The Weekend's Best Tactics: Everton v Chelsea

Everton manager Roberto Martinez earned his first win of the season and his first win since his arrival at Goodison Park against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on Saturday.

The Spanish boss had not had not enjoyed a good record against the Blues in his time at Wigan but his tactics against the self-proclaimed ‘special one’ earned his Toffees side a special victory this weekend.

Following the game, Martinez praised his team’s performance against a ‘solid’ and ‘quality’ Chelsea side in what was a typical old-fashioned football game. His pride is well placed in his team who were indeed ‘solid’ and ‘impressive’ on the day, across the whole of the 94 minutes but all credit must go to the new manager for the result.

In contrast, the Chelsea boss was uncharacteristically negative in his post-match interviews – the Portuguese coach blamed his team’s finishing and individual mistakes, dismissing Everton’s display as uncreative, and the game as ‘easy to win’.

Clearly the game was not quite as easy to win as Mourinho would have hoped and I believe he does Everton and Martinez a disservice by asserting that they were uncreative.

Mourinho might have had more of a claim to Everton’s lack of ‘creativity’ last season – former boss David Moyes had been criticized for his tactics, Everton’s physical approach and focus on defending against the top teams in what continental coaches often claim is ‘anti football’.

Martinez’s philosophy is the antithesis of ‘anti football’ – we know how he liked to set his team up at Wigan and we have seen in Everton’s three draws this term that his team was taking on board his ideas but had yet to effectively implement them with the cohesion and consistency required at this level.

Martinez gives his players confidence to go out and pass the ball, retain possession and break quickly when they counter and against Chelsea they put his ideas into practice. They have also naturally retained their steel and organization that is clearly residual from the Moyes era, which cannot be overlooked.

Mourinho is right in some respects – Chelsea enjoyed 57% of possession, had 22 shots on goal to Everton’s 11 and undoubtedly had the easier chances – and he is right that his team’s finishing was poor, the Blues had the same number of shots on target as Everton, both hitting the target just five times.

Everton went ahead just before half-time via a header from Steven Naismith in stoppage time and spent the majority of the second half defending in their own half but, when they did have the ball, their use of it was intelligent and efficient, frustrating Chelsea, whose passing was poor by their own high standards.

Gareth Barry’s performance on his debut was the epitome of the team’s character, resolve and intelligence – he made a block in the second half that, on it’s own, ensured the three points for the Toffees and made several other challenges and interceptions that were timed to perfection.

His work with the ball was just as impressive, his distribution, awareness and ball retention calmed the game down, eliminated danger and put Everton back in control when they were under mounting pressure, slowing the tempo down and relieving his teammates time and time again.

For Mourinho to say Everton were not creative he must have been asleep every time Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas had the ball – the former was at the heart of everything good for Everton in attack and the latter’s intelligent positioning and movement was outstanding.

The Belgian’s contribution in the late stages of the game, up front by himself, was decisive as he ensured Chelsea couldn’t go to sleep at the back whilst they searched for that elusive equalizer, his threat when Everton won the ball back meant the Toffees could take the pressure of their backline, come forward out of heir own half and keep the Blues at bay momentarily.

Incidentally, Everton didn’t pick up a single caution from Howard Webb – Chelsea had four players booked. Everton frustrated the Londoners into mistakes and poor challenges, especially towards the end, typified by David Luiz who misplaced passes and dealt some rash challenges to give Everton free-kicks – Leighton Baines hit the crossbar with what on another day could have been 2-0 and game over.

Chelsea’s passing evaded them at times as they franticly searched for a late goal and that was down to Everton’s pressure via Mirallas and Barkley and their teamwork in midfield, their simple passing game to push Chelsea back into their own half and give their defence a breather.

Both Samuel Eto’o and second-half substitute Fernando Torres were woeful – they sliced and misfired at every opportunity – but you have to also say that, for all their abundance of quality and technical skill, Chelsea’s midfielders didn’t create enough either and the chances they did make, Tim Howard was up to the challenge on his goal.

Martinez’ side were organized and compact in defence as they were under Moyes – without the ball, their midfielders dropped off and back into a tight and compact unit to deny Chelsea the space they required to penetrate the box and as soon as Everton intercepted, they had their heads up, looking for the outlet in Mirallas to break up field.

It was textbook Martinez – Wigan were so successful with their counter-attacking against the top sides in recent years, drawing the opposition onto them, keeping their nerves in their own half, squeezing and squashing out the space and then pouncing on the inevitable mistakes made by teams under pressure, finding a wealth of space up field on the break and opening the opposition up time and time again.

They were like an animal that plays dead, luring their prey closer to them and then gnashing their teeth, delivering a deadly bite, stunning the opposition who are caught completely off-guard and unprepared for an attack of such precision, having been lulled into a false sense of security. This time, for Chelsea, it proved fatal.

Credit must go to David Moyes and his players, indoctrinated with that solidity and resolve at the back but all praise must go to Roberto Martinez for using that as a foundation to build on and implement his own ideas, superimposing them on top of Moyes’ image of Everton, making an amalgamation that is both tough to break down and incredibly efficient and dangerous in possession, as demonstrated in the score-line and the clean sheet: Everton 1, Chelsea 0.

image: © illarterate

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