Statistics paper over the cracks with Mirallas

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

AllsportPlayers such as enigmatic Kevin Mirallas will need to deliver for Everton.

Transition is the buzzword surrounding Everton this season. Yet the honing of the methods and tactics of Roberto Martinez is happening with relative ease. Teething problems exist, naturally, but the stylistic overhaul is mostly successful thus far. Sharpening up the passing and increasing possession, which in turn provides a greater level of control in matches, are just two of the changes implemented by Martinez.

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Another alteration, though this may tie-in with the recent absence of Steven Pienaar through injury, is the lessening of the creative burden on Leighton Baines. Last season the left back accounted for 24% of Everton's chances -- a league-high total of 116.

Filling the void this season is Kevin Mirallas, however, therein lies the problem. It makes for the extremely rare circumstances when the most creative player, with 17 chances created and four assists, finds their place in the team under scrutiny. Unfortunately, this is that exact circumstance.

Despite the chances and assists, the performances, especially defensively, fall considerably short of the level expected. The victory over Chelsea hinted at it; the draw against Tottenham confirmed it: Mirallas is regressing into a defensive liability.

Whether Mirallas is under orders to remain forward or simply too petulant to operate as a team player, the lack of defensive cover leads to a gaping hole on whichever flank he is stationed. Seamus Coleman or Baines find themselves doing the work of two.

Unsurprisingly, having received the freedom of Goodison as Mirallas failed to track back, Branislav Ivanovic (nine) attempted the most crosses on either side when Chelsea visited in September. The full back also made 68% of his passes in the Everton half, further testimony to the space afforded him. Just three of the Chelsea starting eleven had a higher percentage of passes in the Everton half.

Similar freedom greeted Jan Vertonghen on Sunday with the stand-in left back creating a team-high three chances, and only a handful of players attempted more passes in the attacking half and the final third. For an opposing manager, the plan of attack is obvious: place an attacking fullback on the side Mirallas occupies.

Luck and fortune are the main reasons for Everton escaping unscathed to this point, but imagine the damage an attacking fullback such as Luke Shaw could do against a player void of defensive discipline.

Furthermore, notwithstanding these issues, the attacking impact is also on the wane. Flitting in and out of matches, in a team playing the highest percentage of left-sided football in the league, Mirallas cuts an increasingly frustrated, lackadaisical figure on the edge of the action. There are the occasional glimpses, such as the comeback victory over West Ham, but it is not enough.

This may explain the frustration evident in recent weeks, but it does not excuse the blase attitude that is beginning to feature prominently. The assists and chances create paper over the cracks of a player struggling for consistency. Complied at the end of each match, the average positions regularly show the Belgian furthest forward. Assigned a midfield role, this positioning alone highlights the absence of the work rate associated with Everton players.

Mirallas need only glance at the opposing flank for guidance, where Pienaar and Baines work as a cohesive unit in both attack and defence. Creative and industrious, the pair are the benchmark that their other team-mates must aspire toward.

The obvious alternative to the out-of-sorts winger is Gerard Deulofeu, who Martinez is easing into life on Merseyside since matching concerns accompanied his arrival, as the two are in danger of passing each other on the same road. While Deulofeu shows signs of maturing, growing in discipline and learning his trade, Mirallas is on the brink of defensive non-existence.

Enjoying brief cameos to date, including another on Sunday, Deulofeu is showing improvements in the grittier aspects while maintaining a threat in attack. One simple yet effective dribble against Spurs underlined his potential and left four opposing players feeling embarrassed.

As the work rate drops and the complacency increases, temporary bench-warming might be the necessary wake-up call for Mirallas, who gives the impression of a man too confident of his place. Martinez has already spoken about unleashing Deulofeu on the Premier League, and this feels like the opportune moment (should Mirallas continue to tread water).


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