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Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

“A team in evolution”: Why Everton are “on the right track” under Brian Sørensen after a strong start to the WSL season – tactical analysis

After spending time as “best of the rest” in the WSL, Everton Women spent the summer of 2021 planning an assault on the top four as they looked to put themselves into a position where they could compete with those above them and maybe even fight for a Champions League place. An ambitious recruitment plan was put together to support this aim, with the club identifying and adding players that they felt would give them what they needed to achieve their goals. However, despite nine new players arriving at Walton Hall Park, the club’s aims were let down by their on-pitch form, as a disappointing start very quickly removed any hope of finishing higher than fifth and instead saw them drawn into a relegation battle.

Fast forward one year though, and Everton have made vast improvements and look like a different side. Under new permanent manager Brian Sørensen, who was appointed after leading Fortuna Hjørring to second in the Gjensidige Kvindeligaen last season, they have been playing with increased confidence and have won three of their first five league matches, meaning that they are currently fourth in the league, and this tactical analysis will look in more detail at exactly what has changed at the club this season and why Sørensen’s tactics have had such a positive impact. The scout report will focus specifically on his attacking and defensive ideas and will show why they have been working, but will also identify areas that they can continue to improve in as the season goes on.

Attack

When looking at Everton Women’s overall attacking play last season, it was clear that what they lacked was a killer threat at the top of the field, with them only finding the net on 18 occasions. Therefore, in order to avoid another relegation battle, it was imperative that Sørensen improve their final third play, both in terms of creating and of scoring goals.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women have been pushing further up the pitch to create more goalscoring opportunities in the final third.

The early signs in this regard have been positive, with it clear that the Dane has been trying to work on different aspects of their attacking play and to make them more clinical when they get into promising situations.

One of the ways in which he has corrected their previous issues is by modifying the wing-back system that they used last season, with their 5-4-1 now becoming a 3-4-3. What this has done is to push the wing-backs further up the pitch and to get them playing much more closely with the midfielders and forwards than the defenders, meaning that more forward passes can be made and their transitions can be more precise, with players in advanced areas that can be targeted, all of which has led to them increasing their passing accuracy this season by 3.7%.

When looking at specific players who have had a major impact, one name that stands out is captain Lucy Graham, who has been transformed into a right wing-back under Sørensen, despite being more of a creative attack-minded midfielder by trade. However, the Scotland international’s individual qualities, which include speed when running forwards and good vision around the pitch, have clearly caught the eye of her new manager and made him consider her as a player who can fit into a wing-back role.

Her tendency to run up the field has allowed Everton to be more aggressive with their passing and to  exploit spaces either side of opposing defenders before they have had a chance to organise themselves. In this case, Graham has received a long pass from defender Megan Finnigan and is now inside Chelsea Women’s half of the pitch and in a position to send the ball into the middle for a teammate to get on the end of, showing the threat that has come from her ability to get into these advanced areas of the field. Last season, with the wing-backs not making these runs on as many occasions, none of this would have been possible, and that shows one way in which Sørensen’s tactical tweaks have had a positive impact on the way his new team moves the ball around the pitch with more purpose.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women have given their striker more support in the final third this season.

Another advantage that Everton have gained by playing with more attacking wing-backs is that they can now support the striker. To explain, the fact that the two wing-backs were staying further back last season meant that the two wide attackers had to control the width, meaning that the striker was often left on their own in the middle and therefore became an easy player to isolate. This, and general poor finishing, were the main reasons that Everton struggled in the final third and didn’t score many times.

However, now, with the wing-backs playing higher up the field, the two wide forwards can focus purely on creating and scoring goals, meaning that the striker, in this case Netherlands international Katja Snoeijs, is no longer left on their own. As a result, when she is closed down here by Liverpool Women’s Jasmine Matthews, she can simply pass out towards Izzy Christiansen and keep the attack alive. Last season, the defenders would have likely made a tackle and cleared their lines, so this is the change that Sørensen has made as he has looked to make his team more potent in the final third.

