Aug 302014

Defensive lapses are main cause for concern

Three games played with 10 goals conceded, and the first time Everton have conceded six in a game since August 2009. It is also the first time in 58 years Everton have conceded 10 in the opening three games.

If that isn’t a damning indication of the defensive issues the Blues have faced this season, perhaps this is: they have already conceded more than a quarter of the goals they did throughout the whole of last season.

Just 39 goals in 38 games in 2013/14 is now 10 in three. It’s worrying, it’s frustrating, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

More than the number of goals conceded was just how they were conceded.

A goal after 35 seconds can happen to any team, but it was so simple for Diego Costa to run through; two minutes later, the same again – and even with a hint of offside, the line was reckless and the communication between the back four non-existent.

The third was unfortunate, but the fourth, fifth and sixth came from uncertainty, miscommunication and a foolish back-heel. Muhamed Besic will hope for a better introduction at Goodison against Wolfsburg.

But singling out players is futile. Instead, the collective defensive unit – so strong last season – disintegrated against Chelsea.

The Blues can take comfort in the fact they won’t face a forward line like Chelsea’s often this season. But mistakes also crept in, just as they did against Leicester and Arsenal.

To concede six goals is a one-off for this side. Roberto Martinez must work with on the defensive set-up to ensure the mistakes are six of the worst, consigned to history.

Kevin Mirallas is a fighter

Despite the worries over the defensive aspect, Everton looked strong in attack once they found their rhythm. Originally struggling to feed Romelu Lukaku from midfield because of the man mountain Nemanja Matic, the Blues needed players to take responsibility and drive at the visitors – particularly in the absence of Ross Barkley.

Kevin Mirallas did that. He, along with Seamus Coleman, were the two who provided the most intent. With the game threatening to completely squirm from their grasp in the first half, Mirallas moved in-between the lines, looking to receive the ball at every opportunity. He would be stationed out on the left, then drift to the right, before moving through the centre.

The Belgian took seven shots – three more than anybody else – and found the target with four of them, including his well-placed header. He also had the second best pass success rate of any Everton player with 92%, and also took 83 touches – a high amount for an attacking midfielder.

His end product was not always there, but there can be no doubting his willingness to influence the game. It will be a real positive for Martinez, and a boost for Mirallas too, especially given the competition for places in the side.

Samuel Eto’o could prove a bargain

It took Samuel Eto’o six minutes to make his mark on his Everton debut. Having already showed flashes outside the box, he did what he has done best throughout his career, and did the business inside the area. A deft but direct header beyond Thibaut Courtois revitalised the Blues once more.

He later participated in a wonderful, carousel-like move which eventually led to Mirallas hitting the post – but it was his flick which initiated the movement.

A lot was spoken of how Eto’o would want revenge over his former employers, but the celebration was not to needle at Chelsea – it was joy at notching his first goal within minutes of his debut at Goodison, and putting the game back in the balance.

Eto’o worked hard on and off the ball and was the perfect man to bring on as the Blues brought it back to 3-2. More of the same and the man who cost nothing could bring a lot.

Craft and patience beats kamikaze football

It’s difficult to know what Martinez instructed his players to do, but it is hard to imagine it resembled anything like what they produced.

After conceding seven to Liverpool last season, and now six to Chelsea, there can be no doubt: the Blues cannot go gung-ho.

Gareth Barry and James McCarthy looked stretched. Leighton Baines and Coleman were struggling to get up and down as often; Slyvain Distin and Phil Jagielka looked completely crestfallen as Chelsea strode forward and moved into gaps behind.

The best performances under Martinez have been controlled, intelligent, reasoned. Losing two goals in the first three minutes can make players lose their heads and consequently their shape.

By all means, the Blues can be quick, direct and penetrative. But they cannot sacrifice the discipline that helped them to fifth last season.

It rarely works out well.

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 Posted by at 7:37 pm

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