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Everton vs Brentford: Tactical Preview | Dealing with the aerial threat

How can the Toffees deal with the aerial threat of Toney and co.

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

New manager Frank Lampard kicks off his Everton career with a squad depleted due to injuries and cup-tied players, hosting Brentford in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, neither of the deadline day purchases will be eligible for selection but it will hopefully be a chance for some of the young talent to prove themselves to the new man at the helm. With the famous long wait for a trophy Evertonians have suffered, I fully expect the former FA Cup winner himself to select a strong team with an aim of advancing into the next round.

The Toffees face a Brentford side managed by Thomas Frank who is a great character for the league. Although not your typical long ball team, they play in the right areas and if the ball must go, it does. They play with high, attacking wing backs who are always open for a switch of play. When it gets congested in the middle, one of the wing backs will often be in space.

They like to play with two central strikers and no wide forwards, so the wing backs must play high to be the outlet down the wings. They have attempted the most ‘high’ passes in the whole league (passes that are above shoulder level) which is no surprise with them having the aerial threat of Ivan Toney up front. The Englishman has won 95 headers this season, the third highest in the league.

Brentford v Everton - Premier League
Ivan Toney battling for a header against Everton.
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite his lack of open play goals (2), Ivan Toney offers Brentford a real threat up top. A lot of neutrals expected big things from him in terms of goal returns, but his overall game is a lot more than that. He scored heavily in the Championship but has had to adapt his game to play in a side which has stepped up to a higher level. He is key to Brentford’s high intensity style, sitting ninth in the table for pressures applied in the final third. In fact, Bryan Mbeumo, Toney’s usual striker partner sits eighth in the league for this stat, again highlighting their high pressing tactic. Also, being the robust forward he is, he often gets into tussles which defenders can’t deal with and only Wilfred Zaha has been fouled more times than him this season.

Brentford as a whole are a team we have to be wary of in aerial situations. Centrehalves Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson sit second and eleventh respectively for headers won in the league this season. Especially with Dominic Calvert-Lewin out, It will be refreshing to see an Everton side trying to play through the lines and not pumping aimless balls down the throats of opposition centre backs who would happily win headers all day long. At times in the Premier League fixture between the two sides a few months ago, a lot of erratic crosses and long balls were played especially in the second half when chasing the game. To play against a side like Brentford you have to try and break them down playing through the thirds, looking for through balls in behind rather than getting it out wide and overloading crosses.

Looking at how Lampard might set up in his first game in charge, with the lack of midfield numbers I think we could see a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 hybrid in and out of possession. With Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek cup tied, it may be time for Anthony Gordon or Demerai Gray to show themselves in a more central position. Looking into the training videos released this week, Demarai Gray was playing in a central role during compact keep ball sessions. In another setup, Allan and Andre Gomes were the two midfield players. There was heavy emphasis on playing into the midfield players, something which Everton fans have been crying out for in recent months.

Everton U23 v Tottenham Hotspur U23 - Premier League 2
Could we see the likes of Patterson and Dobbin in the squad tomorrow?
Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Interestingly, the Everton Under-23’s played Friday night and Tyler Onyango, Lewis Dobbin, Jarrad Branthwaite and Nathan Patterson were all missing from the squad. Lampard, who is renowned for promoting youth talent, may be looking at blending in a few of these young lads who have impressed the staff at Everton this season. In my opinion, the player most likely to flourish under the new manager is Patterson. Since signing I’ve spent some time researching the Scottish international and he has the profile Lampard would appreciate, especially having overseen Reece James’ meteoric rise. He likes his full backs to be involved in every attack and that is an integral part of Patterson’s game. With the likes of Andros Townsend, Gordon or Gray likely to play out wide, who all love drifting inside, this will vacate space in behind for the full back to exploit. Also, due to Brentford’s high attacking wing backs, it’s often an area that they leave vulnerable on the counter attack.

Despite the importance of winning a trophy, I won’t be surprised if we see a lineup tomorrow that clearly has one eye on the crucial ‘six pointer’ against Newcastle on Tuesday. As superb as it would be to see Everton win the FA Cup, it’s only the fourth round and we have to be realistic. Every single game is important in the league in order to ensure survival, especially against those below and around you. With Newcastle strengthening significantly in the January window, it’s going to be an extremely tough game and certainly the more important fixture of the two over the next few days, in my opinion. Hopefully, both games will end in victory and Lampard brings some vital positivity back to Goodison Park.