FA Cup 2018/19: Everton vs Lincoln City Tactical Analysis Statistics

Everton came into this FA Cup weekend on a dismal run of form, having won only one of their last eight games in the league. Lincoln City, on the other hand, were flying high, sitting on top of League Two. The stage was thus set for an FA Cup giant-killing act. However, despite a defiant display from the Imps, Everton’s superior quality ultimately told as they won the game 2-1 to progress to the next round.

Lincoln City and the Cowley brothers have already won a lot of admirers through their continued push for promotion from League Two to follow up their elevation to the Football League last year. This performance established just why the duo are one of the hottest managerial properties in the Football League at the moment.

Line-ups

Marco Silva selected a strong side for this tie, with Jordan Pickford, Colombia international Yerry Mina, Kurt Zouma, Idrissa Gueye, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard all starting. Jonjoe Kenny got a rare chance to impress at right-back as Seamus Coleman was rested, while Tom Davies played instead of on-loan Barcelona midfielder Andre Gomes.
Danny Cowley did not make too many changes from the side that drew against Port Vale in the league, with Josh Vickers coming in as the goalkeeper. There was also a change in formation as Tom Pett supported lone striker John Akinde.

Lincoln’s stable defence

Games featuring sides with such a vast gulf in quality and resources usually have a set pattern. The bigger side dominates possession, while the smaller team looks to sit back and defend while looking to nick a goal through a set-piece or counter-attack. This FA Cup third-round tie was no different on the surface. Dig a little deeper though, and one can see the defensive fortitude of this Lincoln City side.

The Imps were tireless and organised, getting men behind the ball and frustrating their more illustrious opponents. They looked to minimize space in central areas and behind the defence and were happy to have Everton move the ball out wide, adept as they were at dealing with crosses. The images below will show just how intent the Imps were to not allow Everton to create anything centrally.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Two solid banks of four, compact to deny space between the lines and deep to prevent runs in behind
Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
This is even more drastic, with seven players in a deep defensive line making it nearly impossible to play a pass through to the penalty area

Lincoln played in a low block, getting men behind the ball quickly once they lost it and dropping their defensive line onto the edge of their penalty area.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Lincoln played a low defensive block, with one man looking to press the player in possession
Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
One man would disengage from the block to press the Everton player in possession, before retreating if the ball was moved on. The other players would maintain the defensive shape and just shift from side to side, protecting the penalty area centrally.

Their obsession with being compact centrally did, however, lead to Everton’s first goal. Leighton Baines had the freedom of Goodison Park to swing in a cross for Ademola Lookman.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Look at the amount of space Baines has to cross the ball

Nevertheless, it was an admirable effort from Lincoln City, as they managed to frustrate Everton for the majority of the game.

Everton struggle for creativity

Against sides playing with such a deep defensive line, there needs to be a ‘lockpicker’ in the side, someone who can literally thread the needle and find teammates in space. Everton do possess someone approaching that level of skill in Gylfi Sigurdsson, but while the Icelander started the game, the Toffees still struggled to break down a resolute Imps defence. One of the few times they managed to do so was for their second goal.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Sigurdsson found Calvert-Lewin inside the box with a cute pass…
Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
…and the Englishman then passed for Bernard to score. The Brazilian had managed to get behind the Lincoln defender who was caught ball-watching, while the Lincoln winger who had dropped in was too far from Bernard to make a difference

Bernard was a lively presence throughout the game, drifting across the pitch from his position on the left. This allowed Sigurdsson to go out to the left on occasion, but it is debatable if this was the best move. He has done his best work from central areas and notably struggled under Sam Allardyce when played on the left flank. This fluidity may have contributed to Everton’s lack of cutting edge, as it was left up to the full-backs to provide width.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Sigurdsson’s position here is that of an orthodox left-winger

Tom Davies also had an underwhelming game in midfield, so much so that he was dragged off for Andre Gomes at half-time. The Englishman struggled to dictate play and often looked like he was not on the same wavelength as his teammates. This was another contributing factor to Everton’s stodgy display. On this evidence, Davies will find it extremely difficult to take Gomes’ place in the side.

Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Davies had plenty of passing options (in orange) but managed to pass the ball in a manner which allowed the Lincoln defender to clear. Sigurdsson (out on the left flank during this move) or even Gomes would have perhaps executed the pass in a better manner
Everton Lincoln City FA Cup Tactical Analysis Statistics
Lack of cohesion laid bare: both Davies and Sigurdsson make the same run towards the Lincoln penalty area, leaving Gueye (circled) with no safe passing options centrally. One of the two should have dropped into the space in front of Gueye (ideally Sigurdsson as he can see the run Davies was going to make)

Conclusion

Everton managed to eke out a welcome win here against solid, disciplined opponents, but it was the visitors who went home with their reputations enhanced. The Cowley brothers could not repeat their FA Cup heroics of 2017 this time around. Nevertheless, their sides’ superb defensive organisation and desire impressed even the home fans at Goodison Park. Everton, on the other hand, look like they have a lot of work to do if they are to be ‘the best of the rest’ in the Premier League.


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