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Everton at Brighton: Tactical Preview | Countering Potter’s passing regimen

How can the Blues beat Potter’s well-organized Seagulls this weekend?

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

Everton are on the road for the third game in a row, after the draw last weekend at Leeds United and the Carabao Cup tie away to Huddersfield Town in midweek. They face fellow unbeaten side Brighton & Hove Albion in a game which could see either side finish Saturday evening at the top of the table. Last season this fixture saw an absolutely thrilling 0-0 draw in which both sides had very little to play for with it being towards the end of the season.

Graham Potter’s side gained a lot of plaudits last year, with many considering them very unfortunate to finish where they did last season in 16th place. They are a side that love to pass the ball. Their centre back Lewis Dunk, averaged 67.4 passes p/g. For a side that finished 16th, this is almost unheard of. Potter never surrenders from his style of play even when they are struggling to get points.

Just looking at the small data pool we have for the first two games, Brighton have completed only 10 dribbles as a team. Coupling this with the fact they’ve attempted the 3rd most passes in the league, shows how much of a pass-and-move style of play they have.

Looking at their defensive side of the game, this is backed up by the increasingly popular xG model. They finished the season with 39.91 xGa (expected goals against), only bettered by Chelsea and the champions Manchester City. This would imply, a lot of the goals they did concede were often goals you wouldn’t expect to go in, whether that be long range strikes, lucky finishes or set pieces.

That leads me onto an area I believe Everton may be able to exploit this weekend, set pieces. Brighton conceded 10 goals from set pieces last season. When you consider they only conceded 46 goals overall, that’s a fairly high percentage. Everton on the flip side scored the third most goals from set pieces last season. With the likes of Mina, Godfrey, Gbamin, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, who could all potentially start on Saturday, there is plenty of aerial threat to worry the Brighton defence.

Brighton setup in a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1 system and have very rarely moved away from this over the last few years. Potter has stuck with it and is constantly improving the squad by signing players that fit this system. Their wing backs will sit in a back five when they are defending, but often make a front five when attacking. Something interesting I took from the Huddersfield game midweek is the system we set up in.

Everton set up in a back five when defending, with Niels Nkounkou specifically bombing on into a left wing position when attacking. Jonjoe Kenny on the opposite side also got forward very often as they knew they had the defensive cover with the three centre backs covering for them. The reason I found this interesting was the fact this is very similar to how Brighton set up. Was this Rafa Benitez trying to test out a system he was going to use at the weekend, to try and match Brighton in the structure of their team?

Personally, I find it strange for us to try out a new formation against lower league opposition, when Rafa is still trying to implement his style and tactics at Everton, without him then using it in a more important game such as Brighton this Saturday.

Taking a look at some of Graham Potter’s men who I think could give Everton a hard time this weekend, someone who I feel a lot of Everton fans won’t particularly be worried about is Danny Welbeck. Last season, he scored six goals in 1500 minutes for Brighton, with an xG of 6. He was very useful, when fit, in front of goal for Brighton who notoriously struggled with putting away chances. He is expected to return to the squad this weekend along with Neil Maupay, who in recent days has been linked with a move to Merseyside.

A player who I’m sure most Everton fans would do anything to sign is Yves Bissouma. He grabbed an assist in their last game against Watford and has been pivotal for them in central midfield the last few years. There’s never a doubt whether he is going to start for them, Potter’s only midfield worry is who to play alongside him, with many being tried there over the last few years. Bissouma averaged 2.9 tackles per game last season and has often been linked with moves away from the club. Whoever plays in an attacking midfield role for Everton this weekend isn’t going to get a moment’s rest.

Another Seagull who I feel is vastly underrated is Pascal Gross. He averaged the most crosses per game last season in the league and is up there with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Jack Grealish for key passes per game where he averages the 8th highest in the league. If Brighton can finally click upfront this season, you’ll likely see Gross with north of ten assists this season. It’s only a matter of time before the key passes and accurate crosses he produces turn to goals and he’s another player Everton need to watch out for this weekend.

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Maupay capitalizing on a Pickford error to score last season
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

In terms of team selection, the eagle-eyed Evertonians would have noticed James Rodriguez in the background of some training pictures this week. Benitez has ruled him out and I’m not sure whether I expect him to even be an Everton player by the end of the weekend. The Everton media team made it very obvious they didn’t want to even acknowledge he was training this week which in my opinion, says a lot. I expect Ben Godfrey to make his first appearance of the season, likely coming in for Michael Keane who has struggled so far. Jean Phillipe Gbamin got a much needed 90 minutes midweek so we could potentially see more of him this weekend. Alex Iwobi has started fantastically under Rafa, so he will feel very hard done by if he doesn’t start this weekend, though the manager did mention he had picked up a knock midweek.

Hopefully, Everton can continue their unbeaten start to the season with a win on the south coast and for those who are lucky enough to attend the game, I hope its more exciting than our trip to the Amex last season.