The set piece and Everton are like oil and water they just don’t mix. Everton are inept at defending set pieces and attacking set pieces are sub-par.
Against Leicester City Everton once again showed just how bad they are at defending set pieces. All night the Everton defense struggled to clear the ball off set pieces. It wasn’t just set pieces which troubled the Everton defense however. Anytime the ball was in the air Everton looked uncomfortable.
The most obvious example was Leicester’s first goal which came from a set piece. The corner kick was delivered in such a way that any one of four Everton defenders could have headed clear. Instead the ball evaded all the Everton players and fell to Sylvain Distin. Distin’s awkward attempt at a clearance hit the Leicester striker only a few yards away. Leonardo Ulloa accepted the gift and slotted the ball past Tim Howard. The worst part of the sequence was seeing the Everton players stand and watch Ulloa score the equalizer.
Everton’s poor defending of set pieces and discomfort in dealing with long balls can only be a product of training. Roberto Martinez has stated in the past that his focus is on the run of play. Clearly this is true.
There really isn’t a lot to defending a set piece. You need to follow your mark or command your zone. Defending set pieces boils down to being first to the ball and winning any second balls. The point is training for set pieces is more about knowing your role. The rest is up to the individuals on the field.
Martinez style of play is the culprit. The school of science and all of that is great to watch and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, in training you play against your own squad every day. Everton pass the ball around tight to the pitch and rarely put the ball in the air. This is always going to make it difficult to adjust to balls in the air come match day. I don’t have the solution to the set piece problem. Though I have to think putting the players in those situations more often in training can’t hurt.
The good news is with each match of the season Everton will get better at defending set pieces and balls in the air. Well I hope anyway.
As for the attacking set pieces Everton are stuck in two minds. The kick takers seem to want to deliver the ball in the box. The problem is the receiving players don’t seem too keen on attacking the crosses.
Now obviously direct free kicks are not a problem. Everton are spoiled for choice when it comes to brilliant strikers of the ball. Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas are deadly from twenty-five meters and in. We are sure to see our fair share of spectacular goals from just that range this season. It is the set pieces outside of shooting range where Everton lack cohesion.
At the end of last season Everton on occasion would take a quick free kick or corner. By getting the ball moving Everton created some dangerous opportunities. If Everton can use short corners and fast restarts more I think their set piece productivity will go up.
Everton will need to be greatly improved on set piece defending tomorrow as the Gunners have looked menacing on free kicks and corners so far this season. They will also need to take advantage of their set piece opportunities knowing Arsenal will likely keep the ball for long periods of the match.
Set pieces aside tomorrow’s match will be fun to watch. We could see the return of the 4-3-3 against Arsenal. Martinez probably would have made a tactical change last week if Barkley was injured earlier in the week. Martinez could continue with Steven Naismith sitting in the hole behind Lukaku but I just don’t think that is Everton’s best lineup.
The downside to switching to a 4-3-3 is one the three star players from the Leicester City match will likely miss out. Mo Besic or Darron Gibson will be first choice to occupy the third spot in midfield. This leaves only the two wing positions for Steven Pienaar, Aiden McGeady and Naismith.
Pienaar and Baines were back to their old tricks and Pienaar assisted on Naismith’s goal. McGeady looked dangerous with the ball at his feet and scored a wonderful goal. Naismith did what Naismith does and finished his chance. Out of the three Naismith offers the most from the bench. So there you have it, Naismith gets unjustly relegated to the bench for this one.
Besic may have a slight advantage over Gibson. Besic can be deployed as the third midfielder to keep Aaron Ramsey quiet. By having Besic lockdown Ramsey it frees up Gareth Barry and James McCarthy to control the match. Martinez will have it all sorted out in his head and whatever Bobby chooses is good enough for me.
If I was manager for the day I would line it up like this:
Baines Distin Jags Coleman
I am glad I am not the manager because the choices this season are tough. The above lineup leaves Naismith, Mirallas, Stones, Atsu, and Gibson all on the bench. On any given day any of those players could be in the starting lineup. The manager is going to have the extra task of keeping players happy this season.
I am not going to give a prediction but I really like Everton’s chances tomorrow. COYB!
Thanks for reading!