Back at Goodison Park, under the lights for the first time in what feels like forever. Everton host Sean Dyche’s Burnley who are yet to win this season. Last season this fixture saw Burnley come away with the three points, adding to Everton’s dreadful home record under Carlo Ancelloti. Burnley are never an easy team to play, with their low block, tough defenders and rigid structure that Sean Dyche has implemented. Hopefully with a near fully-fit squad, we should have too much quality for the Clarets, so lets delve a little deeper into it.
Firstly, a little look at our opponents. Burnley are very well known for their long ball, get the ball out wide and get crosses into the box. Very much an old school style, which has been somewhat effective for them in recent years. So far this season, they’ve averaged 15.3 crosses per game this season, the 4th highest in the league. Both their wide players, Dwight McNeil and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, are both in the top 15 players for crosses attempted so far this season, despite playing one less game than the majority above them. Burnley have also averaged 118 “above shoulder height” passes per game so far which is the highest in the league this season. Some people may think that it’s a bit of a cliché or an unfair stereotype about Burnley’s style of play but the statistics this season are certainly backing this up.
Now, we may have one of the best players in the league in the air up front in Calvert-Lewin, but in this game, playing into his head or chest will be playing into Burnley’s hands. They’ve won more aerial duels per game than any other team this season. The way Burnley setup make it very difficult to have players run at them and beat them in one v one dribbles. Statistically, their tackles stats as a team are up there with the best in the league, as their wingers track ball very well and often double up with their full backs to outnumber the opposition.
Dwight McNeil has very similar defensive stats to Andros Townsend and I see a lot of similarities in their play. Speaking of Townsend, I believe he’s nailed on to start this one, for several reasons. Like I touched on there, he has very high defensive work rate which Rafa loves in a player. Undoubtedly, Dwight McNeil is their main threat off the left and I believe Rafa will want him in there to nullify the threat and we may see Townsend playing as a second full back at times. Also, with Seamus Coleman potentially out injured, either Jonjoe Kenny or probably Mason Holgate will have to play there, leaving us weaker on the right-hand side. This will mean Townsend’s defensive side will be even more important than normal.
Now I fully expect a lot of people to disagree with this but someone else who I think could be really important is Michael Keane. As I’ve mentioned, Burnley are a massive threat with the ball in the air. Michael Keane so far this season, hasn’t lost an aerial duel. Although he hasn’t started great this season, his mistakes so far have come from teams playing at a high intensity and pressing our defence deep in our own half. Burnley simply won’t do that. They average 105.3 pressures to an opponent per game, the second lowest in the league. He will have a lot more time on the ball and we certainly saw an improvement from him against Brighton.
Due to their lack of pressure, this will allow us to play with a high line and force the pressure onto them. With their lack of pace up front, it means we can allow that space in behind as their not going to be a threat from a ball over the top to run onto. Also, they have averaged the most offsides per game so far this season, so even when they do get it over the top, it’s normally a free-kick to the opposition.
Monday night’s game is an interesting one, as Burnley and Everton rank 20th and 19th respectively for possession stats this season. Everton so far this season have sat back, soaked up the pressure and hit them on the counter attack with pace. Burnley setup in such a way that this isn’t really going to be possible. They sit very deep, inviting pressure and will be happy for us to have more of the football, especially with the game being played at Goodison. My concern would be where we’ve been most effective this season is getting at defenders and getting crosses into the box. Burnley as I mentioned earlier, don’t really allow this to happen. This would be a perfect game for James Rodriguez in my opinion. Against teams that play a low block, sit back and soak up pressure, you need players that can unlock a defence with a killer pass.
In the away fixture last season, he was the only player for Everton to complete a through ball. I think it’s these types of passes, with Gray and Richarlison making runs off the left and right, which will be the key to break down this Burnley defence. I do feel that’s very unlikely, due to his lack of match fitness, so I think we could see Alex Iwobi playing in a similar role. There’s no doubt, when he’s in the mood there’s a talented player in there. In a 20 minute cameo, against Brighton last time out, he completed two key passes, one dribble and just looked very confident, playing a bit of a free role.
Although the setup of the 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 was worked for Everton so far, I believe we need to really take the game to Burnley on Monday. We need to play our most creative players. This isn’t a game for lumping it to Calvert-Lewin or letting Gray run at their defence as it’s just ineffective against this style of play. We need a bit of magic, hopefully from our Colombian. As much as I’ve enjoyed Everton under Rafa Benitez so far, it would be great to see us dominated a game, have more of the ball and score plenty of goals to reward the fans who I’m sure will be excited for this one, back under the lights of Goodison Park.