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Everton at Stoke City: Tactical Analysis

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Everton and Roberto Martinez put their flexibility on display in a third consecutive 3-0 victory that hardly resembled the club's victories over Newcastle United and Carlisle United.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

When a team wins a match 3-0, terms like "domination" and "overwhelmed" tend to get thrown around, regardless of how the match actually went.

Everton's victories against Newcastle United and Carlisle United were right to be described in this way: the Toffees outshot their opponents 34-17 and outpossessed their opponents by an average of 63-37. Win by an average of three goals and create that many more chances, and you've earned terms like "domination."

Saturday's victory over Stoke City didn't fit that bill in any way. Everton outshot Stoke 14-11, but was outpossessed 69-31 in the first half and 65-35 for the whole match. But, the Toffees scored three goals in the opening 45 minutes and had all but put the match away by the halftime whistle.

Did Everton dominate the first half, or any part of the match? Not in any significant way.

Was Everton the better team and deserving of a sizable lead and all three points? Without a doubt.

In fact, this win was easily the most impressive of the club's last three, in which the Toffees beat a talented team with a specific tactical plan.

Let's take a look at both team's starting lineups to begin to understand how the match unfolded.

Martinez, in line with what he's done all season, stuck with what worked in the previous match, making no changes to his starting lineup. Tom Cleverley and Bryan Oviedo continued to comprise a surprising left side, despite the presence of Leighton Baines, Kevin Mirallas, and Steven Pienaar on the bench.

Aaron Lennon, in the midst of arguably his best run of form in years, once again got the nod at right midfield.

Mark Hughes elected to insert new signing Giannelli Imbula directly into his team, with the French midfielder joining Glenn Whelan and Ibrahim Afellay in the center of midfield.

Stoke's player influence map (courtesy of FourFourTwo.com) seems to indicate that this is how the Potters' midfield operated on the pitch.

Imbula actually was the most advanced of the central midfield three, which I cannot imagine is what Hughes wanted to see, particularly with the offensive-minded Afellay out there as well.

I would guess that Hughes had the setup below in mind instead.

Setting up with two holding midfielders would have provided additional cover for a backline that has struggled in recent weeks and allowed Afellay to focus on creating offense.

But, Whelan was often left to shield the back four on his own, which gave Stoke major problems in dealing with the dangerous Everton counter attack. On the penalty that led to Everton's first goal, this problem was front and center.

When Oviedo wins the ball on the left wing and plays it forward to Barkley, Whelan gets pulled out of position to try to take the ball from the English midfielder. One of Imbula or Afellay (most likely Imbula) should be covering the space he vacates, but both are 10 yards ahead of the play.

Once Barkley makes a lovely pass into that space, Oviedo has acres to run into.

Oviedo gets three forward dribbles before there's any pressure on him at all, at which point he's only 30 yards from goal.

Everton's third goal came from a dreadful Stoke giveaway, but it was the Potters' disorganized midfield which opened up the chance which Lennon took.

I've circled Whelan and Imbula in this image, as neither player is anywhere near where you'd like a holding midfielder to be in this situation. The poor pass across the pitch is the fault of the passer, but one or both of Whelan or Imbula ought to be close enough to the play to, at worst, pull Lennon down and take a yellow card to prevent a clear breakaway.

Stoke made mistakes in this match, but the Toffees was completely prepared to take advantage of the Potters' shortcomings. Martinez set out his team with the clear directive to absorb pressure and strike on the counter attack. This hasn't always worked in the past for Everton, but there was a clear difference in Saturday's plan, which is clear in Everton's player influence map.

Everton's backline is still not made to handle constant pressure. They aren't great at putting out fires and struggle to clear their lines at times, so it is important for the Toffees to manage a pressure-absorbing and counter-attacking plan correctly.

For this to work, the backline must have help from the midfield. Four of the players in Saturday's midfield were players who are comfortable defending, and that showed from the start of the match.

When Stoke had the ball, Lennon and Cleverley dropped deeper than we are accustomed to seeing Everton's wingers, turning the 4-2-3-1 into more of a 4-4-1-1.

Having four competent defenders in front of the backline took a significant burden off Phil Jagielka and co., limiting the chances Stoke created.

Unlike against Newcastle midweek, Everton never even really conceded a great chance to Stoke, and a combined team effort deserves the credit for that.

In particular though, Cleverley and Oviedo deserve a lot of credit once again for completely shutting down a dangerous attacker on their wing. Against Newcastle, the pair helped to neutralize the threat of Moussa Sissoko, who was the focal point of the Magpies' attack. Against Stoke, Cleverley and Oviedo took Xherdan Shaqiri completely out of the match.

The Swiss winger was Everton's undoing in the first match between these clubs, so shutting him down was clearly a focus of Saturday's match. A look at Shaqiri's activity map (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) clearly illustrates how little he impacted the match.

Shaqiri barely put any balls into the box and had only one shot, a hopeful effort which went far wide. So slight was his impact that Hughes saw fit to remove Shaqiri after only 60 minutes.

When Everton's prepared defense eventually forced turnovers, they were prepared to strike through the center of the pitch in the areas abandoned by Stoke's central players.

Though the Toffees used the same starting lineup from their midweek win against Newcastle United, Saturday's win against Stoke City was a completely different performance. Everton allowed Stoke to keep the ball in non-dangerous areas, waited for space to open, and struck on the counter attack.

The incisiveness of the Everton counter is nothing new, but the team's ability to defend adequately while playing for the counter is a new and encouraging development. The team's midfield, particularly its wingers, Lennon and Cleverley, made a massive difference in the Toffees' ability to keep the opposition from creating chances.

Is there room for Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas to get back into the midfield? Perhaps even more interestingly, is there room for Leighton Baines or John Stones at the back?

For as long as the team is defending competently and the midfield is creating chances, it is hard to see Martinez making any changes.