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The shortcomings of Silvaball

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New season, (slightly) new personnel, same problems

AFC Bournemouth v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

The best way to understand what happened to Everton during its loss at AFC Bournemouth on Sunday is to break the match up into segments.

  • 1’ to 22’ — Everton has the better of play, looks the more dangerous team
  • 23’ — Callum Wilson scores a crap goal on a set piece (no disrespect to crap goals)
  • 24’ to 43’ — Bournemouth has the better of play, Everton look unlikely to find an equalizer
  • 44’ — Everton finds an equalizer against the run of play in the most unlikely of ways, via Dominic Calvert-Lewin assisted by Richarlison
  • 45’ to 66’ — Everton again has the better play, looks much more likely to find the winning goal.
  • 67’ — Ryan Fraser scores a crap goal off a set piece, deflected by Fabian Delph past Jordan Pickford
  • 68’ to 90’ — Everton look completely devoid of ideas, concede another sloppy goal, and crawl toward the finish line in a 3-1 loss.

Now, a surface-level look at that timeline would probably yield a conclusion of something like “this team has an attitude issue when they fall behind.” Maybe that’s true, or at least partially true, but there’s a longstanding issue with Everton, Marco Silva, and his tactics in scenarios where Everton needs to chase the game — and I’d argue it’s substantially more tactical than mental.

Before we dive any deeper, let’s start with two basic assumptions that I don’t think anyone will take issue with.

  1. Bournemouth, under Eddie Howe, generally play a pretty progressive, attack-minded style of football for a team of their means and talents. It’s gotten them burnt defensively at times (they conceded 70 goals last season!), but Howe has never really deviated from that commitment.
  2. Everton remain a team that looks to press the opponent high up the pitch under Marco Silva, and Bournemouth’s desire to play out of the back plays directly into the hands of a high-pressing tactic. Presumably in anticipation of the ability to press Bournemouth, Silva started his best defensive forward, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, rather than Moise Kean or Cenk Tosun at striker.

You don’t have to agree with that decision, but you can at least understand it. If you think pressing is going to win you the game, DCL is the best pressing striker at Everton — so you start him.

And for the opening 20 minutes of the match, the plan pretty much worked. The Toffees generated the best chance of the opening 20 minutes when Calvert-Lewin fired a shot from inside the box tamely at Aaron Ramsdale in the 17th minute. Take a look at Bournemouth’s passmap from the start of the match up until Callum Wilson’s opening goal.

(Note: I’ve removed crosses, set pieces, key passes, and assists from these passmaps just to de-clutter them a little bit — I’m interested in the Bournemouth buildup out of the back, rather than the final product.)

That’s a lot of passes along the backline, including quite a few turnovers in dangerous areas along the right (Everton’s left)! You win the ball consistently in those areas, you’re going to create chances to score — especially with Alex Iwobi now in the fold.

In the 23rd minute, the Cherries broke through the press, earned a corner, and managed to push the ball past Jordan Pickford from inside the six-yard box. Up 1-0, Bournemouth no longer needed a goal to be in control of the match.

As a result, they reduced the number of high-danger passes they played out of the back, often instead opting to simply get the ball forward and out of their defensive third. Take a look at their passmap from the period between Wilson’s opener and Calvert-Lewin’s equalizer.

It’s by no means a full-out “hoof it and pray” approach, but there’s definitely more of a focus on just getting the ball away from the Bournemouth goal by whatever means necessary here.

That put Everton in a position where it needed to keep possession and pass around a relatively compact opponent — something they’ve struggled to do in recent memory. When faced with this obstacle, all Silva’s side has generally been able to do is get the ball wide and whip hopeful crosses into the box.

It just so happened that on Sunday, one of these crosses (Everton played 22 in total) came perfectly from Richarlison’s foot onto Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s head, and the English centreforward converted to pull his side level just before the break. Getting a goal from a goal-starved striker assisted by a winger with 6 goals in 66 '90s' worth of Premier League play isn’t exactly a sustainable model for success, but it got the Toffees level in a vital moment.

With the match tied, Bournemouth opened the second half by looking to again play a little more out of the back, especially focusing working from the defensive to middle thirds in the wide areas. Take a look at their passmap from the start of the second half to Ryan Fraser’s go-ahead goal.

And once again, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Everton had the better of play in this spell of the game. The Toffees’ high press made things uncomfortable for the Cherries, keeping them penned in for long stretches at a time.

Of course, Fraser scored on his deflected free kick in the 67th minute, putting his team up 2-1, at which point it all predictably fell apart for the Toffees again.

The Cherries were happy to play the ball long once more, bypassing the Everton press without much interest in extended possession. Here’s the passmap from the 67th minute to the end of the match.

And predictably, Everton responded with long spells of meaningless possession, failing to create any real chances of note in the last 20+ minutes of the match. Wilson made it 3-1, but it was a largely meaningless goal, as the Toffees were highly unlikely to find a goal against a compact opponent.

It’s an issue we’ve seen time and time again for Marco Silva’s Everton, and I’m not sure he looks any closer to having an answer for the problem. Against teams who don’t allow him to press, his players either score in the first 30 minutes and open up the match, or they don’t score at all.

It’s that change in game state that still baffles Silva. The opening period of a match usually sees both sides looking to attack at least a little bit, but the longer a match progresses, the more defensive a team with less overall talent is going to become — and too frequently if the Toffees don’t score early to change the game state, they don’t score at all.

Since December 2, 2018 — the fateful loss at Anfield that threatened to derail Everton’s season — the Toffees have played 21 matches against non-top six opponents. Their record in those matches? An abysmal 8-4-9 (W-D-L).

Of those eight wins, six came with goals in the opening 20 minutes. One draw — December 2018’s 1-1 draw against Newcastle United — also included a goal in the opening 20 minutes.

That means that in matches against non top-six sides where Everton did not score in the opening 20 minutes, the Toffees are 2-3-9 (W-D-L).

If anything is going to derail the Marco Silva era at Everton, it won’t be set piece defending, away form, or top-six struggles. The team simply cannot beat a bunker as matches progress, and a record like that in these situations is going to keep the team out of the top six indefinitely.