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Reading v Everton Tactical Analysis: Words Words Words

There's not much to break down about Everton's loss to Reading. But, injuries and suspensions give David Moyes a squad selection challenge for this weekend against Norwich.

Jan Kruger

Fair warning, I don’t have a ton to say about the debacle against Reading. Tactically speaking it was a pretty boring game. I could find some charts about Hitzlsperger’s influence in the middle of the field, and how it differs from Neville’s (mainly in that it exists), or breakdown precisely what Steve Naismith does on the field and how it differs from Kevin Mirallas (hint: he’s A LOT slower), but those really weren’t the story of the game. At the end of the day the story of the game was that we just couldn’t put the ball in the net. So, no pictures this week. I’ll look at some numbers to easy your minds about the attack and then just gloss right over this week and look ahead.

I’m not really worried that Everton only scored one goal this weekend. From the eye test perspective the team looked fine offensively. They did what they usually do, a mix of building attacks along the ground, and playing around Fellaini’s aerial dominance. They had 21 shots, and got a third of them on target. That’s roughly in line with their performances all year. Against Sunderland they had 18 shots with 6 on target, against Fulham 27 and 9. This wasn’t a performance like at QPR where they only had 16 shots with fewer than a quarter of them on target, or West Brom where of their lowly 13 shots only 2 were on frame. All of this is to say that their performance on Saturday looked a lot more like the games where they score two or more goals than the previous times they’ve scored one or fewer.

There are going to be games when the ball just won’t go in the net. It’s not like Everton’s been wasteful this season. And obviously if either of the two first half penalties had been given we wouldn’t be talking about any of this anyway. This is only the third time this season Everton have failed to score at least 2 goals, so I’m perfectly happy to take it in stride. For now.

Defensively I also refuse to get overly worked up about the specific causes for the loss. We all knew that Coleman was going to be a project defensively, and it seems like we were all willing to accept the risks that playing him at right back was going to come with as long as he was helping the offense fly. So, when he makes one of those mistakes I’m not going to all of a sudden freak out and start looking for other defensive options. His positioning was bad, he made an extremely naïve challenge for the ball, and he got caught, it happens, growing pains and all that.

So, this weekend sucked, it sucked for stupid reasons, and I’m going to forget about it right now. Instead I’m going to look forward and ask a question. Who do you expect to see on the field next match? Because I have no idea. With no Neville, an injured Mirallas and a suspended Fellaini, that’s three regular starters who aren’t available. On top of that two players who might be expected to slot in, Hibbert and Anichebe are also carrying knocks. That means there are sure to be some dramatic changes.

The main question is who will play behind Jelavic. Last time Fellaini missed a game was the QPR match when Moyes started with that bizarre 4-3-3 with Pienaar playing centrally. We all remember how horribly that worked out (and it wouldn’t seem to be an option now anyway without Mirallas and Anichebe). One option would be to bring Velios into the side and play with two true strikers. But, since we’ve all been asking for Moyes to play two strikers at once for years now, and Fellaini is the closest he’s come, that seems pretty unlikely. The other options would seem to be Steven Naismith and Leon Osman. But, both of them would leave holes elsewhere. But, if they started higher up the field then who would fill their midfield slots?

One option would be to start Oviedo at left midfield and move Pienaar over to the right side if Naismith slides up top. But it’s unclear to me that Oviedo is ready to make an impact at this level. Another option is to rush Gibson back into the side, and then let Osman play in the hole, or slide out to the right wing. Tactically that would be a typical Moyes move, sticking to the players he trusts and playing industry over creativity. But, this hasn’t been a typical Moyes season, and on top of that he’s already says he wants to take Gibson’s recovery slowly. I’m sure there are other farfetched options I’m not including here as well.

It’s interesting because Moyes has been pretty easy to predict this year. Odd as it seems, when it comes to selecting his teams he’s made the most aggressive choices possible at every opportunity. This week though, it’s hard to see what aggressive options he has left. I’m out of ideas. Hopefully Moyes isn’t.