Club Focus – Everton – Distin praises Osman while the numbers tell the long ball story

The two headed goals that defeated Manchester City at the weekend, Sylvain Distin’s praise for Leon Osman’s heading ability and City manager Roberto Mancini’s post-match comments accusing Everton of long ball tactics each raise points of discussion as both sides continue to digest the 2-1 Toffees victory.

Starting with the latter point, the Italian said after the loss: “ …we stayed too deep for about 10, 15 minutes and they hit long ball after long ball…” The numbers, at first glance, do not appear to bear Mancini out – according to the BBC’s figures, after 90 minutes Everton had registered 59% of possession compared to City’s 41%. A team hitting “…long ball after long ball” is unlikely to take nearly three fifths of the play, but it is still not impossible. The discrepancy may come in the perennial problem of what constitutes a long ball, as what it is to Mancini may not be the same to David Moyes. An Everton statistics website revealed that during the 15 minute sector in which Everton scored twice, the Toffees “…recorded [their] lowest pass completion figure…[Everton] registered more passes overall into City’s final third during this time than any other in the game,” which would suggest Everton’s goals did come from a more direct approach, backing up Mancini’s claim to a degree.

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However, the floated cross from Phil Neville that created Osman’s remarkable header would not normally be classed as a long ball, while the article continues: “The only period in the game where [Everton’s] passing completion was better than City’s was in the last period when City themselves where playing more direct chasing the goal…this shows us that the more desperate both teams got when looking for the goals, the more killer passes they attempted, which can often lead to pass completion percentage going down,” an important caveat to remember. Everton were chasing the game and, just as City in the latter stages, increased the tempo with a more direct approach, with the difference being that Everton were successful. Neville’s cross for Osman’s goal was just one of a second-half 16% increase in attempted crosses, from 20% to 36%, but the site does not make clear what they consider a cross – if Mancini is classing these crosses as long balls, his comments are not the bitter words of a defeated manager, rather an appraisal as honest as a frustrated boss can give.

Whatever the source of Everton’s winning goal, the header itself was not down to size or physicality, rather Osman’s impeccable timing, superb technique and immense bravery. Distin, scorer of the equalising goal, said on local radio: “[Osman is] a small player but he can jump, he’s got a good spring. You should never underestimate him, a crime even some Everton supporters have perhaps been guilty of at times. Saturday’s soaring header is not the first Osman, one of the smallest players on the pitch against City, has scored in his Everton career, and is unlikely to be the last of such a reliable player. Indeed, the goal was merely the most vivid illustration that Osman has been head and shoulders above his teammates for the second half of the season.

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