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Tactical Analysis: Everton v. Crystal Palace

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The Toffees were the better side for almost all of the match on Monday, but a combination bad luck in front of goal, a less than optimal attacking plan, and a typically poor set piece goal against doomed Everton to a 1-1 home draw.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Everton outshot Crystal Palace 19-14. Roberto Martinez's side dominated possession, 62%-38%. The Toffees completed 188 more passes than Palace.

On the face of it, it's hard to be critical of Everton's attack, which created dangerous chances throughout the match. Romelu Lukaku hit the woodwork twice before scoring the equalizer, and multiple shots were blocked on their way to the net.

Once again though, it was a careless, avoidable, and tactically uninteresting defending error that marred Everton's performance, leading the club to a 1-1 draw against Alan Pardew's side.

There is little to say about the goal that put the Toffees briefly behind in the match, except that such mistakes in defending set pieces must be avoided if Martinez's side is serious about making a run up the table or to silverware this season. There is simply no excuse for not keeping a clean sheet in a match like this.

With that being said, let's now turn to the tactical side of Everton's match, which was moderately successful, but still had room for improvement.

Tom Cleverley replaced the injured James McCarthy in the middle of an otherwise unchanged side. The 26-year-old midfielder is the perfect starting point in the discussion of Everton's control over this match.

It is no wonder that Cleverley, a central midfielder by trade, had arguably his best match of the season when given the opportunity to play a position natural to him. Everton's No. 15 looked much like Everton's No. 16 usually looks: constantly running, covering seemingly endless ground, spraying passes from the center of the midfield, and defending competently.

Cleverley is a little more offensive-minded than McCarthy though, as his heatmap (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) indicates.

The English midfielder covered a ton of ground all over the pitch, but his regular presence around the attacking third is a change from what we have come to expect from McCarthy. This departure from the norm was certainly not a bad thing though, as Cleverley nearly scored on a tremendous volley from the top of the 18 in the 66th minute.

His passing was also solid, as is shown in his passing map, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com.

Cleverley completed 50 of 59 passes, as well as two key passes. The majority of his passes went out to the right wing, which brings us to another major point of Monday's match, the influence of Gerard Deulofeu.

Earlier in the season, I was critical of Martinez and Everton for not getting the ball into Deulofeu's feet in wide positions frequently enough, particularly early in games. A quick look at the passes received by Deulofeu in this match clearly shows that this is no longer a concern.

FourFourTwo.com does not provide a count of how many passes a player has received, but I'm going to estimate that Deulofeu was targeted somewhere between a billion and infinity times on Monday night.

Getting the ball out to the young Spaniard, who has two goals and six assists in all competitions this season, is never a bad idea. But, there has to be a better plan in place once the ball gets to Deulofeu.

This is where the Toffees let themselves down in attack. Despite domination of the match as a whole and the creation of multiple solid chances, there were still some key problems that prevented the attack from being all that it can be.

Deulofeu's crossing map exhibits one problem Everton had against Palace.

Deulofeu completed just three of his 21 crosses, but largely through no fault of his own. (It is worth noting that the pass he made that led to Romelu Lukaku's equalizer is not referred to as an assist here, as Gareth Barry got the final touch on the ball before it got to the Belgian striker.) This week, Deulofeu played more direct, early crosses into the box than in perhaps any other match this season, but he was not rewarded for doing so.

For the Deulofeu-centric plan of attack to work properly, the winger needs players to cross the ball to. Arouna Kone's presence on the left wing is supposed to fill this role. The Ivorian striker tends to drift inside when playing as a faux left midfielder, giving Deulofeu two large, attack-minded targets in the box at all times.

In reality though, Kone did not fill that role this week. The 32-year-old frequently drifted too far to the right, finding himself closer to the right touchline than Lukaku or Ross Barkley. His heatmap makes this clear.

Consider how Kone's heatmap differs from Lukaku's, which is pictured below.

When the ball comes out to the right wing, as it did with remarkable frequency on Monday, Kone and Lukaku ought to have essentially the same role: get open, look for crosses, or draw defenders to open up a play for a teammate. Yet, Kone got into the box with less frequency than Lukaku.

In the buildup play, Kone inserted himself into the center of the action near the right wing, which probably is not where Martinez wants to see him. Kone, who is not a particularly good passer, belongs off the ball, making runs and drawing defenders while the true playmakers create chances through the right channel.

But, with Kone frequently in that channel, not only did the Toffees potentially have too many cooks in the kitchen, but they also lost their most valuable chef (if you are willing to tolerate my poor metaphor) in Ross Barkley.

Barkley is Everton's most dangerous player between the opposition's midfield and defense lines, which I discussed at length after the Aston Villa match a few weeks ago. But, with Cleverley, Kone, Deulofeu, and Lukaku all congregating in the right and right-central channels, Barkley chose to lessen the logjam by pulling into the left-central channel.

Barkley's heatmap makes this clear.

This simply is not the proper way for Barkley to be used. He needs to be in the middle of the action, not a secondary figure hoping the ball will pop to him 25 yards away from the play.

The Toffees had two additional, related problems in the attack, which could have turned the match around if addressed.

First, Everton was once again dreadful on corner kicks. I know this is not necessarily a tactical issue, but when a team has nearly 70 percent possession, 13 corners, and bosses a match from start to finish, yet is held scoreless for 80 minutes, questions need to be asked.

Everton completed only three out of its 13 corners, two of which were short passes that came to nothing. With players like John Stones, Ramiro Funes Mori, Kone, and Lukaku all lurking in the box, there are no excuses for this team not to create chances on corner kicks.

This brings us to the second issue: the usage of Leighton Baines. Baines was brought on to play left-back in the last half hour of the match, but was not allowed to have a significant impact on the match.

First and foremost, Everton earned five corners in the 30 minutes Baines was on the field, yet the English left-back took none of them. Given how poor the rest of the team has been on set pieces this season, it is ridiculous that Baines, even if he is not in top form yet, would not be given a chance to make a difference on corners.

Even in open play, the Toffees did not take full advantage of Baines' attacking ability. Baines regularly got himself into wide and advanced positions, but rarely received the ball from his teammates, as his passes received map shows.

In limited time, he showcased his tremendous passing ability, picking out both short and long passes accurately, as his passing map reflects.

As Baines' return to the side becomes more permanent, the Toffees must find a way to include him in the attack more frequently.

Of course, with a little bit of luck, Everton could have had three or four goals on Monday night, and I would not even be thinking about discussing the issues Everton had in attack. If the Toffees had the proper defensive steel, we'd instead be discussing the valuable goal they managed to find in the midst of a difficult match.

But, neither of those are the case. Make no mistake, Everton dropped two points at home to a Crystal Palace side that was certainly respectable, but beatable. If the Toffees are serious about a cup run or top-four/six chase, they have to clean up all portions of their game. That starts at the back with cutting down on cheap goals conceded, but they must also rethink the role of Arouna Kone, how they are approaching attacking set pieces, and the use of Leighton Baines as he returns to health.