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Can Everton show any life against Watford?

Neither team has much to play for

Watford v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

A week ago in this space I previewed Everton’s match against Swansea, noting that despite being a bad team, Swansea would be fighting for their lives against opposition with little to play for. Granted, I still thought Everton would win. I was wrong, and it wasn’t nice to look at either:

Everton got straight-up outplayed by one of the worst teams in the league. Adam decided to talk about Morgan Schneiderlin this week in his column instead of dissecting what amounted to a 90 minute nap, and I don’t blame him. I too will decline to rehash Saturday’s match; I think the numbers and the diagram above say enough.

What I will say is that Everton haven’t scored a goal since April 15. They are locked into 7th place and the outcomes of the next two matches won’t change that. If you’re finding it difficult to get psyched for Friday’s game, I hear you.

With that being said, let’s at least talk a little about Watford and what Ronald Koeman could do to make things interesting for us.

Watford overview

I’ll start with the attack, where the Hornets leave a quite a bit to be desired. Stylistically they are not unlike their fellow mid-to-bottom-table dwellers: unimpressive possession and passing numbers, slow tempo, direct play, etc. etc. you’ve heard it before if you’ve ever read me do a preview for the likes of Stoke or Crystal Palace. Their expected goals numbers are pretty bad; just above Hull, Sunderland, Burnley, and Middlesbrough, which is decidedly not good company.

A huge problem for Watford is (stop me if you’ve heard this before) shot quality. They like taking bad shots, on average around the worst in the league depending on your xG model. Take a peek:

Watford shots from open play, Premier League 2016-17
Courtesy of Paul Riley

Oh man there’s some great stuff in there. We’ve got a shot from near the halfway line, a few from the touchline, and a glut from outside of the box, notably the left channel. There are two main culprits here, one of whom is José Holebas:

This is a left back...
Courtesy of Paul Riley

And Étienne Capoue, who scored 4 goals in the first 5 games of the season and evidently decided that he had license to shoot on sight for the rest of the year:

Note that the times he did actually score were from good locations
Courtesy of Paul Riley

Having your left back and holding midfielder rifle in shots from distance isn’t generally a great strategy for scoring. Part of the reason Watford does this is that, like most middling Premier League sides, they don’t have much creativity in the side. In fact it’s striker Troy Deeney who pops up on the expected assist (xA) chart:

Right winger Nordin Amrabat, bless him, is the only one out there who bothers trying to make a difficult pass, and he’s apparently not completely terrible at it:

Courtesy of Paul Riley

To summarize, we’ve so far got a half-decent forward (Deeney) an okay-but-aging winger (Amrabat), and a left back and a DM who take crap shots. Rounding it out is M’Baye Niang, who has contributed 2 goals and 2 assists since joining on loan from Milan in January.

I’m forgetting someone here....

Ah yes, there he is. Hi Tom!

Clevs left Everton in January and has brought his trademark unquantifiable-but-absolutely-sensational technical ability to Watford’s midfield, to the tune of 1 open play assist.

So yeah, creativity and penetration is a serious issue in this team, and their offensive output reflects that.

Defense

Watford have managed to avoid the relegation conversation all season mostly based on their defense, which is solidly mid-table. One thing that sticks out from the numbers is that their opponents tend to cross a lot, moreso (in terms of crossing as as percentage of all passes) than any other side. Charitably one could read this as Watford being good at clogging the central areas and forcing opponents wide. Since crossing tends to generate poorer chances than, say, through balls into the box, this isn’t a terrible strategy, especially with 194-cm Sebastian Prödl patrolling the 6-yard-box.

On the other hand, they’ve been getting some bad luck/bad keeping from Heurelho Gomes:

In total, Watford haven’t exactly been stalwarts defensively but they’ve managed their season well and done enough on that end to not worry about dropping too low in the table.

Matching up with Everton

Back in December, Koeman trotted out a 4-2-3-1 with James McCarthy of all people in the #10 role. It didn’t work out awesomely.

I’d expect the usual 4-3-3 this time around, but with his players so clearly mailing it in over the last few weeks, one wonders if he will shake things up. Muhamed Bešić is back in the first team squad but Koeman has downplayed any chances of throwing any young guns from the PL2 title-winning side into the fray. It does appear that Morgan Schneiderlin will return to the fray, which is a significant boost.

With all that it mind, there probably won’t be anything tactically too interesting to come out of this one, though I hope I’m wrong. I’m mostly looking at how Ross Barkley copes with all of the contract hubbub around him, and whether or not Romelu Lukaku can get back on the horse and give the crowd a show in what could be his last match at Goodison Park.