The Right Side Won at Everton

Last week we talked about Dani Rojas, the ways in which he might fit into Ted Lasso’s system, and how he might be the key to unlocking this AFC Richmond side. I was exactly spot on in my assessment, Dani Rojas played in just the way I said he would, the Grey Hounds became the Ghostbusters (or something), and I defy you to find a single scrap of game footage to the contrary.

Of course, the week before I said they would make the Europa League. Let he who hasn’t fallen victim to Hot Take Culture cast the first stone!

Admittedly, though, Richmond returning to the Dog Track with three points in tow was a shock result. Much was made during the week of some dressing room footage (is nothing sacred anymore?) that was released on the AFC Richmond official twitter account. The video showed Nate, Richmond’s kit man, giving a number of key players a prematch tongue lashing. While McAdoo did, indeed, play less like a big dumb pussy, and Obisanya and Hughes played more simply and decisively, Rojas still didn’t play any defense. It’s tough to think that speech was the only reason the Grey Hounds won at Everton for the first time in 60 years, even if Roy Kent was “like a man possessed,” as Chris Powell put it in his post-match round up, after his part of the pep talk:

Like the Sir Alex “hairdryer treatment,” but if the dryer was old and had too much lint built up on the back where it pulls the air in.

Now, look, I don’t want to discredit the motivational effect that any roasting may have had on the squad. It just feels dismissive of any tactical preparation on the part of Ted Lasso and Coach Beard. By all accounts, this was an impossible fixture. Putting aside the historical implications for a moment, morale clearly cratered after the departure of Jamie Tartt; Richmond took one point from their last two matches. An already thin side that saw Bockronde out for the season with an ACL tear became downright depleted when they lost Dixon to a high ankle sprain and first choice keeper O’Brien to a butt. To say nothing of Everton’s form at Goodison Park at the moment with a spot in the Europa League still to play for.

But, when Lasso was asked in the post-match interview about a few changes to the side, this particular quote to stood out to me:

Well, Beardo and I thought we came up with a pretty good game plan to deal with Fileu and Harmor. [*audible confusion*] Oh, right, sorry. See Coach Beard and I use some shorthand when we’re talking about opposing team’s players. “Fileu” ‘cause one time we were at an Outback Steakhouse and I was trying to say “filet for you” but it came out “fileu,” which has to be one of the funniest mix ups in the history of the English language. Beardo’s never gonna let me live that one down. Anyhow, Mr. Filet for you is what we called that Gilfy fella, because he keeps getting better with age and slips around defenders like he doesn’t have a bone in his body. But Obi can keep up with anybody, I’ll tell you that much, and Beardo had a hunch that Mr. Gilfy couldn’t keep up with Sam. Turned out he was right.

And “Harmor” that one’s just short for “hair armor.” That Baines gentleman is so darn handsome I suspect most attackers just can’t stay focused, what with that beautiful head of hair. But we just might have the only man on God’s green Earth more beautiful than Mr. Baines, and his mop is no match for what Dani’s got cookin’ on top of that head of his. So I figured if we could neutralize some of that harmor — heck, maybe even win the battle — then we might just have a chance to walk outta this place with the W.

Leighton Baines HARMOR
Truly mesmerizing.

Obviously, that sounds like total nonsense. And if Lasso had answered a question about strategy like his brain was clogged with blooming’ onion before the match they would either have had him committed or given him a seat on Match of the Day. Or both. But in hindsight some of what he said makes a lot of sense. For instance, Dani Rojas does have great hair. JKJKJK LOL ROTFLMAO. I think Lasso broke my processor.

In all seriousness, Baines and Sigurdsson are a brutal matchup on the outside for any team. One of the quirks of modern football is that every outside back also plays like a winger, and Baines is one of the O.G.’s of the position. Just look at his heat map from their previous match against Manchester United.

Baines Heat Map
This is either a heat map or a still frame from a Predator sequel.

I ask this 100% seriously: What in the actual fuck? You’re just as likely to find Baines in the opponent’s box as Everton’s own 18. That’s why pairing him with Sigurdsson is so deadly in most instances. Sigurdsson is a center midfielder more or less playing out of position, so his tendency will always be to drift inside. Everton uses that to their advantage because Baines famously covers the entire left side all on his own. That sort of movement is devastating to opposing defenses as it pulls them completely out of shape, while Everton doesn’t have to sacrifice any of their own balance in the process.

Baines Sigurdsson
Symbiosis.

That’s what makes Ted Lasso and Coach Beard’s adjustments so fascinating (that’s right, I said it’s fascinating). Sometimes the best defense is an attack that can’t be ignored. Since the second half against Crystal Palace, Obisanya has been playing on the left wing, and he’s been just okay. He’s great at getting up and down but he’s not especially comfortable on the left and it shows.

Against Everton, though, Lasso moved him back to his preferred right side, only he kept him in the midfield and put Goodman — an extremely solid, defensive-minded right back — behind him. That freed Obisanya to stay high and attack at will. Typically, that’s not a problem for Everton because Baines soaks up those runs even when he’s flying into the box on the other end of the pitch (seriously, the guy is an animal).

That’s where Rojas comes into play.

Remember all the stuff I wrote that was 100% accurate and infallible about Dani Rojas and how he likes to drift out wide right just like Messi? That was the key for Richmond against Everton. With Rojas occupying Baines’ attention (it’s a walk off!), that forced Sigurdsson to have to play defense for the first time in his life. And while he may be a stellar footballer, “Mr. Gilfy” wanted NO PART of chasing Obisanya up and down the field for 90 minutes. By overloading the right side of the pitch, Richmond was able to keep Baines from doing Baines-like things and pull Sigurdsson out of the midfield, exhausting him in the process.

Most importantly, keeping those two defenders out of the way left the middle of the pitch open for Roy Kent. The legend did not disappoint. One shot. One goal. One hell of an xG chart.

Roy Kent xG vs. Everton
Certain shots are unmissable.

The heat of the relegation battle is on. Those three points were precious and should be enough to keep vultures like Pulis and Curbishly at bay for a little longer. Richmond is now improbably, mercifully, in 17th with their fate in their own hands for the first time. They are going to have to wring every last point from the remainder of this campaign, especially with Jamie Tartt and Manchester City still looming.

As the late great Elvis Presley once said, “Tomorrow will be too late. It’s now or never.”

One thought on “The Right Side Won at Everton

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