In this summer, Everton bought exciting new players such as Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Jean-Philippe Gbamin. They also signed experienced players, including Fabian Delph from Manchester City and Djibril Sidibé. Idrissa Gueye became the only key player to leave the squad. These new players should upgrade the team and Marco Silva’s men should fight for a better result this year.
With two wins, one draw and a loss, Everton started the 2019-20 Premier League quite well. They stayed in sixth place at the table after four matches. This tactical analysis and scout report will provide you with a tactical review and team analysis of Everton’s tactics used in the Premier League this August.
Formations used by Silva
Silva prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation. In the early stages of the season, the Portuguese used players who were at the club last season more often. Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina, Michael Keane, and Seamus Coleman have been the preferred back four that have started all the games. Despite the new signings competing for a place in the squad, André Gomes, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bernard, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin still played more.
Despite tactical amendments to counter different opponents, Silva’s team used similar approaches in these games. Their setup included attacking full-backs, a stable build-up from the backline, and wingers occupying the half-spaces. This analysis will explain Everton’s style of play (mostly against a team defending with a back four), including their strengths and weaknesses.
Two types of build-up play
As mentioned, Silva’s team usually build-up in the first phase of the attack. Everton had two different shapes in this phase. There were some key tactical setups that did not change, including the attacking full-backs to provide width. Meanwhile, the double pivot and centre-halves were all involved. Everton intended to use their build-up to attract opposition press.
The first image was from the Everton vs Watford game. The centre-backs split and the double pivot stayed higher, forming a quadrilateral to contain opponents. When playing against teams defending with two front players, this approach is useful since it creates a numerical superiority (4v2). Mina and Keane split, forced Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu to spread. It opened the passing lanes towards Gomes and Gbamin. This broke the first line of press. When the ball arrived at Gomes’ or Gbamin’s feet, these two players also possessed a numerical advantage against the lone opponent behind them.
Other than this quadrilateral shaped build-up, there’s another build-up that was effective against a team defending with only one striker. In this setup, a pivot dropped to the defensive line and formed a back three with the centre-halves, while another pivot stayed higher. It is like a 3-1 shape. At first, the pivot dropped between the centre-halves. However, Silva instructed the pivot to cover the space left behind by the attacking full-back and this was a great tactical move.
This image demonstrates the second type of build-up. There was a back three with Schneiderlin positioning himself between players. Their left-back Digne stayed high and wide. When Gomes got the ball at the left side, he drew away from the opposition right-winger (in most cases, the right-winger was instructed to mark the left-back).
This move released Digne so the Frenchman could stay high and unmarked. Meanwhile, Bernard was occupying the left half-spaces. With a wide-angle for a pass, Gomes could find Digne easily. As a result, Digne and Bernard overloaded the right back. The full-back and winger then cooperated with different moves, which I will explain below. This tactic worked on both sides.
After a season, Silva’s team was more comfortable on the ball. Even under pressure, they could still play the ball out without panicking. Everton players, especially the pivots could read the game, forming passing triangles with teammates. This provided themselves as an option and broke the opposition press.
In the first image, we see Villa wanted to press Everton high. In this case, Gomes moved towards Mina to provide a passing option. He knew there was an opposition behind him, he must play the ball to Digne with a one-touch pass. Any sloppy or heavy pass could give the ball away. Gomes passed the ball to Digne with his left foot and this broke the first wave of the press.
When Digne controlled the ball, Villa players were moving forward to press Everton again. In this case, Schneiderlin showed up to provide himself as a passing option. Meanwhile, Bernard dropped to reduce the distance between Everton players. These three players formed another passing triangle to support each other. After the one-touch pass by Schneiderlin, Everton successfully beat the press of Villa and progressed the ball.
This is an example of Everton’s capability to play under pressure. They could support each other and play quick one-touch football to break the press.
Players to drop between lines
After their build-up, Everton’s attack proceeds to the second phase. In this phase, Everton players dropped between the lines. Other than Icelandic attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, their striker Calver-Lewin dropped deep as well. Meanwhile, there at least one player stayed on the shoulders of Villa defenders, pushing the defensive line deep and increasing the gap between lines.
In the case below, Sigurðsson was the player to drop deep. As mentioned, Everton invited the press with their build-up. After the Toffees broke the press, Villa’s defending was unorganized. Therefore, Sigurðsson could utilize the space between the Villa defenders and their front players. Mina, Gomes, Keane all possess the ability to pass vertically to break the press. Here Mina made the penetrating pass that eliminates four Villa players and found Sigurðsson.
Since there were huge spaces between the lines, Sigurðsson could turn and had time to decide his next move. Meanwhile, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison both ran towards the box. This forced the Villa defenders to retreat instead of stepping up to stop Sigurðsson. The Icelandic attacking midfielder could either shoot or pass.
In other cases, Calvert-Lewin was the player to drop. However, key tactical concepts were the same. This was the approach that helped Everton to create chances once they moved the ball to the centre.
Combinations down the flanks
If the ball went wide after Everton’s build-up, their full-backs combined with the wingers to attack the flanks. Usually, in this phase of the attack, one player was going to occupy the half-spaces and the other hugged the touchline to provide width. They wanted to increase spaces between players horizontally.
Below is an example of Everton’s move down the flanks. Digne stayed wide at the touchline and Villa right back Frédéric Guilbert already stepped out to close off Digne. However, the decision of Guilbert increased the distance between himself and Björn Engels. Bernard made a forward run towards the left half-space, neither Engels nor Jota was able to track him. Since Guilbert stepped out late and alone to close off Digne, the Everton left-back could easily play the ball to Bernard for a cross.
