Despite two historically bad results against Newcastle in the Premier League and Liverpool in the FA Cup since taking over, the start of Carlo Ancelotti’s reign at Everton has been largely a resounding success.
Only Liverpool has more points since the Italian’s appointment. The Toffees have pushed from floating near the relegation zone to just four points out of fifth place. They’ve lost just once in the league under Duncan Ferguson and Ancelotti combined — a respectable 2-1 loss to defending champions Manchester City.
That serves as the backdrop for Everton’s match against Crystal Palace this weekend — one which could see the Toffees feasibly go as high as seventh ahead of the Premier League’s inaugural winter break. But, of course Carlo Ancelotti must get his personnel selection and tactics correct again to beat Roy Hodgson’s side and continue the club’s ascent up the table.
Tactics and Formation
I don’t expect Carlo Ancelotti to go out of his way to react tactically to Crystal Palace, but the Eagles do have a pretty predictable way of going about things. They reliably come out in a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3, with two pretty identifiable tendencies.
Palace will defend in numbers and doesn’t necessarily look to have the ball for long spells. At 46.4%, their average possession is fifth lowest in the league. They block the eighth most shots and fifth most crosses in the Premier League. Those aren’t Burnley-like defensive numbers, but they are indicative of a team that looks to defend first in a typical lower-mid table team way.
In attack, the plan is pretty simple — get Wilfried Zaha the ball out left and let him do stuff. 45% of Palace’s attacking third possession comes in Zaha’s left channel — the highest such percentage of any team on either wing in the Premier League by a wide margin.
In defense, the plan has worked. Crystal Palace has conceded just 29 goals — only Liverpool, Leicester City, and Sheffield United have conceded fewer. In attack, the plan has been decidedly ineffective. Palace’s 22 goals are the fewest in the league, and per Understat, their xG is second-worst in England’s top flight.
All-in-all, Ancelotti faces an opponent that will be difficult to break down, but not one that requires any tactical shifting. But Everton have struggled at times to break teams like Palace down this season, so it’ll be interesting to see what late-game tweaks the manager has in his pocket if things don’t go according to plan over the first hour.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Lucas Digne- 10/10
Yerry Mina - 9/10
Mason Holgate - 10/10
Djibril Sidibe - 8/10
The French full-back has better pace than Seamus Coleman, which will give him an advantage against Palace’s primary danger man, Zaha. But Sidibe has occasionally been prone to a defensive head-scratcher, something that can’t happen when so much of the Palace attack will presumably be funneled down his wing.
I still wholly expect Sidibe will start, but it isn’t out of the question that Ancelotti takes a slightly more conservative approach and looks to the club captain to manage things down the Everton defensive right.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - 9/10
Morgan Schneiderlin - 9/10
Ancelotti himself said that with Fabian Delph out through suspension, he’s got three central midfielders, two of whom will play and one of whom will start on the bench. Given that Tom Davies didn’t even make the matchday 18 last week, process of elimination gives us a starting duo of Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson.
I can hear you groaning through my computer screen, and I do totally understand that this duo lacks energy and pace to an extent, certainly containing much less than it would with Davies involved. That said, the Palace midfield three of Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic, and James McArthur isn’t exactly exploding with dynamism either, so I don’t expect too many issues in this part of the field — provided Siggy and Morgan can move the ball quickly when called upon.
Theo Walcott - 9/10
Last week I begged the gods to let it be the week Theo Walcott turned all his recent good play into goals. The football gods have a funny sense of humor though.
Walcott put forward what was indisputably his worst performance of the last two months, then made himself the match’s hero by putting away the sort of chance he’s managed to miss with regularity since his return to the regular starting XI.
With a 4-4-2 essentially a foregone conclusion and Richarlison therefore in at striker, Walcott will surely keep his place.
Alex Iwobi - 7/10
I was surprised that Ancelotti immediately threw Iwobi back into the starting XI last week given Bernard’s good form, and frankly the former Arsenal man didn’t have the impact the Brazilian had in recent matches.
There’s no doubt that Iwobi’s ceiling is higher than Bernard’s, and as a result I think Ancelotti will continue to try to draw out his best — but don’t be surprised if there’s a 50-something-th minute substitution of Bernard for Iwobi if the Everton attack falters.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 10/10
Richarlison - 10/10
These are the sort of must-win matches that have tended to trip Everton up just as they start to get into a promising place in the table. Ancelotti must do everything in his power to ensure that doesn’t happen this weekend.