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Nothing goes right for Everton at Chelsea

Tactical issues, among many other things, played a role in the loss

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It’s hard to analyze a 5-0 loss.

When a team loses by five goals, even if it’s away from home, against a red-hot opponent, and without its most important midfield player, so much has to have gone wrong that it is tough to find a place to start.

So, let’s start with this — absolutely nothing went right for Everton on Saturday, including Ronald Koeman’s tactical plan for keeping things competitive against Chelsea. Yes, lax defending, sloppy passing, poor goalkeeping, and a host of other issues purely related to execution probably played a bigger role over the course of the 90 minutes, but Koeman’s setup had its part to play as well.

Rather than looking in-depth at these struggles as a whole though, this week I’ll take a quick look at a couple of different key points — hopefully this will make reviewing a miserable match a little more palatable!

Limited Use of the 5-2-3

In the opening match of the season, I complimented Koeman for his use of the 5-2-3 to limit the attacking prowess of Tottenham Hotspur. By stacking three central defenders and two holding midfielders in the center of the pitch, the Toffees managed to largely shut down the middle-centric Spurs attack.

Last week, I was critical of Slaven Bilic’s attempt to use essentially the same formation with West Ham — Everton easily used its wide players to stretch the Hammers’ backline and central midfielders, scoring twice.

Koeman tried to use the 5-2-3 against Chelsea on Saturday, but the experience was much more similar the latter example than the former.

He set his team out in the following way:

The theory, I suspect, in choosing this lineup was to deal with Chelsea’s tendency to get extensive numbers forward. Antonio Conte used the 3-4-3 that Mike discussed at length earlier in the week. It looked like this:

In attack, Chelsea looks to have its wingers, Eden Hazard and Pedro, tuck in to an extent, letting them adopt a playmaking role in the center of the pitch while the full-backs charge forward and provide width in the attack.

So, with a five-man backline, Koeman was likely looking to address Conte’s attacking tendencies — Everton’s full-backs would mark Chelsea’s full-backs, the left and right center-backs would mark the Chelsea wingers, and Phil Jagielka in the center would handle Diego Costa. This would free the holding midfielders to provide additional protection where needed.

The problem is that, in attack, Everton needed it’s full-backs to get into the attack to provide any semblance of width, with Ross Barkley and Yannick Bolasie pinching inside to support Romelu Lukaku in the attack.

If Seamus Coleman or Bryan Oviedo got into the attack and then Everton turned the ball over, Koeman ran the risk of having Ramiro Funes Mori or Ashley Williams isolated against Hazard or Pedro on the counter attack.

On Chelsea’s first goal, this is exactly what happened. 70 seconds later, the score was 2-0 and the match was essentially already over. I’m by no means suggesting that this is the reason Everton lost the match, but the formation certainly didn’t help Koeman’s side.

The moral of the story is this — the 5-2-3 is a useful formation for Everton against teams that prefer to attack extensively through the center of the pitch without creating a ton of width. But, against teams that look to attack from the wide areas, this setup will likely not be effective.

Another Slow Start and Quick Change

I touched on this point against Burnley, but it is worth mentioning against — Ronald Koeman’s initial plan to respond to the strengths of his opposition was off base from the start. We’ve now seen this happen against West Brom, Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Chelsea.

Against Brom, he salvaged the match with a quick adjustment in the first half, but the club dropped points in each of the other three matches. As I mentioned above, Koeman’s early mistake was only a small portion of an overall disaster that had more to do with his players than his tactics.

In fairness to the Dutchman, I’m not entirely sure what I’d have done in his shoes, missing Idrissa Gueye, James McCarthy, and Leighton Baines against the hottest team in the Premier League.

But, we sit 11 matches into the Premier League season, with four of those matches overshadowed by significant tactical question marks from Everton’s new manager. That’s a clear problem, but also brings me to my next point.

The Chicken or the Egg

So far this season, we’ve seen Koeman use a 5-2-3, a 4-2-3-1, and a 4-4-2 diamond, with each formation bringing success at some points and utter failure at others.

We’ve seen Gerard Deulofeu the striker, Ross Barkley the winger, and Tom Cleverley the No. 10 — again, each with their ups and downs.

The point is this — Koeman has been doing a lot of tweaking of the lineup, depending on who is in form, who is healthy, and who the team is playing. There’s nothing wrong with that, particularly given how early it still is in the Dutchman’s tenure.

But with the team’s maddening inconsistency so far this season, an interesting question has to be raised.

Is Koeman changing things up so frequently because the team is playing inconsistently, or is the team playing inconsistently because Koeman is changing things up so frequently?

If it’s the former, that’s a serious problem. That would ultimately be an admission that the team simply isn’t good enough right now to legitimately compete for the top six, at least without some attempted managerial magic from the Dutchman.

Or perhaps, if the latter is the case, Koeman does believe in his squad, and it is simply a matter of the manager finding the best way to utilize the assets he has currently. Given that it’s early in Koeman’s tenure, injuries have been problematic, and three very important new players were brought in right before the season, that would be completely fair.

That’s a huge difference — and the answer to this classic “chicken-or-egg” type conundrum really defines where you stand on Everton Football Club’s season outlook after the weekend’s 5-0 thrashing.

Is this a team that is close to a breakthrough, and just needs a little more time to come together? Or is this an under-talented team trending in the wrong direction, with a manager scrambling to find an answer?