After brutally botching Everton’s second half against Liverpool in the FA Cup last week, Carlo Ancelotti needed a win in which he got his tactics right when the Toffees hosted Brighton & Hove Albion at Goodison Park this weekend.
More or less, he got it.
The Italian’s approach to the final 20 minutes of the match was a little conservative for my liking, but he put his team in a position to succeed for the opening 70 minutes, and that was enough to get a tension-relieving win.
Out of possession, his team played a pretty standard 4-4-2 — one that pressed moderately high, though perhaps not as chaotically as we would have seen under Marco Silva. In possession is where things got interesting. The setup looked something like the following:
There are a couple of key points to call out here.
- Brighton came out in a 3-4-3, which usually means there’s space to exploit out wide behind the full-backs. Keep that in mind as we look at the rest of Everton’s attacking plan.
- Theo Walcott and Bernard were both asked to pinch inside pretty regularly, but in different ways. Bernard moved laterally into the middle of the pitch in possession, playing as a quasi No. 10 in front of Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson, neither of whom ventured particularly deep into the attacking third.
- Walcott, on the other hand, looked to make runs in behind the backline, challenging Brighton center-back Lewis Dunk to contend with his pace. He perhaps should have earned his team a penalty in the opening five minutes doing so.
- Richarlison started a little bit deeper than Dominic Calvert-Lewin, in large part because he’s just so good at finding space in the box making late runs into the box. He finds the space between defenders and strikes before they have time to react.
- Djibril Sidibe and Lucas Digne, as is the standard for Everton full-backs, got into the attack quite readily. Walcott’s pinching into the center and Richarlison’s late central runs created 3v3s between the Everton attackers and Brighton center-backs — almost a faux 4-3-3 in some ways. The result was 1v1 opportunities for Digne and Sidibe against the Brighton full-backs.
Everton created chances all day using these tactics, and most of the above contributed to the only goal of the match (a tactical writer’s dream). Let’s take a closer look at the goal.
The play starts a Gylfi Sigurdsson interception in midfield and he feeds Richarlison with the ball in a deeper position, with Bernard having pinched in from the left wing into a more central area. You can see that not only has he attracted the attention of center-back Shane Duffy, but also right-back Martin Montoya.
Shane Duffy is forced to close Richarlison down, so the Brazilian lays it off to his compatriot, Bernard. Just at the bottom of the screen, you can see Lucas Digne preparing to exploit the space abandoned by Bernard (and Montoya).
The Brighton defense is stretched here, with Digne wide open and Duffy out of line with his fellow center-backs. As it stands, Richarlison has a clear path to goal, so Duffy has to respect the possibility that the Brazilian will just make a clear cut to the net — that becomes his top priority while the right-side of the defense handles Bernard and Digne.
Bernard knocks the ball wide to Digne in space.
Montoya honestly does a half-decent job of closing down the space on Digne, given how central he found himself at the start of the buildup.
At the back post, however, things are less cheery for Brighton. Duffy’s sprint to the goal has allowed Richarlison to do what he does best — slow down and make a late run into the box. Calvert-Lewin and Walcott have both pinched in from the right wing, keeping Dunk and Bernardo occupied.
As such, it’s basically a 1v1 between Richarlison and Duffy if Digne can get the ball to the Everton attacker.
Duffy goes to ground to try to cut out the danger before it can develop, but Richarlison beats him there and takes the Irishman completely out of the equation. A couple of fancy moves and a delightful finish later, Everton leads 1-0. Here is the goal in full.
The goal develops purely as a function of the specific attacking tactics Ancelotti looked to play in this one. Bernard and Richarlison found space in the midfield behind the attackers. Calvert-Lewin and Walcott occupied the center-backs, creating space for Digne and Sidibe down the wings. Digne and Sidibe won their share of 1v1 battles in the wide areas.
And in this case, Richarlison found the finish required to put the Toffees in the lead.
No one will be writing any ballads about a 1-0 win at home against Brighton, but it was the sort of calm, straightforward victory that the club needed after a tumultuous week. Everton had the superior talent on the pitch, Ancelotti used it appropriately, and the Toffees deservedly took all three points.
In a season where things have rarely been that simple, take the points and move on.