Before I get into anything, I want to make one thing clear.
I completely understand the factors working against Everton coming into Saturday’s match. Richarlison’s suspension plus Bernard’s injury left Theo Walcott as the lone true winger in the lineup, and he was playing his third game in a week.
Idrissa Gueye’s injury certainly didn’t help either, nor did the growing injury crisis in the center of defense.
But with all that said, if the Toffees legitimately have goals of reaching Europe, a home match against Huddersfield Town is simple one you’ve got to find a way to win — and Marco Silva’s side couldn’t do it. It’s far from a sky-is-falling moment, but it’s definitely a rough way to head into the international break.
With that said, let’s take a look at what went wrong at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Everton’s lineup, given the absences at hand, came with no real surprises.
| Here's how we're lining up against @htafcdotcom today!— Everton (@Everton) September 1, 2018
4⃣ changes from our last #PL game.
1⃣ st #PL start for @KurtZouma and @LucasDigne.
@tybrowning amongst the subs. #EFCmatchday pic.twitter.com/861uS37v3v
Dominic Calvert-Lewin at wing isn’t ideal, but he was clearly the best option available with Richarlison out and Ademola Lookman throwing a tantrum (or experiencing a groin injury, if you believe the club) over the last few weeks.
Tom Davies once again started in the center of midfield, this time in place of the injured Gueye. Morgan Schneiderlin’s return was certainly a welcome one, but he and Gana both play best when they have each other, and Davies just doesn’t quite hit Gana’s highs.
Everton was undone by two main factors in this match. I’m quite confident you’re well aware of one — set piece marking. Last week the story from Silva was that Schneiderlin plays an important role in their zonal marking scheme, and they’ve suffered without him in that regard.
This week, Schneiderlin was back, and yet...
Look, I’ll openly admit that when it comes to set piece marking, I’m far from an expert. That kind of defending comes with both physical and tactical considerations that are very difficult for me to hypothesize about while sitting on my laptop drinking iced tea.
But the numbers don’t lie. The Toffees have conceded six goals in the Premier League so far this season — four on set pieces, one penalty, and one from open play. If you told me before the start of the season, Everton conceded only one goal from set pieces before the international break, I’d have probably guessed the club had 9 or 10 points.
Instead, the Toffees are sitting on 6.
Can zonal marking work? Well, lots of people smarter than me and who have played a lot more football than me say they don’t like it. Yet, some managers insist upon doing it.
Who’s right? Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Silva needs to find a solution over the international break and get it running immediately.
The second Everton issue on Saturday was a lack of creativity and composure in the middle and final thirds. This issue presented itself differently in each half.
Huddersfield Town came out in a 5-4-1 with every intention of sitting deep and absorbing pressure. I doubt Silva or any Everton players were surprised by that, but you wouldn’t really know it from watching the match.
In the first half, Everton was content to possess in front of the midfield block of four, but didn’t frequently find enough possession between the lines. Take a look at the first-half passmap (EvertonFC.com).
When faced with deep-lying back five, the attackers generally have two options to try to break down the opponent. If you can catch the full-backs trying to sneak up the field to join the attack, the space vacated in behind is a good target from which to whip crosses in, if you can get the ball there.
That’s how Everton scored its lone goal — Lucas Digne caught the Huddersfield right-back napping for just a moment, snuck in behind, and delivered a gorgeous cross to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
But because Huddersfield stayed pretty deep and Everton’s wingers were not-actually-a-winger Calvert-Lewin, clearly exhausted Theo Walcott, and prodigal son Ademola Lookman, that wasn’t really a consistent threat.
The other, and generally more reliable option against this kind of back five is to look to use your numerical advantage in the center of midfield. Everton had a 3-to-2 advantage in the center of the park, and two quality players in that bunch in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin.
And yet...we are faced with a passmap like the one you see above. Everton created zero danger by finding Gylfi between the defensive and midfield lines, which really should have been their bread and butter in this one.
Instead, the team was far too content to just knock the ball around the midfield in hopes that something good would happen. Of course, working the ball around the midfield to an extent is an important part of finding the lanes for a killer pass against a deep block, but as you can see, that pass just didn’t come anywhere near frequently enough, especially in the central channel.
At halftime, I can only assume that Marco Silva told the lads to try to play quicker, with more urgency, and more incisively. The Toffees...sorta tried to do that, I guess? But it came out in this form.
Everton went from only passing the ball around the middle third to trying far too frequently to force it forward when nothing was available, and the result was pretty unbearable. Combine this with the drop-off in quality from Walcott to Lookman, and the Toffees were nearly unwatchable in the second half.
I want to quickly double back to Sigurdsson before I close, because the struggles with getting him the ball are not unique to this week.
Take a look at his touches from this match (WhoScored.com).
31 touches for Sigurdsson isn’t enough — not to mention that’s not really where you’d hope to see him on the ball in the first place.
By comparison, Theo Walcott had 28 touches in just 55 minutes, and Calvert-Lewin had 45 touches in just 15 more minutes of play.
But the Toffees had the same issue against AFC Bournemouth too. Sigurdsson had 33 touches in that game — Richarlison had 24 touches and he got sent off in the first half!
We’re still a little too early in the season for me to posit exactly why this is happening, especially considering that Everton has spent 100 minutes down a man so far this season. But, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Ultimately then, the attacking struggles were two-fold — and all connected. In the first half, Everton played too conservatively on the ball, lacking the creativity needed in the final third.
In the second half, the Toffees tried to up their tempo, but did so without any real plan on how to do so. The result was a lot of wayward forward passes into the attacking third, without any real sustained possession.
In reality, Marco Silva’s side needed to find a happy medium between those two extremes, but never could. The inability to get the ball to the club’s best playmaker, Gylfi Sigurdsson, surely played a role in those struggles.