Category Archives: Mirallas

The Toffees – as sweet as a box of choccies

The Everton squad pictured on Sunday morning

The Everton squad pictured on Sunday morning

Eyebrows would have been raised by the exclusion of Everton’s two young guns – Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu – for the visit of the Gunners. Roberto Martinez preferred the prosaic Steven Naismith and the mercurial (well, mercurial and experienced) Kevin Mirallas, both of whom had played so well as second half substitutes last week at Craven Cottage. Around me, sages sucked on thoughtful tooths and said, “Got to keep it tight early on. No point going expansive and falling behind. Pragmatic choice – let’s not lose the game before we can win it”. Not for the first time, the Catalan in the brown shoes and the tight coat surprised us.

Even before Leon Osman was replaced by Ross Barkley, Everton were committed to an open, expansive game, identifying Arsenal’s continuing perverse absence of an effective holding midfield player as a weakness, and pouring forward. Ossie wasn’t far off with a Goal of the Month contender before, like King Harold, he took one in the eye that necessitated his leaving the field of battle. With so many players in form, the captain was not missed.

We’re told that football is a squad game these days – and it obviously is – but it’s also a selection game too. Kevin Mirallas had looked a little stale (only two weeks ago, I read a long time Blue suggesting that he was marking time before a post-World Cup move away from Goodison) but a couple of early substitutions and some starts on the bench appear to have focused his mind – the Belgian is back to his best. Steven Naismith, playing just off Big Rom in a position that clearly suits his penchant for linking play and arriving late in the box, was magnificent in the first half, an unlikely fans’ favourite. There’s something of a Paul Power (ask you Dad) about his maximising of output from a (comparatively) less expansive skillset in a squad not short glamorous options.

Roberto’s resource allocation decision brought one goal (Naismith) and two assists (Mirallas) – and three exceptionally important points, with another notch added to his tally of match changing decisions. The Toffees’  has as tempting a box of chocolates as any manager at Goodison since Howard Kendall’s class of ’87. It must be tempting to reach into that second layer to pull out the Strawberry (blond) Delight that is Gerard Deulofeu, but sometimes the Coconut Cream that is Steven Naismith is the better option. The Martinez magic is still working – every decision is just so sweet.

Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Martinez and Stats 16 March 2014

Indeed!

Indeed!

For all the plaudits that Roberto Martinez’s Everton have collected for our new post-Moyes positive football, the hardest part of the game is still really very hard indeed for the neat and tidy Blues. As I write, we have 40 Premier League goals – that’s more than Tottenham Hotspurs (just how are they 5th?) but six fewer than the benighted Manchester United, three fewer than Southampton and only two more than Laudrup-free, relegation threatened, Swansea City. “We don’t get enough goals from midfield”, said my brother and I agreed. But what do the (Premier League) stats tell us?

Firstly, Romelu Lukaku is not the problem. He has ten goals (most of them crucial) in 19 starts (plus two as a substitute). That’s pretty much the goal every other game that marks out a top striker. He also hits the target with about half his shots too (29 of 62), a better rate (if not, alas, output) than a certain Luis Suarez (61 of 131)!

Go ten yards further back, and the source of Everton’s inability to convert possession into goals becomes more clear. Kevin Mirallas’ five goals have come from 70 shots, of which only 21 were on target. He has an almost direct comparator in Daniel Sturridge, whose 18 goals have come from just one more shot, but the Liverpool man has hit the target 33 times from those 71 attempts. If it feels like Kev is shooting on sight and often wildly, well, to a large extent, he is. 

Ross Barkley likes a dig too and, with 62 shots, he has had a pop exactly as often as the Big Belgian, but Ross has just 3 goals, probably because he has been on target just 13 times (fewer than Jordan Henderson!). Barkley’s progress this season has been wonderful to behold, but he has to score more goals and to do so, he has to hit the target more often.

So – apart from practising (please practise!) – what’s the solution? One player may have it. Gerard Deulofeu sits third on Everton’s shots on target ladder with 16, but from just 23 attempts at goal (in 4 starts and 12 sub appearances). This confirms another “feeling” from watching him play. He can beat a man and sometimes tries to beat one too many, but when he gets a shot off, he’s usually manufactured a yard to play in, even close to goal. (The on-target : off-target ratio the Spaniard is producing is more characteristic of a defender who comes up for set plays, getting on the end of crosses). 

This is why Deulofeu is so exciting and why Roberto must move heaven and earth to exercise the second season option on the loan. Next year, the young man will have that extra touch of composure, that little more experience of big matches, that growing-up that all strikers need (see L. Suarez and D. Sturridge mentioned above). The goals will come then – and how! 

All stats from http://espnfc.com/team/squad/_/id/368/league/eng.1/everton?cc=5739.

Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and The Martinez Project 30 November 2013

Not drawing attention to himself - Kevin Mirallas

Not drawing attention to himself – Kevin Mirallas

Does Kevin Mirallas fit into The Martinez Project?

Last season, in an often pragmatic team, Mirallas’ runs, willingness to shoot on sight and feisty attitude was welcomed, especially as his physical fragility made his presence on the pitch something of a treat. Like many of today’s wide men, he seldom dribbled his way to the touchline and crossed the ball to a centre-forward, preferring to cut inside and shoot, always carrying a threat. His injections of pace and direct style got the crowd of their feet and his first season was seen as a success.

The cruise to three points against Stoke City marked the Belgian’s first benching after 12 consecutive starts under the new manager and might just show Roberto’s best hand for the future. The Martinez Project calls for possession, patience and pace – but not just any old pace, the change of pace that comes from the killer pass or the dropped shoulder. It’s the antithesis of traditional “up and at ’em” football – it’s as Spanish as The Project’s name suggests and is proving (almost) as successful.

While Sylvain Distin’s discomfort on the ball can be accommodated in his position, Kevin Mirallas’ running, shooting on sight and maverick play may not be quite so easily integrated as his fellow players’ understanding of the Project’s system improves. 

If that’s the case against Everton’s second favourite Belgian, the case for his replacement builds and builds. Gerard Deulofeu is as slick and classy a footballer as his pedigree suggests, a head-up ball player with pace and a trick or two. His first start has coincided with Everton’s biggest win of the season, a goal and an assist or two for the Barcelona loanee and remarkable stats showing that Everton created 22 goal attempts of which 12 were on target having enjoyed 55% possession. That’s The Martinez Project desired outcomes right there in the numbers – which matter to coaches these days

Of course, Everton’s other midfield wunderkind, Ross Barkley, was also benched for this game, so the answer to the question on so many Evertonians’ lips – “Can we play Deulofeu and Barkley in the same XI?” – is not answered, but the solution is coming into sight. If both can work hard without the ball, if both can retain the awareness to sit if the other goes and if three of Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Stephen Pienaar and Leon Osman can use their experience alongside and behind them to babysit the a little, the teenage tearaways can tear up the best defences with their skills and guile. 

But whither Kevin Mirallas? Maybe his best role is as an impact substitute held in reserve for the many times that the youngsters will have off-days or need a break. That’ll be the moment to introduce his long-range running and direct style. The Project doesn’t need Kevin Mirallas when its tiki-taka is bossing the game – it needs Kevin Mirallas when it’s tiki-taka is stalled.