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Size really does matter!

By Chris Marks :  01/05/2008 :  Comments (15) :
Firstly, let me introduce this article by making two clarifying statements:

1. I am not a pure Moyes apologist. I accept that the man is not perfect, and that tactically he has got things wrong on certain (sometimes key) occasions.

2. Any comparisons that I allude to in this article will be comparisons with the best because that is where we should be aiming. Currently sitting in fifth place and hoping to break into the Champions? League top table with regularity means comparing one?s team to Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea et al.

There has been a lot of talk recently on this site about the size of our midfield (and team generally) and whether this affects our success and/or our style of play, and indeed what we could/should be doing about it.

As the engine room of any team, and the area of ours that seems to be open to debate at the moment, I shall focus my points on comparisons of this area of the pitch. In the centre of our midfield, we regularly field Lee Carsley (1.80m/5ft 11), Leon Osman (1.73m/5ft 8) and (when fit) Tim Cahill (1.78m/5ft 10). On the flanks, Mikel Arteta (1.76m, 5ft 9) and Steven Pienaar (1.76m, 5ft 9) mean that we have no six-footer in our ?first-choice? midfield. Indeed, neither Phil Neville nor Manuel Fernandes can break that seemingly all-important barrier either.

But is 6ft really that important? In the Premier League, Man Utd?s midfield features a mix of players, with Hargreaves, Anderson and Scholes all under that height. But backed with ?bigger lads? like Carrick, Fletcher and Cristiano Ronaldo, it is clear that they can compete physically too.

At the top end of the scale, Chelsea are probably the biggest, with Essien a shade under 6ft, and Lampard, Mikel, Kalou and Ballack all over it. With wide players like Malouda also just under 6ft, they are clearly a big side. Their style of football suggests it too. Those players who are smaller, like Shaun Wright-Phillips, have extreme pace to compensate, a trait our midfield lacks ? the theory being if you can?t ?mix it? (to use a horribly ugly English football phrase), you can use your pace to get away from trouble.

Indeed, it?s arguably these traits of pace and power that define football in this country, and our obsession with them probably explains our lack of international success and the high numbers of skilled overseas players in our top club sides. Only United and Arsenal stand out from this trend, valuing the skill of the likes of Anderson, Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabregas, Hleb and Rosicky over the ?anti-football? often displayed by Chelsea and those unmentionables across the park.

Yet a glance at the Arsenal squad reveals the balance there too. The three ?midget gems? previously mentioned (generally taller than our three, by the way), are supported by the physical Flamini, and the sizeable Gilberto Silva, Song and Diaby. Furthermore, previous successful sides of theirs included Vieira and Petit backing Overmars or Pires.

The thing that links these ?big?, often (but by no means exclusively) defensive midfielders, and sets them aside from our own efforts, is what else they can offer on top of their physical presence. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lampard, Kalou and Ballack (in theory) offer their sides goals. Others, like Carrick and Essien, are all-round footballers, comfortable in defence or attack. Even the likes of Vieira and Petit were very gifted footballers, capable of maintaining possession and linking with the attack.

In this way, the Everton midfield falls down on most counts. Lacking the physical presence of rival midfields, they have to rely on other traits to make their impact. This is fine against weaker sides (physically or technically) or those who will let us play. But none of Osman, Arteta or Pienaar has the pace to get away from a marker, or the strength to hold off two or even three opponents as is often seen. Carsley is an excellent ?minder? for them, but there?s only one of him, he?s not that big and he?s past his 34th birthday. All three should score more goals too, and certainly have the skill to produce more. Indeed, Arteta and Pienaar have just six goals in 75 appearances between them this season.

Whatever their merits as footballers, (their lack of consistency, injury-proneness etc), beating them physically is clearly the easiest way of stopping Everton play. Stop those three and, with Cahill, Johnson and Yakubu starved of supply, we will not score (none of these attacking players can produce something from nothing like, say, a Cristiano Ronaldo or an Henry). To compound the problem, we lack decent attacking full-backs to provide extra width and supply (given that Baines rarely plays and Lescott is a centre-back). Add these problems up and along comes the hoofball.

