A few days ago, I pointed out that Everton’s second choice midfield pivot of Delph and Schneiderlin simply did not have what it took to give the team a fair chance of success. The loss of elite midfielder Idrissa Gueye to transfer and injuries to both his replacement Jean-Philippe Gbamin and also his old partner Andre Gomes put the club in a situation where they did not have enough pace, enough ball carrying, or or enough defending to be a stable unit. (You can read that- and it’s rather lively comment thread- here.)
Then, against the best midfield in the league and possibly all of world football, the exact same trio of Sigurdsson, Delph, and Schneiderlin actually held up decently well. Yes, Manchester City had 67% possession, compared to the the 70% Everton had in their last league outing against Sheffield United, but I contend the midfield actually played better against the champs.
I only mention the possession stats because they were used to tell me after the Blades match that somehow Everton having most of the ball was proof the midfield wasn’t the problem. I can’t believe people still think about possession stats that way in checks calendar 2019, but here we are. What’s far more important than how much of the ball you have is how well you break the other team’s lines. With no speed or ball carrying in the midfield, you can have the ball all day long and the other team can keep its lines packed ahead of your midfield with no concern. A deep lying playmaker like Scheiderlin has no lines to break with his passing.
Facing an aggressive ball dominant team like City changes the equation. Morgan isn’t dribbling past anyone but given the chance he can pass through some lines. Against City he completed four out of his five long balls (he actually completed 4/4 against Sheffield; he’s still a seriously good passer) and unlike the Sheffield game they actually broke some lines. What we’ll see below are his pass maps from both games and he attempted similar numbers of passes in both but those passes are much more bunched up against the team sitting back. Against City he spread the ball around and actually served a purpose as a deep lying playmaker.
Notice how his passes against Sheffield hits an invisible wall where they flatten out and literally just go side to side. That’s the low block the Blades were running. Against City, the passes are a bit more vertical and specifically feed Alex Iwobi and Seamus Coleman on the right side of the attack.
This fairly innocuous example, I think, points to why this particular midfield configuration works better against teams where Everton is forced to counter attack. Any three players can kick the ball around against a team with a low block but these three players can do a decent bit of damage on the counter attack, which is why we actually produced over 1.0 more xG against the defending champions than we did against a newly promoted side.
Even with our starters, beating City was going to be a major challenge. Without Gomes and Gbamin? Beating small sides becomes a major problem as well. I think our starters will be able to both counter attack and break down low blocks, but only time will tell. Point being, there’s no reason to get too worked up until we see our first choice midfield in action. I was very encouraged by the performance versus City, I think Marco Silva has a plan that can take the club forward, everyone put away the torches and pitchforks until we at least see how this team was supposed to look when we paid big money for Gbamin and Gomes this summer.