After three games, a 1–1–1 record and a distinct lack of clean sheets, Carlo Ancelotti finally moved on from the unsuccessful back-three experiment. Playing Michael Keane and Yerry Mina — whose skill sets are too similar — resulted in the Toffees owning one of the worst defensive records for teams in the top half of the table. Opting for a more traditional 4-2-3-1 set up, Ancelotti still managed to find a way to utilize an atypical formation — the Italian cobbled together an amalgamation of four center-halves on defense, with Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate as the left- and right-sided fullbacks, respectively.
While the fit seemed awkward at times, the speed of Godfrey and Holgate helped the Toffees keep their first clean sheet since the opening week of the season. And despite holding only 28% possession, the back four conceded just three shots on target. Let’s hope this is the last we’ve seen of the 3-4-3.
Gylfi Sigurdsson chose the perfect time to open his Everton scoring account for the 2020/21 season, and his first in 17 league games. It has been a frustrating campaign — due to a lack of consistent playing time — for the Icelandic midfielder, but his calmly-taken penalty kick earned Everton a vital three points, getting them to twenty. While Sigurdsson did well to send Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy the wrong way, the goal belongs to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
While there is no statistic to commemorate Calvert-Lewin’s impact on the goal, Sigurdsson merely was the beneficiary of the young Englishman’s hard work. Following a Jordan Pickford long ball, Calvert-Lewin — at the top of Chelsea’s 18 — pushed the ball from his head into space, paced by his defender and forced Mendy to commit a late tackle. The result: an Everton penalty. Even in games during which Calvert-Lewin fails to score, he has an innate ability to positively impact his team.
Not only did a change in formation lift the defense, Carlo Ancelotti’s decision also aided Everton’s midfield; Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré finally resembled the players who were instrumental in the team’s early-season success. With a midfield four limiting the opportunities to push forward, Allan and Doucouré looked trapped in recent matches, consistently being caught out of position. With more room in the center of the pitch, and more help in the defensive third, Allan was able to operate as a true six, screening the back four and exerting his defensive dominance in midfield, while Doucouré had much more license to sprint forward on the counter attack.
A more balanced formation favored the team as a collective unit, but perhaps no two players benefited more than the Allan and Doucouré.