Mel makes his point
Diego Lugano's header secured a 1-1 draw against Everton for Pepe Mel's West Brom in the Spaniard's first game in charge. After a disappointing first half, Mel found a way to stifle the high-flying visitors thanks to a change of shape and personnel...
By Adam Bate and Andy Thornton. Last Updated: 20/01/14 11:22pm
Pepe Mel's first game in charge of West Brom ended in a 1-1 draw with Everton at the Hawthorns. Kevin Mirallas had given the visitors a half-time lead but Diego Lugano's header with a quarter of an hour remaining levelled things up.
Here we take a look at the Opta data and examine how Everton boss Roberto Martinez mixed things up with his team formation before Mel's changes of his own helped salvage a point for the Baggies...
West Brom elected to stick with Nicolas Anelka despite controversy off the field and he was partnered in attack by Matej Vydra following the exit of Shane Long to Hull. Lugano was restored to the starting XI for only his second Premier League start at the Hawthorns.
Everton made two changes from the team that beat Norwich last time out. Experienced defender Sylvain Distin was fit enough to take his place in the starting line-up ahead of John Stones. Bryan Oviedo replaced Steven Pienaar on the wing.
STORY OF THE MATCH
Mel had promised a more aggressive West Brom side and there were some signs of a more combative approach as Albion made 24 interceptions compared to Everton's nine as well as 23 tackles to the 16 from Martinez's side.
Martinez blames pitch
However, the passing was far from slick, especially in the early stages as Albion really struggled to retain possession. In the opening 30 minutes, only two West Brom players - Liam Ridgewell and James Morrison - had a pass completion rate of better than 80 per cent.
It was a slow start and it got slower. Neither full-back was able to get involved going forward and the midfield failed to get up in support of the attackers, who were often occupied in wide positions.
West Brom began with a regimented 4-4-2 formation but failed to get their strikers in the box in the first half
"If I was Pepe Mel, I'd encourage Baines and Coleman forward to leave Everton open to the counter attack," said Gary Neville in the studio. That seemed to be the ploy and Phil Jagielka was frequently covering down the flanks early on.
With Seamus Coleman caught high up the field, Vydra had Tim Howard scrambling with one cross and then had Distin in trouble down the right channel shortly afterwards. The striker put in more crosses than any other player in the opening 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the lack of a presence in the middle meant that Albion had no touches within 12 yards of the Everton goal before the break.
"It's Roberto Martinez who has made more changes than Pepe Mel, who is just playing 4-4-2," noted Neville at half time and the Everton shape was an interesting one as they used Mirallas in the Ross Barkley role with Oviedo playing from the right wing.
"From now on West Brom are going to be a team that presses high up and plays a high line," explained Martinez afterwards. That prompted his thinking as he wanted to get Mirallas in space and running beyond the Baggies defence.
Kevin Mirallas (11) played in an advanced role close to Romelu Lukaku (17) and it paid off for the Everton goal
"We wanted to get Kevin Mirallas in acres of space and we did that in the first half. He was a real threat and we had Bryan Oviedo coming inside on his left foot against a left-footed full-back and that opened up spaces with Leon Osman doing the same on the other side."
While Mirallas deserved credit for the way he latched onto Romelu Lukaku's flick-on, there would have been little danger but for Lugano's lack of pace. The Uruguayan veteran was not just slow but glacial. "Lugano's not in a bad position but he just can't run," said Jamie Carragher. "He's probably as slow as anything I've seen." Mirallas seized upon it and tucked home the opening goal well.
Diego Lugano was well positioned but did not have the pace to stay with Kevin Mirallas
The introduction of Victor Anichebe at half time gave Albion a target man and a presence up front and the withdrawal of Zoltan Gera in favour of Youssouf Mulumbu on the hour mark also proved significant. Mel congested the midfield with Anelka drifting to the right with just one in attack.
Anelka had floated in those positions even before the change but Anichebe was a very different proposition to Vydra and it was telling that six of his 21 touches came inside the Everton area. Against his old club, he played a vital role in giving West Brom a platform from which to play.
The contrast between Nicolas Anelka's touches (left) and Victor Anichebe's touches (right) was stark
After their early struggle to keep the ball, it was notable that eight West Brom players finished with pass completion rates better than 83 per cent. It was a reflection of the way that they battled their way back into the game and with Chris Brunt putting in 14 crosses, they asked questions of the Everton defence. "Those changes brought them back into the game," said Carragher.
Martinez backing Mel
Lugano's lack of pace might even have helped him. The centre-back had no hope of getting back when Lukaku had the chance to break and when the Belgian striker lost the ball, he was still lurking in the box. Morrison subsequently fizzed in the cross and Lugano did well to divert the ball past Howard.
It wasn't a pretty performance but after an inauspicious start, West Brom supporters will at least be encouraged that they have a coach who can identify problems and make intelligent changes. There will be many more of them needed if they are to ease away from a relegation battle that currently includes everyone up to and including top-half Aston Villa.
A change of formation with Nicolas Anelka (39) deep and Victor Anichebe (16) up top proved successful
"In the first half, the team was too open but in the second half we were more compact. Everton are a team who are very strong. This was a difficult match for me and for my team. Fifty per cent possession of the ball against a team like Everton is good. But it's only the first week. I need to work with my players but the players are hungry and that's important. I need one more striker."
"Any point is a good point but we are disappointed by the second-half performance. The hardest thing today was to get in front and score that goal. We were well in control and we knew that West Brom would try to change the way they'd been playing and press us high up. I thought we had some good combination play and got into good positions in front of goal. But in the second half I must admit that the conditions of the pitch didn't allow us to control the game the way we wanted to. It was unfortunate to concede the goal in the manner that we did."
"Everton didn't get their football going. They didn't get their rhythm going that we've seen so many times this season. But we have to give credit to West Brom for getting back into the game. I think they're a solid group of players at West Brom. I think you can rely on them and trust them to an extent. More often than not they won't let you down and while they might not have the quality to beat the best teams, they have a reliability to grind out results."