Everton deserved to lose to Crystal Palace on Saturday — and it wasn’t particularly close. An Eagles side playing two wingers at striker, a midfield four composed entirely of central midfielders, and Julian Speroni in goal dominated Everton basically from the opening whistle.
If not for a brutally poor penalty decision and an equally moronic goalkeeper giveaway, Everton never would have climbed back into a match against a team with four points and a minus-18 goal differential through 11 matches. That’s where we’re at, folks.
The most amazing part?
Interim manager David Unsworth picked arguably his best 11 available players to start this match, yet managed to get his tactics so laughably wrong that the Premier League’s worst team made the Toffees look like they belong in League Two.
I imagine you’ve seen the same stats that kept me up in a cold sweat last night, but if not, let’s review exactly how bad this match was.
- Palace held 68.5% of possession
- Palace out-passed Everton 539-250
- 26.4% of Everton’s passes were long balls
- Everton completed 65.6% of its passes
- Everton completed 53.6% of its passes in the Palace half
- Everton committed 26 fouls and was forced into 34 tackles
So, how did things get so bad that Everton made last-place Palace look like Manchester City? The answer, actually, is pretty simple.
Let’s take a look at the team’s starting lineup to see how it all went wrong.
Everton Twitter lied to us.
Yes, those were the 11 players to take the pitch on Saturday, and yes, that would have easily been the most sensible way to set them up.
But no, that’s not what we got. Instead, we got this — per the average position map from the first half on EvertonFC.com.
We were promised a 4-2-3-1, with Gylfi Sigurdsson as the 10, Aaron Lennon and Ademola Lookman flanking him, and Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye sitting in behind.
Instead, we got the flattest 4-5-1 I’ve ever seen, with Schneiderlin as the center-most midfielder, Sigurdsson and Gueye on either side of him, and Lennon and Lookman in the wide positions, but sitting incredibly deep.
Sitting deep, as it turned out, was inexplicably the order of the day. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how deep the Toffees were sitting the entire match without forcing you to sit through the entire match and watch it — and I’m pretty sure the Geneva Convention has something to say about torture.
But, consider this. In the average position map above, Everton has one player whose average position is above the halfway line. The club’s defenders are a stone’s throw away from the box, and the midfielders are a stone’s throw away from the defenders.
Consider then, the Crystal Palace average position map.
Palace has six players whose average position was in the Everton half, and another whose average position is right on the halfway line. The Palace center-backs are also nowhere near their goalkeeper.
Now remember, this is last-place Crystal Palace that Everton was up against. Yet David Unsworth saw fit to give them the respect you’d expect to be given to one of Europe’s top clubs, throw his entire team behind the ball, and pray.
Unsworth discovered that given enough time and space, any Premier League team will break you down, even Crystal Palace. I’m not going to focus on the goals conceded or individual defensive breakdowns in any more detail than that, simply noting that if you concede nearly 70% possession, you’re going to give up chances — regardless of the opposition.
In attack, it was the same nonsense we saw in the first half against Watford — inexplicable long balls to Oumar Niasse over and over again, which the Senegalese striker simply isn’t equipped to make something of.
That’s no slight on Niasse, mind you. He’s just simply not big enough or strong enough to make something dangerous out of hopeful long balls.
That didn’t stop Unsworth from making it his only gameplan though. Take a look at the first-half pass map for the Everton defenders and Jordan Pickford.
Long red lines as far as the eye can see!
The defenders essentially only passed amongst themselves or hoofed the ball long (I’ve also included clearances — the purple triangles — in this graphic, as sometimes the line between long ball and clearance can be blurred), entirely taking the central midfielders out of the game.
You know, the central midfielders, the guys who are the strength of the team?
Take a look at the first-half passmaps for Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson, the two best passers on the team.
The two players who should be driving Everton’s transition from defense to attack completed three forward passes in the opening 45 minutes. Two of them were from Schneiderlin, just inside the Palace half; the final one was Sigurdsson’s assist on Niasse’s goal — a perfectly fine pass, but one that came about because of a forced turnover, not interplay among Everton players.
The reality was that even in the few instances where Schneiderlin or Sigurdsson got on the ball in the midfield, they had nothing to do with it. The Toffees didn’t have a 10 to facilitate the play in transition, because Sigurdsson was stuck in next to Schneiderlin or Gueye, rather than in front of them.
The wingers were out of the play too — forced to sit so deep alongside the central midfielders that they weren’t legitimate passing options when the ball got into the midfield.
There are one or two things I want to briefly touch on about the second half, as thus far this has focused on the first half primarily — though most of the first-half issues became second-half issues, then compounded by other Unsworth mistakes. But first, let me make something very clear — something that goes against a fair bit of what I’ve seen online in the aftermath of this fiasco.
The players didn’t decide, on their own, that they should sit basically right on top of their goalkeeper in a block of four and a block of five, against the worst team in the Premier League. That just isn’t how things work. There was an obvious, widespread plan from the start to play this way — and that comes from the manager, not the players.
At the start of the second half, Unsworth made two substitutions, bringing on Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman.
This didn’t really change the setup of the team — the Toffees remained in a very flat 4-5-1, with DCL going out wide, and Davies into the middle alongside Gueye and Sigurdsson.
Calvert-Lewin’s introduction was welcome, given the way Unsworth forced his team to play. Getting another big body up front gave the players a better target for long balls. They still shouldn’t have been playing long balls against Crystal Palace, mind you, but it was a slightly better option than it was in the first half.
Bringing in Davies for Schneiderlin, though, I do have a problem with. Schneiderlin came off injured, and it appears that Unsworth was aware that the Frenchman was fighting injury heading into the match.
Davies is a fine player, but he’s a very different type of player than Schneiderlin — who was Everton’s best option to be able to move the ball through the midfield, rather than simply bypassing it.
Beni Baningime has proven to be an excellent Schneiderlin replacement, yet he was left to play for the U23s this weekend, instead of being on the bench as an option to come on for a player who was fighting injury. His exclusion is simply baffling. Unsworth likes the youngster, he’s played well, and his position of preference is one that was in flux coming into the match. Why wasn’t he available?
At any rate, the upshot was that Everton’s ability to play through the midfield was reduced even further, and the team continued to be out-possessed to an embarrassing degree.
David Unsworth set up his team to play scared against the worst team in the Premier League on Saturday. You can talk about individual performances until you’re blue in the face, but it isn’t going to change that fact.
I’ve said it essentially every week since he took charge, but the true remains as obvious as ever — Unsworth isn’t capable of managing this team.