Total Shut Down
Leeds United, under interim boss Michael Skubala, arrived at Goodison Park fresh off consecutive games against cross-Pennine rivals Manchester United. Whilst the Yorkshire outfit had taken only a point from those two fixtures, they had forged a two-goal lead in the first match, at Old Trafford before being pegged back and had been unlucky to lose at Elland Road. Consequently, it was anticipated that Everton may face a genuine test from a relegation rival that likes to play on the front foot - one sporting a number of exciting attacking talents, such as wingers Crysensio Summerville and Degnand Gnonto.
As it turned out, the threat presented by the visitors was snuffed out with ease.
Sean Dyche continued with the 4-5-1 formation that he’s utilised since taking charge of the Blues, though with Neal Maupay selected to lead the line on this occasion; he’s fielded a different lone striker each time. Leeds used their familiar 4-2-3-1 system and failed spectacularly to make any headway. From a defensive standpoint, the hosts snuffed out the visitor’s threat almost completely, even more so than they’d managed two weeks earlier against Arsenal.
Leeds’s wide attackers Summerville and Gnonto were faced up aggressively by Everton’s fullbacks, ably assisted by diligent wingers Alex Iwobi and Dwight McNeil. It’s easy to see why the boss trusts these players over Demarai Gray: both are hard-working and track back efficiently when out of possession. It was rare for Seamus Coleman or Vitalii Mykolenko to be isolated one-on-one, but when they were they defended tenaciously. The Everton wide midfielders combined for 18 ball recoveries and seven tackles. Iwobi was dribbled past successfully only once from six attempts, whereas McNeil blocked five passes, a testament to their defensive contributions.
Summerville, highlighted as a dangerman in my Opposition Analysis piece on Saturday, succeeded in just one of three dribbles, was only able to progress the ball a mere 18 yards from 24 carries and lost possession nine times. The Dutchman mustered one off-target shot and a passing accuracy of 57.9% before being hauled off on the hour mark. Gnonto managed better than his teammate in carrying the ball forward, but failed in 71.4% of his attempted take-ons, managed no shots or key passes and coughed the ball up four times as he was muscled off the ball continuously by Coleman or Iwobi. The youngster was switched to the right side partway through the second half, but was equally ineffective and cut a miserable figure at the end, being booked following a display of immaturity after the final whistle.
In the central attacking midfield position, Jack Harrison endured a terrible afternoon. The 26-year-old’s offensive contributions were negligible and he ended up with a woeful 44.1% passing accuracy, in addition to being dispossessed four times. Shut down on the flanks and unable to progress the ball through Everton’s combative midfield, Leeds offered nothing in attack, failing to test Jordan Pickford with any of their eight attempts on goal and posting an awful 69.8% team passing success rate.
An Alternate Plan of Attack
Again deprived of the services of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Blues elected to go with the more experienced Maupay up top, instead of Ellis Simms, who is almost totally lacking top-flight experience. Without Everton’s primary striker, a classic target man who would seem a natural fit for the manager’s preferred direct style of play, Dyche has had to search for alternatives from a limited range of options. Simms is big, like DCL, but a different type of forward, happier dropping off and linking play, rather than going head-to-head with central defenders. Maupay is more willing to battle away but, given his lack of size, he is going to fare poorly.
The manager’s solution to a less than ideal situation in the number nine position, was to attack on the flanks, fire in crosses and bring up support from the midfield. The energy that Iwobi and McNeil bring to the table is invaluable in this respect, as both were tasked with providing defensive cover for the fullbacks, in addition to getting forward as the team’s primary offensive outlets. The two wide men racked up more than 60 touches apiece, more than half of which were in the attacking third of the pitch.
The ex-Burnley man, revitalised under his old Turf Moor boss, drove forward relentlessly, progressing the ball more than 100 yards towards the Leeds goal on six carries and succeeding in three of six dribbles. He also collected a team-high 12 progressive passes during the game. McNeil constantly put the opposition defence under pressure and fired in 15 crosses, with a 20% completion rate, though many “inaccurate” balls were delivered into dangerous areas that were not attacked by Blues players, something Dyche will need to address.
Iwobi was a major force defensively, registering a team-high ten ball recoveries (McNeil had eight), but was once more the team’s primary creative hub. The Nigerian, often a peripheral figure playing as an advanced right winger under Frank Lampard, suits the more withdrawn right-sided role used by Dyche. From this position, he can link up better with the midfield and be more involved in build-up play. Iwobi carried the ball more than we’re used to seeing from him and was successful in three of seven dribbles. He put a nicely-weighted ball into the channel for Coleman’s goal and led the team with nine progressive passes, registering three key passes, tying McNeil.
With Maupay working hard to worry the Leeds defence, it was up to Abdoulaye Doucoure to join the attack from midfield. The Malian amazingly failed to get a shot off when put clean through by Simms, but otherwise enjoyed a strong game. Defensively, he totalled six tackles and interceptions combined, blocked two passes and made eight recoveries. Often criticised for a poor touch and sloppy use of the ball, Doucoure led the Blues with an 88.1% pass completion, including eight progressive balls, two key. He had no bad touches and was dispossessed just once. The midfielder was successful in two of three dribbling attempts and was second only to McNeil in total distance carrying the ball. This was a true box-to-box performance by the 30-year-old; if he can generate shooting opportunities then he’ll go some way to solving the team’s goal scoring deficiencies.
Idrissa Gueye turned in another strong effort under the new boss. The veteran is operating a little deeper than either Doucoure or Amadou Onana, though there is freedom within Dyche’s system for each to break forward in support of attacks. As expected, the former PSG midfielder was a major defensive asset for the Blues, breaking up play with a combined five tackles and interceptions, blocking three passes and making seven ball recoveries. He was a little loose with his distribution at times (74.4% pass completion), though he was often operating in tight spaces and under pressure. The Senegalese showed an untypical willingness to carry the ball forward, succeeding in three of five dribbling attempts, and made a driving run down the right too with a cross that should have been converted.
Simms showed some nice touches in a ten-minute cameo and should have been rewarded with an assist for his audacious no-look pass through to Doucoure, who made an awful mess of what was a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. At this stage of his development, I feel this is the best use of the 22-year-old and offers the best chance for him to make a contribution, without the pressure of leading the line as a lone front man.
Long-serving Toffees captain Coleman put in another excellent effort at Goodison Park. The Irishman is heading towards the closing stages of what has been an illustrious career, but still has plenty to offer when used correctly. He is not going to be bombing up and down the flank anymore at 34, but if not exposed in a high line and offered support from the right-sided midfielder, he can be a tenacious defender who has no quit in him and gives his all for the cause. In a more controlled role, when his energy can be harnessed, then he is still capable of pulling out the odd swashbuckling run, reminiscent of times past.
Everton have picked up six points from Dyche’s first three games at the helm, a great return and now sit on 21 points, just clear of the relegation zone. It appears that the battle to avoid the drop is going to be very tight, with no teams yet cut adrift at the bottom and Everton will need four, possibly five more wins - plus some draws - from their remaining 15 matches, in order to avoid disaster. The ex-Burnley chief is turning Goodison Park into something of a fortress, already and there is now real hope that that can continue next weekend, with the arrival of Unai Emery’s Aston Villa, themselves on a three-game losing run.