It was their first away win in the Premier League since January 21, 2017 — almost a full year between league wins away from Goodison Park. For a club of Everton’s size and ability this drought was simply unacceptable — another clear sign of the strange and tumultuous end of the Ronald Koeman era.
It was, through the strange twists of footballing fate, Sam Allardyce who finally managed another Everton away win before the close of calendar year 2017. Big Sam has now earned a point at Anfield and gotten the elusive road win in his time in charge, in addition to a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town.
One quote in particular from the manager caught my attention after the Newcastle victory —
“It's not rocket science, it's simplifying things and making it easier for you to make decisions that will help you win back your confidence and help put results on the field and take us forward.”
It’s not rocket science — boy, Sam doesn’t hold back does he?
But, he’s absolutely right in this instance. Everton’s got a reasonable amount of talent, even when you acknowledge their obvious flaws and lack of depth. It shouldn’t be as hard to get results with this group as Ronald Koeman and David Unsworth made it seem, and Allardyce damn well knows it.
Here’s a quick look at three, simple, straightforward moves that Allardyce has made since taking charge Everton, which have helped to turn the season around.
Bring Morgan Schneiderlin back into the fold
I don’t know what happened with Morgan Schneiderlin in the first two months of the season.
He was the second-half MVP last season (to me, at least) and has a history of success in the Premier League — but he looked slow, uninterested, and sloppy to start the season, culminating in several benchings and some sort of training dust-up with coach Duncan Ferguson.
He deserved to be on the bench at times based on his form, and we’ll probably never know the full extent to which his issues stemmed from issues with Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth, his teammates, or from inside his own head. The fact of the matter, though, is that he’s Everton’s best true holding midfielder, and he has to be at his best for the Toffees to succeed.
EFC With Schneiderlin In The Side
Allardyce’s slow re-integration of Schneiderlin into the team — first off the bench against Huddersfield Town late, then in Cyprus, in the second half at Anfield, and finally as a starter on Wednesday, seems to have worked to perfection. And, in each of those matches, Schneiderlin showed what he brings to Everton.
His introduction into the Huddersfield match allowed Idrissa Gueye to play a more aggressive box-to-box role. Gana won a key tackle in the midfield and found Wayne Rooney, who sent Dominic Calvert-Lewin away on the break for the insurance goal.
Against Liverpool, he brought a modicum of ball control in the midfield — to go along with a fair bit of second half defensive stability, which helped keep Liverpool at bay in the final 45 minutes.
Against Newcastle, his partnership with Gana allowed Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson to enjoy a freer role in more advanced positions — something the Toffees need to have to create chances while Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie are still absent.
To put it simply, Morgan Schneiderlin allows every player he plays with to do his job more freely and simply. He’s a must-have when available, and Allardyce has done well to get him re-invested in the club.
Use Aaron Lennon (and the other attackers) correctly
Perhaps the greatest undoing of Ronald Koeman was his inability to get Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney on the pitch at the same time, pulling in the same direction. They’re both proven to this point that they’ve got first XI quality, but in the 4-3-3 Koeman was trying to utilize, he just couldn’t make it work.
The solution? Unsurprisingly, bringing in and utilizing an actual winger — Aaron Lennon.
Sigurdsson starts on the left wing, at least on paper, but he adopts much more of a central role in reality. Lennon hugs the right touchline, stretching the back line and drawing defenders into his area.
This creates space for both Rooney and Sigurdsson to operate in the center — where they actually belong. The Toffees can try to work the ball to those two in search of the final pass or shot, taking that responsibility away from Lennon, who’s a useful player but often lacks the final product.
For an example of how this plays out on the pitch, consider the total passmaps from two different matches — first, David Unsworth’s last match in charge, against West Ham.
Recall that Everton won this match 4-0!
Yet, there’s no real action in the central channel, with everything instead coming from wide areas. That’s not a long-term recipe for success unless you’ve got a world-class winger and/or an imposing, aerial threat of a striker. Everton has neither.
Now take a look at the total passmap from the Huddersfield match, Allardyce’s first game in charge.
This is the exact same personnel as the West Ham match, but with a much greater focus on using Lennon’s width to stretch the pitch, and then work the ball to the two main playmakers.
The Toffees also brought a greater focus on keeping the ball to the Huddersfield match, which brings us to the final point.
Protect the defenders proactively
People usually talk about possession stats as an indicator a team’s ability to control a match in an attacking sense — and this is, to an extent, true.
But possession stats can also be looked through with a defensive lens — if you control the ball for 70% of a match, that’s 70% of a match during which you definitely aren’t going to be scored on. Conversely, if you concede 70% of possession, that means you’re defending for 70% of the game.
This, of course, is not to say that you cannot have success defending for 70% of a match. Everton took a point at Anfield doing it, and Leicester City not so long ago won a Premier League title playing that way. But if you’re going to do it for long spells, you best have strong, reliable defenders.
It was for this reason that David Unsworth’s tactics were so often self-defeating. He knew his defenders were struggling, so he instructed his players to hoof the ball down the field as frequently as possible. Yes, that eliminated immediate danger, but it meant that more danger was sure to come.
Instead, Sam Allardyce has brought a more possession-based style to Everton. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
He’s not going to transform into Pep Guardiola soon, but he’s allowed his defenders and midfielders to play out of the back when safe, and looked to keep the ball for long spells in order to keep danger away from his injured, inexperienced, and second-string back line.
Additionally, he’s reduced the attacking burden placed on his full-backs — largely possible because of his smart use of Schneiderlin, Lennon, and the rest of the attackers to create chances without them. Allardyce recognized that Jonjoe Kenny and Cuco Martina are not Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines, and treats them as such.
None of these points are hugely complex or complicated. Big Sam’s tactics so far have largely been common sense moves that put his best players in their best positions, affording them the luxury of making plays they’re comfortable with.
Yet, Everton spent the first three months of the season often doing quite the opposite, so Allardyce should be applauded for bringing sense back to Goodison Park.