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Everton at Leeds: Tactical Preview | Left side the key

How can the Blues break Bielsa’s boys down and come away with three points from Elland Road?

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: We’re very happy to welcome @TacticallyEv to the Royal Blue Mersey family - he’s here doing a tactical preview guest blog this week on Everton’s trip to Leeds United.

Everton’s first away day of the season sees the Blues travel to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. Last season saw Everton take the three points back to Merseyside after goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson helped us to a 2-1 victory at Elland Road. This time around there is a new manager at the helm and we will be analysing how we’re going to beat the Yorkshire-based side.

Firstly, a little look at Bielsa’s Leeds. Many football fans, like myself, were surprised at how well Leeds performed last season. It was very well documented how hardworking, relentless and resilient they were. They weren’t without their faults, though. The Whites leaked goals and were most certainly one of the most inconsistent teams in the league.

The majority of Leeds’ games were extremely fast-paced. They averaged 19.5 tackles per game which was the highest in the league, showing how effective their relentless pressing was at times. Alongside this though, their players were dribbled past more than any other side in the league. This shows how end-to-end their style of play was. Bielsa wouldn’t mind conceding 3, as long as his side scored 4.

Demarai Gray got a lot of joy in the second half of the Southampton game when he moved to the left side. Luke Ayling was dribbled past three times against Manchester United in their heavy defeat. Coupled with Leeds being the most dribbled past team last season, this is definitely an area we should exploit. I would set up the way we started the second half, with Demarai off the left and Richarlison given a bit more of a free role in the middle.

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

A major threat for Leeds last season was the vast amount of shots they produced. They averaged 13.7 per game, the 5th highest in the league. Rafa will be looking to try to nullify their threats and I believe the answer to this would be one man, Benjamin Matthew Godfrey.

Leeds had the most goals scored via a through ball last season in the Premier League. Ben Godfrey, in my opinion, is vital for this game. With the pace of Raphinha and Jack Harrison, who often make diagonal runs between the full backs and centre backs, Godfrey is needed in central defence, most significantly for his pure speed. His recovery runs saved us plenty of times last season, and he was my personal Man of the Match when we faced Leeds at Elland Road last season. I would couple up Godfrey and Yerry Mina at centre half for this one. I believe they are our best pairing especially since Michael Keane and Mason Holgate did themselves no favours with sub-par performances against Southampton last week.

In their drubbing by United, Leeds looked very exposed with Paul Pogba drifting inside from his wide left position in the 4-2-3-1, allowing Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw and Mason Greenwood to make third man runs in behind him. Their defenders didn’t know who to pick up and I think this is an area we can look to exploit at times. Gray and Andros Townsend, who I expect to both retain their places this weekend, naturally drift inside due to them wanting to cut in onto their stronger foot. This would allow our creative fullbacks, Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne the license to bomb on and overlap. We saw this many times against the Saints in the second half with both fullbacks getting plenty of space in the final third.

With Abdoulaye Doucoure being asked to play further forward under Rafa Benitez, if the trio of Gray, Townsend and Richarlison all interchange and play with fluidity we could see plenty of unmarked runs into the box from the Frenchman. He’s promised us more goals this season and he certainly delivered in the opener last weekend.

Another area in which we have vastly improved from last season (based off last weekend’s match) is our pressing. A lot of fans doubted whether we had the right players with the right attitude who wanted to work hard and press the opposition players into making mistakes. The players certainly proved they have it in them, no doubt with help from the two new signings who worked their socks off all game.

Defensive Team Sequences (Pressure)
Opta Analyst

As you can see, Everton were the 4th best in PPDA last weekend (PPDA = Passes allowed Per Defensive Action, which basically means the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team’s own defensive third before a defensive action was made, The lower the number, the higher the level of pressing). Ironically, the Saints pressed the Blues better and got their sole goal from it, while Everton were unable to cause any high turnovers with their press.

Team Selection

I expect the majority of the team to be unchanged. James Rodriguez has already ruled himself out of the game this weekend for reasons unknown to only us. Reading between the lines, I don’t expect him to play again for Everton. Personally I can’t see Rafa changing both centre backs this weekend, and with Ben Godfrey missing training recently due to isolation protocols, I can see maybe Yerry coming in for either Keane or Holgate.

I’d like to see the double change at centre half but other than that I don’t believe anyone else’s performances last weekend warrant being dropped. Both new signings I thought were excellent. Even when they didn’t have the ball, their pressing and movement was fantastic.

It’s never going to be easy going to a packed out Elland Road. No doubt the place will be absolutely bouncing considering this is Leeds home opener. Hopefully the likes of Moise Kean, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Andre Gomes will be back and available, even if only from the bench.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my tactical preview of this weekend’s game. Catch me on Twitter - @TacticallyEv for more insight.