In most of my post-match tactical analyses this season, I’ve focused exclusively on Marco Silva and Everton, rather than what their opposition has brought to the table.
There have been a lot of reasons for this. At times, Silva has deserved praise; at others, scorn; and most frequently, I’ve just had no idea what the hell he was trying to do.
Well, this weekend against West Ham United, Silva put out a pretty straightforward tactical approach — and he was made to look an absolute genius, because Manuel Pellegrini and West Ham set up in a way that played right into the Toffees’ hands.
Everton set up in essentially the same way it did against Chelsea before the international break.
West Ham, on the other hand, announced its lineup as a 4-4-2.
Our team to take on Everton ⚒ pic.twitter.com/vGtR6o1YTK— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) March 30, 2019
I don’t know if Pellegrini really intended to play 4-4-2 and his players lost the plot on the pitch, or if what played out in the opening minutes of the match was genuinely what the manager wanted, but in reality the Hammers were in what would more accurately described as a 5-3-2.
Declan Rice dropped between the two traditional center-backs, with Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass pinching inside ahead of Pedro Obiang.
The issue West Ham found came in two parts.
First, Obiang, Lanzini, and Snodgrass, grouped relatively centrally, couldn’t find any space to operate against the midfield pressure of Andre Gomes, Idrissa Gueye, and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Gana in particular was an absolute wrecking ball, making it nearly impossible for the Hammers to keep possession in the midfield.
To respond to the issues in the center of midfield, the West Ham wing-backs pushed very high in possession, trying to give the central midfielders options to move the ball to. This was especially the case with Pablo Zabaleta down the right.
That was an enormous mistake.
Take a look at the Everton defensive actions map from the first half.
Everton regularly won the ball in the central third, applying the same midfield pressure that we saw work so well against Chelsea in the second half of the match before the international break. In particular, Gana, Bernard, and Lucas Digne combined down the Everton left to force turnovers.
With the West Ham full-backs so high up the pitch, the Toffees had quite an easy time moving the ball forward into attacking positions. Take a look at their first-half passmap.
Not only were the wing-backs positionally compromised, but the West Ham central midfield trio just wasn’t equipped to play any defense. Lanzini and Snodgrass just don’t play much defense, and Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson flooded the central channel behind those players.
When the Toffees were direct, bypassing the out-of-position wing-backs and defensively underwhelming central midfielders, West Ham just didn’t have an answer. There has been no time this season during which Everton had such easy possession in the central channel.
The result was chance after chance for Marco Silva’s men, who were more than happy to take advantage of any space afforded to them. The individual Everton player performances were outstanding, and Bernard, Richarlison, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in particular taking full advantage of the space by regularly making smart runs in behind.
Pellegrini was lucky that the score was only 2-0 at the break, as it easily could have been 3-0 or worse. He made changes at half that solidified his midfield, but the Hammers just had too big a hill to climb.
Full credit to Silva and the players, who kept things pretty comfortable in the second half as well, but to me, the biggest story here was the utter tactical naivety from Pellegrini, which made it almost impossible for West Ham to hang around in this match.