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Everton at Wolves: Tactical Review | Two-man midfield once again Rafa’ downfall

Three defeats in a row now, where does it keep going wrong?

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton - Premier League Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

A trip to Molineux saw a third straight defeat for Everton in another game which has created plenty of toxicity on social media aimed at several areas of the hierarchy at the club. Two quick goals saw the Blues go into half time two goals down with a consolation goal coming from Alex Iwobi in the second half.

Once again it was a set piece conceded which saw Everton go behind in the first half. A slightly different hybrid marking setup with three men going man-for-man in front of the zonal-marking players around the six-yard box. Max Kilman who was being marked by Andros Townsend had a run on the ball and was able to attack it with some ease resulting in a goal. The defender ended the game with eight aerials won which shows the number of long balls up to Richarlison were being played throughout the game. This is a style which doesn’t seem to be working for Everton with the absence of Calvert-Lewin, especially against a three-man centre back setup like Wolves.

Looking at xG, Everton ended the game with an xG of 1.89 which was ever so slightly better than our opponents. This again shows we’re creating the chances and getting into the right positions but can’t put the ball into the back of the net. Even in the first half with the Blues being overwhelmed they had two clear chances to score and weren’t able to.

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

A lot of questions are being asked about the two-man midfield Benitez setup with against Wolves and rightly so. It’s been clear from our last two defeats that without Abdoulaye Doucoure we really struggle to get a foothold on the game. It was nice to see Jean-Philippe Gbamin get a start but unfortunately, he didn’t perform the way I was hoping. Before being substituted at half time, he only completed 16 passes and touched the ball 22 times. He often looked reluctant to receive any passes, failed to track runners and didn’t screen the defence or protect them.

I can certainly see why Rafa decided to make a change at half time. Partly, it isn’t his fault due to the system, but he didn’t do himself any favours. He was a key contributor in Everton’s average pass streak only being four passes. The introduction of Fabian Delph allowed us to have a bit more control of the game in the second half. Townsend tucking into the middle with Demarai Gray and Alex Iwobi the wide men also added more bodies in the middle and 4-5-1 was a better formation to handle the missing versatility of Doucoure.

Moving onto Delph, simply looking at the number of times he touched the ball was a clear positive. Compared to Gbamin’s 22, Delph touched the ball 37 times. He came on to try and give us more possession and allow Allan to get forward more with Townsend supporting. He allowed us to press higher up the pitch due to being that protection in front of the back four. He constantly looked to receive the ball on the half turn and play forwards which was a massive contrast from what we saw from Gbamin in the first half. The veteran also finished the game on two tackles, two interceptions and one clearance. Looking to the Spurs game on Sunday I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t start, as long as he’s still fit of course.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

A real worry I saw against West Ham was the number of times we allowed Declan Rice to get on the ball and Monday’s game was very similar. Ruben Neves completely dictated the game, touching the ball 95 times with a pass accuracy of 91.1%. He made eight accurate long balls, often to the wing backs who we also couldn’t deal with when they got into advanced positions. Of course, part of the setup is to sit back and allow the opposition to play and try and sit tight and absorb the pressure. The worry is, when they have advancing full backs and strikers dropping in between the lines, a player of Neves’ ability can pick out these passes and cause us lots of problems. If our defensive setup allowed us to screen the opposition forwards or get tight to the wing backs, I’d have less of an issue with Neves getting on the ball so often, but with both Allan and Gbamin stepping up it created a large area for the home side to exploit.

Wolves had ten shots in total with eight of them coming from inside our eighteen-yard box. If you’re allowing this many shots so close to our goal, you’re more likely to concede. Unfortunately, it’s as simple as that. Going the other way, our player with the most shots of the game was Ben Godfrey which says a lot about the way we played. At the start of the season, we saw Everton attack in numbers, especially on the counterattack. When your makeshift left back is having your highest number of shots it is very worrying.

There were often “hit and hope” strikes from outside the box, with 29% of our attempts coming from this area, as did the goal which was a Godfrey shot that Keane deflected back to Iwobi to stab home. Although we did create chances, there was very little in the first half and when your only attempt to attack is after we’re already two goals down, you’re left with very little chance of winning the game. Anthony Gordon had a header very late on which was extremely unlucky to not go in for the youngster’s first Premier League goal. Even if he had scored and Everton fans were a little bit more positive after the game, it would still only have papered over the cracks of what was another shoddy performance from Rafa Benitez men.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton - Premier League - Molineux
Anthony Gordon goes close late on.
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

I’ve shifted very little blame on the manager this season but unfortunately, I do believe he got the setup wrong this week. The two-man midfield is not going to work and it’s complete suicide to play it without the energy of Doucoure in there. Hopefully we will have learnt this lesson eventually in time for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur this weekend. With new manager Antonio Conte now in place I am very worried about the typical new manager bounce especially when the new boss is someone of Conte’s calibre. Just look at what Claudio Ranieri got an underperforming Watford side to do at Goodison Park.