NEWCASTLE UNITED 1
Ben Arfa 45
A 45th minute Hatem Ben Arfa goal condemned Everton to a first home defeat of the 2010/11 Premier League season and extended the Toffees’ winless streak to five games in a match that saw Newcastle United thoroughly outclass David Moyes’ side from start to finish. Yakubu nearly gave Everton a point when he hit the post in stoppage time but it would have been a point completely unwarranted.
Perhaps the most damning critique of Everton’s performance in comparison to the visitors is that Newcastle’s deserved victory was not born out of any revolutionary tactical idea or really anything more than the perfect execution of some universal football traits. The Magpies arrived on Merseyside with a combative-yet-talented midfield trio of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and one of the game’s outstanding players, Cheick Tiote, supporting the pace of Wayne Routledge and goal scorer Ben Arfa and textbook centre-forward play of Andy Carroll. Everton, in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, offered nothing in reply, just a pale imitation of the side that swept up the table between January and May last year. Marouane Fellaini was again deployed as a second striker, this time behind Jermaine Beckford, who replaced the injured Tim Cahill as the only new face from the XI that started a week ago against Manchester United.
With Fellaini joined by Leon Osman on the right of Everton’s attacking trident and Steven Pienaar on the left, and Mikel Arteta and John Heitinga forming a deep midfield pair, one of the Blues’ main problems is plain to see. Of the five, only Pienaar is both willing and able to break behind the opposing defence – Fellaini, Osman and Arteta play their best football supplying the forward runners while Heitinga is a cultured centre-back more adept at preventing goals than creating them. Whoever Moyes selects upfront – whether it is the currently injured Louis Saha, Beckford or Yakubu, who replaced the ex-Leeds United player at half time – a more dynamic support has to be found, either with a two-man strike force or a new combination behind the lone man. Beckford was isolated during his 45 minutes, forever lurking on the shoulder of the last defender but too far from Everton’s midfield for anyone to notice. Yakubu, a more rounded forward, who prefers to drop into midfield and play his part in the build-up, had greater success after the break but the improvement was marginal at best thanks to the static nature of those around him.
Not only were Everton glacier-slow in their approach play but a catalogue of other errors, particularly an inability to retain possession and use the ball intelligently – Arteta being a prime culprit – added to what was far and away the Goodison Park outfit’s worst performance of this or perhaps any other season. Newcastle brought a clear game plan from the North East coast to the North West, one of neat passing, dangerous wide play and resolute defending, and carried it out superbly. Everton’s performance gave the home fans little to cheer, and indeed the only cheering at the final whistle came from the raucous away section. The Evertonians still in the ground were left wondering just where the team that excelled in the second half of last season has gone.
2 Hibbert – 6 Jagielka – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
10 Arteta – 5 Heitinga
21 Osman – 25 Fellaini – 20 Pienaar
45 – 22 Yakubu on for 16 Beckford
23 Coleman on for 2 Hibbert
73 – 7 Bilyaletdinov on for 5 Heitinga