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Everton v. Sunderland: Tactical Analysis

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Sam Allardyce and Sunderland tried out a new tactical plan at Goodison Park on Sunday. Though they saw some promising early returns, playing with three center backs ultimately played right into the strengths of Roberto Martinez's Everton side.

Arouna Kone played a crucial role in Everton's success both on the right wing and in the center of the pitch.
Arouna Kone played a crucial role in Everton's success both on the right wing and in the center of the pitch.
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Many Everton supporters walked away from the club's tough stretch of games thinking, "Well, as long as we can get results in the coming weeks against lesser sides, we're going to be fine."

If the Toffees can replicate Sunday's performance over the coming months, they will do just that.

You might suspect that a match in which Everton scored six goals was not particularly tactically interesting, but there was a lot going on between managers Roberto Martinez and Sam Allardyce on Sunday at Goodison Park.

This was evident from the announcement of the Sunderland lineup, which featured a major tactical surprise. Both lineups are pictured below.

Allardyce sent his side out in a 3-5-2, with DeAndre Yedlin and Patrick van Aanholt as wing-backs with significant license to roam forward.

The wing-backs, van Aanholt in particular, made an early impact on the match. Van Aanholt created two great scoring chances in the first 15 minutes of the match, including a shot that hit the post. His pace and high starting position caused Everton problems on the counter-attack.

One such chance started with Jermaine Defoe receiving the ball in the midfield.

John Stones steps up to put some pressure on Defoe, so he quickly knocks the ball out to van Aanholt, who has tons of space between himself and Seamus Coleman.

Coleman has to come out wide to cut off van Aanholt's path, giving Steven Fletcher room to get in behind.

Fletcher gets on the end of the ball and van Aanholt continues his run. He has too much pace for Coleman to prevent to ball from being returned, so Fletcher lays the ball back to the wing-back.

Van Aanholt has a crack from a very dangerous area, and fortunately for Everton, only hits the post. The rebound barley bounces away from Yedlin, who is waiting to pounce in front of the net.

While this is a dangerous situation for the Toffees, who are a little lucky not to at least have Tim Howard forced into a save, it is also a dangerous situation for Sunderland. The Black Cats' wing-backs are both deep in the penalty area when the ball turns over.

Ultimately, the advanced starting position of the wing-backs was the undoing of Sunderland on Everton's first goal. Frankly, Gerard Deulofeu's goal was probably one of the easiest the Toffees will score this season.

Arouna Kone gets on the end of a Sunderland goal kick, looks up, and has to make a relatively simple pass to get Deulofeu in behind the Sunderland back line. I've highlighted the space between Deulofeu and van Aanholt, who has no play on the Spanish winger.

The leftmost defender in the back three, Billy Jones, also shoulders some blame for allowing Deulofeu this much space. The ease with which Everton scored this goal highlights the fact that Sunderland has not regularly lined up with three center-backs, and clearly was not confident of how defensive responsibilities were split.

After the Toffees created an almost identical chance no more than two minutes after the first goal, Sunderland and Big Sam turned their 3-5-2 into a 5-3-2. While this limited Everton's ability to strike down the wings on the counter, it created other issues.

I've highlighted the two areas in which Everton went on to dominate the game. First, let's start with the right flank.

Perhaps the biggest factor in Everton's dominance down the right was the fact that the Toffees made a point of constantly getting the ball there! It may seem simple, but as regular readers of this feature will know, my biggest pet peeve about Everton's attack this year has been its hesitance to use its single true winger.

No such struggles were present on Sunday though, as Deulofeu was constantly on the ball, as was Coleman.

Their heatmaps, displayed below (courtesy of EvertonFC.com), clearly show this.

At no point was Everton's right-wing attack more prominent than the time between the team's first and second goals. Below is the entire team's heatmap from that ten minute span.

The vast majority of Everton's time on the ball between the first and second goals came on the right wing, yet Kone's goal came from the center. This is not a coincidence. After such a long period of sustained possession in one location, Sunderland's defense was forced to pinch over to the right side.

After multiple passes down the right, Sunderland's back-line has slid toward that side. So, when Kone gets the ball from Barkley in the center of the pitch, he has a ton of room to run into on the left.

When Kone receives the layoff from Romelu Lukaku, he has space to take a couple of touches before taking his shot. Though the Ivorian is basically at the center of the pitch, six of Sunderland's eight defensive players are on the right side. With this much space, Kone makes no mistake and doubles Everton's lead.

Kone's tendency to drift into the middle from his starting position on the left makes the Toffees' attacks down the right even more dangerous, because Kone provides an extra target to get the ball to in dangerous positions. This tendency also aided Everton in its other area of dominance, the center of the field in the attacking third.

I've re-used the image displaying Everton's of strength, but this time let's focus on the center of the pitch.

On paper, it might not seem like a huge advantage, with Sunderland's three central midfielders Adam Johnson, Yann M'Vila, and Lee Cattermole matching up against Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, and Gareth Barry.

But, there are two factors that swung play in Everton's direction. First, Adam Johnson is not a central midfielder. He has a creative streak in him, without a doubt, but he has virtually no experience having to defend in central parts of the pitch.

Johnson made only one tackle and one interception the entire match, with both coming while he was helping out down Everton's right wing. So, he made no notable defensive plays in the center of the pitch all match.

Second, Kone's tendencies to drift toward the center of the park gave Everton an extra man in central positions. Below are Kone's passes received and passes made, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com. Note how many passes he makes and receives in the center of the park.

Kone's heatmap also makes this clear.

These two factors turned what appears to be a 3 v. 3 in the center of midfield into effectively a 4 v. 2. The result was an enormous possession advantage for the Toffees.

Martinez's men outpossessed Allardyce's side 68%-32%, outpassed them 615-248, and outpassed them in the attacking third 246-122.

Below is a graphic with the top passing combinations from the match, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com.

Not only are almost all of the combinations between Everton players, they are almost exclusively between midfielders and attacking players. Only at the very bottom of the list does a center-back finally appear, with all other combinations involving Lukaku, the midfielders, and full-backs Coleman and Brendan Galloway, who entered for an injured Bryan Oviedo.

Most notably, Barry and McCarthy had incredibly efficient days, with each completing a ton of passes, many of which were in the middle or final third.

Even after a few defensive breakdowns put the game briefly in jeopardy, Everton's dominance in the center of midfield and down the right ensured that the Toffees would find more goals and put the match out of reach.

Of course, Martinez's men must continue to put together these kind of attacking performances, not just manage to put them together against poor teams. But, if the Toffees continue to overwhelm teams down the right and use numerical advantages in the center of the pitch, there is no reason why we cannot see this team score bundles of goals in this continued soft portion of the schedule.