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Everton vs Brighton: Tactical Review | Overloaded midfield and sloppy defending

The narrow Seagulls midfield was too much to handle for the hosts middle pairing

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

With Everton having a couple of weeks break with plenty of training and players coming back from isolations and injuries, a rejuvenated, organised performance was expected by all. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and all that was displayed was a lacklustre, disjointed and ultimately discordant Everton display. There are no easy games for the Toffees anymore. There’s no fixture you can look at and say, “It’s fine, we will win this weekend”. Even at Goodison Park, a famously tough ground to go to, the Blues have no advantage and is becoming the complete opposite.

Surprisingly, Everton shared exactly half of the possession with our opponents, who notoriously dominate most of the teams they face. The majority of this came in the second half however, as Brighton sat back and allowed Everton to come onto them after they went into the break with a two-goal lead. The Toffees actually won the xG, which is always a tough ask against Brighton who famously outperform their opponents more often than not. It would have been heavily down to the missed penalty from Calvert-Lewin, which certainly didn’t help in Everton’s attempts to claw back the game. There were chances and of course, we managed to score two, but it’s what happened at the defensive end of the pitch which should be Rafa Benitez’s main concern.

Despite individual errors being a big factor in the late Christmas gift of three goals we gave to Brighton, the setup of the team certainly didn’t help. Brighton line up in an extremely narrow system and play through the middle of the pitch. With no natural wide players, their width comes from their full backs who should easily be dealt with by our own wing backs. Maupay usually occupies the centre backs, with Mac Allister and Trossard floating behind him in the space between the lines. Behind them, the protection of Lallana, Mwepu and Bissouma means a heavily overloaded midfield area. The obvious approach to this would be to play with three men in the middle, right?

No. Not for Rafa Benitez. He decided we would overload our defensive area, with three centre backs. This is despite them only playing one natural striker. The two behind Maupay would make late third man runs, which ultimately lead to them taking the lead.

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Alexis Mac Allister strikes from outside the area.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Alexis Mac Allister benefited from our disjointed system the most. He managed two goals, whilst touching the ball more times than every Everton player bar two. He also managed two key passes and was instrumental in most Brighton attacks. This is a player who has only started five games including this game. He isn’t a world beater who Brighton have relied upon all season. As great as he was, we made it extremely easy for him. The overloaded midfield should have been changed at half time at the very latest. It took Rafa Benitez 76 minutes to even make any sub, let alone beef up the midfield.

The horror show of the afternoon came from Michael Keane, summed up by his 92nd minute half volley which trickled into the advertising hoardings in front of the Gladwys Street End. The reaction of the fans and players really summarised the afternoon with so many sloppy passes and aimless long balls. In fact, he attempted 14 long balls all game with only half of them being successful. With a 69.4% pass completion, he wasn’t the worst on the team, but when watching the game plenty of passes in dangerous areas were gifted straight to Brighton players or into the crowd totally unprovoked or unpressured.

Over to possibly the only positive of the game, our homegrown talent Anthony Gordon. Once again, he was the star of the show in an Everton shirt. Finally getting his first Everton goal, swiftly followed by another, he really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and was giving his absolute everything to try and get something from this game. One key pass, two dribbles, two goals, seven crosses and five shots. The Everton youth product was certainly at the heart of everything positive for The Toffees this weekend. No player on the pitch shows more passion for the shirt than this kid and he’s rapidly becoming a fan favourite at Goodison Park.

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Anthony Gordon celebrates his second goal of the game.
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Rafa Benitez made a comment after the game saying we’d been working on defensive set pieces in an attempt to try and avoid goals like the second one Dan Burn headed in at the back post. Completely unmarked, the absolute giant of a human being had the easiest header of his whole career. It seems whenever the opposition win the header in the first phase, all shape and cohesion is lost and if anyone was originally marking anyone, they certainly weren’t in the second phase of play. It does beg the question, are we really working on these sorts of things in training? Is it being worked on an adequate amount but the coaching isn’t good enough? Are these players taking in any information during training and Rafa is far from the problem? I’ll leave them questions for you guys in the comments.

Up next for is an FA Cup game away to Hull City. As every day goes past, and we get further and further away from our last trophy win, games like this seem so much more important. After bowing out to Championship side QPR in the League Cup very early on, surely the pressure will be mounting on Rafa Benitez if we crash out of another cup especially at the first time of asking. With one win since September, you’d like to think the pressure should be building game by game and with a cup exit added on top, tough questions need to be asked.