One small concern among fans might be that Snoeijs has yet to find the net for her new club after five matches, but this is nothing to be concerned about this early in the campaign. She was Bordeaux Féminines’ top scorer last season with 10 successful strikes, whilst she assisted nine others, so the statistics are in her favour and she is clearly at her best when she has teammates in the same area as her. Therefore, as long as Everton persevere with these tactics, she will find the net sooner rather than later.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women’s attacking play has flourished under Brian Sørensen’s tactics.

Both examples have shown different ways in which Everton have made themselves a more dangerous attacking side, but to get a good idea of the level of attacking quality that they are now playing with, look no further than the goal that they scored in their most recent WSL match, away at Aston Villa Women.

Firstly, as the white arrows show, the two wing-backs are once again pushing up the pitch to ensure that Everton have the wide channels under control, whilst the wide forwards are inside the pitch and working with Snoeijs to create a goalscoring opportunity.

However, the key player to look at here is Jess Park, who is on loan from Manchester City Women for the season and has shown that she is at her best when given space to move infield and almost act as a false nine. Here, she takes the ball across the pitch, as the blue arrow shows, and drags the Aston Villa players with her, meaning that space opens up on the far side of the pitch. This is important, because it leaves an opportunity open for Graham to then cut inside and move into the goal area, with her getting into the right position to turn in left wing-back Gabby George’s cutback once Park had fed the ball through the defensive line.

Everton have scored an average of 1.2 goals per game this season, compared to one in 2021/2022, and it is situations like this that show why that statistic has increased this season. It does look effortless at times, but there was a significant amount of detail that went into making this particular goal possible, and the fact that every player played their part without an error shows that they really are starting to turn a corner under Sørensen’s leadership.

Defence

When it comes to Everton Women’s defensive play, it was clear that this also needed a lot of improvement over the summer, with their 41 goals conceded the third-highest total in the WSL last season, behind only relegated Birmingham City Women (51) and current top flight strugglers Leicester City Women (53).

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women have looked to stop opponents advancing too far up the pitch when possible.

Sørensen has very specific ideas when it comes to defending, as a common characteristic of Fortuna’s play out of possession last season was for one player to close the ball down and prevent the attackers from progressing too far up the pitch, whilst others moved back into position behind to close off any open spaces.

As this situation shows, he has introduced these ideas at Everton this season too, with his back three given this role as Sørensen tries to make them harder to beat in their own third. In this case, Chelsea’s Lauren James is looking to create an opportunity in the final third but Denmark defender Katrine Veje has got out to her.

However, the important detail to look at here is that Veje, who was another of Everton’s summer recruits, doesn’t make an attempt to win the ball, as doing so would force her to get too tight to James and would invite the forward to take the ball around her. Instead, all that Veje is looking to do here is to prevent the ball from moving any further up the pitch, giving other players time to get back and form a defensive line, and both Rikke Sevecke and Elise Stenevik can be seen in the background doing just this.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women’s three centre-backs have been critical to their ability to control games.

Another aspect of Sørensen’s defensive tactics that needs examining is his desire to push the three centre-backs up the field as often as possible, both when in and out of possession. This has been important in helping Everton to move the ball around with more precision when building attacks whilst also enabling them to regain the ball as quickly as possible once it is lost, and it is the former in this case as Everton are looking for a way through their city rivals and into the final third.

However, the key thing to look at here is the effect that the positioning of these three players has on the rest of the team because the fact that they are so high up the pitch means that both Graham and George have no need to track too far back in order to link up with them. Therefore, they can again focus on playing outside the front three, who can therefore stay closer to each other, and this again shows how they are looking to be more aggressive and get on the front foot this season.

Given everything that has been mentioned, it comes as no surprise that they are averaging more possession per game in this campaign than in the last one, with a 6.69% increase, and it once again demonstrates that all of the changes that Sørensen has been making have had a very positive effect on the team and have made them a more productive side in the final third, helping them to win matches that they would have previously lost.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Katrine Veje’s ball progression map at Everton Women for the 2022/2023 WSL season.

