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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.

Spurs’ Kane wants to win everything: “We are buzzing”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his penalty with Danny Rose during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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FA Cup, Europa League, Premier League? Yes, please. Harry Kane wants them all.

Kane converted a penalty kick as Spurs bested Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, moving to within two points of the Premier League’s top spot.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Eriksen’s winner ]

The big striker was euphoric after Christian Eriksen also scored to help Spurs pick up the win, and said the media can decide what it wants about their chances; He knows they can do it.

From the BBC:

“That is up to you lot if we are challengers, we know what we are capable of. We are still in three competitions and we are taking them all very seriously. We are confident we can beat anyone in the league, you saw that today and we came away victorious. We are buzzing.”

Spurs have captured 15-straight points in making their run to second. There’s plenty of time before March 5’s big North London Derby with Arsenal, but we’re looking forward to it.

Before then, Spurs have a pair with Fiorentina in the Europa League, an FA Cup date with Crystal Palace, and PL fixtures versus Swansea and West Ham.

Title race on!

Three things we learned from Tottenham’s big win vs. Man City

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Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in a tight encounter.

[ MORE: Arsenal beat Leicester late on ]

A controversial penalty kick got Spurs rolling and despite a Man City fightback, Christian Eriksen pounced late on to grab the winner on his birthday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Here’s what we learned as the title picture becomes even more jumbled after an epic day where the top four all met one another.

AWFUL PK CALL COSTS CITY

There’s a debatable handball decision and then there’s the kind of decision which went against Man City on Sunday. At the start of the second half Danny Rose curled in a pretty innocuous cross from the left flank and Raheem Sterling jumped in the air with his back to the ball and was right on the edge of the penalty area. The ball struck his ribs and may have grazed his elbow but he knew nothing about it. PEEEEEPP! What. No way. He hasn’t. He has.

Referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot and Man City’s players looked on in disbelief as the penalty was awarded. Take a look at the video below. It was incredibly harsh and swung the game in Spurs’ favor and overall the decision created a major talking point about what is and what isn’t a handball anymore.

Referees show a severe lack of consistency when awarding penalties for handball. Is it ball to hand? Does the arm have to be in an unnatural position? On and on the debate goes, and from his angle it looked like Clattenburg guessed that it hit Sterling’s arm rather than seeing it actually strike the arm. It cost Man City dear as Manuel Pellegrini‘s side have lost two on the spin at home against title rivals Leicester City and now Spurs. City are six points off top spot now with 12 games to go and they aren’t out of this. However, when you look back at big decisions at the end of the season this one could be the difference between them winning the title or not. That PK call and a huge late save from Hugo Lloris who took the ball off Nicolas Otamendi’s head could be pivotal. Sure, City look better at the back with Vincent Kompany returning from injury but there’s no doubt they’re the outsiders for the title after a seventh defeat of the season.

SPURS’ INTENSITY INFECTIOUS

They hunt in packs. They hunt together. And on Sunday, Tottenham’s players hunted down loose balls with more ferocity than in any other game this season. Snapping into tackles, in the first half City couldn’t get into any rhythm and despite the poor PK call from Clattenburg they deserved to win.

[ MORE: Arsenal fans go wild in USA after Welbeck’s winner

Over the course of the game Tottenham looked more comfortable on the ball, they believed in each other and Spurs secured a fifth-straight PL win at a venue where they had lost on each of the last five encounters. Mauricio Pochettino‘s team are showing a maturity beyond their years. Harry Kane stepped up and was ice-cold with his penalty kick, Mousa Dembele patrolled the midfield with power and panache and Eriksen’s winner was a prime example of the high-tempo approach Pochettino loves to employ. In the 83rd minute Yaya Toure tried to run forward from midfield and lost the ball with four Spurs players swarming him. Erik Lamela then ran at the hart of City’s defense and slipped through a perfect pass to Eriksen. On his birthday the Dane was coolness personified as he took a sublime first touch and slotted past Joe Hart to send the away fans wild. Spurs have only won the title twice in their history and the last came back in 1961. Now, with an easy looking schedule they could transform from the dark horses to the favorites. Pochettino’s player are hungry, have the best defensive record in the PL and have proven themselves in the big games this season.

NORTH LONDON TITLE TUSSLE

Okay, this is actually happening. With Arsenal beating Leicester earlier on Sunday both north London teams are now just two points behind the Foxes. Spurs sit second and Arsenal third as only goal difference separates the two rivals who have 51 points. When they meet at White Hart Lane on March 5 it will be an incredible atmosphere and it could well be a huge game in deciding which half of north London the title goes to on May 15.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule ] 

When you look back at the history of PL title races, there have been only a few instances where direct crosstown or local rivals have gone head-to-head for the title. Man City and Man United have had a few title tussles since 2011 but the fact that two bitter rivals are going at it for the title will only add to the incredible unpredictability. This season it is closer than ever at the top and Spurs and Arsenal now have plenty of momentum as they head into the two week PL break. Get ready for plenty of talk of a “title tussle in North London” over the next 10 days or so.  It’s legit.

WATCH: Lamela finds Eriksen to boost Spurs past Man City

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Spurs are within two points of the Premier League lead after this goal from Christian Eriksen boosted them to a 2-1 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

[ MATCH RECAP: Man City 1-2 Spurs ]

With the match tied at one, Spurs sub Erik Lamela played a well-weighted through ball to Eriksen, who touched it forward before pushing a shot around a sliding Joe Hart to give Tottenham a lead it would not relinquish over the final minutes.

Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Controversy and drama at the Etihad

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Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen scored goals in a big 2-1 away win over Manchester City on Sunday that kept Tottenham Hotspur in the thick of Premier League title race.

Kelechi Iheanacho scored Man City’s goal, briefly tying the match up before Eriksen decided things in the 83rd minute.

The win pulls Spurs into a mass of three teams within two points of the Premier League lead, above derby rivals Arsenal on goal differential and two points behind first-place Leicester City.

For Man City, it’s fourth place: four points out of second and six ahead of Manchester United.

Kane’s goal opened the scoring, and came off a controversial penalty call. Raheem Sterling leapt to block Danny Rose‘s cross and took the ball off his elbow, and Mark Clattenberg thought the elbow wasn’t tucked close enough to the body.

 

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first half featured plenty of cautious play and feeling out from both sides, as well as some testy tackles.

Danny Rose paid for making a great shot block on Raheem Sterling in the 24th minute. The Spurs defender slid hard to get in Sterling’s blast radius and took the shot off his chest.

Rose also pushed forward plenty in giving City’s left side fits.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sterling then conceded a controversial penalty at the whistle of Mark Clattenberg. Rose’s cross hit the leaping City man’s back or elbow inside the 18, and Kane buried his shot up the middle and past Joe Hart.

The goal forced an offensive sub, as Manuel Pellegrini took Fernando off for Kelechi Iheanacho in the 66th minute.

Then David Silva found Gael Clichy‘s overlapping run, and the latter’s cross was buried by Iheanacho from around the penalty spot.

It was a day for impact subs, though, as Erik Lamela played a perfectly-weighted ball through for Eriksen, who slid the ball past a splayed Hart.

A late sliding chance for Silva popped over the frame, and Spurs went back to London with all three points.