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Digne’s importance to the Everton attack cannot be overstated

Analyzing all of Everton’s goals against Fulham shows some interesting tactical nuances

Fulham v Everton - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton got off to a rollicking start in Sunday’s early game at Fulham, scoring in the first minute and then adding another couple before the halftime whistle. None of the three goals was really a surprise, as they were all well-worked and the result of the team executing the gameplan Carlo Ancelotti had in mind.

The veteran manager’s starting lineup selection had more than one Evertonian befuddled - with the Twitter graphic not showing how the eleven would position themselves on the pitch, opinions ran wild on who would play where.

Would it be a return to a Marco Silva-esque 4-2-3-1? Ancelotti’s earlier 4-4-2? Or was Alex Iwobi going to be the latest to be tried at left midfield where Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson had previously failed?

Turns out, the answer was none of the above. The formation was a 3-4-3 when out of possession, switching to a 3-5-2 with the ball with James Rodriguez moving into a central position behind the front pair of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Ben Godfrey started as the right centrehalf in a three-man backline, and Lucas Digne and Iwobi as the wingbacks.

The Blues had barely had enough time to settle into their positions from Fulham’s kick off when some pressure upfront generated a turnover which allowed Richarlison to find Calvert-Lewin for the opening goal after just 42 seconds.

Breaking the video down shows that tactics were certainly at play there for the Toffees to create the opening from which they were able to score. Use the following colour key to track these respective players in the pictures: Lucas Digne - blue; Richarlison - green; Michael Keane - yellow; Dominic Calvert-Lewin - orange; James Rodriguez - purple; Abdoulaye Doucoure - white; Allan - black; Alex Iwobi - pink; Ben Godfrey - light blue.

As Fulham look to clear their lines, a wayward pass out of the back by Tosin Adarabioyo allows Digne to put pressure on Ola Aina. The right back is able to find Bobby De Cordova-Reid, but Keane is right on his back and he puts in an aimless pass back that Richarlison can pounce on. A nifty toedrag by the Brazilian leaves centreback Joachim Andersen for dead and he can put the ball right at DCL’s feet, though it does take a lucky deflection before it gets to the striker to finish.

Everton kept the pressure up with their wingbacks pressing high up the field, and Iwobi took advantage with a delightful cross that DCL tapped delicately into the far corner, but the flag went up for a marginal offside. Once again though, look at Digne’s (blue) positioning on this goal.

DCL’s disallowed goal

Despite the momentary setback of conceding a little later in the half, the Blues continue to show attacking invention and were able to capitalize twice more in almost identical fashion.

Just before the half hour, with Everton in possession, Richarlison and James switch flanks to create some confusion. This allows Iwobi to sit right on the touchline unmarked and Allan finds him easily. The Nigeria international then sets off on a mazy run that ends up occupying five Fulham players and freezing a sixth, before laying it off for a now-central James, who is quick to change flanks to a wide open Digne running in. The Frenchman’s low cross is precise and DCL can edge ahead of his marker to tap in. Note Richarlison is also open if DCL whiffs, while Iwobi has continued his great run and made himself available too.

The third goal was not very different from the second, and once again a result of Everton reverting to the 3-5-2 when in possession, quickly changing flanks to create overlaps.

Doucoure is pressing a reeling Fulham deep, and is able to force a poor clearance. Godfrey, much like Keane did on the first goal, pushes up and wins an aerial ball that Doucoure can corral and feed a centrally-located James. The Colombian wizard once again sees the left side gaping and with the outside of his foot searches out the run of Digne again. The leftback looks up and sees DCL has taken a deeper position, and this time Doucoure is the first man up. His cross is a lofted one this time and the former Watford man is completely unmarked as Fulham’s defenders are unaware of his presence in the box to score. Richarlison has followed up too for the shallower cross should Digne so choose.

This attacking initiative from the 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation is exactly what the Toffees have needed to unlock lower table opposition who often bunker and keep out Everton. Whether Ancelotti chooses to keep the three-man backline or not, you can certainly expect to see him continuing to use Digne’s attacking instincts and Iwobi’s direct running as supplements to the obvious goal threat of Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and James.

Watch all the goals again in real time in the highlights below.

Update - 27th Nov: After the news of Digne’s training injury and subsequent surgery, Ancelotti has now been robbed of a potent weapon in what is the busiest time of the season.