How Ancelotti’s Everton Eliminated Spurs in a 9-goal Cup Classic
In the Premier League this season, both Everton and Tottenham have registered themselves into contention for Europa League qualification for next season, with the sides currently sitting 7th and 8th respectively, as of writing. Jose Mourinho’s tactics have drawn some criticism lately due to their defensive nature, while Carlo Ancelotti seems to have rejuvenated Everton, who finally look like a force to be taken more seriously, with star players in several areas of the pitch.
This game looked like an interesting one before it even kicked off, but not many would’ve predicted a 9-goal thriller to occur. There is a lot to unpack in this historic game, so in this tactical analysis, we will take a look at three key areas: how Tottenham approached the early stages of the game to take the lead, and how Everton’s pressing caused problems for the visitors. We will also analyse how Everton were the ones to prevail and continue their FA Cup journey.
Hosts Everton deployed a 4-2-3-1 with on-form striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who now has 18 goals in all competitions this season, which has seen him earn contention for a spot in the England squad, lead the line. Alex Iwobi and Richarlison provided support from the wide areas, while the central three consisted of Gylfi Sigurdsson who played in front of Abdoulaye Doucouré and Tom Davies. The Toffees’ back four consisted of Ben Godfrey, Lucas Digne, Michael Keane, and Yerry Mina. Robin Olsen continued his role between the sticks due to the absence of Jordan Pickford.
Mourinho set his Spurs side up in a similar formation, with Heung-min Son playing as the striker due to Harry Kane starting on the bench. Lucas Moura took up an attacking midfield role to support Son, with Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn attacking the wide areas. Tanguy Ndombele paired up with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – both have been impressive for Spurs of late. The back four pretty much picks itself for Tottenham at the moment, as does the goalkeeper slot.
Spurs Strike Early
From the first whistle, we were given some foresight into how the game will develop into a wave of goals, with the visitors Tottenham taking the fight to Everton in the opening minutes. While we are not used to seeing this energetic approach from Spurs as of late, tactically it fits into their MO, as an early goal would allow them to take control of the game and defend the lead.
In the image above, we see Hojbjerg perfectly embodying the role of a deep-lying playmaker. A smart sequence of passes at the right-back position from Tottenham allowed them to create some space in Hojbjerg’s location, allowing him to receive the ball under minimum pressure. Typically, we’d be forgiven for expecting his next pass to be a sideways one to Ben Davies at left-back after taking several touches first. However, in this scenario, the Danish midfielder has left-winger Bergwijn in his sights even before he receives the ball – he plays a whipped pass into the Dutchman, who uses his lightning pace to run at Godfrey, ultimately winning a corner (which Spurs score from to go 1-0 up). This attacking intent, as basic as it may seem initially, allowed Spurs to take the early lead.
From an Everton perspective, questions may be asked of their midfield, both prior to and during the image above. In particular, there would be an expectation of either Iwobi or Doucouré to apply some level of pressure to Hojbjerg to limit his chances of progressing the attack.
In the image below, however, it is the opposite that causes Everton some issues, as they attempted to apply a press, albeit a poor attempt, and Spurs – again through Bergwijn, were able to create another dangerous situation.
The unsuccessful Everton press left their midfield men scrambling back to provide defensive reinforcement, which allowed Spurs an abundance of space out on the right flank. But Everton’s defensive troubles extend beyond the initial press and the midfield; their shape in the image above is almost asking for a second Spurs goal – all it would’ve taken is a delivery of better quality from the Spurs full-back
Matt Doherty is the man on the ball for Tottenham, and looking back now, he would probably approach this situation in an entirely different way. Due to the fast nature of this particular attack, we can understand why Doherty felt it was suitable to whip in an early cross. Poor crossing quality aside, the idea isn’t a bad one but had he realised the situation Spurs were in, they would’ve had a much stronger chance of doubling their lead. In front of Doherty is Erik Lamela, who is occupying Digne, who is also aware of the potential threat from Doherty’s presence. From here, Lamela had the chance to pull Digne even further inside, which would’ve allowed Doherty to drive further down the flank before delivering a more effective cross. The fact that Tottenham rushed and ultimately wasted this chance speaks volumes about how much they are used to sitting back slightly to defend a lead and maintain possession where possible.
As the first half progressed, Everton grew into the game, forcing Tottenham to revert to their defensive approach and counter-attacking where possible. Everton struggled to create any real danger initially, as they looked to utilise the wide areas to stretch a compact Spurs.
Above, we see a segment of the first half where Everton had comfortable control over possession, with Doucouré looking to find the next pass. What’s immediately noticeable is the complete lack of Everton bodies centrally, between Calvert-Lewin and Doucouré. Credit to Spurs, they got numbers back to defend quickly, and in good positions, which made it hard for Everton to create anything. Tottenham’s game management, for the first half an hour of the game, was exceptional.
Everton’s energy off-the-ball has seen them cause a lot of trouble for opponents this season, and it proved a worthy asset of their game once again in this tie. Despite the early blips where Spurs were able to slip by Everton’s half-attempted press, the Toffees persisted with their strategy, only applying it in a smarter fashion on many occasions.
