Everton manager, David Moyes, will look back at Saturday’s game with Swansea City at Goodison Park and believe his side missed a glorious opportunity to win three vital points in their battle for a top 4 position in the English Premier League.
His side have enjoyed an excellent run of results recently, barring a spirited home defeat to Chelsea, and with home advantage would have fancied their chances of recording a fourth success from their last five fixtures.
However, Swansea City are nobody’s pushovers, as Chelsea found out to their cost in last week’s Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge. Michael Laudrup is thoroughly enjoying his first season in English football with the Swans and has struck a fine balance between attacking prowess and defensive solidity with his fine tactical decision making, and the encounter with the Toffees was a prime example of his astute management.
There were no real surprises from either side regarding team selection. Everton were fully furnished with all but Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas available, while Swansea continued with the excellent Michu in an advanced role.
After a cagey start from both sides, it was Everton, as expected, that began to force the issue. Their go-to guys of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were heavily involved probing down their left flank, while Leon Osman, so prominent and influential this season, was ably pulling the strings from central midfield.
Swansea and Laudrup were of course, wise to this threat from one of the division’s leading attacking partnerships and marshalled them particularly well. By overloading their defence on their right hand side, they were able to give Pienaar as little room as possible in which to manoeuvre and in turn cut off the supply line to the ever lethal left foot of England full-back, Baines.
Although this combination did beat their opponents on a few occasions, they were only able to create meagre half chances for the lethargic Victor Anichebe and the out-of-sorts Nikica Jelavic.
Where Everton were able to pose a more telling and worthwhile threat to the Swansea goal was down their right side. Ever-willing Irishman, Seamus Coleman had a superb 90 minutes at right-back for the Blues, snuffing out the danger from Swansea winger Pablo Hernandez with ease, while carrying a constant attacking presence for the Welsh club to contend with.
With Swansea’s continued shackling of Everton’s famous left sided combination, it is to Moyes’ chagrin that they were unable to take more advantage of Coleman’s efforts by not affording him more support. It was unclear where exactly Anichebe, so often a target for the crowd’s frustration but who has been improved of late, was meant to be playing but had he been more positionally aware then he surely would have proved much more effective than was the case.
Everton huffed and puffed for the 90 minutes and in truth were the only team looking to win the game. Swansea, who are an excellent counter-attacking team, were set up to do exactly that. Sit deep and try and exploit any gaps left by the home side should they appear. But Everton are one of the most well organised teams around, so Laudrup’s men were always likely to be looking for the scoreless draw.
If 0-0 was what Swansea came to Merseyside for then they did a great job of achieving it. Many of the 35,000 present at Goodison Park would have hoped for some tired legs in the opposition ranks after their fortunate, but well-earned victory over Chelsea three days earlier. Unfortunately for them this tiredness never appeared.
For Everton, this type of team playing this style of tactical cat and mouse from defence have always given them trouble. Without the extra guile in the final third of the pitch they were unable to unlock the Swansea back four often and cleanly enough to create any real pressure or clear-cut chances.
If they harbour any realistic claims to a top 4 place come the end of the season they must get Mirallas fit soon and Moyes will have to work some of his magic in the January transfer window.