Everton’s second eleven were somewhat unlucky to be beaten so heavily midweek by Saturday’s opponents AFC Bournemouth, but they can take a few lessons from what would have been a chastening experience for manager Frank Lampard, which they can apply to this vastly more important league game at the Vitality stadium.
Thankfully, few of those that lined up on Tuesday will be making an appearance this weekend and the starting team should be well-rested and ready to go in what will conclude Everton’s fixtures until the season resumes on Boxing Day, following the break for a certain international tournament.
No doubt the boss will be looking forward to some time to work on things with his players, as Everton have stumbled over the past month, in which they’ve posted just a win and a draw, against four league defeats and a Carabao Cup exit. With the first murmurs of discontent directed at the Blues chief appearing this week, it can’t be stated too strongly how important it is to sign off with a win at Bournemouth.
The south coast outfit have experienced an interesting return to the top flight this season. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
Bournemouth made it back to the Premier league at the second attempt last season, under young boss Scott Parker, finishing as runners-up to champions Fulham. The wheels started to come off during the summer, however, with the former England international expressing frustration at what he perceived to be insufficient strengthening of the squad in preparation for what would undoubtedly be a tough campaign.
No doubt he had a point; after all, the club only invested around £23m on reinforcements. But the public nature of Parker’s comments and the implication that his current players were not up to the required standard created a situation that came to a head following Bournemouth’s humiliating 9-0 annihilation by Liverpool at Anfield.
At that point nobody thought the Cherries would be anything more than underequipped whipping boys for the vast majority of teams they’d be facing. They’d actually gotten off to a positive start with a surprise win over Aston Villa, but a punishing run saw them outclassed by Manchester City, Arsenal and the Reds, losing by a combined score of 16-0. Enter interim boss Gary O’Neil, who proceeded to lead that same bedraggled unit on a six-game unbeaten run, admittedly against teams not quite as tough as the three heavyweights who had done for his predecessor.
A stirring rally from trailing by two goals at half-time to shock Nottingham Forest 3-2 showed that the new man was capable of motivating his players. The side battled to some respectable results: draws on the road against the impressive Newcastle United and with Fulham at Craven Cottage; victory over Leicester City. Subsequently, they’ve lost four on the bounce and started leaking goals, including four last weekend versus Leeds United. They sit in 17th position in the league table.
Style of Play
Under Parker, perhaps reflective of his estimation of the squad’s quality, Bournemouth had set up conservatively, which made the hammerings that ensued even more unpalatable. Conversely, O’Neil has demonstrated belief in his team and reaped rewards for this show of faith. Motivated players that feel their manager rates them can surprise, as numerous giant-killing cup ties have demonstrated over the decades. The Cherries are playing with spirit, aggression and desire, giving themselves every chance in most games.
O’Neil has been surprisingly versatile as regards the formation he plays, the team having used 4-4-2, 3-4-3 and 3-5-1-1, though a 4-2-3-1 has been most frequent, with Dominic Solanke operating either alongside or just behind Kieffer Moore. Players such as Philip Billing and Marcus Tavernier have been deployed in a variety of positions.
There’s not a lot of difference in how the Cherries set up at the Vitality Stadium or on the road. They play about 13% of their passes long and attempt marginally more crosses at home, though the rate is still low by the standards of other teams. Under O’Neil, they sit in a fairly low block and try to break up opposition attempts to pass through them, then spring on the break, moving the ball out wide; they are the team that focuses play the most on the flanks, particularly the left. Their attempts at creating from open play have been rather limited.
In terms of chance generation, Bournemouth register the lowest number of shots per game (7.6) and share of possession (38.3%). They rank bottom in key passes per 90 minutes from crosses, corners, through balls and free kicks. In fact, throughout O’Neil’s period in charge, the team’s Expected Goals (xG) has only exceeded 1.0 twice and their total across ten league games sits at a measly 7.8, though they’ve actually scored 13. Everton’s attack has been anaemic this season, but they have still managed more than an xG of 1.0 in half their league outings.
The main threat for Bournemouth is Solanke, who is enjoying good form under O’Neil. His xG per 90 minutes is 0.18 and he’s scored three goals so far this campaign, as well as providing three assists. The former Liverpool man uses clever movement, working hard to create space for his teammates.
Billing is another enjoying life under the interim boss. He is contributing offensively, with four goals (though only with an xG per 90 of 0.07, so he’s overperforming), but is a factor defensively, leading the team with 2.59 tackles won per match.
Tavernier and Ryan Christie, operating off the flanks are responsible for much of Bournemouth’s chance creation, the players averaging 2.31 and 2.66 Shot-Creating Actions (SCA) per 90 respectively.
Bournemouth do not actually offer much of a threat in general play, relying more on forcing errors from the opposition and capitalising on such instances at a rate that isn’t really sustainable over a season. They’ve scored 5.2 goals more than could be expected from the chances created, during O’Neil’s tenure.
Although the home side will line up with almost completely different personnel to those they fielded on Tuesday night, their approach was consistent and of the four goals they scored, two were of Everton’s own making and a third a fluke deflected shot that looped over Asmir Begovic. They will likely mix sitting back and inviting the Blues on, looking to take advantage of sloppy play and occasionally pushing up and pressing the defence, as we saw midweek.
Lampard will be without the services of primary striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, so hitting crosses into the box, or playing it long will be counterproductive. The team should look to keep the ball on on the ground, constructing attacks with clever play and movement; not something we’ve seen a lot of, although the recent Crystal Palace game showed they can do it. They must attempt to patiently break down Bournemouth, involving the wide players linking up with playmaker Alex Iwobi and Neal Maupay, who will likely start up top. The midfield cannot become overcommitted to the press, or push forward aimlessly.
The Cherries have only won one of five home games in the league under O’Neil, losing their last two against Southampton and Tottenham Hotpspur. If the Blues do not play into their hands with unforced errors, or being caught in possession, they can secure all three points.