What can Everton fans expect to see from new boss Sean Dyche on the pitch?
The 51-year old has been somewhat paradoxically pigeonholed as both a retro, old-school dinosaur, beloved of the traditional 4-4-2 formation and long-ball philosophy, yet also acclaimed by much of the English football media for his efforts at keeping his Burney side in the Premier League for a number of years - overachieving despite a limited ability to spend. The man is not an walking archetype, things rarely being as simple as people tend to like to make them. So, there’s some truth in both statements.
Dyche does heavily favour the 4-4-2. He does play direct and largely without the ball - though whether that was by choice, or simply because it suited the relatively limited players available to him at Turf Moor is a moot point. Supporters (and even the man himself) will say that given better quality, Dyche would play more expansive football. Now, whether this current Everton squad is superior to some of his Burnley line-ups is debatable.
He’s said himself that he will use players in such a way that suits their strengths (and limitations), so whether you envisage the Blues getting on the ball and taking the game to opponents any time soon largely depends on what your evaluation is of the team’s capabilities, as well as the new boss himself.
What we can expect is players being put in a place to allow them the best chance to succeed, which is not something we’ve been able to say for at least a whole year.
Whatever we’ve seen Everton do under now-departed ex-manager Frank Lampard, in terms of playing style and formation, is out of the window. The Northamptonshire man used 4-4-2 almost exclusively at Burnley and there’s no reason at all to expect him to deviate from this on Merseyside, particularly as he’s arriving midway through the season with the club in a perilous league position.
Yes, the Toffees are overladen with central defenders and light on wingers, or wide midfielders but 4-4-2 is what he knows and trusts. He sees it as a solid baseline formation that has a lot of flexibility within it, yet is familiar to almost all players, with clear responsibilities and concepts that are easy to graft onto a new team.
Without the Ball
Dyche is unquestionably a defence-first coach, with an emphasis on making things difficult for the opposition to play in the manner they want. He is very familiar with methods of stopping the possession-heavy 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations that are commonly encountered in the Premier League. His first principle on defence is to channel the opposition towards one side of the pitch, with the intent to compress space and direct the passage of play. This can be accomplished by one striker locking onto an opposition central defender, with the other blocking off the single midfield pivot (as in the 4-3-3). In the event that the ball goes to the other centre half, the forwards shift to mirror the former positions.
If facing a double pivot (such as in the 4-2-3-1) then a soft press is put on the defensive midfielder (DM) nearest to the ball by a striker, whereas the far side DM is blocked off, so as to encourage the short pass. Once the near DM receives the ball either the opposite side striker, or the closest central midfielder presses that player. In this way channels can be left open in order to funnel opposition play to where he wants it to go.
In both scenarios, the team then slides across towards the side of the pitch where the ball is, with the objective of blocking off the more expansive passing options, whilst inviting shorter passes in to players that than can be pressed, or contained. Of course, this will leave the opposite flank quite exposed to the switch pass. Dyche encourages his players to read and react to the opposition ball-carrier’s body language, so as to recognise early that a long switch pass to the wing is about to be attempted. The opposite full back will attempt to quickly mark the intended target and the rest of the side will key on this, sliding across and dropping back in order to deny the opponent space. Intensity in this movement is considered essential and is very demanding on the team physically.
Dyche considers defending the “second six-yard box” - what he refers to as the “key scoring zone” - of paramount importance, particularly when confronted with attacks coming in from the flank. This area is an arc radiating out from the defending team’s six yard box. The midfielders fill this area, just in front of the centre halves in order to compress the space. The opposite side winger will drop in alongside, whereas the near side winger will assist the fullback. One striker will stay high, offering an out ball; the other will drop back to disrupt the ball being played inside towards supporting opposition midfielders.
With the Ball
In possession, he wants his side to play out immediately, particularly if the opponent is heavily committed in advanced areas. Can the Goalkeeper distribute the ball quickly to the full backs, in order to get forward before the opposition can drop back into a defensive shape? Alternately, the ‘keeper is encouraged to go long on occasion, in order to change the feel of the game. Play out from the central defence is emphasised, into a midfielder if available; if not then to bypass the midfield entirely dependent on the positioning of the opposition DM. If he is in front of one striker, then play will be to the other, open player.