The image above shows Hojbjerg in a difficult position as he is surrounded by four Everton players while Spurs look to play out from the back. However, it was Spurs’ strategy in the seconds prior to the image that created such an issue. Toby Alderweireld had possession in his own penalty area, facing out towards the right flank, before turning to face the left flank to find an option. That turn acted as a pressing trigger for Everton, who raised the intensity as it happened, forcing Spurs into giving the ball away in a dangerous area – Hojbjerg attempted an unconventional touch to get his side out of trouble, only to be halted by Doucouré, who regained possession and set up a quick and deadly Everton attack that resulted in Calvert-Lewin lashing the ball home to equalise.
Everton continued to use various pressing triggers to their advantage, even when they were 3-1 up, and they did so very smartly. We see below an example of this, as they use Richarlison’s pace to come close to going 4-1 up.
Davison Sánchez has the ball, facing his own goal, while not in complete comfortable control of the ball – following a long clearance upfield from Michael Keane at the Everton defense. Everton had everybody back defending apart from Calvert-Lewin and Sigurdsson who were there to occupy nearby Spurs players and space. Richarlison was also present and saw two triggers to initiate and then increase his press. Firstly, a combination of an uncomfortable bounce on the ball and Sánchez turning back to his own goal put Richarlison on high alert. Another horrendously poor touch from the Tottenham defender saw the Brazilian in blue charge at him with full intensity, resulting in a 50/50 challenge, in which the ball went loose, and Spurs were saved by the quick reaction of Hugo Lloris. A very good example from Everton of applying pressure at any moment when a defender has possession but shows a lack of comfort on the ball.
At times in any given game, even if pressing isn’t a major staple of a team’s identity, certain scenarios require top-level reactions to perform a press in areas that could be of great benefit to your team. Everton continued with their energetic off-the-ball presence well into the second half of the game.
After a series of attempts to play out of the back from Spurs, they finally succumbed to the Everton presence around them. Doherty was forced into a clearance to try and eliminate the danger, however his clearance was poor, and was met by Tom Davies, who found an open Gylfi Sigurdsson – a neat turn and a clever pass from him met the defense-penetrating run of Richarlison, who proceeded to fire Everton back in front. Again, this is a combination of good off-the-ball work from Everton, and Spurs being the architects of their own downfall.
How Everton Prevailed in Extra Time
After an enthralling 90 minutes of end-to-end action with 8 shared between the two sides, extra time was required. Both sides were understandably operating at a lower intensity, but their principles remained. Where possible, Everton kept players in higher positions of the pitch to perform a mid-block press, which allowed them to both preserve energy but also limit Tottenham going forward. But it was their use of reacting to pressing triggers that started the attack that resulted in the winning goal.
After yet more impressive off-the-ball work from Richarlison to win possession for his side, Everton found themselves in the situation as pictured above. The lively, and at that point still relatively fresh Bernard played for a 1-2 manoeuvre with Sigudsonn – the return pass back to Bernard from the Icelandic was sublime and allowed the Brazilian to put the Toffees 5-4 up. The defending from Spurs wasn’t great in this attack – they had the numbers back yet nobody thought to mark Sigurdsson, who is usually very dangerous from this area and was so in this scenario.
While Everton’s goal from this point onwards was to defend their lead with any energy they still had after nearly 100 minutes of football, it wasn’t simply a case of them parking the bus and letting Spurs have attack after attack. There were a few instances of Everton counter-attacks or defending in numbers but not backed into their own penalty area. There were also a number of occasions where Everton would still apply some level of pressing – with a striker and one of the wingers helping out in that capacity. However, Spurs were obviously on the hunt for another equaliser, so at times Everton had no choice but to defend deep and compact.
This example shows Everton’s fight and hunger to keep their opponents as far away from their goal as possible. When the chance presented itself, i.e. another pressing trigger, two actions were taken by the hosts. The first we’d see is a small number of blues apply pressure after triggers like a bad touch or pass, or turning back to their own goal – however, they wouldn’t commit too many players to this to leave them vulnerable in defense and midfield. This worked on some occasions, forcing Spurs into trying a long ball, which Everton were content to deal with. The second action we saw in these moments was Everton’s defensive and midfield units would push up a few yards. This provided support to those applying the pressure up front, and limited Spurs’ passing options.
One of the most memorable ties in recent FA Cup history. Both sides showed a genuine passion and desire to win the game, but it was Everton who won the battle in the end. From a Spurs perspective, a lot of their issues stem from trying to play out from the back when it simply wasn’t on. However, it was both refreshing and entertaining to see them put their foot on the gas, attacking with real intensity from the off. Their failure to capitalise on Everton’s less-than-good start to the game may have been their biggest regret, as they could’ve been two or even 3-0 up in the opening 25 minutes of the game. From Everton’s point of view, they’ll obviously be over the moon to come out on top after such a match. Ancelotti will undoubtedly look to work on some of the issues they faced at the back and how they started the game on the back foot and took some time to recover. In some ways, the game management was poor from both sides as they both let leads slip away. Ancelotti’s use of substitutes made a huge difference – Seamus Coleman’s relentless energy allowed Everton to break away out of their own half during extra time, allowing the defense and midfield units to get organised. Bernard’s energy was also admirable, but it was his attacking influence that was the icing on the cake, scoring a beautiful winning goal.