After two weeks of almost exclusively feeling good to start the season, Everton faced its first real setback on Saturday against AFC Bournemouth. Up two goals in a 10-v-10 match with 25 minutes to play, the Toffees coughed up the lead and had to settle for a draw at the Vitality Stadium.
Of course, that’s really only half the story of a match that included an off-the-ball red card, a soft penalty call, an alarming head injury, and a whole lot more.
So, before we dive into what went wrong in those final 25 minutes, let’s take a look at how things ultimately got there, starting with Everton’s lineup.
There were no surprises in Marco Silva’s lineup. He kept the XI the same as last week’s, with Tom Davies coming in for the injured Morgan Schneiderlin. Davies is a very different midfielder than Schneiderlin, but with Beni Baningime and Andre Gomes out injured as well, Silva was left with little choice.
And if you’re looking for an explanation of Everton’s ugly first half, you need look no further than the center of the Toffees’ midfield.
In the simplest terms, neither Davies nor his partner Idrissa Gueye are particularly good passers of the ball. Both guys did a decent enough job moving the ball last week against Southampton, but distribution through the center is always going to be an issue with Schneiderlin / Baningime / Gomes out.
Let me illustrate this point — take a look at the Everton passmap in the opening 40 minutes of the match, before the Richarlison red card (courtesy of EvertonFC.com)
Look at that sad little hole in the attacking midfield area. That’s not a Gylfi Sigurdsson issue, that’s an issue with nobody getting the ball to Gylfi Sigurdsson.
I don’t know if it was an active plan by Silva to get ahead of the midfield issues, or it’s just the way things played out because of who was on the pitch, but Everton’s first half attacking play came almost exclusively from wide areas.
Davies and Gana barely even tried to advance the ball through the center of midfield — take a look at just their passmaps for the opening 40 minutes.
I see precisely one forward pass in the central channel from the middle third. One!
Having the ability to play through guys like Theo Walcott, Richarlison, Seamus Coleman, and Leighton Baines is certainly a good thing, but completely isolating Sigurdsson made the Toffees one-dimensional through the opening frame, where they didn’t really create much of anything.
Until Schneiderlin (or to a lesser extent, Baningime or Gomes) return from injury, I don’t really see a way out of this problem for Everton. I’m hard pressed to be critical of Silva or Marcel Brands for their handling of this position, because they’ve got three guys who can play it — and you simply don’t anticipate all three being out through injury three weeks into the season.
I would have been interested to see how Silva solved the problem in the second half, but instead he was faced with an entirely new problem following Richarlison’s red card in the 41st minute.
Everton survived the final few minutes before the break, and Silva came out with a coherent, feasible plan for the second half.
He didn’t make any substitutions, but the plan was pretty clear. In defense, his team sat in a compact 4-4-1, with Sigurdsson taking Richarlison’s place on the left side and Cenk Tosun sitting alone up top. That’s pretty standard fare for a team down to 10-men, so no real surprises there.
In attack though, there was a plan in place to maximize the effect of a quick counter attack. When the ball turned over, Sigurdsson drifted from his starting place on the left wing to the center of the pitch, ahead of Gana and Davies. Tosun drifted out to the right ahead of Theo Walcott in an effort to create an overload on the wing in transition.
Take a look at Tosun’s heatmap between the start of the second half and the Bournemouth red card.
Obviously, he didn’t get on the ball a ton in this 20 minute period with his team down a man, but when he did, those touches came almost exclusively near the right touchline.
Ultimately, the plan worked to perfection. The Toffees found Sigurdsson in space in the center of the field on a counter attack, he hit Tosun along the sideline, who played Walcott in behind the defense.
Surely there are some questions to be asked of Asmir Begovic’s goalkeeping on Walcott’s opener, but Silva’s plan created a decent enough scoring opportunity to give Walcott a chance to work some magic — and he did just that.
Five minutes later, Adam Smith was sent off. Five minutes after that, Michael Keane dunked a ball crossed in from a Gylfi Sigurdsson set piece to double the lead.
Up 2-0 and with the match at 10-v-10, Marco Silva...did nothing. He actually kept the same 10 men on the field until five minutes after Nathan Ake leveled the match at two.
Bournemouth’s increasing pressure and the change from 10-v-11 to 10-v-10 necessitated a change from Silva, and it simply didn’t come until it was too late.
I thought the introduction of Lucas Digne or Dominic Calvert-Lewin at left midfield — both willing defenders and with enough speed to threaten an increasingly high back three from Bournemouth — would have made a lot of sense. The addition of Kurt Zouma and a move to a 5-3-1 might also have been sensible as the Cherries continued to push for goals.
The first goal Everton conceded may have come from a pretty soft penalty call, but by that stage there could be no real argument that Bournemouth was in the ascendancy and good value to find a goal soon, one way or another.
This was really the first significant mistake Silva has made through the opening three matches, and I recognize that was in a tough spot with Phil Jagielka suspended, Schneiderlin hurt, and Richarlison off.
But he had players available to help slow the turning tides in the final half hour of the match, and he failed to do so.
The result, after a lot of good through 240 minutes of Premier League football, was the loss of two eminently attainable points.