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Everton at Norwich City: Tactical Review | Set up to fail by Benitez

60% possession and 0.80 xG - something isn’t right

Norwich City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Once again, I’m starting an article talking about a defeat for Everton in a game in which on paper they should be winning. A constant cycle of disappointment which sees us slipping closer and closer to the relegation zone. Saturday evening saw strong rumours that Rafa Benitez has lost his job but unfortunately it seems like too much damage has been done and the next manager has a massive job on his hands. With one win in 13 games, our best left back sold, the whole medical team reshuffled, and the Director of Football sacked, the manager, if he has been relieved of his position, has left the club in a much worse state than when he joined.

Everton set up in a 442 system with Salamon Rondon dropping off slightly into a number ten position without the ball. This already was an interesting decision from Rafa Benitez. With technical ability his weak side of his game and being asked to be the link between midfield and attack, it was never going to end well. Benitez spoke in his press conference pre match about a number ten being needed in this side, but I certainly didn’t think Rondon was the answer to this. He managed a 57.9% pass completion rate before being subbed just after half time.

Norwich City v Everton - Premier League
Anthony Gordon takes on Brandon Williams.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Something I highlighted pre match was to get our wingers running at their full backs, but it seemed like they were under clear instruction to not play this way. Often, they would come inside, trying to play one-two’s with the central players rather than taking on the defenders. Anthony Gordon and Demarai Gray only managed two dribbles between them which is an anomaly to how they normally perform. The majority of the time, they would try and cross the ball rather than attempting to dribble. It’s clear that due to having two target men in the box in Rondon and Calvert-Lewin that we wanted to get the ball in the area as quick as possible. Against a Norwich side who sat in a low block absorbing pressure and have two centre backs who are great in the air, it was a very poor choice of tactics.

Demarai Gray attempted 15 crosses just by himself and we attempted 29 as a team. This was meat and drink for the Norwich back line. With Grant Hanley managing 12 clearances and winning 5 headers. This is completely playing into Norwich’s hands and the scoreline showed that. We never truly looked like scoring from these passages of play and it took a wonderful overhead kick from Richarlison for Everton to get on the scoresheet.

Norwich City v Everton - Premier League
Richarlison celebrates his fantastic goal.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

I just wanted to quickly go over a few stats to show how we let Norwich outperform us in departments they don’t usually. Norwich had 15 shots, they average 10.2 per game. Everton had 12 shots, Norwich concede 14.7 per game. They have an average xG against per game of 1.73. Everton managed an xG of 0.8. They manage an xG for of 0.86 per game, against Everton they had an xG of 1.24. These averages were all found after the game on Saturday, so would have all been slightly worse before the Everton game, which further shows how we allowed Norwich to exceed their usual performances.

When a team sets up in a low block and allows us to be in control of the game and have the ball, we really struggled to break teams down. Overall, we had 60% of the ball this weekend but only managed to accumulate an xG of 0.8. Our better performances come when we can hit teams on the counter attack but there has to be a different plan for when we play the lesser teams of the league. We have very little creativity in the side and overly rely on Gordon and Gray to create us chances. As good as they’ve been, they cannot do everything, and the creativity has to come from other areas.

As I mentioned earlier, the service into the forwards was extremely poor. Calvert-Lewin managed a full ninety minutes which was great to see but he only had 17 touches of the ball. If you’re going to have a target man and a player who can hold the ball up as well as he can, he must be utilised. I understand we wanted to get the ball into the box for his heading ability but it clearly wasn’t working. He needed to be the focal point that the midfielders can play the ball into and make runs in behind off him.

Another strange tactical decision was bringing on Richarlison but playing him out wide with Demarai Gray in the middle. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin have already shown this season they can work well together and Gray has always played better in a wide position. I noticed myself Gray asking Richarlison where they were playing, and it was clear that Richarlison was asked to play off the left. Small tactical decisions like this all come together to make an overall, terrible performance.

If the manager is sacked in the coming days, it will be extremely interesting to see who the club bring in. Will we promote from within with for example Duncan Ferguson? A former play like Wayne Rooney? Spend a lot of money to recruit a manager already at a club? It’s going to be a crazy few weeks at Everton Football Club but hopefully the correct decisions are made and we can finally see some upward trajectory at Goodison Park.