Premier League Tactical Preview: Everton v Manchester City


Saturday's lunch time kick off sees Man City, who are desperate to stay in the title race, travel to Everton, who are desperate to keep pace with those challenging for a top four position. 

City go into the tie as favourites at 2.10 for the win, whilst home side Everton, who have been inconsistent lately, are outsiders at 3.40 for the win.


Possible line-ups

Everton will be without Tim Howard and Jagielka to injury, meaning that Mucha and Heitinga will come in as they did against Wigan in the FA Cup. Aside from that, Jelavic will probably continue up front with Fellaini supporting.

For City, Tevez and Aguero should be fit and Kompany should also return. Milner might be picked to play wide right to counter-act the forward runs of Everton left-back Leighton Baines.

 


Fellaini versus City's midfield pivot

Only two wins in their last six has seen Everton fall 7 points off fourth, meaning only a win will do. At home, they can be a force, particularly if they attack strongly.

Everton's approach play is largely based around attacking down the left flank through Baines, as well as a direct approach in targeting Fellaini as a target man. Fellaini wins 5.7 headers per game, the sixth highest in the league and is often eager to get close to the Everton forward when Everton are in possession in defence, so as to provide a good outlet ball. 

Fellaini was rampant in the side's last league game versus Reading, scoring one and assisting another. His bullying of defenders with his physique and ability to win headers, can cause problems for any side. City have not been at their best defensively, despite back-to-back clean sheets and Everton can cause them problems if Fellaini is on song, especially if Kompany doesn’t make the clash.

Much of Fellaini’s work is done between the opposition midfield and defence, meaning that City's pivot will have to work hard to track his movement and challenge him in the air. In these advanced areas it can be difficult for centre-backs and defensive midfielders to decide who should be marshalling him. 

The midfield pivot has been an area of relative weakness for Mancini, as Rodwell has been ruled out and Barry is arguably not physical enough to go toe-to-toe with the big Belgian. 


The battle out wide

Baines' role is also pivotal in this tie as he attacks from left-back. The marauding full-back is Everton’s foremost attacking outlet, having recorded 4 assists this season and making 3.2 key passes per game. 

If City can nullify his presence Everton will have difficulties in creating tangible attacks. The majority of Everton's attacks come down this side (43%), with Leon Osman coming over to the left to cover the space left in behind Baines. 

As such it can create space for a player like Tevez or Aguero to move into, stretching Everton's play. The amount of play that revolves around Baines can thus be detrimental to Everton's game, especially against top sides. That said, at home one would expect Baines to attack aggressively and look to get as many balls into the box as possible.

City do not play with outright wingers which means Baines can have joy directly attacking Zabaleta. Mancini might opt to play Milner as a right-midfielder to counteract the threat of Baines in this area. 

If not, Baines can get a lot of joy in a one on one battle with Zabaleta, which in turn will allow Pienaar space to raid forward. Below is a look at Baines average position from his sides match up against West Ham from earlier this season:

Clearly we can see Baines (no.3) in a very advanced position, almost as a left-winger, rather than a left-back. These are the areas he will want to get in on Saturday and he'll have to make sure Distin is covering him (no.15) by coming across into a slightly left position from centre-back.


Conclusion

The main areas to watch will be whether Fellaini can get the better of City's midfield pivot using his physicality and link up with Everton's forward. The other intriguing battle features Baines attacks down the left and whether City can exploit the space he leaves. 

Everton can get joy against City if they win these battles. Failure for City to get three points will almost certainly end their title hopes, while failure for Everton to win will make s top four finish impossible. As such we might see two teams really fighting to get three points in what could be a very entertaining encounter.

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