So how do we cure the problem? Simple ? money. Chelsea?s expenditure on Essien and Mikel (nearly £30m) and wages for Lampard and Ballack (over £250k per week) shows what it takes to get the right blend. The pattern is repeated all over the top leagues. The bottom line is THE BEST PLAYERS COST THE MOST MONEY. We don?t have that money, so we do what we can. Personally, I think we?re doing really well given our limitations. These are not the only reasons for our lack of success against the top teams, or for our failure to threaten breaking into the top four this season, but those are for another piece I will write another day.

Reader Comments

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Jay Harris
1   Posted 02/05/2008 at 17:39:19

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Chris
good post. I posed a similar question recently but more to do with the belief that ability is far more important than size. For example much as though I rate him highly who would you prefer Lee Carsley at 5?11" or Makelele at 5?9".

Little Alan Ball was a midget but a giant in the tackle and on the ball. Paul Bracewell, Peter Reid and Trevor Steven hardly heavyweights in size but giants on the field. Look at Portsmouth who would you sooner have diarra or Dioup.

I think it all comes down to your last point. Talent costs money so the only answer is to spot it before the big clubs or find one who has slipped the net. My conclusion size doesn't matter ability does.

Paul Thompson
2   Posted 02/05/2008 at 17:52:05

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There is another factor ? balance. No matter how much ability a team has ? or in this case, a midfield ? lack of size does matter. To this extent Chris is right. Everton?s mini-midfield is too often out-muscled. You need balance ? one or two players with some physical presence ? not the same thing, by the way, as how tall they are. Gravesen provided it during his last proper spell.

But there?s another dimension in getting the balance right ? speed. Everton have lacked real pace for quite a long time now. Johnson has it, but he?s a forward. Cahill has a great engine, but not pace. This is particularly important down the flanks, which helps to explain the relatively poor service the strikers often get. We do make chances through quick passing and when we were playing well, Pienaar and Arteta made excellent contributions in this respect. But lack of physicality and pace will be a real limiation in our midfield until and unless the problem is addressed.
Simon Hughes
3   Posted 02/05/2008 at 19:09:04

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Good post, but you missed arguably the biggest impact resulting from the size of our midfield. I’m actually a big fan of Osman, Pienaar, Arteta, Cahill, but Lescott is often picked ahead of Baines at left back and I’m convinced this is largely because Moyes is concerned about the team’s ability to defend the ball in the air. This is exacerbated by our lack of a tall centre forward (Anichebe aside), who can come back and defend set pieces. The purchase of one or two tall, athletic midfielders is a must to take the team forward. Problem is finding the money for the right quality.
Jay Harris
4   Posted 02/05/2008 at 22:02:22

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Paul Thompson, good point about pace but also realtive to balance. There?s no point haveing Speedy Gonzalez as a winger and forwards who can't keep up with him. I think ability to hold the ball while waiting for support is more critical. Look at Trevor Steven who would frustrate by hardly ever taking a man on but he very rarely lost possession.
Dick Fearon
5   Posted 02/05/2008 at 22:53:52

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Congratulations are in order for all contributors to this topic. Without resorting to abusive language all the nails were squarely hit.
Are you watching Tony?

I sort of agree with everyones views even with some aspects that offer different scenarios.

There is much to digest with this positive, polite and sensible debate
Derek Thomas
6   Posted 03/05/2008 at 01:00:58

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Like the old advert said.

Q.C.

Quality Counts
Chris Marks
7   Posted 03/05/2008 at 08:40:09

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Jay Harris - honestly, I think Makelele’s finished (Chelsea aren’t playing him much anymore), and Carlsey (by most people’s estimation) is on his best form, yet is still a limited player. I love the guy, bless him, but to kick on to the next level Everton are going to need a more talented, younger defensive midfielder.

Paul Thompson - fair comment, although I was using the midfielders’ height to indicate their physical presence. After all, a 6ft 4in midfielder will usually have more physical presence than a 5ft 4in one.

Of course size is not the only factor, but I was only intending to write one article at a time. No-one’s going to read 20,000,000 words of mine in one go!
Micky Norman
8   Posted 03/05/2008 at 12:59:12

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The best teams will always have variety with the height and muscle where it?s needed. Carsley did an excellent job on Carew last week but relied on experience and anticipation more than his height. I don?t remember seeing Peter Reid knocked off the ball too often. The most frustrating thing about Everton is our inabilty to play to their strengths ie every time a high ball is played up to Johnson.
Mike Oates
9   Posted 03/05/2008 at 20:10:37

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Well written Chris , I have tried on a number of occassions recently to convey exactly the same message but without the excellent data you provided.

