Premier League 2019/20: Everton vs Aston Villa – tactical analysis
Aston Villa’s win on the weekend against Crystal Palace gave them a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League after a terrible run of form since the restart. Coming into this game at Goodison Park Dean Smith’s men could put themselves within a point of survival if they managed to beat this Everton side, who have had abject performances of late themselves.
Aston Villa were on course to gain a crucial away win against Ancelotti’s men thanks to Ezri Konsa who turned home Conor Hourihane’s free-kick delivery. However, Villa is notoriously guilty of dropping points from winning positions (19 lost in total before this game) and have conceded the most goals in the last 15 minutes in the league (16 before this game).
It was no surprise that Villa added to both these poor statistics as in the 87 minute Andre Gomes’ cross was headed by Theo Walcott past Pepe Reina and Konsa who failed in his attempted goal-line clearance as Villa’s victory slipped from their grasps resulting in a painful night for The Villians. This tactical analysis will focus on the tactics of both teams and explain how Everton started with great intent before Dean Smith’s side eventually took control of the game and disrupted Everton. This analysis will also look at how Villa attacked Everton but ultimately did not do enough to put Ancellotti’s side away.
After an uninspiring display on the weekend, Ancelotti decided to change from a 3-5-2 he used against Wolves to his more usual 4-4-2 formation. The Italian also made personnel changes to his starting team, making five switches to the team that lost 3-0 at Molineaux last Sunday. Mason Holgate came in to replace Yerry Mina who picked up an injury in the game last weekend while Everton captain Seamus Coleman came in at right-back replacing stand in right-wing back Theo Walcott as Ancelotti resorted to his favoured back four.
Andre Gomes was selected in the central midfield position after missing the last game with an ankle injury replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson who dropped to the bench. The Italian’s last two changes were to inject energy into the wide areas as he brought in Alex Iwobi and Bernard replacing Anthony Gordon and Leighton Baines who started from the bench.
Dean Smith was happier with his team coming into this game than the Italian in the opposing dugout as he kept his usual 4-3-3 formation and only made one change to his side that beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Villa Park. This change was enforced upon Smith as Neil Taylor was unavailable for this game so Matt Targett came into the starting line-up to play left-back.
Ahmed Elmohamady kept his place at right-back with his impressive display last weekend. Another player who put on an impressive display was Mahmoud Trezeguet who scored two against Palace as Smith continued to show his faith in the Egyptian, as he naturally thought would continue his goal-scoring form into this game where he started on the left of the front three.
Everton’s tactical tweak in shape ensures a bright start
After his side’s performance against Wolves, Ancelotti expressed that his side lacked emotion, fight, and spirit and demanded a big reaction from his players coming into this game. Everton certainly started with the energy and purpose the Italian manager wanted, added to this was the managers tweak to his 4-4-2 formation where The Toffees set up in a more asymmetrical 4-2-2-2 in possession to counteract Villa’s 4-3-3 shape.
Ancelotti instructed left-midfielder Bernard to tuck in off his wing into the left half-space and on the opposite side one of his two strikers, normally Richarlison would drop back deeper in the right-half forming a box midfield with Everton’s two central midfielders, as illustrated below. With this shape, it created the numerical advantage in midfield aiding Everton’s build-up play as they utilised the extra man in the middle to progress the ball.
We see above that the two central midfielders drop deep to receive the ball off there centre-backs in the build but this draws out both Villa’s right and left central midfielders as they look to stop their efforts by man-marking them tightly, behind them in the pivot position Douglas Luiz is drawn across to cut off access to Richarlison but due to Bernard’s positioning Villa have not accounted for the left midfielder on the ball far side and this creates the 4v3 in the middle so the Brazilian is free in space as a result.
Ancelotti men were effective in finding and utilising the extra man in the middle, which can be seen below. Instead of playing through Aston Villa’s first line of pressure through the tightly marked deep central midfielders, they recognised that Villa’s wingers tucked in to create a narrow first line so Everton smartly drew them in, almost baiting them off their wing so they could access their full-backs, in the instance below it was Alex Iwobi who the ball was played out to, he was then able to find the free man with a diagonal ball. Everton has effectively played past Villa’s first two lines of pressure with just two passes.
Even when the Villa right central midfielder is able to somewhat recover back to close down and pressure Bernard ( circled in yellow) the Brazilian is easily able to evade the pressure and progress the ball past the midfielder by laying the ball back to Andre Gomes who is now free, as we can see above. This was quite problematic for Villa’s right-sided central midfielder as he was effectively always trying to cover two men in Everton’s build-up play ( one dropping deep to receive the ball in front and Bernard in a more advanced position tucked in behind him).
Everton found joy in progressing the ball forward and building attacks through this effective positioning creating the extra man in the middle. Dean Smith tried to eliminate this advantage as he instructed his right-back to tuck into midfield and man-mark Bernard creating numerical equality in the central area.
However, Everton took advantage of the Villa defender being pulled out of position as they played over Villa and direct into the space that was vacated, as we can see below. Richarlison recognised that he could exploit this space and through clever movement pulled out to this wing and looked for the ball in behind.
We see that Bernard has tucked inside drawing out Villa’s right back and Richarlison peels off out to the left filling this space as Everton plays direct over the top finding the Brazilian on the move creating a 1v1 situation which creates a half chance for The Toffees.
We see another more simple movement that exploits the space left by right-backs action to tuck in and mark Bernard below. Everton is building down the left-hand side and Bernard drops out to receive the ball off his left-sided centre-back, his movement draws out both Villa’s right-back and right-winger.
Everton’s left-back Lucas Digne is easily able to run into the space that has opened up and the ball is played over the top for the left-back creating a dangerous crossing opportunity and chance. As a result of Ancelotti’s overall team shape and positional sense, especially Bernard, Everton threatened more in the first quarter of the game.
