Guys, I think Everton might be fun again.
Saturday’s match felt about as good as a 2-2 draw could feel, given the first-half red card to Phil Jagielka, the absence of certain key additions, and just the general sense that the Toffees have legitimate direction for the first time in what feels like forever.
Given that Marco Silva’s boys only played 40 minutes 11-v-11, there isn’t a ton that we can learn from his approach to this match — but there are a few things worth taking note of.
The starting lineup
Let’s start by looking at the Everton starting XI.
| Team news is in for our opening-day clash with @Wolves! #EFCawayday— Everton (@Everton) August 11, 2018
✅ @richarlison97 debut
@LucasDigne among the subs pic.twitter.com/4oqSg1wdMz
Surprisingly enough, Everton’s pre-match lineup graphic summed up the setup quite nicely.
There were no real surprises. With none of the deadline day signings ready to play, Silva’s decisions were pretty much made for him, with the exception of left-back, where he preferred Leighton Baines to Lucas Digne, who did participate in some of Everton’s preseason activities.
The midfield three
As is often the case, we have to start by looking at the center of midfield, where the foundation of most tactical setups are built. In particular, I was anxious to see what the relationship between Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye looked like.
Schneiderlin is always going to be the deepest midfielder, and Gylfi Sigurdsson the most advanced of the three. The question really surrounded Gana — would he sit deep alongside Schneiderlin, push up close to Sigurdsson, or somewhere in the middle?
Take a look at each player’s passmap (first 40 minutes only), from EvertonFC.com, to see how that relationship played out.
There was definitely more of a left/right relationship between the pair than a front/back one, though Gana did tend to drift a little farther forward. Silva had talked in the preseason about using Schneiderlin as a lone deep-lying midfielder, but I wouldn’t really say that’s what he opted for against Wolves.
Yes, Gana definitely has more license to get forward and chase the ball down, but I would call his role that of a free-wheeling, swashbuckling box-to-box midfielder either. The expectation of Gana appears to be as the yin to Schneiderlin’s yang — sitting relatively deep alongside him, but as the more aggressive of the two players.
I’d expect to see things play out this way most of the season. Gueye will sit alongside Schneiderlin, but serve aggressively as the first line of defense once opponents get past Sigurdsson and the wingers, while Schneiderlin sits deep just in front of the back four as a last line of defense.
In possession, Schneiderlin is the more interesting player of the two to watch. He’s a better passer and Everton will look to use him to transition from defense into attack.
Breaking the high press
My main concern from the Wolves match was that the Toffees were often unable to find him while working out of the back against a pretty aggressive Wolves press. Without the Frenchman’s distributive ability at work, Everton was forced to play long more often than Silva likely wanted.
Effectively utilizing Schneiderlin and the full-backs’ distributive abilities will be the key to beating the high press, which more and more teams in the Premier League are utilizing. Look for Silva to try to find ways to counter that in the coming weeks.
The only other major takeaway from the first 40 minutes of this match concerns the attack — more specifically, Richarlison.
In the opening 40 minutes, 57% of Everton’s attacking third possession came down the left wing, through Richarlison and to a lesser extent Leighton Baines.
Ultimately, I think playing through Richarlison’s wing makes a lot of sense. He’s obviously got tons of 1-v-1 ability, and was an absolute headache on the ball on Saturday.
Conversely, Theo Walcott is a very capable off-ball player. He’s proven to be great at popping up in the right areas on the off-wing — and he did it several times on Saturday, but his teammates failed to get him the ball.
While a focus on the left side makes sense for the wingers, it’s substantially less beneficial for the full-backs. Compare the Leighton Baines’ and Seamus Coleman’s heatmaps from the opening 40 minutes.
Baines got farther forward and on the ball more frequently than Coleman, and I don’t suspect that’s how Silva will want things to play out long term. The elder fullback remains an excellent technical player (look no further than his delivery on the first Everton goal for proof), but he’s just not got the legs to get up and down the field against legitimate danger anymore. Digne has the legs, but provides Everton less of an attacking threat than either Coleman or Baines.
Part of the issue yesterday was Wolves’ excellent left winger Ruben Neves and Coleman having to stay in to cover him. Coleman has both the legs and the attacking prowess, so I’m interested to see how Silva utilizes the Irishman going forward if the plan is indeed to continue to play down the left wing primarily.
And note that this isn’t a complaint so much as an observation — 40 minutes of football is not enough to raise legitimate complaints.
Once Jagielka got sent off, Silva did the predictable. He brought on another center-back, went to a 4-4-1, and looked to play primarily off the counter.
The players did a pretty good job of implementing the plan, and a 2-2 draw is ultimately a respectable result given the circumstances.
Tactically, we’ve gotten a taste of what Silva has to offer — with much more still yet to come.