The Toffees had three points in their grasp on Saturday, only for their luck to finally run out in the closing stages at Brentford. Tonight, the team must go again on the road a little over four days later as they travel to face a rejuvenated Leeds United. Last season, the West Yorkshire outfit was, like Everton, one of the teams to successfully beat the drop, but they have started the new campaign brightly under enthusiastic manager Jesse Marsch.
The Blues have been handicapped by injury to primary striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin before the season even started and it feels like the team has lost players in almost every game since then. Watching marquee signing Amadou Onana being repeatedly fouled in a Carabao Cup win last week, Blues fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst, but thankfully the tall Belgian youngster made it through unscathed.
After weeks of searching and links aplenty, the side has finally signed a new centre forward, in Brighton & Hove Albion’s Neal Maupay, who will be eligible for selection tonight. The Frenchman is a big upgrade over nominal backup striker Salamon Rondon and seeing a man of Premier League calibre playing up top will be a relief for fans, even if he may not make the starting line-up, having played no competitive football yet this term.
We’re not quite in “must win” territory just yet, but with daunting games up next against Liverpool and an impressive Arsenal, Everton’s first win of the campaign can’t come too soon.
Beloved manager Marcelo Bielsa led Leeds into the Premier League and to an impressive ninth-place finish, as his inimitable style of take-no-prisoners football took everyone by storm. The team’s sophomore campaign however, turned out very differently. Beset by injuries to key performers Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford, the Whites’ squad depth and perhaps, the limitations inherent in Bielsa’s approach were exposed. Heavy defeats started piling up but, despite the side conceding a net-bursting 17 goals across three consecutive hammerings, it was still a bit of a shock to see the Argentine fired, such was the aura he’d built within the city.
Jesse Marsch was the man to accept the poisoned chalice of replacing an iconic boss, taking over a wounded team that was in freefall down the table. The American was coming off a failed stint at RB Leipzig but immediately showed a “can-do” attitude that seemed unshakeable. Despite Marsch losing his opening match 1-0 to Leicester City in an otherwise positive performance, three wins and a draw followed as it appeared the decision-makers at Elland Road had made the right call. However, hard work and an energised approach could only do so much and the team managed to snatch only two points from the next 15 in what was admittedly a very difficult stretch of games, which left them in the perilous position of having to obtain a better result than fellow relegation contenders Burnley, in order to retain their Premier league status. That they managed to get over the line has to go down as a major credit to the young coach and his players.
This season, the Yorkshire outfit has sold its two highest profile players, Raphinha and Phillips for large fees and reinvested those funds shrewdly. They appear to be a reinvigorated outfit and have gotten off to a good start, winning both of their home games and tasting defeat only last time out, away at Brighton.
Style of Play
Freed from what had become the limiting constraints of Bielsa’s rigid man-marking system and punishing training regimes, Leeds have been more energised under the new man. Marsch very much believes in a vigorous pressing game, looking to force mistakes and interceptions high up the pitch, in order to create transitional attacking opportunities. With Bamford again injured, he’s turned to Rodrigo, rather than Dan James to fill the void up top in his 4-2-3-1 formation and it is bringing dividends. Hard-running new recruits such as Brendan Aaronson and Tyler Adams, both of whom have worked under the Leeds boss before, have hit the ground running and are helping the system tick along nicely.
Marsch likes his team to pass the ball along the ground and they're only playing long 13% of the time so far. Leeds have already scored twice from set-piece situations which - given the manner in which Everton conceded a late equalizer at the weekend - is something the visitors will have to take note of. All four of the goals that the hosts have shipped have been from open-play. They play expansive football, and rely heavily on counter-pressing in order to shield their defence from too much pressure.
Rodrigo, who found it hard going at times under the previous regime, has really hit form with Marsch. Initially deployed behind Bamford, the Brazil-born Spanish international is at last looking like the player Leeds signed and already has four league goals from four matches, just three short of equalling his best return for the club. A technical and mobile player, the forward is also winning 45.5% of aerial duels this campaign and can be a real handful for defenders.
Aaronson has been an early revelation. Fast and energetic, he’s a real threat when running at speed and has completed 69.2% of his dribbles this season. He’s been shifted to a central attacking midfield role from the right wing as Rodrigo has moved further forward.
Winger Jack Harrison offers a genuine threat from the left with his crossing and corner kick deliveries, whilst Diego Llorente adds steel to the Leeds defence, winning 88.9% of his aerial duels.
This is going to be difficult for the Blues: an evening game in front of a raucous crowd at a hostile Elland Road. Leeds were impressive in their demolition of Chelsea, but in their opening home match against Wolverhampton Wanderers they benefitted from some awful defensive breakdowns from the opponent, rather than their own ingenuity. Whilst not quite as physically and mentally punishing as Bielsa’s style of football, Marsch’s does require a lot of intensity from the forward four players to create attacking opportunities and also to relieve pressure on a backline that is not watertight. Frank Lampard’s men must avoid dwelling on the ball - especially in situations where possession has just been gained - as it is certain that Leeds will immediately look to take advantage of any loose control, or lapses in concentration.
The kind of precise direct balls over the top that we saw from Jordon Pickford and Conor Coady, which assisted goals for Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon in the last two league games, could reap benefits again, but possession cannot be squandered thoughtlessly, or pressure will mount. Everton must be switched on when defending free kicks and corners. Finally, the Blues have to be braver in possession, whilst not taking foolish risks. We have seen more conviction in getting on the ball and playing along the ground, but the old habits kick in and too frequently it is walloped down the pitch, ceding it to the opposition. When the Toffees use neat passing and clever movement then we’ve seen passages of play that are easy on the eye and if the side can stick with that - and keep Leeds honest by demonstrating the capacity to go direct with accurate passes - then they can get something from the match.