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Looking for tactical takeaways from Everton’s opening draw

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Marco Silva’s side had a strange match at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Going into Everton’s opening match of the season, I was quite prepared to learn only a limited amount about what the Toffees will look like the rest of this season.

Marco Silva has only had a little bit of time to integrate his new, most important players into the team — and none of them started against Crystal Palace anyway. So, the 0-0 draw shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

But add in Andre Gomes’ injury and Morgan Schneiderlin’s red card, and you can throw away a lot of what happened against Palace, at least from a tactical perspective. But, let’s see what we can try to glean from this admittedly limited experience, at least in terms of things to look for going forward as players like Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean work their way to full integration in the squad.

Yerry Mina Can Pass

I love Kurt Zouma, but if there’s one thing the French defender didn’t do particularly well, it’s distribute the ball. By replacing him with Yerry Mina, Marco Silva has a huge upgrade in terms of his team’s ability to play out of the back. Take a look at Mina’s passmap from the match.

His ability to quickly ping the ball out to the full-backs or wingers — even on the opposite site of the pitch — gave Palace fits, especially in the first half.

With Everton presumably set to press high much less this season, the team’s ability to work from the defensive third into the middle third — as well as the middle third into the attacking third — will come more clearly into focus.

If Mina can continue to hit passes like these that set free the Toffees’ wide players in space, it’ll be a huge asset to the team going forward.

Width Remains the Focus

Only Hudderfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion spent a lower percentage of their attacking third possession time in the central channel than Everton did last season, and the opening match of 2019-20 didn’t show any signs of that changing.

Everton’s attacking third possession percentages broke down as such:

  • Right: 46.5%
  • Left: 37.9%
  • Center: 15.6%

In general, I’d prefer to see more possession down the left than the right, because Lucas Digne and Bernard are better creatively than Richarlison and Seamus Coleman. But Patrick van Aanholt completely forgot how to defend for long periods of the game, so Silva’s right-sided preference got no argument from me.

That said, the early-season takeaway here is that Silva still doesn’t really seem to have a plan for utilizing Gylfi Sigurdsson in the center of the park, which was a common theme last year as well. Jean-Philippe Gbamin’s integration into the side should in theory help there, as he is expected to be a better passer than Idrissa Gueye was.

But at the start at least, this looks to be a trend that will continue.

Defense Remains Strong

With Idrissa Gueye and Kurt Zouma gone, Everton enters the 2019-20 season without two of its biggest defensive contributors from last season. Despite that, Silva’s side picked up its 11th clean sheet of calendar year 2019, second only to champions Manchester City.

Yes, it was a largely Wilfried Zaha-less Crystal Palace, but you can only play the players put in front of you, and the Everton defensive corps shut down the Palace attack for most of the match, Andre Gomes and Morgan Schneiderlin did an excellent job of shielding the back four in the first half, and Mina and Michael Keane mopped up most of the danger that arrived in the second half after both of those players left the pitch.

It’ll be interesting to see how the team’s overall defensive structure looks against a more attack-minded team, but this was a pretty good start for a group that lost two important players over the offseason.

A few additional early-season thoughts to compensate for the lack of tactics-specific analysis available:

  • Morgan Schneiderlin was among the best Everton players on the field, but obviously his red card was completely unacceptable. In one match, he managed to prove both his doubters and believers correct — he has more than enough quality to be a solid depth piece on this team, but his attitude is such that there’s always going to be a twinge of doubt when the Toffees do have to rely on him.
  • I thought Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s holdup play looked better this weekend than at any point last season. It still isn’t great, and probably isn’t even as good as Cenk Tosun’s, but it was good to see that he clearly put in work on a week point in his game this offseason. If he wants to challenge Moise Kean for minutes this season, he’ll need to continue to improve in that department.
  • Jean-Philippe Gbamin looked woefully unprepared to play a meaningful part in this match, but I’m not overly concerned about his prospects going forward. He turned the ball over far too easily, but coming from the Bundesliga, where high-pressing is relatively common as well, I anticipate he should be fine in the face of pressure once he gets fully integrated into the squad.