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Everton at Chelsea: Tactical Analysis

There are a ton of talking points following Saturday's disappointing draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but I'm staying away from referee decisions, goalkeeping, and defense. The impact of Kevin Mirallas, however, is infinitely interesting to me.

Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

You don't need me to tell you that Everton got swindled out of taking all three points against Chelsea. John Terry's late equalizer was plainly offside and came well after the match should have been over.

You don't need me to tell you there is serious mental frailty in this Everton side either. I've discussed it in this space time and time again, and while there has definitely been progress on defense in recent weeks, the team still clearly struggles when it concedes.

Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka absolutely should have done better on Chelsea's first goal, but the Toffees had been the better team in the second half before that mistake. Roberto Martinez's men had no response after the goal, and though Chelsea's first equalizer came with the help of a serious deflection, there is no doubt that the London side were very much in the ascendancy at that stage.

The role of Kevin Mirallas, however, is at least as interesting as the above and hasn't gotten a ton of attention this season. On Saturday, the Belgian picked up only his third Premier League start of the season, despite the fact that Mirallas surely has more talent than any of the players who have been starting in his place.

Injury has played a small role in his lack of appearances, but lack of form, effort, or confidence from his manager have been the major factors which have kept him off the pitch.

Against Chelsea though, he was arguably Everton's best player. Was this performance sustainable? Is Mirallas really the answer at left midfield? Or was this a flash in the pan which will simply raise the Belgian's price for a January sale?

To begin dissecting the answers to these questions, let's look at Everton's starting lineup from Saturday's match.

Aaron Lennon got the start ahead of Gerard Deulofeu at right midfield, and Bryan Oviedo started at right-back for the injured Seamus Coleman.

Meanwhile, Mirallas became the fifth player to start at left midfield for Everton in the last five matches. Without a doubt, he was the most effective of any of those five.

His goal was a thing of beauty, a reminder that Mirallas is far-and-away the most talented player Everton can utilize as a left winger. Not even the staunchest Mirallas doubter (a category I have fallen into at times this season) can deny that the Belgian has greater finishing, playmaking, and ball skills than any other player who has appeared in that position this season.

The problem with Mirallas has often been a lack of desire or consistency, often in defense. Encouragingly though, Mirallas tracked back surprisingly well on Saturday, as his heatmap (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) shows.

Of course, Evertonians won't love that Mirallas was forced to defend this much, but the fact that he was willing and able to do so is a major improvement over what we've seen from him at times in the past.

In attack, Mirallas obviously scored a lovely goal and also created two chances and completed 32 out of 37 passes attempted.

As I noted above, I don't think anyone will argue that on his day, Mirallas isn't an elite attacking player. So what's the problem? Why haven't we seen him more this season, and when he has played, why hasn't he been particularly effective?

There are two answers to this question.

First, Mirallas' playing style is often at odds with that of the players around him. This occurs in multiple ways.

As his heatmap indicates, Mirallas does play with more width than players like Arouna Kone and Leon Osman, but he definitely drifts into the middle as well. As we've seen frequently this year, such play from wingers often marginalizes Ross Barkley, who is forced to slide into the left channel to compensate for the winger.

What you end up with is this:

(passes received map courtesy of FourFourTwo.com)

Barkley's passing options are limited when he's forced into that space and his paths for taking players on become predictable. We've seen Barkley's effectiveness drop since the first month or so of the season, and this tendency is among the chief culprits in that drop off.

This is an issue the Toffees face with nearly every player they could use at left midfield though, so it isn't my primary concern.

The bigger issue is that Mirallas is the type of player who wants to have the ball in his feet as much as possible. He's a talented playmaker with a true attacking spark, which is obviously not a problem on its own. But, Gerard Deulofeu, who generally operates on the right side, is very similar in his need to frequently have the ball.

Mirallas lined up opposite Aaron Lennon on Saturday, not Deulofeu though, so the issue was not as pronounced as it may be in future matches. Lennon isn't the type of player looking to dominate a match; rather, he wants to run into space and make his few touches in a match count.

It worked for him Saturday, as his pass to Leighton Baines helped set up the team's second goal. But, there's no way Deulofeu would be able to operate at an acceptable level if his service looked like Lennon's did.

I'd argue that even Lennon deserves/should have more touches than this, but there's no doubt that Deulofeu definitely needs more. If Mirallas and Deulofeu play as wingers at the same time, I'm not sure there would be enough touches to go around.

If both wingers couldn't get the necessary number of touches, I'd much rather see one Mirallas and Deulofeu start along with a player like Lennon, Osman, Tom Cleverley, etc.

Still, I'd argue that the biggest issue with the regular inclusion of Mirallas is not really a tactical one at all. To put it simply, I just don't know if Martinez can trust Mirallas to bring the same level of competition on a week-to-week basis.

He's had the majority of his success with Everton when he was the club's clear number-one offensive weapon. When he is not, as will be the case in any match in which Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, or Gerard Deulofeu features, can he mentally stay in the match? Can his attack and defense be relied upon with the current landscape of the club?

Roberto Martinez still seems to be very much in doubt on this question. With January winding down and Everton continuing to languish in mid-table, the Toffees need to decide whether they feel Mirallas can continue to be a contributor, or if it is time to cash in on their unpredictable attacker.