Changes Everton Must Make to Bounce Back from Derby Meltdown
Derby defeats don’t come much more emphatically than Liverpool’s 4-0 dismantling of Everton at Anfield on Tuesday night (Jan. 28). The Toffees will be looking to bounce back at Goodison Park against Aston Villa this weekend, and there are a few tweaks Roberto Martinez must make if Everton are going to get back in the hunt for Champions League football and put that derby nightmare behind them
Liverpool are now four points clear of Everton in that fourth and final Champions League berth, and whilst Tuesday night may have felt like the world caving in for those of a blue persuasion, all is not lost quite yet in their pursuit of European football.
A win against the visitors from the Midlands would put Martinez’s team within one point of their Merseyside rivals, with Brendan Rodgers’ side facing a difficult trip to West Brom on Sunday.
In years past, Everton have typically bounced back from their annual dose of Anfield heartbreak to finish the season with a swagger. But Villa have a very decent record at Goodison Park and will be looking to build on their own decent form.
A win and a good performance to boot against a dangerous Aston Villa side would be the perfect remedy to alleviate that derby hangover, and here’s how Martinez can help lift spirits for those in the blue half of Merseyside...
Beware the Counter-Attack
Despite an enthralling 4-3 over West Brom in midweek on their own patch, Paul Lambert’s side have looked a more cohesive and effective outfit on the road this season.
The Villains seem to excel when teams push onto them and leave space in behind. Once Villa win the ball back, they have a focal point to hit quickly and play off in Christian Benteke, and he is ably supported by the energetic forays of Andi Weimann and the blistering bursts of Gabriel Agbonlahor.
It’s a tactical ploy Everton must be better prepared to deal with after Liverpool utilised a very similar one to great effect in the Merseyside derby. Martinez encourages his full-backs to push high up the pitch, but it left central defenders Phil Jagielka and Antolin Alcaraz hopelessly exposed when Liverpool sprung forward with pace and purpose.
Given Villa’s threat on the break, not to mention Agbonlahor’s excellent goalscoring record against Everton, expect Leighton Baines and John Stones to be a little more reserved in their forward advances to help snuff out that counter-attacking danger.
More must come from the midfield, too. Former Villa man Gareth Barry will need to be at his best to snuff out those swift Villa transitions, whilst James McCarthy must get about the pitch and track back in typically dynamic fashion.
Full Fitness Opposed to Full Strength
Martinez in an unshakably positive character, and his willingness to take risks this season, has been well received by Evertonians—especially after the pragmatic methods instilled by his predecessor.
In the main, these optimistic moves have paid off for him throughout the campaign; anything from substitutions, squad rotation and subtle change in the system seem to have gone the Catalan’s way.
At Anfield, he took another big gamble. Everton began the contest with the aforementioned Alcaraz and Jagielka at centre-back, as well as Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar—who both made their first appearances following respective injury layoffs.
Whilst the pre-derby verdict was one of excitement at seeing some of the big names back in the team for such a key game, it soon became clear that all these players were carrying knocks and nowhere near ready for the high-octane tempo of a derby game.
Against Villa, Martinez must only select players who are fully fit. There are still plenty of games to go in this campaign, and to risk the fitness of any key players would be too big of a gamble; even for the innately positive Everton boss.
Naismith to Lead the Line
With that in mind, Steven Naismith should lead the line for this Everton team.
Romelu Lukaku looks set to be out for three to four weeks with a heavily bruised ankle, per the Press Association via The Guardian, and Lacina Traore is not quite ready to make his Everton bow, per Neil Jones in the Liverpool Echo. So it’ll be left to the Scottish international to spearhead the Everton attack.
The former Rangers man bagged a brace playing as a centre-forward in the recent FA Cup tie at Stevenage, but he was considerably less of a threat when he replaced Lukaku in the derby. Naismith is a diligent worker and has a decent knack for being in the right place at the right time. But his athleticism and general all-around play is a little bit lacking.
As such, the Toffees must adapt quickly and learn to play to the Scot’s strengths. The onus will be on the likes of Barkley, Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas to get close to him and provide plenty of options. They’ll also be key in providing suitable service to Naismith and finding him when he does fashion that space in the penalty area.
Don’t Forget About Baines
Evertonians were delighted at the news prior to the derby that the England left-back had committed his future to the club for another four years per BBC Sport. Arguably, the Toffees now have two of the best full-backs in the country in Baines and Seamus Coleman, and they’ve both been key to Everton’s vibrant attacking style under Martinez
Coleman has taken his game on a level this season and, whilst Everton were particularly reliant on Baines during the tenure of David Moyes, the Irishman’s emergence as one of the league’s top right-backs has given the Everton offence a much more balanced feel.
But with Coleman currently missing through injury and set to sit out the game against Villa, per TheScore.com, perhaps it’s time to tilt that balance back towards the left-hand side. It’s not as if the England man can’t cope with the burden; he was fantastic last season when Everton were heavily dependent on the left-side axis of Baines and Pienaar.
Against Liverpool, 19-year-old John Stones saw much more of the ball in the right-back position than Baines and, whilst he is an excellent young player, he didn’t really look comfortable.
Baines has proven himself capable of galvanising the team from that left-back position, and expect him to have a much more potent role against Villa this weekend.
Mirallas Must Have Key Role
The one bright spark that emerged from the derby game was the performance of Mirallas. He didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, as he caused Liverpool a host of problems and worked tirelessly as the Reds ran riot at the other end.
The Belgian forward endured a slow start to the season, but there have been signs in recent weeks that he is beginning to recapture his best form.
When he’s on it, Mirallas gives Everton an entirely different attacking dimension with his pace and trickery. Whilst Everton will control the ball and dominate possession against Villa, you suspect Mirallas will be tasked with bringing a direct approach and cutting edge to their forward play.
With Barkley returning, Mirallas could revert to a wide role. But expect him to drift across the front line and take increased responsibility given the confidence he's exuded in recent showings.
He’ll be looking to add some goals and assists to rubber-stamp his excellent recent form.