Everton’s left wing party is restored as Pienaar & Fellaini return.

Before Saturday, the last time Steven Pienaar started a football match with manager Harry Redknapp in attendance the opposition in question was Cheltenham Town. It was the 3rd round of the FA Cup in January 2012 and it was the South African’s first start in three weeks since playing against Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League. It had come down to this for the South African, games against teams from League Two and the Irish League for the Spurs winger who had still not started a match in the Premier League that season for Redknapp at Tottenham.

Less than a month later Pienaar was back at Goodison Park on a six month loan. He would start all 14 matches he participated in for the rest of the season, sitting out a game against Tottenham who remained his employers. For now.

By the summer he was officially an Evertonian once again, a place he had blossomed at since 2007 when he initially joined on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

It was the right fit for Pienaar and the right fit for his manager David Moyes despite the Scot having to go against his instincts and break his own rules when it comes to transfer recruitment.

“I had a worry when it was first mooted about him coming back,” said Moyes in December. “But he has been inspirational to how we have played. He has helped the team and he has helped the crowd as well. He has certainly improved us and made us better.”

He added: ” I was worried about it second time around. At Everton we have always tried to do good deals and tried to buy at the right age or certainly at the right price. We had to buy Steven back for more than we sold him and he was a year older.¬†It’s been a great deal for us and we’ve been delighted to have him and I’ve done many a worse deal. But at the time it just felt as if it wasn’t lying well with me.”

Pienaar’s move back to Everton has seen him started most games in a left wing position for the Toffees, although his overall tactical movement often sees him switch with the right-sided player and he has also occasionally started in a central position, off the striker, when Marouane Fellaini has been unavailable.

For Saturday’s home match against QPR, which saw Pienaar go up against Redknapp for the first time since his move, both he and Fellaini were restored to Everton’s starting XI after they each missed the win at home to Stoke and the draw at Tottenham through suspension.

football formations

Four points from the past two games without their star creators certainly satisfied Moyes in his push to contend for a place in Europe next season, even though the team struggled, without the pair, in successful crosses.

Everton crosses

Crosses per game

Before those matches Everton led the Premier League in crosses per game average with 28. They remain second (to West Ham) with 27 through 33 matches. Without Fellaini’s height and Pienaar’s chemistry with left back Leighton Baines, the Toffees didn’t succeed as much as usual in wide areas.
The return of the pair on Saturday gave the Everton faithful an opportunity to see them get back to the style of play they have been so successful at this season.

Left side dominant

It is no surprise that Everton lead the league in attacks down the left flank, doing so in 43% of their attacks. It is equally not surprising that Baines is second in the league in successful crosses per game at 2.8 (Nicky Shorey is at 2.9 but has played half the amount of games as Baines). However, when this blog looked at Everton’s style earlier this season it asked if the team was actually crossing too much. At the time Baines was the runaway league leader in crosses per game at 3.8 so it is clear they have made slight adjustments in that area.

Despite that they remain close to the top in two key crossing categories and that is down to the strong bond developed between Baines and Pienaar. The pair have a very strong understanding both positionally and tactically of each other and revel in creating overlaps against opposing full backs.

In this video you will see when the ball is swung across how Pienaar immediately looks for space when his team-mate joins the attack. As the play develops Baines actually gets taken down and Pienaar is the first to see it because he is so used to looking for him, even without the ball. At one point he tells his team to kick the ball a different way but Baines soon recovers and the pair do what they do best…

No surprise, Baines to Pienaar was the game’s leading pass combination and no other players got close to the 23 they combined between each other.

Baines to Pienaar

Although much of that comes down to their chemistry it also exemplifies the outstanding movement Pienaar when searching for space. It’s the kind of work rate he also shows in the defensive side of the game, working diligently to pin full backs in so he and Baines can attack them when in possession….

Fellaini factor

Playing Fellaini behind the striker gives Moyes many strengths to his attack, not least the Belgian’s lateral movement and ability to link up with his winger and full back, sometimes at the same time, during possession. He is not a player who runs with the ball towards the goal and plays balls into his forward, choosing instead to do a lot of his damage with his back to goal, bringing in many team-mates towards the ball.

Fellaini vs QPR

Not only does this create passing triangles but also causes the opposition confusion in their defending. In the first video example you will see just what the trio are trying to do and how QPR stick to their task and eventually stop the attack when Baines and Fellaini are blocked as outlets.

Later in the half, however, they are at it again and this time QPR don’t make adjustments and are opened up when they lose concentration.

Everton’s first goal

The opening goal of the game was somewhat fortunate for the home side as Darron Gibson’s long-range effort deflected off defender Clint Hill and into the net, but it did start from a move, once again, down the left. It again highlighted Pienaar’s movement and ability to find space. Ten minutes before the goal Moyes rotated Pienaar with right winger Kevin Mirallas, something he often does to keep defenders on their toes, yet in the buildup to the goal you will see both players involved. Miralles feeds Pienaar who sends Baines down the flank before the ball falls back out to Mirallas whose shot comes out to Gibson.

Everton’s second goal

QPR were completely dominated from the start of the second half up until Everton rightfully got a second to show their overall superiority. Although the second goal came from a corner, it was a corner gained from a free kick won on the left handside. Both the free kick and the corner were very well set pieces taken by Baines.

Baines finished the game with three successful crosses (just above his season average) but all three actually came from corners in this match, yet with Fellaini and Pienaar back in the team both his attempts and the team’s attempts were higher by some margin than they were in the two games prior.

Everton crosses vs QPRA win against one of the league’s poorest teams at home was expected around the blue half of Merseyside but in an era where more and more team’s play narrow styles it was refreshing to see Everton stretch the play again with the return of the duo. Fellaini has rightfully got many plaudits for helping Moyes’ side compete for a spot in Europe all season but Pienaar’s influence should not be ignored. Just ask Leighton Baines.

By kristianjack Posted in Everton

Everton 1-1 Norwich – Moyes makes Toffees narrow but set-piece in last minute denies him a clean sheet.

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.

football formations

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.

football formations

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.

Kristian Jack