Kenwyne Jones’s powerful second-half header ensured Stoke City and Everton were left with a share of the spoils in Saturday’s predictably combative Premier League tie. In a tight and tense affair, it would have been unfair for either side to leave the Britannia Stadium with more.
However, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard may disagree. The Toffees’ American stopper appeared to have the Trinidad forward’s powerful headed effort covered, only to let the ball sneak between hand and post. Howard will be tortured by the recollection. It proved to be the equalising goal that extended Stoke’s unbeaten home league run to 15 games.
There were others who endured moments they would rather forget. Placed to repel Steven Pienaar’s free-kick, Ryan Shawcross inadvertently sent the South African midfielder’s inswinging delivery over Asmir Begovic for the game’s opening goal. It was only the third goal Stoke have conceded this campaign.
Here, The FA’s Peter Glynn assesses the strategies and methods of Everton’s attack.
Successful sides possess the ability to conjure goals from multiple sources. However, for most teams it is key personnel that contribute.
Everton’s impressive campaign has owed much to the scheming of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini.
Although the Belgian’s lasting impression on this contest was one of conflict, his presence is integral to the Toffees’ front-line. The robust midfielder is currently Everton’s top-scorer with eight goals. It is not only his goals tally, but his all-round assistance in Everton’s attacking phases which have been an important footnote to their season.
Another who fits that category is England full-back Baines. Such is the use of the left-flank as the preferred attacking route, it would be understandable if opposition teams draped a ‘warning’ sign down over the Toffees’ left.
Baines’s incessant scampering and attacking forays provide Everton’s main offensive thrust and the left-back’s precise delivery and cute combination is a regular source of concern for opponents.
Baines’ partner in crime is Steven Pienaar. Stationed ahead of the full-back, the former Tottenham winger provides an effective foil for Baines’ surges. Like a pedestrian stepping out of way of oncoming traffic, Pienaar often finds himself tucked in from his perch allowing his teammate to overlap on the outside.
Tellingly, Pienaar’s inside-left role provides Baines with a target to bounce quick give-and-go passes off, allowing progression up the field.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players develop their combination play in wide areas >>
David Moyes was quick to admit this performance lacked the fluency and rhythm that have underlined other displays this term. But their best moments, particularly in the first half, occurred when the visitors’ moved the ball swiftly with minimal touches.
Credit where due, Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson and Jonathan Walters provided a testing barrier for the Everton’s left-leaning duo.
However, even the most eager of defenders struggle to deny passages of play which mix accurate first-time passing and quick, timely movement. The threat is intensified when the passing is threaded behind the opposition, picking out incisive forward runs.
After taking a fortuitous lead from an inadvertent own goal from Shawcross, it was from this method that Everton should have doubled their lead, something no other team has achieved at the Britannia this season.
With eight clean sheets, the Potters possess the mantle of best defence in the league but on this occasion were picked apart by Pienaar and Baines. The midfielder pirouetted away from the increasingly congested central area, before prodding an expertly weighted pass in behind Wilkinson for the road-runner legs of Baines.
The England star produced a telling first-time cut back that evaded the incoming stampede to find Leon Osman, who inexplicably guided the ball wide from 12 yards out. It would prove to be a key juncture for the remainder of the contest.
Baines’ composure in the final third was demonstration of expert decision-making. Lesser performers make poorer decisions when it matters most. Awareness is necessary until the very final moment of execution.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players work on their attacking play in the final third >>
Pienaar’s involvement in the crafting of the game’s best chance highlighted his technical value. The 30 year-old, currently in his second spell at Goodison Park, regularly demonstrated the ability to roll and squirm away from opponents possessing a defensive brief to mark tightly.
Belying his relatively slight frame, Pienaar is a master in the art of using his body weight and balance, leaning into opponents and using his low centre of gravity to roll and spin away from opponents. It is a technique demonstrated by the very best, and a hallmark of Spain’s pocket-sized midfield dynamos Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
The necessity of such technique has intensified since the death of the old adage ‘pass to players in space’. The most effective players and teams are comfortable receiving and manoeuvring the ball whilst under close attention. Receiving in tight spaces tempts and draws the opposition to the ball, allowing the ball to be quickly moved to exploit the additional space. Young players must regularly be exposed to practices which help them become comfortable receiving and protecting the ball when tightly marked.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players work on protecting the ball when tightly marked >>
Pienaar is not the only diminutive operator in Moyes’ ranks. Osman, as well as Baines, are others who possess the ability to slide away from opponents. However, for all the Toffees’ pocket-sized personnel, an elevated presence is also necessary.
Fellaini projects an imposing silhouette on Everton’s forward line. Dropping off the front-line, the Belgian demonstrates an unrelenting willingness to receive the ball to his chest, head or feet.
With such an efficient central target, Everton’s swarm of midfielders can support the play in the knowledge that the ball is most likely to stick. Most often than not it is the trigger for a surge down the left.
Key messages for grassroots coaches
- Combination play is an effective method for eliminating the attentions of opponents. Players should develop their ability to link with others using quick, one and two touch passing.
- Off the ball movement is integral to effective combination play. Young players should be encouraged to recognise cues and triggers for quick exchanges of passes: observing for the body shape of team-mates and anticipating the moment of release and direction of passes.
- Players should be matched up tightly in some practices, recreating the conditions of tight-markers. How to use the body effectively to protect the ball from the opposition is a crucial skill in the modern game.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
For more information about The FA’s Future Game philosophy click here