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Football Focus, Everton-Newcastle: Examining new-look Toffees under Martínez

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source:  In the first half of its 3-2 win over Newcastle United on Monday, Everton picked the visitors apart. Those 45 minutes, combined with other recent performances, showed the potential the Toffees have with new manager Roberto Martínez’s system.

It’s a similar possession-based game that he tried to instill at Wigan Athletic, but with Everton’s superior players, the results should be more impressive. Indeed, early in the Premier League season, Martínez’s men have proven to be among the most entertaining and positive sides in the league. Only Arsenal and Manchester City have scored more goals.

Everton has built its system on a simple passing to unlock spaces on the field for one-on-one isolation, usually on the wings. Outside backs Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman provide two of the more dangerous attacking options on the squad, and 19-year-old Ross Barkley has been a revelation in central midfield.

Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas run the wings, never afraid to take defenders on with the ball at their feet, and Romelu Lukaku seems to have taken over the target role from Nikica Jelavić, who had a hard time getting involved in his early starts.

Building blocks of possession

The most obvious aspect of Everton’s system is the patience it displays in building up attacks. Short passes keep the ball moving and keep opponents constantly adjusting their positioning, aiming to open up gaps to exploit in midfield when defenders get stretched.

Of the 512 passes Everton attempted against Newcastle, 458 were short, as defined by Opta. Only 92 total passes came in the defensive third of the field, though, with most of the impetus put on the midfielders to initiate play. The Toffees completed 232 of 273 passes (85 percent) in the middle third, including 161 of 181 among the three central midfielders: Barkley, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

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(Chalkboards courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

In his 500th Premier League game, Barry ran the show with his attempts to unlock the Magpies’ defense. His 75 attempted passes were the most on his team, and he completed 86.7 percent of them.

Looking at their passing charts, the three center midfielders played mostly short, fairly square passes. Every ball movement, no matter how small, causes adjustments from opponents. The more adjustments they are forced to make, the more likely they are to unknowingly open up spaces.

It’s soccer by chess, not checkers, predicated on one- and two-touch passing and a high tempo.

Short, short, long

Series upon series of short passes against Newcastle opened up options for the long ball that turned what usually becomes a 50-50 ball into sustainable possession. Atrocious defending from the visiting team helped the cause, particularly on Tim Howard’s assist to Romelu Lukaku in the 36th minute.

For an example of short-range possession turning into a plausible long-ball opportunity and one-on-one isolation, let’s pick up the end of a nearly 30-pass sequence by Everton. (It may have been more than 30 passes, but it began off-camera, so it’s difficult to be certain.)

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As usual, all three central midfielders are involved in the build-up. Osman tucks in on the left side, allowing Baines to get around him and provide another option. On the opposite flank, Coleman and Mirallas stay out of the play, waiting and expecting their teammates to realize the space they are in.

The short exchanges draw seven Newcastle defenders onto the near side of the field, as six Everton attackers work the ball around.

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A passing lane opens up for Lukaku to check in and play the ball back toward McCarthy, who recognizes the space Mirallas and Coleman have on the far side.

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A longer pass to Mirallas’ feet leaves him isolated against Newcastle left back Davide Santon, whom Mirallas already beat once on the dribble to assist Lukaku’s opening goal in the fifth minute.

Coleman advances to the inside (an underlapping run, as opposed to an overlapping run around Mirallas to the outside), dragging his defender away and giving Mirallas more space. Ideally, McCarthy should spin away and drag another defender with him.

Getting to goal

That’s the idea in Everton’s attack: overload the middle to isolate wide players, allowing for individual brilliance or a centering pass (or sometimes both) to get the ball into dangerous areas. The Toffees struggled to get on the end of crosses — Mirallas and Coleman completed one each, and nobody else had any — but the opportunities were created.

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(Chalkboards courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

The majority of Everton’s passes in the attacking third went wide, although Baines and Osman on the left were more willing to take players on than Mirallas and Coleman on the right. Most crosses came from the right side.

Overall, Everton completed 21 of 27 one-on-one dribbles and 110 of 147 passes in the final third.

Developing dominance

Martínez recognizes that it takes much longer to build and sustain his vision than a smash-and-grab style, telling television cameras after the game, when his team had secured fourth place:

We were disappointed with the first three games. I thought we were really dominant, really good, and we should have got more points. It’s a great target, to get into the top four. Now, it’s only six games, but it’s something that gives you a good start, and that’s all it is: a good start. You could see the potential today. Some of the signs were terrific as a team, and then all the other aspects that we need to work and develop, and we’re looking forward to that.

