Everton Women currently stand second in the FAWSL table and have reached the finals of the FA Cup. They showed a lot of promise last season with their performances especially against stronger sides of the FAWSL. Under Willie Kirk, they have grown into a solid pressing side with clear tactical principles and this season, they have strengthened their squad further with star signings from other leagues who can technically match up to the players of other teams.
In this tactical analysis, I attempt to closely examine the squad along with statistics and break down certain principles of play that form the basis of their system. I’ll focus on the tactics used in attack in the final third and the use of full-backs in transitions with a closer analysis of the role of the captain, Danielle Turner.
Squad depth and statistics
This season, we’ve mostly seen Everton Women line up in a 4-3-3 formation that becomes a 4-1-4-1 in extended periods of the defensive phase. The structure consists of two central defenders with a single pivot in front of them, two highly mobile full-backs who can join in the attack, while a box-to-box midfielder helps out in the buildup or pushes up to support the forwards. Finally, there are two dynamic wingers offering plenty of creativity and threat up front along with a single target player playing as a centre-forward.
In the middle of the field, a creative attacking playmaker has the freedom to move around and pull the strings by creating overloads, help out in the pressing or attack the spaces behind the defence if the striker drops deeper that I shall point out further on in this scout report.
Kirk has rotated the squad well so far with at least two players for every position in the system. Most of the players above have played over 100 minutes so far except for Grace Clinton and Molly Pike. The arrival of new transfers has strengthened the squad and added depth, giving options to change attacking dynamics in the wide areas or in the centre during games. Everton have an xG of 10.55 and an xGA of 3.22 and are placed second in the league for both these stats.
Now, let’s compare the stats of individual players. By plotting the xG per 90 and the xA per 90 for the attacking players, we see the impact each player brings to the squad. Claire Emslie and Hayley Raso, the two wingers who joined Everton this season, have the highest xG values in the squad.
Valérie Gauvin, also a new signing from Montpellier, who plays as a centre-forward has an even balance of xG and xA. Izzy Christiansen, who signed from Lyon, plays as an attacking midfielder and has the highest xA – 2.38. We clearly see that the new signings have helped to significantly strengthen the attacking potential of Kirk’s side while making up for departures of former players like Chloe Kelly and Inessa Kaagman.
Next, let’s look at the stats that reflect the creative abilities of the players. I’ve plotted the progressive passes per 90 and the successful dribbles per 90. It is interesting to see that the two full-backs, Ingrid Wold and Danielle Turner, stand on the higher end of the progressive passes along with the defensive pivot Damaris Egurrola.
Megan Finnigan in central defence leads the progressive passes for Everton. This hints towards the role of the deeper players in an efficient build-up. The two wingers and latest signings, Emslie and Nicoline Sørensen, lead the dribbles with 15 and 12 successful dribbles so far respectively.
The goalkeeper Alexandra MacIver has a crucial role to play in the build-up. Against teams that defend deeper, MacIver demonstrates a lot of courage playing at the edge of her box as a libero. This splits the two central defenders who are able to move wider towards the flanks.
Above we see Everton building up with a back three with MacIver in possession of the ball, coming out of her box and playing as the sweeper, allowing Rikke Sevecke and Finnigan to split wider. This allows the full-backs, Turner and Wold, to push higher up along the edge of the touchline. Egurrola is the single pivot who stays back to receive the pass that breaks the first line of pressure. Sevecke and Finnigan moving wide and the full-backs pushing higher up opens spaces for Egurrola to drop into to receive the ball. If Egurrola is marked, then Lucy Graham can do the same as an extra player to support the pivot. At the front, we see that Gauvin is able to drop to receive the ball in front of the defensive line, while Christiansen is able to attack the space left by her striker.
The direct effect of MacIver coming out higher to support the defenders in the build-up is that it gives the centre halves a better angle to look for passes to progress the play through the opposition’s defensive structure. We’ve already seen in the previous section how Finnigan leads the squad in terms of progressive passes. This build-up structure explains why.
Above we can see from the Wyscout report Finnigan’s role in Everton’s build-up. We see that from the half-space, she is better able to access her teammates in the middle or dribble into the space forward if she is pressured.
During the build-up, the wingers are positioned wide off the shoulder of the opposition full-backs to always allow the deeper players like the pivot or the centre halves to play the long diagonal ball across to them. Playing the long ball diagonally minimises the threat if the opposition wins possession of the ball, since the ball is not in a central position. It is easier to defend the wide pockets using the full-backs and midfielders who squeeze the space out wide with the help of the touchline.
Everton like to penetrate through the opposition defensive structure first and then around them to find a possibility to cross into the box. In rare occasions, when the full-backs are pressed they also find a way to play over the opposition with a long ball that is directed behind the defensive line between the centre-back and the full-back on the same side. They can also find free teammates across the opposition structure with the diagonal ball. The 4-3-3 system allows good numbers in attack with the wingers cutting inside at times to support the striker. If the winger cuts inside, the full-back on the same side makes the overlap to provide the wide option.
They play with a single target player, the centre-forward who always forms the central focus of the attack. Gauvin is very effective in holding up the ball using her physical presence. If the ball is played to the centre-forward and she holds it up against the opposition defender, her teammates can start making runs around her and in wide areas for her to lay off the pass. Gauvin has a 73% success i rate n aerial duels, winning 11 out of 15 them.
Above we can see two instances of using the striker as the target player in attack. In the first situation Magill is the striker, the furthest player up the pitch for Everton, and as soon as the ball is played to her, she has players around her close to her for her to lay off the pass. The easiest option to layoff is the midfielder, Christiansen. In the second instance, we see the ball played again to the centre-forward, and this time, the right winger Emslie is in a good position to receive the layoff.
