Cardiff vs Everton
Cardiff follow up their surprising win over Manchester City with another home game, this time against Everton, and the midweek League Cup win gives a massive hint to Saturday’s lineup as a who’s who of those not playing. Having appeared, club captain Mark Hudson and new signing John Brayford, both still waiting for their first Premier League minutes of the season, and Jordon Mutch must now all be convinced that they’ll miss out again. Indeed, all signs indicate that the team will be unchanged from the previous weekend. But how will the players be used? Malky Mackay commented when he joined Cardiff that he would use whichever style causes the opponents most problems – so to guess how Cardiff will play, we need to look at Everton.
The opponent’s season so far…
Everton’s two draws, one of them goalless, belie the fact that they have been the division’s most creative team so far, dominating the ball in both matches and using it to good effect – they created 20 attempts on goal at Norwich and 22 against West Brom. They can certainly claim to be unlucky not to have scored against West Brom at home, having peppered the goal with 12 chances from inside the area – the failure being all the more disappointing for the Toffees, as West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster left the pitch injured with 15 minutes remaining. Three blocks close to the goalline certainly helped the visitors keep their clean sheet. The graphic below (blue = saved, red = off target, grey = blocked) shows the pressure that West Brom were put under but ultimately survived.
Away to Norwich was a similar tale; Everton had managed two goals but also saw another dozen chances in the penalty box fail to go in. A little more care in front of goal could easily see Everton as an early pacesetter in the division, rather than a team looking for their first win.
Everton choose to attack down the flanks almost exclusively with a reliance on Coleman and Baines, the attacking fullbacks, to put the ball into the area. Cardiff’s fullbacks are already seen as a weak area of the team so the responsibility falling to the tall centrebacks (Caulker and Turner) to deal with crosses will be increased. However, only four of Everton’s many attempts against West Brom came with the head – Caulker and Turner will need to use their feet more often than their frame. The graphic below shows where Everton placed their passes in the attacking third. It can be seen that the defence are happy to play longer balls if needed (though the long red lines from the back indicate failed passes outnumbering successful ones considerably) but the much larger number of shorter blue lines to both flanks show that this is where Everton concentrate their pressure.
Fellaini is one of the most versatile midfielders in the Premier League and, while he was Everton’s most dangerous attacking player last season, under Martinez he has been called on predominantly to provide stability in front of the back four (though he is always keen to come forward and cause danger at setpieces). Consequently, his average position in both matches so far has been behind every outfielder, barring the two centrebacks and his partner Leon Osman. Fellaini’s presence (see the graphic below showing where he made tackles against West Brom) across the width of the pitch is one factor in allowing Coleman and Baines, as full backs, to spend so much time attacking.
Thanks to Coleman and Baines selflessly working the flanks, Everton are able to interchange their central attacking players more easily. Nikala Jelavic, ostensibly Everton’s striker, was frequently found behind Kevin Mirallas in the West Brom game. The two players’ dashboards below show just how hard Mirallas will work.
It seems certain that this fluidity, something that Martinez was becoming reknowned for at Wigan, will cause real problems for some opposition during the season. The number of chances created, but not converted, so far are ample warning of this.
What can Cardiff do?
Fullbacks camped in the opposition half, forwards dropping deep – we’ve seen this before. Everton might have been assembled more cheaply than their Mancunian rivals but they can still play football and it seems likely that Mackay’s first desire will be to stop them doing so. Everton are more reliant on their fullbacks than any other team so Whittingham and Bellamy will once more be required to drop back when Cardiff are without possession to help out Taylor and Connolly. With Medel and Gunnarsson also likely to be committed deep to deal with Jelavic, Mirallas and Barkley, this leaves Cardiff, again, short of players in the attacking third of the pitch.
Bellamy had faced the speedy Gael Clichy as his opposite man in the previous game, but Baines’ feet, whilst skillful, do not move fast. The more sprightly Pienaar will drop in to cover, but Cardiff will surely try to counterattack down the right flank to expose this weakness. Expect to see Whittingham try to open some gaps for Bellamy and Campbell to race into with some crossfield rakes. Gunnarson’s late bursts into the box may be fruitful. With Cardiff facing opponents with such danger on the flanks, the counterattack, along with the setpiece threat that barely needs to be mentioned, looks like the best chance of stealing goals in what could be an open match.
Images courtesy of http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statzone