Other than the above move, there was another combination for Everton’s wingers and full-backs down the flank. Still, the full-back stays wide and the winger stays in the half-spaces. If there were more defenders such as the below case, the winger (Iwobi here) can release the full-back.
Iwobi received the ball between Villa players without any pressure. At the same moment, Digne was already running down the flank. He intended to hit the space behind the Villa right back. Iwobi released Digne and the French left-back provided a cross which caused chaos in the Villa box.
Transitions: Bernard as the key man
Other than through build-up play, Everton also tried to create chances through quick transitions, attacking space behind full-backs. Bernard was the player to dash forward during transitions often. The Brazilian also likes to take on the opposition. Statistics showed Bernard takes on opponents two times per game. This figure is the highest among Everton players.
Gomes is a good passer and he reads space before receiving the ball. This allows the Portuguese midfielder to play long balls, finding his teammates in transitions. One of the players who gained benefit from Gomes’ pass is Bernard. The Brazilian usually attacks space behind full-backs without hesitation in transitions. The below image is an example. Gomes was in Everton’s half while Bernard at the other side of the pitch. Even though on his weaker left foot, the former Barcelona man still found Bernard and the Brazilian arrived box with the ball.
The first Everton goal in the 2019/20 campaign, was also scored by Bernard, in a similar pattern, where Digne’s pass found the Brazilian. Then, Bernard took on Watford right-back Kiko Femenía to cut inside, and his shot beat Ben Foster.
Defending style: a 4-2-2-2 block
When defending, Everton formed a block in a 4-2-2-2 shape. The intensity of the press was lower than the 2018/19 Premier League campaign. In some cases, they formed a midblock instead of pressing high as a team. Silva does not want his backline to get exposed too often. Statistics showed the importance of Gueye to the Everton defence. The Senegalese made a total of 89 successful tackles last season. Without Gueye this season, Everton must be more careful when defending.
The first image illustrates how Everton press with the 4-2-2-2 shape. First, Sigurðsson stepped out to stay on the same line with Calvert-Lewin. These two players were trying to contain the single pivot of opposition. When the centre-back receives the ball, this could trigger the Everton press. The press of Calvert-Lewin was wise as he ran from the Villa pivot, Douglas Luiz. This cut the passing lane towards the Brazilian so as eliminated an option for Villa to pass. Everton did not intend to win the ball back high. Instead, they allowed centre-backs to play long, then Mina or Keane won the ball in the air.
However, this approach was less effective when playing against teams playing with two pivots, like Watford in the below case. This was because Everton did not enjoy numerical superiority in this phase, the midfielders did not step out to join the press. Sigurðsson and Calvert-Lewin were not able to cover spaces behind them. With one more option to pass, the opposition were more likely to beat Everton’s press.
Here is an example of such a situation in the Watford game. Everton formed the 4-2-2-2 block. Sigurðsson and Calvert-Lewin pressed the centre-backs, but they left Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré unmarked behind. Room for Capoue to drift forward was huge since there’s space between the Everton midfield line and the first line of press. Gbamin reacted but it was too late and Watford progressed the ball, then won a foul.
When defending transitions, Everton seldom counter-press intensely. However, Gomes is usually the player to step out and close off the ball.
Room for improvement: half-space exploitations
Though Silva’s tactics are praised much, there is still room for improvement. When Everton attack down the flanks and occupy the half-spaces, they can do better to maximize the benefits. For example, Villa exploit space better.
In this situation, Coleman stayed wide and Theo Walcott already made the run from the half-space. Villa left-back Neil Taylor followed Walcott. As a result, there were huge spaces generated between Tyrone Mings and Taylor as highlighted below. If any midfielder had made a forward run to exploit that space, Villa would have been in trouble. Mings could not deal with both players at the same time.
Weakness: facing short freekicks
Everton had a defensive problem when it comes to defending freekicks. They did not concentrate on dealing with short freekicks. The reaction of Everton players was disappointing, they just looked at the ball and forgot the opposition was around them in such a situation. Wesley’s goal at Villa Park was not a coincidence.
Here is another example. In the game against Crystal Palace, a similar situation happened. Palace played a short freekick, then Everton players panicked. First, there were at least three players to close off the ball, but no one was close enough to make further defensive action. Secondly, Everton was overloaded at the right side of the defence. Coleman and Keane were ball-watching, totally forgetting about the opposition behind them. As a result, both Maximillian Meyer and Jordan Ayew got behind Coleman and Keane. The former controlled and shot in the box, fortunately, it was high.
Weakness: when Richarlison is tired
Under the 4-2-2-2 block of Everton, the wingers also have their defensive duties. Everton wingers should track runs or compress space at flanks, together with the full-backs. In the draw between Crystal Palace and Everton, Brazil right-winger Richarlison regained possession 10 times, more than any of his teammates.
However, when Richarlison was exhausted, Everton were weak in wide areas. This often happened in the latter stages of the game. The below example was taken from the 74th minute of the Palace draw. While Wilfried Zaha got the ball, their left-back Patrick van Aanholt also joint the attack. The Dutchman made an overlapping run and they overloaded Coleman. Without Richarlison’s help, Coleman could not handle both players at the same moment. In this attack, Van Aanholt produced a cross that required a clearance.
In this tactical analysis, we explained how Everton played in August. They had a very clear attacking approach that helped the Toffees to create chances. However, in the first three games, they missed two chances that had an xG of 0.35 or above. If they want to become better, they must improve their finishing in the box.
Everton had been doing well defensively though there had not been any real tests in August. In the first four games, Everton had 55.8% of possession on average, the same as Liverpool. Everton conceded 7.3 shots per game, only higher than Manchester City. It will be intriguing to see whether they will continue their style of play against City next month.
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