Three key words in that quote show where Martínez is trying to go: “develop,” “potential” and “dominant.”

Everton has only scratched the surface in the first six games of the season, still fine-tuning many aspects of its game. However, the flashes it showed against Newcastle and in previous matches paints a picture of a team that can, has and will dominate games and opponents.

Good soccer is a living creature; it needs to be nurtured and grown. By the time spring rolls around, Everton should be much closer to adulthood.

Reports say Wambach entering the fields of broadcasting, reporting

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA - FEBRUARY 02:  America soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach  attends the 2016 MAKERS Conference Day 2 at the Terrenea Resort on February 2, 2016 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for AOL)
Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for AOL
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She’s dipped her toes into the pool during the FIFA elections, and now USWNT soccer legend Abby Wambach may have found her second career.

The all-time leading goal scorer in international competition, Wambach will be branching into the media field.

[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

The Associated Press’ Anne M. Peterson says it’ll be as an analyst and contributor, while Sports Illustrated media mastermind Richard Deitsch expects her to dig a bit deeper into the reporting world.

Many athletes have succeeded in becoming broadcasters, but true reporting is a different animal. This will be an interesting story to follow.

Wambach’s name was in the news earlier this year when she plead guilty for a DUII charge. She retired from the playing field in December.

FA seeks eye-gouging ban for Dembele of more than 3 games

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England.
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association wants Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele banned for more than three matches for an apparent eye-gouge on Chelsea striker Diego Costa.

The FA retrospectively charged Dembele with violent conduct on Wednesday after the incident was missed by the match officials in Monday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

The FA says “the standard punishment of three matches that would otherwise apply is clearly insufficient.”

[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

Dembele has until Thursday to respond to the charge.

Both Tottenham and Chelsea have also been charged with three breaches of FA regulations for “failing to control their players and/or officials.”

The teams have until Monday to respond.

The draw ended second-place Tottenham’s title challenge.

How big of an upset would it be if Man City beats Real Madrid in the UCL?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  The Manchester City squad warm up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Academy Training Ground on May 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Couple questions for you this fine Wednesday:

  1. Winning at the Bernabeu is no easy task, but would it genuinely be a massive upset if Man City takes down Real Madrid today?
  2. Even putting aside that a scoring draw would do the trick, are we sure the hype is matching up with realism here?

There’s obviously the “Combined XI” test, a flawed proposition that does provide some level of comparison nonetheless. Given the absences of David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta, Real’s depth shines here.

[ MORE: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

The goalkeepers are both World Cup caliber backstops, and there’s not much difference in quality — if any — between Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas and England mainstay Joe Hart.

And while Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure are very much in the ballpark — on their day — with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, there are real gulfs in attacking and defending power between the clubs (especially with David Silva out for Man City).

Even in the final four of a major tournament like this, there’s a gap between both of these sides at both ends of the pitch. Even ignoring Cristiano Ronaldo which, come on, you’re looking at James Rodriguez, Isco (doubtful to play) and others.

The back line of Man City has taken injury hits, and Real’s back four might well carry any XI (especially while Vincent Kompany isn’t in peak condition). While Madrid’s backs run hot, they also can run wild. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo are upper echelon pieces.

There’s a significant edge in Manuel Pellegrini versus Zinedine Zidane, and tactically we can expect City to continue implementing its system well against Real Madrid’s 4-3-3. Forcing Real wide on the attack can work well, especially if Karim Benzema is unable to play and punish the interior in the air.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

We think it would genuinely be a surprise if City were to pull off a win, but no bigger a surprise than what Atletico Madrid pulled off once Antoine Griezmann hit his magnificent counter attack goal yesterday in Munich.

What say you?

FIFA prosecutors want life ban for Webb in bribery case

Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA
Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA ethics prosecutors want a life ban imposed on former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the United States.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee says it opened proceedings against Webb and will consider a verdict.

The ethics committee says it got a final investigation report last week from FIFA prosecutors.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

In November, Webb admitted to taking bribes worth millions of dollars linked to commercial rights for international soccer tournaments.

The former Cayman Islands banker should be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn next month. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Webb was president of the CONCACAF soccer body when he was arrested on May 27 at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.