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Everton at Tottenham: Tactical Analysis

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The good news? The Toffees managed to pick up up tough point at White Hart Lane on Saturday. The bad news? Roberto Martinez's game plan did not help a side that looked completely bereft of ideas.

I hope this is Roberto Martinez apologizing for asking Romelu Lukaku to play wide so frequently.
I hope this is Roberto Martinez apologizing for asking Romelu Lukaku to play wide so frequently.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

As fans, it is probably best for us to be happy with the result Everton secured at White Hart Lane on Saturday and try to forget the tepid performance as quickly as possible.

For Roberto Martinez though, the performance against Tottenham is one he needs to be looking at long and hard as he considers his team's lineup and game plan for the Toffees' next match, a home fixture against Chelsea in two weeks.

In fairness to the Spaniard, he was dealt a difficult hand for this match. Going 120 minutes in mid-week obviously limited some of his choices and meant the team was going to lack energy at times, so there is no doubt that a draw was a positive result. But for a second straight week, Everton failed to create any kind of consistent attacking threat, which should be of concern to Martinez.

To understand how Martinez's tactics played a role in this, let's start by looking at the starting lineup.

In an ideal world, we may have seen one or both of Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu in the starting lineup, but they played 110 and 75 minutes, respectively, mid-week, and with both players still coming off injuries, starting may not have been in their best interest.

Instead, we saw only one change from the lineup from the Manchester City match, with Bryan Oviedo coming in for the injured Brendan Galloway.

In nearly every installment of this feature this season, I have harped on the fact that the Toffees are going to struggle to create chances when they lack any significant wide play. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the topic of wide play is again at the forefront.

Again, I'm not being critical of Martinez's starting lineup. His hand was forced by the events of Wednesday's Capital One Cup match. But, that does not change the fact that this lineup faces significant problems in attack.

In what I can only assume was an effort to vary the team's wide play, Martinez's major change from the Manchester City match was the following.

Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone were clearly attempting to form a fluid relationship, with Lukaku sliding out to right wing occasionally and Kone taking his place up top. Ross Barkley, either as part of the game plan or simply as a side effect of the attempted relationship between Kone and Lukaku, pushed very high up the pitch at times, as well as shading to the right.

This led to an influence map (courtesy of FourFourTwo.com) that looked like this:

In reality, the relationship between Kone and Lukaku was anything but fluid. Neither player ever looked particularly sure of where they ought to be. Rather than having one player at right wing and the other at striker, often times they both drifted into the same awkward pocket of space between the two positions.

The result was situations like the following.

In this instance, both Lukaku and Kone have drifted toward the right, but neither is particularly wide. Instead, they are both close enough to the middle that they can easily be marked without stretching the Tottenham defense. No one is giving Barkley a passing option in the middle, so when he gets the ball, he has no choice but to unleash a speculative effort toward goal.

In this instance, Lukaku has the ball wide on the right. Obviously, this is not the sort of spot in which we want to see the big Belgian. There is no way that he is going to take on two or three defenders from out wide, and he has limited crossing options. Kone, who ought to be playing as the striker at this point, is inching toward the ball, rather than making himself a target in front of goal.

Lukaku, with essentially no options, tries to take on Danny Rose and is dispossessed.

Even after Kevin Mirallas came on for the injured Tom Cleverley, the Everton attack struggled. Tottenham's central midfield trio of Eric Dier, Nabil Bentaleb, and Ryan Mason deserves a lot of credit for this, as they consistently cut out Everton's attempts to build from the back from the opening whistle.

Rather than try to work through the Tottenham midfield, the Toffees committed themselves to playing the long ball. There were several times last year that fans, and maybe even players, were calling for Everton to occasionally take a more direct approach, but I can't imagine that anyone was hoping for this (again, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com):

There are a few points to make about this. First and foremost, this is entirely too many long balls in one match. Against Southampton, a match in which Everton attacked frequently on the counter attack, the Toffees only attempted 40 long balls. Even against Manchester City last week, they only attempted 41 long balls. This is clearly indicative of how bereft of ideas Everton is in the attack.

When the Toffees win the ball in the defensive third, McCarthy and Barry have limited options to move the ball forward. The team's wingers often are playing out of position, so they are not doing a great job of getting open or into dangerous positions. Barkley is the obvious target, so teams are going out of their way to pick him up before he gets the ball.

So, McCarthy and Barry simply power the ball forward toward Lukaku and hope for the best. At times against Tottenham, the defenders simply bypassed the midfielders, launching the ball forward on their own. As the graphic above indicates, that was not particularly successful.

Second, the majority of the long balls were played down the right, toward the awkward Kone-Lukaku amalgamation. There are two issues with this. First, even when one of those players won the ball, the poor spacing of the Everton attackers often meant there was nowhere to go with the ball once it was won. Second, it limited Mirallas' touches.

In a match in which Everton struggled to create chances, not giving the ball to one of the team's most explosive players was a mistake. Mirallas was not given the chance to take players on down the left or get in behind the defenders.

Mirallas simply must be targeted more than he was on Saturday.

Martinez has two weeks to prepare for his team's next match, a home fixture against Chelsea. If Everton is to get a result from that match, Martinez needs to figure out how his team is going to create chances.

If the plan is for the Toffees to be a counter-attacking team, which they've proven they can be, then the team's personnel and game plan needs to reflect that. The team will need to use its pacey players, Mirallas and Deulofeu, to strike quickly to get behind the opposition. Martinez will also need to ensure that his players know their specific roles in such a system, as was clearly not the case with Lukaku and Kone this weekend.

If the plan is for the Toffees to be a team that looks to possess and build out from the back, then the team's personnel and game plan needs to reflect that as well. A switch back to the 4-1-4-1 might be in order, because in the 4-2-3-1 the team's defensive players have not had enough passing targets to move the ball from defense to attack.

Both options have worked at various points in the past, but Martinez has to commit to one in any given match and make clear to his players what he expects of them. If he does not, we will see more confused, ineffective attacking efforts from Everton.