Let me be very honest with you from the start — if you’re looking for a feel-good, uplifting piece about the spirit Everton showed in Sunday’s comeback victory over Watford, this is not the place for you.
Yes, I’m happy with the never-say-die attitude shown in the final half hour of this weekend’s match. I’m happy Everton got three points and is now out of the relegation zone going into the international break. I’m happy Michael Keane was healthy and back in the lineup.
But, let’s not pretend that this was a good match or performance for Everton. The Toffees three goals came on:
- A poorly defended long ball that ultimately went in off Oumar Niasse’s backside.
- A corner kick.
- A penalty conceded by Watford via a player tripping into Aaron Lennon.
That isn’t exactly a long-term recipe for success — and let’s not forget that the Toffees went down 2-0 to Watford, at Goodison Park, after an absolutely abysmal hour of football.
Let’s talk about that painful, painful hour, in fact. Start by taking a look at the lineup David Unsworth inexplicably started the match with.
The back seven are all perfectly sensible — Michael Keane, Phil Jagielka, and Leighton Baines are clearly the team’s best three defenders at this stage, and were all left home against Lyon so that they would be fresh for this match. Jonjoe Kenny is the best of a bad situation at right-back, and Idrissa Gueye is an obvious starter in nearly every match.
Beni Baningime started alongside Gueye in the center of midfield, following Morgan Schneiderlin’s dismissal from training on Saturday. I could probably write another 2,000 words on the managerial situation’s relationship to Schneiderlin’s performances this season, but for now, I can respect the decision to shelve the Frenchman and utilize Beni.
The front four, though, is an absolute trainwreck. David Unsworth must have suffered some sort of amnesia in the buildup to this match, because he surely cannot be stupid enough to revive a Ronald Koeman-style tactic less than two weeks after such a gameplan got the Dutchman fired.
Yet here we were, with no true wingers in the side — instead, looking at Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson as the ‘wide’ attacking players. Tom Davies, a box-to-box midfielder, slotted in as the No. 10, while two No. 10s played out wide.
You would suspect, at the very least then, that Rooney and Sigurdsson would drift into the central areas of the pitch, to facilitate the attack, helping Davies to move the team from defense to offense and give the full-backs time and space to get involved going forward.
And that would be a sensible thing to expect! So naturally, you would be wrong to think it!
Take a look at Gylfi and Wayne’s passmaps from the start of the match up to Everton’s first goal.
Sigurdsson was completely adrift on the right wing, and wasn’t able to find any space in which to operate. Rooney got a little more involved, but wasn’t exactly stellar either.
Instead of playing through the club’s best playmakers in the midfield, the Toffees elected to play long balls. A lot of long balls. So, so many long balls. All toward the towering pillar of strength...Oumar Niasse.
In seriousness, though, Niasse got bullied by bigger, stronger center-backs when these long aerial passes out of the back came forward to him — and that’s not on him. Niasse isn’t a holdup striker, and Unsworth’s insistence on using him as such was only going to end up way — that is, conceding possession 60/40 to Watford at home.
Just how many long balls did Everton play in the opening hour of play? Take a look for yourself — the passmap of Jordan Pickford, Keane, Jagielka, and Kenny combined from the first 60 minutes is below.
I truly, deeply have absolutely no idea what the hell David Unsworth expected to happen in this match. He put out a squad best equipped to play through the midfield, and instead he elected to play almost exclusively long balls toward a physically over-matched striker and two slow-as-dirt ‘wingers.’
The introduction of Ademola Lookman helped to change the match in Everton’s favor, as a player with actual pace and 1-v-1 ability is a good thing, despite what Koeman and Unsworth seem to think. It was Lookman’s trickery on the ball that opened up space for Oumar Niasse’s goal.
The introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin gave Everton a better target for long balls and set pieces — DCL helped the team start to turn the tide, and netted the equalizer on a corner kick.
The introduction of Aaron Lennon gave the Toffees width on both sides of the pitch. His pace and 1-v-1 ability in wide areas earned Everton a penalty that led to the match-winner.
So why did it take 55, 67, and 85 minutes respectively to get these players on the field? Lennon’s exclusion gets a bit of a pass because of the number of minutes he’d played in the last three matches, but with the others, there was no excuse.
The Toffees, under Unsworth, have been at their best when wide players have been able to get on the ball and get at opposing backlines — nobody on this team is better at that than Ademola Lookman. Even Nikola Vlasic, left out of the 18 completely, would have been a better option out wide than Rooney or Sigurdsson.
And if Unsworth was truly committed to playing long almost exclusively, he needed to play Calvert-Lewin. There’s simply no world in which long-ball success is possible for Everton if DCL isn’t the man leading the line.
These aren’t complex ideas Unsworth whiffed on — any U14 coach could have seen very quickly that his team was in trouble. His changes helped to earn his team three points, but came with a fair bit of luck and against Watford’s second-string goalkeeper.
If he needs three goals in the final half hour to beat Watford at Goodison Park, he’s not the man to keep control of Everton. Not even close — even if it means his replacement is someone like Sam Allardyce.