Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay Marco Silva and Everton after this weekend’s absolute dismantling of Manchester United at Goodison Park is that based on the evidence of past weeks, it really wasn’t all that surprising.
In the past month, Arsenal, Chelsea, and West Ham United all learned that if you want to build through the midfield against Everton with an underwhelming midfield, defenders who aren’t completely comfortable with the ball at their feet, and/or full-backs who can’t handle direct play from the opposing wingers, the Toffees will absolutely annihilate you.
So when Manchester United arrived at Goodison Park with a plan to play the expansive attacking football that has become the norm under Ole Gunnar Solskjær — but with Fred and Nemanja Matic in the midfield and Victor Lindelof as a full-back — Silva and the Toffees were surely licking their lips.
And so it was. Everton’s midfield pressure — more akin to what we saw against Chelsea as opposed to Arsenal or West Ham — regularly broke up United attacks before they could really get started. Everton held United to 0.31 xG (per Understat) as a result.
In attack, Silva’s men were incredibly direct — nearly to the point of hilarity when looking at the team’s passmap for the match.
I encourage you to take a look at what I wrote after the 2-0 victory over Chelsea, the 2-0 victory over West Ham, and the 1-0 victory over Arsenal — as the blueprint for all four matches was similar. As soon as the Toffees won the ball in the midfield, they looked to work the ball wide to Bernard, Richarlison, Lucas Digne, or Seamus Coleman, in an effort to exploit advanced full-backs.
From there, the Toffees attack with a ruthless directness, working toward the opposing goal as quickly as possible. Doing so has created chances in open play, as well as long-throw, corner-kick, and free-kick opportunities — all of which have created Everton goals in this recent positive run of form.
I don’t want to focus on the specifics of the United match any further, because frankly, Marco Silva has made very clear that he has a plan and the appropriate personnel to absolutely dismantle any team with an attacking mindset similar to that of the Red Devils, but an underwhelming midfield or defense corps.
Marco Silva and the players deserve a substantial amount of praise for this, as coming up with results like these next season could very easily put the team into the top-six race in earnest. That’s the goal for the club going forward, and after the last month, it seems more plausible than it has in a long time.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the 2-0 loss at Fulham just a week ago.
And it isn’t just that, of course. There were similarly limp performances and results against Leicester City, Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Watford since the start of 2019 — all of whom share a common trait.
They were happy to sit back against Everton, and let the Toffees come at them. So far this season, we just haven’t seen Silva and his players consistently have a response for a deep-lying opponent.
There have been moments, of course — the 3-0 dismantling of Cardiff City and the 5-1 annihilation of Burnley come to mind. But for every match like Burnley, there’s an utter capitulation story like the one at Watford as well.
It’s through that lens that the next two weeks of Everton football take on a bit of added intrigue. Yes, the Toffees are still right in the middle of a Europa League chase, which obviously take priority, but I’m fascinated to see what Marco Silva might have up his sleeve.
Next week, the Toffees take on Crystal Palace — a side that just scored three goals on Arsenal while having only 27% possession. When the Toffees played Roy Hodgson’s side earlier this season, it took goals in the 87th and 89th minutes to earn a 2-0 victory at Goodison Park.
I suspect that Palace will play as defensively as ever next weekend, and that’ll present an interesting challenge for Everton. Can Silva’s squad find ways to get Gylfi Sigurdsson on the ball in what will likely be a possession heavy match? Can Bernard and Lucas Digne find space to create chances from down the left against a deep block?
We’ve now seen very clearly what the Toffees are capable of when an opponent allows them to press and play direct. When an opponent takes that option away though, can Marco Silva’s tactics adjust?
So far this season, it’s been very much a mixed bag. But if he can turn that around against Crystal Palace and Burnley before the end of the season, the Premier League will have been put on notice for 2019-20.