The first half of Everton's match against Bournemouth on Saturday was among the most encouraging of the season.
The Toffees found themselves on the road, against a scrappy side, in conditions which made the match unpredictable. So, when Roberto Martinez's side found a strategy that was working, even though it was far from Everton's preferred possession-based gameplan, things were looking good.
So, what in the world happened that turned a straightforward 2-0 victory into an incomprehensible 3-3 draw against a side in the relegation zone? At the risk of oversimplifying things, the Toffees took their foot off the gas and went away from what had worked well in the first half.
Following a stretch in which Everton picked up 11 goals and seven points in their last three matches, Martinez made no changes to his side.
The match got off to a relatively uneventful start, with neither team able to completely assert their will. Both sides were no better than decent in possession, though the Cherries exhibited early on that they were going to be willing to exert a lot of energy to try to get and keep the ball.
One factor in the match's slow start was the wind at the Vitality Stadium. Both teams struggled to complete long balls out of the back, into strikers, or across the pitch, as the swirling wind caught most balls that stayed in the air for an extended period.
The long balls maps of both teams, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com, make this difficulty clear.
This wind made playing the ball long out of the back an option that both teams wanted to avoid. Around 15 minutes into the first half, Everton began to take advantage of this.
For a Bournemouth side paralyzed by injuries and somewhat short on talent (though certainly not on effort), playing out of the back was always going to be a challenge, so when Everton started to apply pressure higher up the pitch, the Cherries had a problem.
They did not have the passing ability at the back to work short passes forward, but the wind made long balls out of the back an untenable plan as well.
The result was indecision on the ball from Bournemouth's defenders and midfielders when they managed to get the ball away from Everton's attackers.
The following GIF is representative of how the match looked from the 15th to 30th minutes.
Dan Gosling wins the ball in the center of midfield, but Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone are on him before he has an opportunity to pick out a short pass. Gosling could have tried to play the ball long once he turned, but with the wind whipping around the Vitality Stadium, that almost certainly would have resulted in a turnover.
Instead, Kone and Deulofeu took advantage of the Bournemouth midfielder overcomplicating things and managed to keep the attack alive. In fact, the attack that resulted from this turnover led to the corner on which Ramiro Funes Mori scored the opener.
While on the topic of Funes Mori's headed goal, it must briefly be said that the Toffees deserve credit for the way they took their corners in the first half. Obviously, Everton has struggled on set pieces this season (Funes Mori's goal was the team's first set piece goal of the season), but Barkley created two glorious chances off corners in the opening half hour. Given the additional obstacle of the high winds, these chances came as a pleasant surprise.
But those chances came as a result of the pressure the Toffees applied to the Cherries in Bournemouth's defensive third. In the ten minutes before Funes Mori's goal, this pressure led to total Everton dominance in terms of both total and zonal possession, as these graphics from EvertonFC.com indicates. The first image refers to minutes 16-20, and the second refers to minutes 21-25.
(Everton's possession totals, for some reason, are the orange, not the blue.)
Funes Mori's go-ahead goal came in the 25th minute, at the height of Everton's dominance.
Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead before the end of the first half, and it appeared that the Toffees were well on their way to a comfortable win over Bournemouth.
Instead, Martinez's side completely sat back and allowed the Cherries to take control of the match, despite the fact that they had yet to solve Everton's pressure.
Of course, game states must be taken into account when considering Martinez's gameplan for the second half. Surely the Toffees, up two goals in the second half, should not have pressed quite as high up the pitch as they were when the match was still scoreless.
But, Martinez and Everton took things way too far, going from applying high pressure to absolutely zero pressure. Predictably, this opened up the door for Bournemouth to get back into the match.
The image below displays the possession stats for the second half of the match, which clearly show how massively the Toffees took themselves out of the match.
By inviting so much pressure, Everton turned the problems it created for Bournemouth onto itself. The wind kept the Everton defense from being able to play long balls out of the back, and as the match progressed and the Cherries got more desperate, the midfield got more clogged, making transition even more difficult.
In the end, the Toffees got what they deserved. Bournemouth tied the match at two and again at three, leaving Martinez to rue what should have been a straightforward three points.