Everton ensure that there are always players around the furthest player the ball is played to. As the deeper players push up to win the layoff or the second ball, the defensive line can also step forward to squeeze the space in the middle.
Christiansen is the driving force behind Everton’s midfield. Her strong fundamentals and technical ability helps her dominate the spaces in the middle and open up new passing options for teammates. With 13 key passes already, four assists and an xA of 2.38, she provides creativity and threat in the middle. Above we see a situation where she uses a good body profile to win the ball from three surrounding defenders and immediately puts her team in an advantageous situation against the opponent’s goal.
Once the ball is in possession of Everton and they manage to push into the final third of the pitch, the aim is to play the ball wide and receive a good cross into a dangerous position in the box. Everton average 16.60 crosses per 90, fourth in the league, showing that crosses are a big part of their game model. Emslie and Sørensen lead the team in terms of number of crosses, but we see that the fullback Turner isn’t too far behind from the Wyscout report above that demonstrates that full-backs have a major role in the final phase of Everton’s attack.
Finally, here is a map from where Everton have scored all the goals in the FAWSL this season. The 16 goals scored by Everton have been scored by nine different players with Gauvin leading the goal tally with three strikes. Two of the goals have been scored from counter-attacks, three from set pieces and three from long shots.
Everton are one of the best teams in recovering the ball in the middle third. They organise themselves in a compact 4-1-4-1 as you can see below against Chelsea, which enables them to create man-oriented pressing situations in the wide areas to recover the ball and quickly turn it into a counter-attacking scenario.
Let us take a look at an example of a scheme to elaborate on the roles of the different players in the system during the press. The ball is played to the opponent centre-back on the right with the opposition trying to build up.
The first task falls to the striker who makes an angled run while pressing to cut the passing lane to the other centre-back. This splits the field and forces the opposition to play on the right side, making it more predictable to press them. Next, we see the winger, Raso, positioned between opponent players high up but not actively engaged in the press. It is the full-back, Turner, instead who pushes up on the left if the ball is played to the right-back.
As she pushes up, the defensive midfielder covers for her by staying behind the right winger. Meanwhile, the other two central midfielders engage in a man-oriented press in the middle, forcing the opponents to play the ball long.
Once possession is won, the wingers target the wide spaces immediately and the midfielders push forward. In this tactical scheme above we can see that Turner wins the ball from the press and Everton immediately manage a 5v5 scenario to counter-attack the opponent. On the far right side, Emslie is positioned for the play to be switched.
Above we can see a real instance of how Everton make it a 4v3 pressing scenario on the left and as we can see, the left-back Turner has pushed so high up from her defensive position to press the player on the ball. Notice how Raso is the free player up high, not involved in pressing an opponent because in case of a turnover, she can immediately ask for the ball and organise the counter-attack. Everton average 72.48 defensive duels per 90, which is third in the league with the second highest duel intensity of 7.7.
Transitions and the role of full-backs
In this section, I’ll highlight the role of the full-backs in transitions. First, let’s focus on Turner’s role in transitions. Turner is able to pick the right moments to drive inside, into the midfield creating an overload and acting as a link player to switch the ball to the other side. To give an example, in this tactical scheme below, Everton have won possession on the right side with the opponents overloaded on the side of play.
The left-back Turner pushes up into the middle to open up the passing lane for Graham who has just won the ball. The left winger Raso, on the other hand, moves wide and Turner is able to link the play to Raso. By taking the initiative and driving into the midfield, Turner forces the right winger of the opponent to drop back to cover.
From this position, Turner can pass the ball into the path of Raso and stay in her position to cover defensively while the forwards, Gauvin and Christiansen push into the box to attack. Turner should be able to defend this high because Egurrola covers for her at the back. Also since the opponent’s right winger drops back, there is no threat on the left in the space that Turner has left behind.
Even if there is an instance where the opposition win the ball, it is more reasonable for Turner to defend higher up and press immediately, while the rest of the team has time to take cover on the farther side which is not directly involved in play. Above, we can see that as long as Christiansen, Turner and Egurrola press their markers in a man-oriented fashion, they buy time for their teammates to organise the shape defensively as the forwards are recovering back. This is how Everton manage to dominate the transition phases using the full-backs.
In this instance above against Birmingham in the FA Cup, Turner has pushed into the inner channel while the winger stays wide. From here Turner can either play a cross inside the box where two forwards are ready or she can play it wide to her winger. She is also in a good position to defend since the wide player from the opponent has dropped back to cover.
In another situation in the game against Brighton, Turner plays the ball which is passed wide and then immediately drives forward into the half-space. She receives the through pass back in a dangerous position and is able to cut it back inside into the path of her forwards.
It is interesting to note that the right-back Ingrid Wold has made the highest number of recoveries in the final third (11) for Everton with Christiansen and Sørensen shortly behind with seven each. The freedom that the full-backs have in this system to move into spaces also allows greater positional freedom for the wingers to move inside if she sees the full-back in the wide lane ready to push forward. This highlights the key role that the full-backs play in Everton’s tactical organisation.
This is just a brief analysis of Everton’s principles of play, detailing three of the phases. It is noteworthy to add that Everton are also dominant in corners, having scored twice so far and registering eight shots. They do have a lot of homework to do after each game to continue at this level and the season is long.
However, certain tactical nuances such as the use of a sweeper keeper, the dynamic role of full-backs and technical players like Christiansen, Gauvin and Emslie, along with their positive start to the season that they’ve had, definitely make them an exciting side to look out for.