Premier League 2019/20: Everton vs Leicester – tactical analysis
The Premier League game between Everton and Leicester ended up in the tough victory for the hosts with the scoreline of 2-1. The visitors have dominated possession and have had more chances, especially after changes in the second half, but the Toffees managed to keep the favourable score alive till the final whistle and get all the three points.
In this tactical analysis, I will delve into how Everton’s defensive tactics didn’t allow any real chances for Leicester in the first half, and how Brendan Rodgers was able to turn it around in the second with his substitutes.
Carlo Ancelotti made two changes to his starting lineup since the last game against Norwich. Gordon was back into the lineup, and so was Sigurdsson with Davies and Bernard being dropped to the bench. The coach opted for his favourite 4-4-2 formation for this game.
Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand, used 4-1-4-1 formation with a lot of changes from the game against Brighton. Mendy, Gray, Maddison and Iheanacho all were absent in the starting lineup, while Praet, Albrighton, Barnes and Tielemans started the game.
Pereira and Maddison being out of the starting lineup for this game deprived Leicester of two of their main creative players. The Foxes struggled to find space in the final third apart from the flanks, where crosses were not efficient. Due to Vardy being the only constant presence in the final third, the Englishman was isolated throughout the first half. He didn’t offer much in the build-up either, with his main qualities being finishing and getting in behind, not dropping deep and helping his teammates get the ball further.
However, there were a couple of occasions where he tried on the role of a false nine. Here, he drops deeper, taking away Holgate with him, and is able to lay off a pass to Albrighton. Even with this, the lack of attacking options in the final third for Leicester was staggering in the first half, and you can see it here too. Tielemans is in midfield and not a type of player to make runs into the box, and Barnes is out wide with Coleman keeping an eye on him. The following pass to Justin results in a cross with no Leicester players actually in the box.
In the next section of this analysis, which will be devoted to Everton’s defence in this match, you will see that the compact defensive block of the hosts left Leicester without a proper answer in the attack in the first half. The lack of creative players up front played its part, plus when Leicester were given chances, they lacked finishing and a lot of their shots were blocked as well.
In the second half, Iheanacho and Maddison were the game changers in the attack, because they’ve given more passing options and the opportunity to create overloads in different areas on the pitch. Iheanacho provided what Vardy couldn’t, which is constantly dropping deeper to receive and work the ball around into good positions. The link-up play on the right flank involving the forward became the area where the most chances were created by Leicester in the second half. In the example below Iheanacho is involved in the build-up on the right flank, and while he drops deeper, Justin takes his place to maintain attacking balance. More positional rotations in the second half meant more defensive havoc for Everton to cope with. Also, the presence of one more forward in the box increased the value of crosses, and apart from the goal, the Nigerian has had a handful of chances in the penalty area to level the scores.
Here is another example of how Leicester’s attacking fluidity improved in the second half. Maddison and Iheanacho free roam between the lines and the latter is offering a passing option in the pocket between midfielders while the Englishmen is in deep position to circulate the ball from the backline. The danger in possession drastically improved when those two came on.
Leicester used a different formation in the second half, with Justin staying back with the centre-backs to form a back-three, while Chilwell was acting as a wing-back together with Albrighton. With Calvert-Lewin left alone in the first line against three players, the visitors were able to easily get the ball out of their own half. As I’ve mentioned, Leicester made better use of their time on the ball in the second half, and the lack of pressing from the hosts made it too easy for the Foxes to dominate possession.
Everton in defence
As we saw in the section with the lineups of both teams, the Everton manager chose 4-4-2 with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin as a pair of forwards. The main problem of 4-4-2 formation lining up against the opposition 4-5-1 is having one less man in the middle, and Everton managed to deal with this problem rather well throughout the game.
The main principle of Everton’s pressing game and defending, in general, was to not allow much time on the ball for Leicester attackers. For this, Ancelotti used personal markers, and two forwards marked Evans and Söyüncü, Gordon and Iwobi marked Leicester’s full-backs, and midfield battle became the key with the Toffees having one less man in the middle.
Everton’s 4-4-2 block and applying position-oriented zonal marking were set to force Leicester to play through the flanks more. The absence of Pereira was a big blow and played a big part in the inability of Leicester to break down the opposing defensive organisation. Having good crossers in Albrighton and Chilwell saw the Foxes attempting 35 crosses in this game compared to the 21.4 crosses over the course of the previous five games. Unfortunately for the visitors, Vardy didn’t manage to get any real chances from those crosses, and Everton pair of centre-backs coped with the current league top-scorer pretty well in the penalty area.
Even while only having two men in the midfield against Leicester’s supposed three, by using narrow defensive block and congesting the middle Everton caused a lot of problems for Leicester in the attack. Forcing the build-up to the flanks and aggressive personal orientations when the ball gets there worked its magic.
Approximately for the first 20-25 minutes of the game, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin were solely focused on two centre-backs, and that caused some problems for the defensive department of the hosts. Ndidi was able to receive without an instant marker on him, and in these moments either of two midfielders, Sigurdsson and Gomes, had to jump at the Nigerian. Leicester’s superiority in numbers in the centre of the park was becoming evident with Ndidi freely receiving behind the first line of pressure. Hence, after around 15-20 minutes Richarlison(and more rarely Calvert-Lewin) focused on marking Ndidi, leaving one man against two defenders. It proved to be the right decision in terms of midfield stability, but the advantage of Leicester in the build-up deprived Everton of the ball for the most part of the game.
