himself in between the lines, posing the question of who should mark him. Lowton often became too narrow, leaving Baines in plenty of room and neither Westwood nor El Ahmadi are well suited to marking players tightly – beside they were both more wary of the threat of Fellaini in that area of the pitch.
When Villa did look to counter quickly, Gibson, as the left-sided central midfielder, was always in a position to sweep up that side of the pitch, and Distin the left-sided centre back, was in able to move over and mark Weimann, knowing that Benteke would still be up against Heitinga and Jagielka.
Further up the pitch the positioning and movement of Anichebe, the lone striker, was also impressive. The striker peeled constantly onto Clark, the less physical and much less experienced of the two Villa centre backs, and at times the Nigerian striker was almost bullying his young marker. Clark was made to look very timid and often made the same mistake of trying to mark Anichebe too tightly, meaning he became very easy to turn.
Everton eventually forced a much deserved equaliser and it was no surprise that it came about when Anichebe was able to turn Clark in the box and create just enough space for him to take an early shot. Again, Clark was too tight to his man.
However, Villa again took the lead within minutes after a well worked move ended with Weimann’s cross finding the head of Agbonlahor, who finished well from inside the six yard box.
After this goal the game started to increase in tempo as both teams found a natural rhythm. One thing to come out of this was the battle down the Everton right, between Bennett and Mirallas. The young full back was provided with no cover from Agbonlahor and often ended up making a number of rash tackles in response to Mirallas’ quick feet once he had managed to isolate the Villa left back.
Everton could have done with a more attacking right back to really capitalise on this but Jagielka is naturally a centre back and seemed reluctant to leave space in behind for Agbonlahor to potentially attack.
The score stayed at 2-1 until half time and the early exchanges after the break highlighted the danger of Villa on the counter attack. Despite this decent spell, Westwood in midfield still wasn’t able to get his foot on the ball and dictate the game in the way he would have liked to – mainly because Fellaini was always very close to him.
On 61 minutes Villa got their deserved 3rd goal following an excellent attack down their right hand side which resulted in a clever glanced header from Benteke which found the back of the net. But after this point the away side sat far too deep and encouraged Everton pressure.
The home team halved Villa’s lead just eight minutes later after Fellaini was given enough room to exchange a one-two inside the 18 yard box with Anichebe before finishing cleverly into the bottom corner. Just as for the first goal, Anichebe’s strength was highlighted superbly.
Villa continued to sit back now, desperate to hold onto all three points, but this created room for Osman and Gibson to dictate the play and keep forcing attack after attack on the Villa defence. Lambert made two changes to the centre of his midfield in an attempt to encourage pressing, by introducing Brett Holman and Yacouba Sylla, but this failed to force Everton into rushing their play.
On 93 minutes, following a series of pressure, Everton eventually got their equaliser as Fellaini was given a free header within his own six yard box. Before the game Everton would have expected a win and with 20 minutes to go, Lambert would have expected all three points, but over the balance of a play a draw was the right result.
Villa looked very dangerous on the counter, especially with the power and strength of Benteke, but the best forward on the pitch was Anichebe who bossed his marker at times.
Just as important for Everton today was their continually impressive width. Baines spent most of the match playing as a left winger and his relationship with Pienaar in front of him, is one of the strongest in the league.
As always feel free to comment. You can follow me on twitter @TTTFootball.
You may also be interested in: