There’s no sugarcoating Everton’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday — the Toffees did very little right against and were vastly outplayed by a team inferior to them on paper.
It felt like a match in which the team never really got going and lacked cohesiveness, a strange occurrence given that the lineup was essentially unchanged from that which had gotten Ronald Koeman’s side to second in the Premier League after five matches.
That lineup was as follows:
Bryan Oviedo entered for the injured Leighton Baines, but nothing else in Everton’s lineup changed from Everton’s previous league victories. What did change, however, was the result.
One of the major tactical tools we’ve seen Koeman use in the early part of this season is the high-press, in which the team’s attackers and midfielders apply pressure to the opposing defenders and midfielders on the ball, aiming to force turnovers in dangerous areas and prevent easy entry to Everton’s middle and defensive thirds.
By and large, this has worked pretty well this season, but it was completely ineffective against Bournemouth.
What separates an effective press from an ineffective one is the ability of players pressing forward to do so together — a cohesive press can be nearly impossible to break down, but a disjointed one winds up leaving tons of space between the midfield and defense.
This was the case on Bournemouth’s goal.
The play starts innocuously enough, with Jordan Ibe coming short to receive an aerial ball from the midfield. Seamus Coleman comes forward to challenge Ibe, then steps up to press Charlie Daniels.
When Daniels passes the ball, Idrissa Gueye steps up to press the ball as well, but a quick pass to Ibe finds the English attacker in a ton of space, and Everton is undone.
There’s a lot going wrong in this second GIF. First, Yannick Bolasie is jogging back to his position after the previous attack took him to the left wing. There’s nothing wrong with him swapping wings in attack — but there has to be better awareness about his position, both on the part of the player and those around him.
Coleman needs to recognize that he doesn’t have the help of his winger before pressing Daniels, because without the Congolese attacker in support, there’s no one else in defense on the right side. On the other hand, Bolasie needs to recognize the way the play is developing and do more than simply jog in the general position of his position.
After the ball gets past Gueye, things don’t look much better. Phil Jagielka has clearly realized that there’s no one in defensive support on the right side, so he steps up. But, none of his defensive counterparts do the same, leaving the three remaining defenders actually at three different levels altogether and Gareth Barry nowhere near the ball.
From there, it’s easy for Bournemouth. Harry Arter has all day to pick out a pass to Junior Stanislas, who rockets home a shot from outside the 18-yard-box, as Bryan Oviedo curiously watches on. Oviedo rightly took some of the blame for failing to read the danger and step to the attacker before the shot, but Everton’s ineffective pressing had just as much to do with Bournemouth’s goal.
In attack, the Toffees never got going either, because they couldn’t break down the high pressure Bournemouth applied for most of the match.
From pretty early in the match, the Cherries regularly put pressure on Everton’s back four, which the team struggled to cope with. Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, who were under the most pressure as the team’s center-backs, aren’t the greatest at playing the ball out of the back, but they certainly aren’t awful. Yet, their passing maps for the match looked like this:
Both players completed the majority of their passes either out to the full-backs or to each other across the backline — with very few short to medium-range passes forward toward the midfielders.
With the constant pressure from Bournemouth’s attackers, those passes simply weren’t on very often. When the defenders did manage to get the ball into the feet of Idrissa Gueye, he did well with it, though the same cannot be said for Gareth Barry.
Effectiveness aside, for these two players to only combine for 64 attempted passes (even with Barry only playing 60 minutes) is simply not good enough. For whatever reason, these players could not frequently find the spaces between Bournemouth’s forward and midfield lines to help the defenders work the ball out of the back.
As a result, the center-backs too often were forced to hopefully boot the ball forward, where Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Bolasie, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas, and later Gerard Deulofeu all failed to regularly get on the ball. Despite the team’s impressive ability on the counter attack, Everton is not built to play this way, and it showed throughout the match on Saturday.
In all, this was truly a confusing performance from Everton. The Toffees were let down by two things they’ve done very well so far this season — pressing their opponent high up the pitch and working the ball through their excellent central midfielders. Why exactly did these things fall apart against Bournemouth?
Perhaps it was a lack of confidence, complacency against an inferior opponent, a lack of fitness, or knocks to one or more key players — or some combination of these factors. Whatever the specific cause was, it is imperative that Koeman figures it out quickly, before the team’s opportunity to continue picking up points against weaker opposition runs out.