Everton were playing rather aggressive with personal markers all over the pitch, but it worked. The defenders stayed close to the players they were marking, without any noticeable switches of markers. In the image below, Barnes drops deeper to receive from centre-backs, and Coleman stays on him the whole time, forcing the back pass.
Attackers tried to manipulate their respective defenders a couple of times in this game, but it wasn’t a constant pattern and it didn’t really change anything in terms of ball progression for the visitors. Here, Barnes cuts inside in an attempt to get his defender, Coleman, out of the line and create space in behind. However, even though Coleman stepped out of the line, staggered defensive lines didn’t give Praet many options to exploit this movement with all promising passing options shut. You can also see that Iwobi is guarding Chilwell in a deep position.
As I’ve mentioned, the numerical advantage for Leicester in the middle didn’t help them create chances out of this superiority. Maddison and Iheanacho coming on in the second half changed that with the substitutes’ constant movement in deep areas, and Leicester were looking much more dangerous in the second period. In the first half, however, the build-up of the visitors suffered from the lack of options in the middle. Despite the changes in the second half, 69% of attacks for Leicester were coming off from the flanks(and 42% only from the right flank). However, the danger level coming from the flanks increased in the second half as Leicester were more pragmatic and tried to work the ball around into advanced areas, compared to first half’s seemingly desperate attempts at crosses.
Here Evans is on the ball, and while Tielemans seems to be open, Calvert-Lewin guarding Ndidi basically cuts off the passing lane over to Belgian at the same time. The lack of movement behind and between the lines of Everton’s congested block stopped Leicester from effectively progressing the ball forward and actually making use of their big chunks of possession during the game. In this example, Barnes could’ve opened himself in the pocket between Sigurdsson and Gordon by showing more movement.
Changes from Leicester in the second half and the injury picked up by Richarlison forced Ancelotti to play even more cautiously by switching to 4-5-1 formation around the hour mark. Davies and Gomes constantly switched playing the deepest lying midfielder with Calvert-Lewin now operating as a lone striker. The midfield block became more congested, but the introduction of Maddison and Iheanacho caused more problems. Here you can see Everton’s narrow defensive block with the intention of leaving the flanks open and aggressive press with stepping out of the line from Davies and Sigurdsson. Now Leicester had more options to play through between the lines, and only some conservative decisions from centre-backs stopped Leicester from applying more and more pressure on Jordan Pickford. Leicester had twice as much xG in the second half compared to the first(1.46 compared to 0.70), and that indirectly proves the attacking resurgence of Brendan Rodgers men in the second half.
Everton’s attacking strategy
After getting a comfortable 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of the game, Everton’s focus shifted more towards the defensive end. Following the two goals, there were only glimpses of possession football for the hosts, ending up in 37% of total time on the ball. However, Everton were dangerous in their counter-attacks. The likes of Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Iwobi caused problems for Leicester in fast breaks.
With Leicester losing the ball in advanced areas and then applying pressure right after the loss Everton were forced to play long towards Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. Another reason for that were the deep positions of Iwobi and Gordon, who were heavily involved in marking Chilwell and Justin. These attempts of playing through and long balls over to the attackers caused some issues for opposition defence. However, Söyüncü was impeccable when facing his own goal and competing with either Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, not letting them get in behind. Evans, on the other hand, more experienced and stable, but not such an athletic defender, hold his own by good positioning and calling fouls when losing in speed.
In the shot below you can see the aggressive counter-pressing of Leicester after a turnover, forcing Coleman to get the ball out of the own half. The competition between Calvert-Lewin and Söyüncü for these balls after long passes was a repeatable action throughout the game, with the defender mainly coming out on top.
The individual qualities on the ball of Iwobi, Richarlison and Digne have proven to be essential for Everton attacking department, helping to keep possession in the final third. For example, Richarlison picking up a foul and a free-kick after holding on to the ball against Ndidi led to the second goal.
On the right flank, Iwobi was responsible for getting the ball out of the own half(apart from long passes) with Coleman staying conservative. On the other flank, however, the duo of Gordon and Digne has been more active, and wide rotation with Gordon cutting inside and Digne taking his place was a clear pattern of play. This movement actually resulted in the opening goal of the game. Gordon, after Digne’s precise header, was able to find Richarlison in the box, getting his first assist in the Premier League.
Despite that Ancelotti’s attacking tactics were not as reliant on possession as his opponent’s, Everton were looking dangerous after turnovers and missed a couple of opportunities to widen the gap in the scoreline.
Ancelotti and his tactics managed to keep Leicester at bay even with the unbalanced midfield. Getting two early goals has certainly helped and allowed Everton to sit back more, however they definitely deserved the victory. Leicester after this defeat are suddenly on the verge of losing Champions League football, and only Chelsea losing against West Ham in the same day prevented the Foxes from dropping into the 4th spot after this set of fixtures. Leicester are still unable to pick up their form after the break, even with good performances, and they have a great chance to show their European ambitions in the next home fixture against Crystal Palace.