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Everton at Hull City: Tactical Review | Long ball and negativity

We got the job done but cracks are still showing in Everton’s poor defensive structure.

Hull City v Everton: The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Despite the victory, it was another disappointing Everton performance which again highlighted clear issues in Rafa Benitez’s tactical setup. Ultimately, advancing into the next round of the FA Cup was the most important thing, but you can’t help but think against slightly better opposition, we may not have moved through the Third Round. With replays of games being scrapped, we’re very lucky to have been bailed out by Andros Townsend in extra time.

Despite playing lesser opposition, Everton once again failed to have more of the ball than their opponents. Hull City tend to have less possession even against fellow Championship sides but coming up against a Premier League side, they had more of the ball. Possession of course doesn’t win football matches but as I stated in my preview for the game, it would have been nice to see us dominate a game against a team in the division below.

Something I’ve highlighted recently on social media is our lack of midfield playmaking and many long balls coming from the defence because of this. When you have players in midfield who aren’t overly comfortable receiving the ball on the half turn and playing through the lines, it makes it difficult to play out from the back.

Obviously, this is part of Rafa’s tactics, but it clearly isn’t working and without speaking on behalf of all Evertonians, I believe the majority would like to see us play nice football. For example, if we look at Michael Keane, Seamus Coleman and Asmir Begovic, between them the trio played 41 long balls. Now of course, long ball can be very effective with the right players but when only 14 of these passes were accurate, we’re consistently surrendering possession to the opposition, hence why we often have a lot less of the football.

There’s been a lot of negativity lately so I want to try highlight the small amount of positives from the game, other than us getting through to the next round. Vitaliy Mykolenko received mixed reviews for his Everton debut but personally I felt he did well considering his circumstances. Moving to a new country with a small amount of training and learning how your new teammates play, he has done reasonably well. Defensively, he managed four tackles and four interceptions, which wasn’t bettered by any other Everton player. He also managed two key passes which is certainly a positive going forward. It was great to see a natural, left-footed full back being played in his correct position after the absence of Lucas Digne in recent weeks. He didn’t set the game alight, and I certainly didn’t expect him to, so well done to the young Ukrainian.

Two real highlights who deserve very little criticism in recent weeks are our wingers, Anthony Gordon and Demarai Gray. Both players have been shining lights in what has been a miserable couple of months for the Toffees. With ten shots, four key passes, three dribbles and seven crosses between them, the majority of our forward play went through the pair of them. They linked up exceptionally well for Demarai Gray’s goal and it gives Everton fans something to be excited about in the future.

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Once again, we saw a five at the back system with the two central midfielders. Naturally, like every opposition side seems to setup against us recently, they played three in the middle. This meant they could push players high up the pitch and stay tight to our midfield players. This again, limits our ability to play out from the back and forces us long. This was often the case from Michael Keane who attempted 14 long balls with just the four being completed. Often, long ball teams play this way when the players aren’t good enough to play football. With teams like Burnley, they can often be effective and have stayed in the league regularly with a lack of investment. Since Everton have started playing this way, we’ve only gone backwards and it’s such a shame to see.

Defensively, with Seamus Coleman occupying the unnatural right centre back role, our shape looked all over the place. The defensive line was disjointed, allowing gaps to appear for Hull to play balls in behind the defence and stay onside. The only reason I understood the three centre back system ever so slightly was when we played Chelsea. We obviously wanted to match them up man for man but against Championship opposition and shoe-horning players out of position to fit the system, it makes zero sense to me.

With Leicester City postponing the game on Tuesday due to injuries, AFCON call ups and covid cases, The Toffees head to Carrow Road to face relegation threatened Norwich City next. This is a fantastic chance to get three points and build some momentum with players starting to come back from injury and start climbing the table once again. Rafa is slowly running out of excuses for these poor performances and he is far from helping himself with his negative tactics, interesting substitutions and team selection.