Friday, August 29, 2008

David Moyes and Everton Look Forward to Liege—In More Ways Than One

When Standard Liege, the team who Liverpool laboured to defeat at fortress Anfield, drew Everton in the UEFA Cup you could hear the groans a mile away. This game is not going to feature high in matches of the season.

Standard, who got their tactics spot on against the uninspired Liverpool in the qualifying round of the UEFA Champion League, and Everton, who usually suck the life out of games, are not going to bring us a classic.

But as TV chiefs scratch their heads and the viewing public check the rest of the draw to find what they'll watch, David Moyes got the team he really wanted...

This is a season defining game for Everton, beat Standard well and it sends a message to Liverpool that Everton are a serious team. More importantly it would tell the players they're not far from the heaven that is the Champions League.

Lose badly against them, and Everton could find themselves at the wrong end of the table as confidence at Goodison would be all but gone.

Standard's tactics against Liverpool were aided by a Liverpool team bereft of ideas. Lately Liverpool have used the 4-2-3-1 tactic so favoured by most top European sides. The differences between say, Man Utd using it and Liverpool using the tactic are varied.

When Utd use it they use two out and out wingers in Ronaldo and Giggs. Also the full backs are encouraged to bomb on as one of the midfielders drop deep to cover the centre halves. This then gives Utd the ability to change to 4-3-3 in defensive situations as the team rotate positions.

At Liverpool, while lining out the same way the two wide players tuck in making the team very narrow, and the full backs do not cross the half way line making midfield a congested area.

Also, when reverting to a defensive formation Benitez usually prefers 4-5-1 over 4-4-2. Under the Benitez style the defensive midfielder, be it Alonso or Mascherano, usually start deep and stay there, rarely making runs past the 70yrd mark.

What all of this means to Everton, apart from the fact that Benitez is a tactics over players manager, is that to defeat Liege they will have to avoid being as narrow as their arch-rivals.

Easier said than done when Moyes usually prefers a 4-1-3-1-1 formation. What Everton do have over Liverpool their ability to turn every match into a battle, ally this to the creative Mikel Arteta and the offensive runs of Leon Osman and the lethal Tim Cahill, means Everton provide a substantially different game than Liverpool.

Yakubu up front wil give the Standard defenders a different problem than the "light" Torres.

All in all, Moyes will be delighted with the draw, Everton should come out of the tie as winners. By how much has yet to be decided.

And there's no better way to signal your intentions than by beating a team your fiercest rival struggled to overcome. If Everton do pull it off, confidence will be high at Goodison while a so far mis-firing Liverpool might end up looking over their shoulders come seasons end.