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Everton FC Analysis: Rare blank but no need to panic
Goodison has guaranteed goals this season, but after a week of frenzied debate as to whether football provides value for money for its long-suffering supporters, Everton picked a bad time to serve up a rare stalemate.
Not for more than two years had home fans witnessed a goalless draw here, but a combination of tiredness, wastefulness and a Swansea side hell bent on ending a productive week by securing a valuable away point meant that the sequence would be broken. It was also the first time in 20 games that Everton had failed to find the net, and the result puts a dent in their Champions League hopes, even if five of their next six Premier League fixtures look decidedly winnable.
“I think we needed to be a little more clean and a little more clinical in our play,” said David Moyes after this, and it was hard to argue with his assessment.
Or that of the Spain national team coach Vicente Del Bosque, who left 10 minutes before the final whistle. Everton made all of the running, enjoyed the bulk of the chances, and yet still there was little or no sense of injustice about the result. Challenged to go and take three points from a side content to take one, to break down the joint-best away defence in the league, the Blues came up short. It wasn't for the want of trying.
Everton hustled, they harried, they loaded the ball forward at every opportunity and, against a side feted for their retention of the ball, they enjoyed the majority of possession. Swansea, stretched by their cup clashes with Arsenal and Chelsea earlier in the week, spent the bulk of the second half defending their own penalty box, happy to play on the break. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Swansea's away record, in a league as competitive as the Premier League, is something to be proud of, and has been built on solidity, compactness and organisation. And here their manager, Michael Laudrup, deserves credit for an astute tactical move which saw Angel Rangel, nominally a full back, deployed in a wide midfield role, in a bid to combat the work of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines down Everton's left flank.
That duo had ripped Swansea apart at the Liberty Stadium back in September, but here, with Rangel and Dwight Tiendalli offering a dual shield, their influence was stymied from the off, even if Baines' set-pieces produced the bulk of the home side's scoring chances. Everton's general play was neat enough, but they lacked the variation, the change of pace, needed to unlock a massed defence. Only Seamus Coleman, enterprising as ever from right back, looked likely to catch Swansea by surprise, and even he faded as the second half wore on. Still, had Nikica Jelavic, Victor Anichebe or Leon Osman taken presentable first-half chances, or had Phil Jagielka directed his second-half header a foot lower, then the story would have been different.
Everton may feel they are entitled to expect more from Jelavic, who has six goals from 21 league outings this season, and drifted in and out of this game too often for Moyes' liking. With Marouane Fellaini below his best, and with Anichebe enduring a similarly quiet afternoon, Everton's attack suffered as the game wore on. And when Moyes turned to his substitutes to change things, he found only an out-of-sorts Steven Naismith, and the raw, unproven talents of Apostolos Vellios and Matthew Kennedy. It is a situation that will improve once Kevin Mirallas makes his long-awaited return from a niggling hamstring complaint. The Belgian's impact at Goodison has been overstated at times – he has just one league goal to his name, after all – but his direct running, his willingness to shoot from all angles and his general positivity are undoubtedly missed.
Without him, Everton can occasionally wind up predictable. The link-up between Baines and Pienaar is, quite clearly, their most potent weapon, but when the ball is worked to them time and time again, well-organised teams can find a way of defending against it. Swansea's performance was far from pretty but, with Rangel and Tiendalli tigerish and disciplined, and the excellent Ki Sung-Yeung shielding in midfield, it was effective. Everton barely fashioned a clear-cut chance from open play. No panic, of course.
Moyes' side remain within three points of fourth-placed Tottenham. Four of their next six league games are against sides in the bottom eight – another is at Goodison against the fading West Brom – so the chance is there to make up for lost time. All it will need is a little more inspiration than was on show here.
“A typical January Premier League game,” was how Moyes summed this game up. If that is code for “one to forget”
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