Another matchday, another draw, another decent performance stifled by a defensive lapse. As Everton continue to stagnate in the table, perhaps their most notable failure at the moment is lack of consistency in defence.
Last week in my discussion of Everton's attack, I alluded to the fact that their defense had been somewhat mediocre this year. Currently in the league they rank 12th in goals against, 11th in expected goals against (using Michael Caley's model), 14th in shots against, and a dismal 18th in shots on target against. Perhaps "mediocre" may have been a bit kind--in short, these aren't the sort of numbers you want to see out of a team ostensibly competing for European places.
A question worth asking
@RBMersey Maybe Everton's defense is simply bad?— Mike L. Goodman (@TheM_L_G) December 12, 2015
- Everton league ranking, shots allowed from counter-attacking moves: 17th
- Leicester league ranking, shots taken from counter-attacking moves: 2nd
Defensively, this should probably be Martinez's main focus on Saturday. Much has been discussed already regarding the Foxes' remarkably quick and direct play--I highly recommend Statsbomb's take on the topic from last month. In addition to their counter attacking success, I took a look at two other metrics that generally imply quickness and directness: shots per pass (sometimes called shot tempo) and possession adjusted shots for. This is simply the amount of shots a team takes, weighted for the possession that they have. Leicester are posting a comically low 43.4% possession share this season, but are still shooting quite a bit:
The idea here is that Leicester do not rely on possession to control the game, but rather seek to get a shot off quickly once they take control of the ball. Further underlining their disdain for possession football, they are also dead last in the league in passing accuracy (though it's worth noting for Saturday that Everton's defense struggle in this regard--they are 18th in passing accuracy against). Unconventional as they may be, one would be hard-pressed to say that Leicester's tactics aren't working--they are 3rd in the league in open play goals and 4th in xG (and, of course, top of the table!).
All of this should make for an interesting matchup with Everton. It's not hard to imagine another scenario in which after 90 minutes we are looking at a possession statistic skewed heavily towards the Blues but a scoreline in the opposite direction. This, in a nutshell, is what Leicester can do to you. Martinez would do well to keep his men as organized as possible and to guard against the counter--not exactly his strong suits thus far, evidenced by both the numbers and what we've seen on the field.
Romelu Lukaku and co. can only do so much, and against Norwich he showed that even he is human. If Everton are to turn draws into wins, defensive solidity will be of paramount importance. Needless to say, Saturday is a big test.