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Everton 2019-20 Season Preview: Tactics

Marco Silva’s first XI will look significantly different from last season’s — what does that mean for his tactics?

1. FSV Mainz 05 v FC Everton - Opel Cup 2019 Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

I’m now entering my seventh season writing at RBM, and in that time, I’ve accidentally developed into our resident tactics guy. So naturally, with the season just days away, it falls upon me to tell our kind readers what to expect tactically from Everton in the 2019-20 season.

There’s just one problem with that. I have no idea what Marco Silva has up his sleeve for this season, and I think anyone outside the club who tells you different is probably a dirty rotten liar.

Allow me to explain.

Everton’s second-half surge last season was powered by a complete commitment to playing a high-pressing, high-action style of football. Silva used the indefatigable Dominic Calvert-Lewin to lead the line and constantly harass opposing defenders and midfielders, with Idrissa Gueye winning tackle after tackle in the middle and attacking thirds.

Everton would ping the ball out wide to its wingers or full-backs, and look to go direct to goal as quickly as possible. It was an entertaining, effective style of play that relied heavily on the strengths of DCL and Gana to be effective.

Well, now Everton signed striker Moise Kean from Juventus for a reasonable £27.5m sum, added Alex Iwobi on Deadline Day, and last week, the Toffees sold Idrissa Gueye to PSG. That means no Gana at all, and likely a bench role for Calvert-Lewin this season, whose work-rate was first-class but acumen in front of goal occasionally came into question.

Take away those two players, and the high-pressing system of last season just doesn’t make sense. With that said, we’re left with a pretty good sense of who will be the regular Everton starters, just not necessarily a sense of how they’ll be used.

So let’s start by looking at what we expect the regular lineup to be (any 11th-hour transfers notwithstanding), and then go from there to try to figure out how they might be utilized.

(I am going to out of habit list Andre Gomes as No. 8, instead of his new No. 21 at some point this season — just warning you now.)

At this point, it’ll be just three changes from last season’s preferred XI. I’ve outlined each of those changes, and briefly what they could mean for Everton, below.

  1. Moise Kean in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin: At 19, there isn’t a ton of data on Moise Kean to pull from, but one thing is for sure — he knows how to put the ball in the back of the net. He put up a staggering 0.65 xG per 90 for Juventus in limited minutes last season, and a respectable 0.42 xG for Hellas Verona the year before. I don’t expect he’ll be as good a presser of the ball as DCL, nor as good a creator as Cenk Tosun, but he’ll get himself into the right position and he’ll score more often than not when given the chance.
  2. Jean-Philippe Gbamin for Idrissa Gueye; No one — absolutely no one — is a better ball-winner than Idrissa Gueye. So to expect Gbamin, or really anyone not named N’Golo Kante, to come to Everton and play the same role is just not realistic. In his best defensive season at Mainz, Gbamin averaged 4.4 tackles+interceptions per 90, so he’ll definitely contribute defensively, but don’t expect him to be the vacuum that Gana was. That said, he’s absolutely a better distributor of the ball than Gana was, and Silva will likely look to utilize that skill.
  3. Yerry Mina for Kurt Zouma; As entertaining as the #FreeZouma movement is, I don’t expect it to bear any fruit, so expect the Colombian to start at center-back this season. He has size and speed similar to what Zouma brought last season, though his positional awareness has at times lacked in ways that the Frenchman’s did not. Mina’s big advantage over Zouma is in distribution — the Colombian was once a Barcelona player for a reason, whereas Zouma’s biggest weakness was probably his distribution of the ball out of the back.
  4. Alex Iwobi will likely come on for Bernard, possibly in latter stages of games to use his pace to run tired defenders ragged.
Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

When you take all those components in tandem — a goal-poaching striker, improved distribution in the midfield and out of the back, and a reduced ability to apply high pressure — I think the natural conclusion is that Silva and the Toffees will look to play a much more possession-oriented style this season, and maybe even the 4-3-3 that the POrtuguese manager has always had a preference for.

In particular, I think they’ll look to build through the left-hand side as much as possible, utilizing the creative ability of Lucas Digne and Bernard/Iwobi, rather than working the ball through the creative black hole that is Richarlison.

Richarlison, of course, is a goal-scoring machine, and can continue to be a real danger when used properly from the right wing. I’d expect to see him pinching centrally often, making runs off the ball along with Kean to confuse and unsettle opposing center-backs, while Seamus Coleman retains with width down the right-hand side.

That all should allow Gylfi Sigurdsson a very free role in the attacking third — giving him the freedom to assist with playmaking down the left, pop up around the top of the box as an option to get the ball central, or make runs into the box alongside the striker.

The major questions will revolve around Gomes and Gbamin — in particular their ability to progress the ball. If Everton adopts a deeper line, will the holding midfielders be capable of working the ball from back to front effectively? That is an area that Delph could be successful in as well. If so, a possession-based Everton with this personnel could be truly dangerous. If not, we could see some of the same struggles Silva endured during the middle third of last season.

Of course, it’ll take a little while to get Kean, Gbamin, Iwobi and any other new signings integrated — so it might be awhile before such a system goes into full effect. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if we see a reasonably high press featuring Calvert-Lewin this weekend against Crystal Palace, as a result.

But on the whole, I expect there’ll be changes to Marco Silva’s tactics this season, and this general outline seems the most likely to me.