To demonstrate just how much of an effect the three centre-backs have on Everton’s ability to create opportunities, this graphic indicates Veje’s ball progression during their five WSL matches so far. Each arrow indicates an occasion when the Denmark international has dribbled the ball up the field on her own, and the direction of each run and the vast number of these indicates just how important she is during Everton’s transitions as they look to squeeze their opponents back into their own half. It is the same story with all three centre-backs, which means that, wherever the ball is, Everton have a player who can confidently take it forwards and make intelligent decisions.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Rikke Sevecke’s defensive territory map at Everton Women for the 2022/2023 WSL season.

This graphic shows the role played by Everton’s back three when they lose the ball, this time focusing on Sevecke’s contributions. Again, the shape indicates the area of the pitch that the Denmark defender occupies when her team don’t have the ball, and it is clear that she still moves up to the halfway line in order to win it and keep it as far away from her goal area as possible.

It should be mentioned that Sevecke is normally the most central of the three defenders, and therefore most managers would discourage her from moving too far away from her own goal in order to not leave it unprotected. However, Everton this season haven’t been worried about that, with their focus, as shown here, on getting forwards and taking time away from their opponents, and the fact that they have only conceded twice in five matches, with all three of their wins ending in clean sheets, shows that it is something that is clearly working for them.

Defensive question marks

However, whilst there is a lot to like about Everton Women’s new way of defending, there is also no getting away from the fact that it is a high-risk strategy, with a lot of space being left open behind them and a lot of pressure on individual players to not make mistakes that could allow their opponents to exploit those areas.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women’s high line can leave them open to opposing counterattacks.

Unfortunately, these mistakes are being made though, with Chelsea on this occasion sending the ball forwards and none of the Everton players in the area managing to win it. As a result, Niamh Charles is able to run at their goal, with Sørensen’s side unable to prevent the former Liverpool player from gaining ground due to the speed of her running, as they know that any mistimed tackle attempt would lead to a free kick and potentially a red card, due to this being a clear goalscoring opportunity. Therefore, Charles was able to wait for the right opportunity to shoot and to move the ball out of her feet before finding the bottom corner, securing the win for the WSL’s defending champions.

On this occasion, Everton were not defensively robust, as has been shown in previous images, and were punished for not winning the ball before it reached Charles. However, this is an important point to address, because they have won less duels under Sørensen, with 6.5% less defensive and 1.5% less aerial battles being successful, so this is one downside of his brave tactics and is something that they clearly need to look at in order to keep making themselves harder to beat.

Everton Women 2022/23: Analysing their positive start - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton Women can leave space open between their lines for opponents to use against them.

The other thing that Everton need to keep an eye on is their low block setup, because, whilst they have good line discipline and players form straight lines to prevent gaps from opening up, they seem to forget about the spaces in between. As a result, they have often allowed their opponents to use these areas in order to move the ball behind their defensive line, with Aston Villa’s Scotland and on-loan Manchester United Women winger Kirsty Hanson receiving the ball and having a shot at goal here.

Although Hanson wasn’t able to convert her opportunity on this occasion, this is not the only time that Everton’s opponents have managed to access these spaces, with Chelsea doing the same thing during their match at Walton Hall Park. Therefore, again, whilst Everton do defend well most of the time, these are the situations that they need to keep working on, because the WSL is an unforgiving league and conceding goals from situations like this could be what denies them a place in the top four.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in closer detail at Everton Women under Brian Sørensen, focusing on the reasons for their strong start to the campaign and the changes that have been made to their attacking and defensive play.

When Everton brought in nine players in 2021, it was evident that they had the desire to push into the top four of the WSL and to be an overall more competitive side. Last season ended up being a false start in that regard, but they do now look to be on the right track at last, with Sørensen saying as much himself in the last week, and he needs to take a lot of credit for the way that he has turned them around over the last few months, with him making shrewd signings and implementing a style of play that is both entertaining and effective.

There is still a long way to go before they can really look to challenge at the top of the league, with there being a few things for them to keep working on as the season progresses and they continue to grow as a team, which the analysis has highlighted. Nevertheless, the Dane’s appointment has so far proven to be a masterstroke by the club, and, if the players, tactics and club ambitions continue to match up, then their fans can continue to smile for a long time to come.