(Near) Death by a thousand crosses
One of the strengths that Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system is the width it provides in attack. As we saw during their title run last season and so far this campaign, their wingbacks have created headaches for opposing managers.
It’s not the least bit surprising that Conte chose to exploit Everton in that area. Starting with two back up fullbacks, a central midfielder playing out wide and one true winger, Everton’s set up probably looked like prime rib to Conte’s pack of wolves.
But what Sam Allardyce and Everton did was keep Chelsea contained to those wide areas for most of the match. Yes, Chelsea did have their fair share of forays into the center of the pitch, but most of the danger came via crosses from Marco Alonso and Victor Moses. It did seem an odd strategy for the visitors with no central striker and a ‘false 9’ formation.
Now of course this plan of attack was not without it’s fair share of heart-stopping moments. Chelsea relentlessly thumped cross after cross into the box, but through grit, well-placed defenders and a healthy dose of luck, Everton’s defense was able to dull the opposition attack.
Defense at the Expense of Attack
I’m not going to complain too much about grabbing a draw against the defending champions. These are exactly the kind of games that would have ended in absolute routs under Ronald Koeman and Roberto Martinez, but not having a single shot on target should be an area Everton need to improve upon.
This Tony Pulis-esque style of defending is undoubtedly what Everton needed to get their confidence back and climb their way out of the cellar. My fear is that once expectations inevitably rise again, this style of play could become an issue amongst certain groups.
If Everton are going to play this style of football, there needs to be a counter-attacking aspect as well. While Everton had glimpses of offense against Chelsea, their attack often ended with Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Sandro Ramirez isolated up top.
Keep in mind, I have no moral obligation to the way Allardyce sets up his team. But I wonder how far it gets Everton in the long run.
New and Improved Morgan Schneiderlin
Morgan Schneiderlin has been a divisive figure since joining Everton from Manchester United. As one of the key pieces in Southampton’s rise under Ronald Koeman, Scneiderlin was trending upwards and earned a big money transfer to Manchester United. After struggling at Manchester United and for the majority of his time at Everton, Schneiderlin appears to have turned a corner.
I don’t think it would be hyperbole to say this was Schneiderlin’s best match since joining Everton. As the main defensive midfielder for most of the match, he was one of the key players in limiting Chelsea’s offensive potency. He did what a good defensive midfielder should do, stayed largely unnoticed, placed a few well-timed tackles and shuttled the ball out of harm’s way.
In his worst moments, Schneiderlin has been late to tackles, sloppy with the ball and unfocused. But this new look Scneiderlin seems to be more locked-in and is acting as the defensive shield that Everton have been lacking since Gareth Barry left the team. With Idrissa Gueye potentially set to miss time, Schneiderlin needs to be a sturdy presence in midfield, especially when surrounded by the young midfield core Everton have at their disposal.