Despite the notable increase in fight, determination and organisation, Duncan Ferguson couldn’t get anything out of the first game of his second spell as interim manager for Everton. Understanding is that a new manager will be appointed by the time of the next fixture and whether the new manager will want to keep Big Dunc remains to be seen. Back to the football, though, there was a clear resurgence in the Everton performance, and we saw a lot more hard work and they definitely looked like they were playing for the manager. Of course, the result wasn’t to be, but we’ve got to find the positives in this dark time at Everton Football Club.
In terms of setup, it was a 4-4-2 system for Everton. Andros Townsend was brought in for Anthony Gordon, clearly for his work rate tracking back to deal with Villa’s January signing Phillipe Coutinho. There was a lot more pressing in the middle of the pitch and plenty of winning possession. The defence looked more organised and limited Aston Villa to a lot of chances from range. 50% of their shots were from outside the box. Off the ball work was like I said, really good, but it was what we did with the ball that was disappointing. In the first half we did not have one shot. We won the ball back in the middle thirds and got into half decent positions, but it was the final pass, cross or dribble which just didn’t quite come off.
Abdoulaye Doucoure, who got subbed off after 64 minutes due to injury, managed seven tackles in the time he was on the pitch. Allan when coming on in the 50th minute also managed three tackles. This shows the improved work rate and pressing in the middle areas. Unfortunately, Doucoure only managed a 60% pass completion rate which is where we lost the game in my opinion. We often won the ball back but would end up giving it straight back to the opposition. With a bit more quality in the final third, especially in the first half, we’d have created a lot more chances.
I expected a lot of crosses into the box against Aston Villa and that’s exactly what happened. 26 crosses in total but unfortunately, we couldn’t capitalise from any of them. With the aerial threat of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, this tactical idea made sense, but I don’t think it’s unfair to see neither of the two had a very good game at the weekend. When you’re creating chances like we did in the second half and your strikers aren’t on form, it’s going to be very difficult to score. I feel sorry for Gordon who was giving everything to try set up our forwards and was very unfortunate not to start the game.
The Everton youth product once again was a shining light in a disappointing result. Despite not coming on until early in the second half, he managed ten crosses and four key passes. He also didn’t misplace a pass and managed all this from just 24 touches. This shows how efficient he was when he got the ball and offered so much more than Townsend did in the first half. He was unable to create a goal or even score one himself but to come off the bench and make an instant impact with your high energy and aggressive play style, it shows real talent. He will be very disappointed if he’s dropped again and is slowly making that wide midfielder position his own.
The story of the game was the ridiculous number of times we gave the ball away. Seven of our eleven starters had a pass completion of below 70%. Possession doesn’t win football matches but being effective in whatever amount of ball possession you have does. A lot of our players gifted the opposition possession too many times and this was our downfall especially in the first half. A lot of this was through long balls, with Mason Holgate and Jonjoe Kenny between them managing 18 long balls with only four of them reaching their intended target. Playing long is fine but playing long inaccurately is going to be detrimental to the overall performance.
The 4-4-2 setup was a lot more effective than under Rafa Benitez due to our high work rate and pressure in the middle. Often without Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin up front, the pressing is a lot less frequent and ineffective. Having them back as a pair was great to see, despite neither of them playing particularly. Both were lacking in fitness after time out so hopefully with a few weeks to go until our next game, they can build up some fitness on the training ground. With Gordon and Demarai Gray feeding them in the future, no matter the manager you can see goals coming from crosses into the box.
With no game until the 5th February, Everton now have time to get in a new manager and have plenty of training to get their ideas across. Ideally, we don’t want to rush the appointment, but if they can get the right man in as soon as possible, we will have plenty of time until our next game and even longer until our next league game. This gives the new manager time to implement his style, make sure every player understands their roles and knows what the manager expects of them. Brentford are up next at Goodison Park in an important FA Cup game if the Toffees are going to do anything to redeem this otherwise lost season.