Everton fans were knocked straight back down to earth after the weekend victory over Brentford after failing to turn up in the league against Newcastle, losing 3-1 to a side who in this game managed just their third win of the season. The principles of the possession based style were evident but the execution was far from perfect. With Leeds, Burnley, Norwich and of course Newcastle picking up points during the midweek fixtures, Frank Lampard’s task for the next few games got that much harder.
I pointed out in my preview article the threat of Allan Saint-Maximin and whether the manager would opt with the energetic Nathan Patterson or the experienced Seamus Coleman. The elder of the two was chosen and in hindsight it doesn’t look like the best decision. The speedy French winger had one of his best games of the season and managed ten dribbles. Considering he’s completed 97 all season, Tuesday’s game accounts for over 10% of his dribbles in a season he’s played all 22 games for the Magpies. His pace and trickery was too much for Coleman and with his decline over the last few seasons, it’s clear he struggles against this profile of winger.
As I previously mentioned, playing out from the back was still attempted. Buoyed by the home crowd, Newcastle pressed high up the pitch, a style which Everton have struggled to play against all season. The centre backs were extremely sloppy in possession. No central defender managed a passing completion rate of over 83%, with Mason Holgate particularly struggling with 67.5%. When trying to play this way, these players are vital for the style working and when they are struggling so much to keep the ball, it’s never going to work. When the ball did get into midfield, Allan looked after the ball reasonably well but unfortunately Andre Gomes had a bit of an off game. He only managed to complete 72.7% of his passes which is a significant drop from the Brentford game.
Over the weekend, a major positive for the Blues was limiting the Bees to just two shots from open play. Against Newcastle we managed to concede eight shots from open play. This was mainly down to simply gifting the ball back to the opposition too easily, but our pressing game was a lot less effective than against Brentford. Instead of pressing as a complete unit, it was just one or two players moving up which creates gaps in midfield. We also played significantly more short passes than our opposition, who opted for longer balls into Chris Wood. He won 12 aerial balls against our defenders, often knocking it down to their creative players such as Saint-Maximin and Joe Willock.
One positive from the game was the introduction of Donny van de Beek in the 59th minute. He came on in a deeper role alongside Allan, playing as a deep lying playmaker in the double pivot. He completed seven more passes than Andre Gomes (who he was substituted in for) despite playing a lot less minutes. He also completed 92.5% of his passes which was the highest on the pitch (except Bruno Guimaraes who only attempted two). He offered more stability and control in the midfield, and I’ll be extremely surprised if he doesn’t start against Leeds at the weekend.
I don’t enjoy criticising the new manager, but I think the decision to play Andros Townsend at wing back was a poor one. Although a great left foot and hardworking, he doesn’t have the defensive awareness to play that position. He often got caught out on crosses into the box due to his poor positioning. This isn’t his fault of course as he’s playing out of position. Frank Lampard was left with little option due to Vitaliy Mykolenko missing out through Covid, but I believe playing Patterson or Coleman in this area would have been a better option. Andros also failed to look after the ball with five unsuccessful crosses out of five and less than 70% pass completion.
Despite the poor performance, it was positive to see us trying to play the right way. I do believe with a few more games and training sessions under our belt, we will be more successful and if we can blend in our new signings into the system, we’re going to see a turn of results. Van de Beek is more suited to possession-based football and is very comfortable receiving the ball from the defenders and playing progressively into our forward players. With Demarai Gray picking up an injury, I’d like to see Richarlison return to a wide position with Dominic Calvert-Lewin brought in up front. I will cover this more in my preview coming in the next couple of days.
The important thing now is to try and stay positive. With a few days training and Frank Lampard learning a lot about some of the players on the pitch, hopefully we can see a reaction from the players at the weekend. The upcoming games against Leeds United and Southampton will be vital to our efforts to survive in this league. I’m confident we won’t be dragged into a genuine battle towards the end of the season and have faith in the manager to steady the ship and steer us towards success.