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A Tactical Comparison - Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez

Two different managers with two different styles

Liverpool v Chelsea - Premier League
A 2010 picture of Benitez and Ancelotti
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

With the dreaded international break underway, I thought it was a good time to take a little look at what’s changed at Everton in comparison to last season under Carlo Ancelotti. Although it’s difficult to compare a whole season to just seven league games so far, it will give us some idea as to what to expect under Rafa Benitez.

Firstly, a little look at what’s changed statistically as a team. Something I brought up on my Twitter recently which promoted a lot of discussion amongst Evertonians, was the fact we’re ranked 20th in the league for ball possession.

Now, if we weren’t picking up results you can imagine there would be complete uproar amongst Everton fans. The reason fans aren’t disappointed in this stat is because of what we do in the small percentage of time we do have the ball.

Despite the lack of possession, we have accumulated an xG (expected goals) per game of 1.61. This is the fifth highest in the league and the highest xG score for those with under 50% ball possession. On top of this, we’ve averaged 1.86 goals per game, so we’re converting our chances very well. Comparing this to last season, we only averaged 1.18 goals and an xG of 1.24 per game. This was with 46.5 possession on average which of course, was more than this season so far.

To be able to accumulate a higher xG with less of the ball, shows how efficient and effective we are when we have it. Another stat which stood out to me was the amount of non-set piece passes which led directly to a shot. Last season, we averaged just 12.4 per game whereas this season we have averaged a much improved 16.9 per game. This shows, even with less of the ball, you can still be effective in attack. It’s most certainly quality over quantity when it comes to having the football.

There’s no questioning the amount of desire, fight and passion this Everton team now possesses. Unfortunately, there isn’t many statistics to measure this. However, I’m sure you could ask any fan who’s watched us so far, we’ve had all three traits in abundance.

One stat which does help to back this up, is the amount of pressures we apply to an opponent. We averaged around five more per game this season. This may not seem like a lot but you have to take into an account we’ve been without Richarlison for a few games this season who is one of our main pressers and with Salomon Rondon playing instead of him, we’re seeing a lot less pressing in comparison.

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League
Everton celebrate as a team against Manchester United.
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Another impressive statistic is our xG conceded. I know a lot of regular football fans are either completely against xG or haven’t quite got their head round it yet, but I believe it’s a great way of seeing how a team is performing. In terms of xG against, this season we are averaging just 1.04 per game. This is the second best in the whole league, only bettered by Manchester City. This is a great achievement and shows how we’re limiting the opposition to shots and chances which are difficult for them to score from.

This is backed up by the average distance of shots against us, which is at 18.3 yards. Comparing all this to last season, our xG per game was 1.37 and the average shot distance against us at 17.1. These are very minor improvements, but over a whole season if we can stay consistent over the whole year, it will most certainly result in a higher league position for Everton.

Moving onto a few players who have undoubtedly improved under Rafa Benitez. Our midfield duo Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan have certainly hit another level. One thing we’ve particularly noticed is we are allowing Doucoure a lot more freedom, not only in attacking phases but when pressing the ball also. This has resulted in Allan performing slightly less pressures per game than last season but his partner Doucoure performing significantly more. The Frenchman averages 4.9 more pressures per game than the previous year. Moreover, he’s averaging 0.5 more tackles per game, with Allan averaging very similar to last year. This shows in the early stages how much more solid and compact we are in the middle of the pitch.

Not only defensively, as I mentioned earlier Doucoure is being allowed a lot more freedom to get forward and be effective in the opposition half. One stat which helps prove this is “shot creating actions”. Last season, he managed 41 throughout the whole year. So far after just seven games, he is over halfway to reaching that amount, with a whopping 24, the highest in the Everton team. Both him and Allan are averaging more touches in the attacking third and more touches in the opposition penalty area, showing the license they have to get forward. This is all whilst as a team we’re having less of the ball so it’s even more impressive.

Everton Training Session
The midfield duo.
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Last season a lot of fans showed concerns that we were overly reliant on Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin when it came to attacking. Only four players averaged over 0.10 xG a game for Everton. This year, we currently have ten players who are above this average. This shows how we are attacking at different angles and due to the fact we’re attacking in numbers, chances are being dished out to multiple players. This shows up in the goalscoring charts for the Blues so far. We currently have Gray, Townsend and Calvert-Lewin all tied at the top with three goals each. We’re also seeing assists coming from players who last season you would never have expected with the likes of Doucoure chipping in with four assists so far despite only having three in the entirety of last year’s campaign.

We really did not have a player like Andros Towsend at the club so it’s hard to compare to this year. One thing we can look at is comparing him to someone who also played on the right-hand side of midfield on occasions, James Rodriguez. Of course, there is no doubting the talent the Colombian had offesnively, but it was clear in the summer the calibre of player Rafa wanted to bring in. James completed 20 tackles last season and Andros has already managed 17 so far. The latter also averages 21.9 pressures compared to James’ 12.8. I’m aware that James played in multiple positions and sometimes more attacking but it’s a little indicator into the different type of players we are seeing at the club this season.

To summarise, the Everton we are seeing so far this season is much more of a team collective. Responsibility being spread out across the team, a lot more intensity, passion, and willingness to win the ball back. For the first time in what feels like years, we can see a genuine plan coming from the manager. Every single player on the pitch seems to understand their role and so far, they are all executing it most of the time. The team has more fight together, they back each other up and you will often see the players applauding each other when that final pass doesn’t come off as they appreciate what they are trying to do. Huge credit must go to the new signings, the current players who have upped their game and of course the new manager.