Tactical tinkering hinders brave Everton in Madrid defeat

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Luke O'Farrell believes Marouane Fellaini was APLuke O'Farrell believes Marouane Fellaini was "wasted further forward" against Real Madrid.

Everton and Real Madrid headed into this International Champions Cup fixture having met just once previously; Madrid dishing out a 6-1 drubbing in the 1987 Santiago Bernabeu Trophy. Fortunately, for those of a blue persuasion, the result was much closer this time, though the Spanish giants still emerged victorious. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil enough to secure a 2-1 win.

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Firstly, pre-season results are not the end of the world and Real Madrid are an excellent side. In addition, a number of key decisions went against Everton. Question marks of offside hung over the two Madrid goals, there was a legitimate Sylvain Distin goal disallowed and Kevin Mirallas probably should have received a penalty in the first half.

That said, frustration surrounded both Real goals as they stemmed from Everton errors rather than Madrid magic. The use of a high line raised many eyebrows yet sloppy passing and a misguided midfield setup led to the Madrid goals (not the high line).

This Everton side remains at its best with two holding players screening the back four and a trio of attacking midfielders supporting the lone striker. David Moyes was often criticised for his devotion to this approach, but it remains the one best suited to this squad.

Until the Juventus game, when Roberto Martinez adopted his favoured 3-4-3 formation, Everton were persevering with their usual 4-2-3-1 system. The only other experimentation saw a variation of 4-3-3 during the second half at Blackburn; this was the formation chosen here.

A centre back by trade, John Heitinga found himself as the sole defensive midfielder and suffered against the rapid counter attacks of Ronaldo and company. Further exposed by his teammates, with Leon Osman borrowing one of Harry Potter's invisibility cloaks and Marouane Fellaini wasted further forward, Heitinga (unsurprisingly) looked a fish out of water.

Seemingly unsure of their roles, the sight of this trio repeatedly misfiring in attack and defence simply underlined the importance of Darron Gibson. The protector of the back four, Gibson is the starting point of most attacks, as well as the link between defence and attack, and Everton look a much weaker side without him.

Elsewhere, Tim Howard sustained his pre-season form. The distribution is improving, although there is still the occasional moment of panic, but the real plus point is the goalkeeping. Making a number of crucial saves against strong opposition, Howard has excelled in the last two matches.

Seamus Coleman once again showed his ever-improving ability from right back. Largely penned in his own half due to the quality of Madrid, namely Ronaldo, the Irish full back managed to defend well while providing another glimpse of his attacking prowess; his fine cross from the right led to the Everton goal.

Ahead of him on the flanks, Steven Naismith also impressed and had a hand in the goal. Providing the assist from the Coleman cross, Naismith alternated between the left and right side during the match. Lively in possession; one turn in particular making a fool of Alvaro Arbeloa, there were reassuring signs after a disappointing first season in England.

Often joining Naismith in the much-maligned section is Nikica Jelavic, and the Croatian built on his Blackburn brace with a sweetly struck left-footed finish on the hour mark. Sharp in thought and movement, recent pre-season fixtures hint at the centre forward sneaking back to his best.

Improving in the last third of the match, allied to the introduction of Ross Barkley and Darron Gibson, Everton are displaying plenty of promise in pre-season. Ronaldo did threaten to wreak havoc on occasion, usually when his ego took a back seat, but Everton matched their Spanish counterparts for the most part. Nevertheless, for these pleasing passages to reach fruition on a regular basis, the Blues would do well to return to their tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation (at least for the short term).

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