With a Monday Night Football victory other Arsenal, a lot of fans had increased optimism for the trip down to London to face inconsistent Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, the win against the Gunners wasn’t a turning point, with Everton promptly reverting to another shocking performance much in the vein of the eight games before Monday. Despite switching to a three-man midfield like a lot of fans have been crying out for, they failed to perform and showed no plan or idea in possession.
With Fabian Delph and Andre Gomes brought into the midfield, there was no reason not to try and play out from the back and build up possession through the central positions. It was clear that the centre backs weren’t instructed to do this, and we saw the ball aimlessly lumped up the pitch an obscene number of times. Everton attempted 68 long balls, compared to Crystal Palace’s 49, despite having significantly less possession than. In fact, every 4.7 passes from Everton was a long ball. Although Richarlison is fantastic at heading a ball in attacking positions, when balls are aimlessly lumped up to him with his back to goal, he isn’t much use, and he didn’t win one header all game. Mason Holgate himself attempted 16 long balls, with only five of them being accurate.
I have no issues with managers wanting to implement styles which differ to the exciting, play out from the back type setups that we so often see. The issue I do have is when the football we are playing is not effective. Playing the ball long to an isolated striker is never going to work. If we have three in midfield, there is no reason for us not to try play football. With Fabian Delph and Andre Gomes who are comfortable on the ball, we’re completely wasting them.
Speaking of our isolated striker, it wasn’t a great night for Richarlison. Before being hooked off after 57 minutes with an injury (despite his visible disagreement), the Brazilian only managed to touch the ball ten times. He was often pressing on his own, which made no sense to me. Implementing the midfield three should mean with Fabian Delph shielding, we could press high up the pitch with our other two central midfielders, just like we did against Arsenal. There was absolutely none of this against Crystal Palace. When we did press, it wasn’t as a group, and it was so easy for them to pop it round us and play through the thirds. In the final third, we only made two tackles, one from Ben Godfrey and one from Andros Townsend.
Although Crystal Palace played well and deserved their win, I can’t help but feel we gifted them most of their chances. They pressed high and as a unit but we surrendered possession way too easily and any sign of pressure, completely lost all composure on the ball and threw it away as quick as possibly. Seamus Coleman made seven clearances this game, with most of them unnecessary and straight to the opposition. In fact, two of them almost directly lead to a goal. The first one he cleared the ball straight across his goal into Demarai Gray who also made a mistake. The back four made 19 clearances between them, which shows how much panic they were under in possession.
Now, I’ve been banging the “three-man midfield” drum for many, many weeks now and Rafa finally decided to go with it. Of course, it did not work and you’re probably wondering why. With a three-man midfield, you’re forfeiting a forward position. This puts the impetus on two of the midfielders to push on to not allow the forward to be isolated. What we saw against Palace, was Everton sat so, so deep. This would normally be okay as we can break at pace but due to the counter press of Palace, when we won the ball back, our players who are not comfortable under pressure, aimlessly hoofed the ball up field and hoped for the best.
The main plan of attack seemed to be to give the ball to Demarai Gray and hope he can bail us out, which unfortunately he could not. He managed four shots, one key pass, six completed dribbles and three crosses. To put it into perspective, Ben Godfrey was the only other player to complete more than one dribble and he was playing as a makeshift full back. Gray was at fault for the first goal with some sloppiness on the ball but he was asked to do so much in attack. It genuinely seemed to be, if you receive the ball in the opposition half, just give it to Demarai. What worked so well against Arsenal was getting the ball into Richarlison and players would make runs off him but we saw absolutely none of this on Sunday.
Rafa Benitez seems to be rapidly running out of ideas with this Everton side and we are in real danger over this busy festive period of declining down the table at an alarming rate. It now seems not only are the fans questioning him but the players also, with Lucas Digne omitted from the last two Everton squads with no official reason given by the manager. With the Frenchman being a fan favourite, it’s certainly not the greatest idea from Rafa who is making more and more enemies as weeks go by.
With Everton back in London to face Chelsea midweek, it doesn’t get any easier for the embattled side. It appears club chairman Bill Kenwright has indicated to majority shareowner Farhad Moshiri that keeping Benitez on is the owner’s responsibility. Now it remains to be seen how many more such insipid losses the club can take before Moshiri is forced to sack the man he has just pretty much given the keys to the football club to.