Ideally, the former Burnley man wants his full backs to move into advanced positions and the strikers to both push up high, drawing the opposition centre backs with them and so opening up the pitch. The wingers will shift inside to occupy the vacated space. He likes to reduce the effectiveness of the opposing DM (in a 4-3-3), countering the numerical inferiority of his 4-4-2 in the centre of the park. This is achieved by hitting a long ball up to a striker, with the intent of turning the DM around and forcing him back, so making it a two-on-two in midfield; if the ball is held up by the forward then the midfielders can move up in support.
In possession, if the fullbacks are high then a midfielder with technical quality can shift over to the open flank in order to receive the ball and explore passing options. To reduce exposure to the counter, the other midfielder will move more centrally and the opposite side winger will come in tight to make up the numbers in the middle. The first thought should be to get the ball forward to one of the strikers as quickly as possible, especially if there’s a possibility to exploit a high defensive line. When doing so, the wingers will come inside and the midfield push up to compress the middle and protect against transitions through the centre. The defence will have to match up man-to-man against opposition attackers. For Dyche, it is essential that his side are not vulnerable in transition.
The Form Book
The characteristics of Dyche’s Burnley side were:
- That they took full advantage of set-piece scenarios, often using well-designed procedures such as a deep corner being played in towards a strong aerial player on the far post, looking for knock-downs and goal-scoring opportunities during the second phase.
- Share of possession was very low, regularly amongst the bottom of all teams across the top five European leagues. The number of passes attempted were low, with a high proportion of long balls, though with a fair degree of accuracy in terms of progressive passing.
- In line with Dyche’s insistence on not giving the ball away in dangerous positions, the number of attempted dribbles and progressive carries at Burnley were low.
- As could be expected, his side crossed the ball with frequency, relative to their share of possession and achieved good accuracy levels. Accordingly and tallying with a predilection for long, direct passing Burnley contested a lot of aerial duels.
- Contrary to the perception of the Lancashire outfit as a low-block team, the Clarets were a mid-ranked side as far as pressing goes.
At the Blues
If Dyche’s style of management at Burnley continues on Merseyside, then all that I’ve outlined above will likely be adapted to Everton. Who will play where in the anticipated 4-4-2 is another matter, though we can anticipate that players will not be used out of their normal positions and that those willing to get on board with the new regime and work hard will be trusted most. There’ll be a fresh slate for underachievers at Goodison Park and those ostracised, or underutilised by Lampard.
It’s an absolute guarantee that James Tarkowski will be the centrepiece at the back. Who the ex-Claret’s partner will be is less certain: on paper it should be Yerry Mina, but can he stay fit? Will Lampard-favourite Conor Coady retain his place? He has the type of persona that Dyche will surely take to, but has been exposed in recent months. Former Burnley man Michael Keane could even be brought back in from cold storage. At full back, the cupboard is bare, so it’s likely that Seamus Coleman and Vitalii Mykolenko will retain their places.
In the centre of the park, it’s tough to look beyond Amadou Onana and Idissa Gueye. Tom Davies, Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Garner (when returned from injury) give the manager options and will likely see significant game time. Out wide, it’s pretty slim pickings. Former charge Dwight McNeil is nailed on to start, probably on the left. The right flank is difficult to assess, but it would seem to be between Demarai Gray or Alex Iwobi; neither are conventional right wingers, however. Little-seen loanee wing-back Ruben Vinagre could even be tried out as a wide man.
Up top Dyche again has limited options. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has all the target man characteristics the new boss desires in a striker, but his fitness remains a serious concern; if he is unavailable there is no obvious replacement. Ellis Simms has the height, but so far we haven’t seen the aggression. Neal Maupay will almost certainly play. The Frenchman, so underwhelming to date at Everton has the work rate, tenacity and attitude that will endear him to the new boss.
It’s going to be fascinating seeing what Sean Dyche does with this underperforming Blues outfit, at any rate.
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