Saturday’s victory over West Ham United was fun.
Everton was the better team for the majority of the match, Bernard got an entertaining goal, Gylfi Sigurdsson did Gylfi Sigurdsson things, Marco Silva actually emoted on the sideline. It was enjoyable — and given how most of the season has gone, that’s a pretty big deal!
Okay, I needed to open with that so that you don’t get mad at me for what is coming next.
I know we, as Everton supporters, would like to see this match as a turning point of sorts for what’s been a disappointing season. But nearly nothing that we saw in this match constitutes the sort of improvement needed to right what really ails Everton this season.
Allow me to explain.
As I said after the loss to Burnley, the loss to Sheffield United, and the loss to AFC Bournemouth, this team’s problem is that it cannot break down a team that plays a deep block. It’s been a problem for Marco Silva since basically day one.
And as fun and cathartic as this victory over West Ham was, the fact remains that West Ham are not a deep-lying, bunker-and-counter type of team. In fact, if I was to pick one team in the Premier League that Everton should beat based on its strengths and style of play, it would probably be the Hammers!
As I’ve discussed all season, Marco Silva’s plan A for Everton is a high-press, either applied to the opponent’s central midfielders or center-backs, depending on where Silva feels the team is most susceptible.
That plan works best against teams that like to play out of the back — they play right into the hands of the press. Well, perhaps more precisely, the press works best against teams that play out of the back but don’t have a ton of actual talent in defense or midfield.
Enter Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham!
Let’s compare a few key graphics from Pellegrini’s West Ham to Sean Dyche’s Burnley from the last match Everton played before the international break. First, the passmaps of their center-backs — Burnley’s, then West Ham’s.
Burnley looked primarily to play long when the ball got into the feet of the center-backs, whereas West Ham looked to pass out of the back — often by working the ball to the wingers or full-backs.
Burnley’s approach completely bypasses the press. It often gives Everton possession of the ball back, but in non-dangerous areas. The West Ham approach tries to keep possession, but plays right into the pressing forwards and midfielders of Everton.
The result? A major change in where Everton generally gains possession of the ball. Take a look at Everton’s defensive actions from these two matches — first against Burnley, then West Ham.
Everton won the ball much higher up the field against West Ham, because West Ham made the tactical decision to try to play through the press rather than over the top of it. Exactly one team has had success trying to play that way over the last 10 months — Manchester City.
*touches earpiece* And I’m being told that West Ham United is, in fact, not Manchester City.
Via Silva’s pressing tactics, the Toffees kept the Hammers penned into their defensive half for much of this match, and created enough attacking chances to have had a multi-goal lead well before Sigurdsson put the match out of reach in stoppage time.
xG map for Everton - West Ham— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) October 20, 2019
Now, I do want to give Silva credit for a couple of things that he did right in this match, even if I don’t know how helpful they’ll be going forward.
First, his midfield of Tom Davies and Andre Gomes looked very much to be the right choice. The pair is definitely his best pressing midfield duo, and there was never really any doubt that the press was going to be the play in this one. The two were all over Mark Noble, Declan Rice, and the rest of the West Ham midfield — both deserve credit for their performances.
Now, I’m not a particularly big fan of Tom Davies, and I don’t think he’s going to bring much value against a team like Brighton and Hove Albion, which will sit deeper and take the Everton press out of play. I’ll happily be proven wrong, but Davies’ past performances haven’t shown any indication he’ll be the answer against a bunker.
The other major change Silva made was putting Alex Iwobi in the No. 10 role ahead of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Iwobi was more involved in the match than we generally have seen Sigurdsson in that role, but it’s tough to say the extent to which that has to do with Iwobi himself as opposed to the more open tactics that we saw from West Ham.
Either way, I’m all for him getting a chance in the center against Brighton next week — he clearly has the quality to play that role. Is he really better than Sigurdsson? Hard to say — but it’s worth a shot based on Everton’s form in such matches.
But my major takeaway from this match is that, although the performance was solid and the victory was entertaining, I haven’t seen anything yet that convinces me Everton’s match against Brighton next week won’t look like the Burnley, Sheffield, and Bournemouth matches did.
West Ham is just too different an opponent from those clubs to draw any real conclusions.