Everton vs. Swansea: 6 Things We Learned
Everton returned to the Premier League's top five after a slightly fortuitous 3-2 win over Swansea.
The hosts led on 20 minutes through a Leighton Baines penalty, only for Wilfried Bony to level proceedings 13 minutes later.
The visitors—who have never beaten the Toffees—were the better side for long periods, yet fell behind again shortly after the break.
Romelu Lukaku scored a close-range finish before Ross Barkley doubled the lead three minutes later, stooping to head home a corner.
The visitors pressed hard, but Ashley Williams' stoppage-time strike proved merely a consolation.
Here's a look at some Everton-related talking points to emerge from this contest.
Toffees Less Than Convincing
Despite the win, this was arguably one of Everton's least convincing displays under Roberto Martinez; indeed, his side have played far, far better this season and lost.
The first half was especially poor, with the Toffees guilty of sitting on their lead.
Minutes 30 to 45 were spent almost entirely in Everton's defensive third. The hosts were entrenched during this period and managed just 29 percent of the ball, struggling to clear their lines.
While Everton improved for chunks of the second half, the final statistics highlight their overall inferiority.
Swansea's 16 chances are the joint-most the Toffees have conceded all season. In total contrast, Everton created just five opportunities themselves.
The shot count (9-21), passing (439-633) and final possession (41-59 percent) are not numbers most would predict for a home game vs. Swansea.
Game Won in a Clinical 15 Minutes
However, as off colour as Everton were in many departments, at this stage of the season, it's the result that matters.
This game was won thanks to a 15-minute spell of urgency just after half-time, possibly inspired by some harsh words from the manager.
The Toffees briefly clicked into gear and found some uncharacteristic potency in front of goal. They were clinical and effectively sealed the result with five of their nine shots coming during this 15-minute blitz.
Martinez has seen his side create three and even four times as many chances this season without winning—or even scoring—so this ruthlessness will delight him.
If a side is clinical, then it has a chance to win—regardless of the performance.
This is also an especially useful trait to develop during the home straight of the season.
Too Much of the Same in Attack...
So, result aside, what affected this performance?
Last week, we highlighted the unfamiliarity in Everton's attacking quartet as an issue.
This was once again the problem area; however, this week there was far too much of an identical threat playing just behind Lukaku.
For the first time in the Premier League, Everton started without Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman or Steven Naismith as one of the three attacking midfielders.
On paper, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady is a more exiting unit, but—as this performance emphasised—it was also too much of the same thing.
Each player has very similar traits. They all play a direct style, with their head down, looking to burst forward and beat a man.
With all three posing a similar threat, Everton didn't posses enough patience. There was minimal combination play and no willingness to construct an attack or slowly build the phases.
The Toffees created just five chances—their second-lowest return of the season and, on this evidence, it's easy to see why the likes of Osman and Pienaar are almost always included.
Without their guile, craft and ability to look up and see a pass, Everton produced one of their least creative displays of the season.
Balance is vital, and this XI didn't have enough.
...and Far Too Open at the Back
Everton's attacking combination also left them overly exposed at the back.
As well as being missed further forward, Osman and Pienaar are more tuned in to their defensive duties, willing to track back or tuck into midfield.
This was another aspect missing from the Toffees' performance.
McGeady lost Angel Rangel for Swansea's opener, and the away side seemed to regularly find an extra man in attack.
This left James McCarthy and Gareth Barry overrun and overloaded in the middle. Unable to gain any control, both produced one of their quietest displays of the season.
John Stones and Sylvain Distin were equally overworked in defence and survived several hairy moments as the match progressed.
Howard Impressive and Baines on the Spot
Despite conceding twice, Tim Howard was the home side's leading performer. He made five saves, two of them particularly eye-catching, and regularly bailed out an overworked defence.
Elsewhere, Baines' strike continued his and Seamus Coleman's impressive scoring return from defence.
Baines now has five for the season, two behind Coleman, giving the Toffees' full-back tandem an impressive 12 goals between them.
Baines' penalty was also his 12th successful Premier League spot-kick.
He remains the only player to have taken at least 10 penalties and maintain a 100 percent conversion rate—something England may be grateful for this summer.
Top-Four Dreams Not Quite Extinguished
Just a few weeks ago, Everton's Champions League hopes seemed all but extinct.
While they remain remote, at best, three successive wins have at least made their case a little more relevant.
Should they win their game in hand, a home win over Arsenal would pull them to within two points of the top four.
At this stage, it's all highly speculative, but the Toffees can still force themselves into the running.
Statistics via WhoScored.com.