It's actually also why Arsenal arent winning anything recently - you need both power and pace ? and they haven't got pace (can't understand why Theo Walcott isn't playing ? but hey that?s their problem)

We have no pace ? and by that I mean people moving at pace with the ball, not Andy Johnson?s run for the hoofball type we play at times. We never score quick counter attack goals (Larissa apart) because we don't have the pace in midfield or upfront to do it.

For next year we must use Baines and Vaughan ? it's a total neccessity ? and we need a powerful midfielder.
Chris Jones
10   Posted 03/05/2008 at 23:18:06

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There?s an old boxing addage. A good "big ?un" will always beat a good ?little ?un".
Colin Grierson
11   Posted 04/05/2008 at 07:06:26

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Good article Chris,

We have to remember that there have been lots of midget gems in the past, Maradonna, Strachan, Zola, Reid are a few that spring immediately to mind but they didnt all play in the same side. We do need some height and physical presence so that we are equipped to play all comers.
Chris Marks
12   Posted 04/05/2008 at 10:01:19

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I think the point I failed to make about this, Colin, is that for the most part, the days of fielding midfielders the size of Strachan/Reid seem to be passing (unfortunately).

To take the example of Brazil, for 15 years now they have been fielding two creative types (e.g. Ronaldinho/Kaká) backed by to strong, disciplined markers, e.g. Gilberto Silva. The days of them also fielding creative passers like Gerson in the 1970 side seem to have passed.

Football today (for the most part) is about ensuring your side doesn’t lose before trying to beat the opposition. To this end, many sides are fielding more and more physically-imposing players to dominate the midfield.

Watch Portsmouth in the Cup Final. Look at the size of the team generally, but specifically the full backs (probably Johnson and Hreidarsson) and the likes of Muntari (a winger by trade). They’re all HUGE.
Anthony Jaras
13   Posted 04/05/2008 at 11:09:49

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Really good post, a lot of very true statements in there.
I am concerned about our lack of height, and as attackers we do not score a great deal of goals with our heads.
Lescott aside we ain’t great in the air unless Timmy is fit which ain’t that often.
For me, and hopefully for Moyes, it is clear what positions need strengthening in the summer.
Without doubt we need a first choice right back. I would be happy for it to be Phil Neville on a permanent basis, but if he insists on playing him in midfield then we must sign one asap. Someone who can pass the ball to feet please.
Next up, a winger. A pacy winger. Whether this means a right sided one, thus allowing Arteta to play central, or a left sided one, also allowing Arteta to come inside and have Pienarr on the right, I dont care, we need one.
Central midfield player. A holding one please cos Carsley ain’t gonna be around forever. Someone to work alongside Cahill and Arteta.
I really like Ossie, however I don’t know if we can accomodate both him and Cahill in the same formation if we want a bit of quality and pace on the flanks.
Finally, we need to replace McFadden as I don’t knoe if Vaughan or Anichebe will fulfill their promise. Anichebe is still young but has shown incinsistancy when starting and Vaughan is always injured. Yakubu is clearly number one choice and rightly so, then Johnson, who needs a massive start to next season if he is to shake off this crisis he is having.

Great potential in the side and once we get Lescott playing centre half with Yobo, we will be even stronger and more balanced as a team. Our spine is awesome.
John Carlson
14   Posted 04/05/2008 at 22:33:41

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Do you think Kevan Nolan would be a good addtion in the summer at the right price? With Cahill?s injury problems, he would give us a goal threat from midfield and add some height (which would get Baines back in the team as we add height elsewhere).

Just a thought. Good article. We?re 5th best in the country ? we?ve spent much less than the teams above us and indeed even a touch below us ? I think we?re doing great.

Unless of course you?re Michael "80s" Kenrick who thinks we should be twatting Arsenal off the park.
Brendan Sliney
15   Posted 05/05/2008 at 11:38:25

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Pretty relevant observations after watching Arsenal game. Gave up counting after Osman was dispossesed 6 times.

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