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Everton at West Brom: Tactical Analysis

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Roberto Martinez and the Toffees finally started a match with a true winger in the side, but it took them a half hour to figure out how best to utilize him. After that, Gerard Deulofeu and Everton took control.

Gerard Deulofeu gets deserved praise from James McCarthy after Everton's 3-2 win over West Brom.
Gerard Deulofeu gets deserved praise from James McCarthy after Everton's 3-2 win over West Brom.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If 30 minutes into Monday's match, you told an observer that Everton and West Bromwich Albion had five goals in them, you probably would have gotten a few funny looks.

Yet, that's exactly how things ended at the Hawthorns, with the Toffees squeaking out a 3-2 victory over the Baggies. Obviously, a lot of good things had to happen for Everton to find three goals in the second half, but let's start with what went wrong in the first half.

To start, let's look at the way the team lined up to start the match.

Roberto Martinez made two changes to the side from the team's last league match. Ramiro Funes Mori was forced into action with John Stones nursing a slight knock, and Gerard Deulofeu started on the right wing in place of Arouna Kone.

There is a lot to be said about Deulofeu, but there are a few words that must be said about Funes Mori first.

To successfully play Martinez's possession-based style of football, Everton's center-backs must be able to pass the ball out of the back with confidence. Phil Jagielka's distribution has gotten to be relatively reliable since Martinez took over, and it is no secret that one of Stones' greatest assets is his confidence with the ball in his feet.

From the start of the match, it was clear that Funes Mori lacked that confidence. The Argentinian defender was decent in defense, but his distribution was sub-par.

Below is Funes Mori's passing map from Monday's match, accompanied by Stones' passing map from last week against Swansea City.

Mori's map clearly shows that he played a lot of long balls out of the back, but completed very few of them. West Brom appeared to identify him as a potential weak point early in the match, and pressured him whenever he was on the ball.

The result was that the Argentine forced a lot of passes forward because he lacked the passing ability or composure to do otherwise.

His discomfort was exposed on the first West Brom goal, when he found himself trapped near the sideline and played a substandard ball to Gareth Barry. Barry could have done better in handling it, but plenty of blame certainly falls on the passer as well.

Everton's early struggles were not only in the attack though. For the first 30 minutes, the Toffees struggled to get into any offensive rhythm, the reason for which was surprisingly straightforward.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've had discussions with various readers about Everton's best wing options. Many of you suggested that Gerard Deulofeu and one of Steven Naismith or Arouna Kone was the team's best bet, and you got your wish on Monday. But, initially it looked like that group was destined for failure.

Far too often in the first 30 minutes, things looked like this when Everton got the ball.

Most of Everton's attacks in the first half hour started down the left, the wing of Steven Naismith. Naismith, unsurprisingly, tended to drift toward the center. As you will see momentarily, that's not a bad thing on its own. But, when attacks begin on the left side, his tendencies do pose problems.

Because Naismith wanted to play more centrally, Barkley would slide out to the left to provide additional width to the side. The result was that three or four Everton players would all be in the area of the ball down the left, while Deulofeu was completely isolated and out of the play down the right.

Deulofeu's instructions from Martinez were clearly to stay as wide as possible. Often, the young Spaniard was so wide that Tyias Browning's runs forward actually came to the inside of Deulofeu.

The result was that Deulofeu barely saw the ball for the first half hour, as the graphic below shows (courtesy of FourFourTwo.com).

In the first 30 minutes of the match, Deulofeu only received six passes, one of which was nowhere near his normal position.

To remedy this issue, the Toffees needed to get the ball to Deulofeu earlier in the attack. If they allowed attacks to grow solely down the left, there was no way Deulofeu would ever get involved.

But, perhaps the first time the ball was played early down the right, Everton almost scored.

At the start of this counter, James McCarthy is on the ball and Deulofeu is open down the right.

McCarthy gets him the ball early, allowing Deulofeu time and space to ponder his move, take players on, or put in an early cross.

Deulofeu chooses the latter, and puts Barkley through on goal with an inch-perfect pass. Barkley scuffed the chance, but the sequence clearly showed what Everton's best method of attack would be for the rest of the match.

On the Toffees' first goal, it was the same story.

This play starts with Ross Barkley on the ball and Naismith in a relatively central position. There is no play to make by going down the left here, so Barkley manages to switch the field to the dangerous Deulofeu.

Deulofeu's wide starting position means that he is totally open when the ball comes to him. If a player like Tom Cleverley or Arouna Kone were playing this position, he probably would have been more central, and the pass wouldn't have been as simple.

Deulofeu takes his time, allowing the attacking players to get into the box. Notice that Romelu Lukaku is being marked by only one defender because Naismith has attracted two West Brom players with his darting run from the left side. Deulofeu's cross is perfect, and Lukaku heads home to cut the deficit in half.

When attacks come from the right, like in the last two instances I've highlighted, the attack looks more like this.

Deulofeu has space in which to operate, which is crucial for the way that he plays. Naismith is allowed to drift to the center in a way that creates chances, rather than denies them. Brendan Galloway, who has proven to be an adept left-back in the attack, now has space in which to operate as well.

Because of this change, Deulofeu saw a lot more of the ball. His passes received in the final 60 minutes of the game are depicted below.

On the second goal, West Brom adjusted to Everton's style of play, which simply allowed the Toffees to find a goal in a slightly different manner.

This play starts with McCarthy playing a ball in to Lukaku. Deulofeu has again adopted a very wide starting position, but this time the West Brom defenders are alert to the danger and marking him closely. Because Deulofeu has drawn the left-back out wide, Lukaku has space to offer for the ball.

Because Deulofeu has stretched the Baggies' back-line, all Lukaku has to do is beat one man to be in a dangerous position. The big Belgian gets around his marker, and has a left-winger/striker, this time in the form of Kone, making a dangerous attacking run into the box.

This time, the darting run is the target rather than a decoy, and Kone gets onto the end of a solid through ball from Lukaku, tying the game at two.

In this victory, Martinez and Everton proved that having one true winger and one striker playing out of position on the opposite wing can be a very effective tactic. Both Aaron Lennon and Deulofeu could have success in this setup, but only if they are made to be the focal point of the attack.

If not, the Toffees risk isolating a dangerous player. Fortunately, Everton figured out what was going wrong in the first half hour and managed to turn things around, giving us one of the most exciting matches in recent memory.