Smith finds the solution to the problem which disrupts Everton
After a small break in play as Everton centre-back Mason Holgate went down injured, Smith found a suitable solution to the problem that Everton’s positioning was causing, as mentioned in the previous point. The Villa manager decided to match up against Everton’s 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation by switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 as John McGinn moved up to play alongside Mbwana Ally Samatta in the front two.
This switch disrupted Everton’s build-up and forward ball progression as Villa at times created a four with the two wingers supporting in the first line of pressure. The first noticeable change was Villa’s wingers refrained from being drawn in to narrow letting Everton’s centre-back pair have possession instead of covering both full-backs so the Toffees could not play around their first line. Villa’s front two played a key role in disrupting Everton’s build-up, as shown below, as they also did not press Everton’s centre-backs aggressively instead their role was to keep Everton’s deep central midfielders in their cover shadow.
Villa’s four-man forward line’s setup ensured that Villa’s (now two-man central midfield pair) could pick up both Everton’s striker dropping into the half-space and also to take account of and nullify the influence of Bernard positioning in the left half-space with this new shape as we see above. This ensured that Everton did not create the numerical advantage in midfield and also meant that Villa’s right-back did not have to tuck in and open up space in behind as he stayed in position in Villa’s defensive line.
With this change in setup Everton found it difficult to build-up from the back and progress the ball as they had no short to medium passing options as Villa shut them off effectively. As a result, the Everton centre-backs looked lost as they began to hesitate which slowed down their build-up tempo and they began to make poor passing decisions out of frustration.
Smith’s side grew confidence from this and finally started to get some urgency that was expected from their predicament. Villa’s newfound energy and aggression and Everton’s poor decisions resulted in Villa winning the back, which we can see in this instance below.
Everton’s centre-back makes the poor decision of passing in between Aston Villa’s front two to Gomes dropping deep. Before the former Barcelona midfielder takes his first touch both Villa players converge on him and aggressively win the ball back deep in Everton’s half creating a half-chance for Dean Smith’s men. With this change in tactics and shape, Villa started to regain possession and gradually took control of the game as a result.
Villa’s attacking methods result in them taking the lead
With Smith’s men getting more sustained periods of possession as they took control of the game they had the opportunity to build attacks and create chances as a result of having more of the ball. Villa’s main attacking outlet was to build up and progress the ball down Everton’s right-hand side as they have good technical ball-playing players in Tyrone Mings, Matt Target, and Conor Hourihane playing on this side.
As they advanced the ball into the middle/final third on this side they looked to switch the point of the attack out to their right-back Elomohamady who positioned himself in an advanced position on the opposite wing. The Egyptian was not picked up on numerous occasions as Bernard did not track back and mark him effectively leaving him free in acres of space. Villa took advantage of Brazilian left midfielder tucking in and not keeping track of Elomohamady outside him as we see in the image below.
Villa has progressed the ball down the Everton’s left to the middle third where they spot that Elomohamady is space on the opposite wing (circled in red) as the ball is circulated back to Luiz in the middle he is then able to take advantage of Bernard tucking in and not tracking the right-back by playing the ball out to the Egyptian who has time and space to deliver a dangerous cross.
Also, note how Villa set up for the deep cross as they have overloaded the far post (highlighted in light blue) the cross finds McGinn free at the back post as a result but he heads the dangerous delivery wide. Villa did create two really good chances from utilising this attacking avenue down Everton’s left but the opportunities were not converted from the right-back’s deliveries into the box.
However, just before the 2nd half cooling break, Ancelotti addressed this problem as he took off Bernard and brought on Anthony Gordon to track and stop Elomohamdy’s influence and did well to nullify Villa’s main source of attacking output. Smith’s response came after the cooling break as he brought on Keinan Davis for Samatta as the 22-year-old striker provided a great focal point to Villa’s attack as they went more direct to the target man.
Davis was a willing runner in the channels as Villa attacking play and tactics were based around playing the ball long and over the into his path where he was able to hold the ball up before linking up well with his midfielders who played off and looked to support the striker, as we can see below.
Aston Villa were always looking for Davis in the channels as he is good at winning the physical 1v1 battles with opposition centre-backs and makes the pass stick, as we can see above also note how Villa’s left-winger position draws Lucas Digne out and creates the space in the channel providing Davis with a more favourable 1v1 that he is able to win. The Villa players can then anticipate and playoff as we see with Luiz who runs into space and links up with the striker creating a half-chance.
This tactic to play the ball in to Davis down the channel resulted in him being fouled and Villa scored from the resulting free-kick. The introduction of Davis gave them a new reference point when Elomohamdy’s influence was nullified, the Englishman provided Villa with the attacking platform deep in Everton’s defensive third in which to build from and it resulted in Smith’s team taking a well-deserved lead.
After Everton’s bright start in the game, Aston Villa gained control of the game as they changed their tactics and shape mid-way through the first-half which disrupted Everton’s build-up play, as shown in this analysis. As a result, Villa had more sustained periods of possession and built upon this and created chances and deservedly went 1-0 ahead going into the last quarter of the game.
Dean Smith’s side could not hold on and defend their lead as the enormity of the potentially crucial away win dawned on his players as the pressure led them to retreat dropping into a defensive shape behind the ball as they looked to hang on to their lead. Although there were no fans you could sense the nervous tension from the Villa players and staff especially when Konsa slipped from an attacking throw-in late in the game and Dominic Calvert- Lewin missed from point-blank range, which came as a warning sign to Villa because two minutes later Everton equalised. With that result, it leaves Dean Smith’s needing to gain two wins from their last two games as they stare down the barrel of being relegated to The Championship.