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Everton 0-2 Aston Villa: Three Takeaways | No Margin for Error

The Blues largely outplayed Villa but somehow ended up losing by two goals

Everton FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Buendia breezes past a leaden-footed Coady to put the game out of reach
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

This Is How It Is Going To Be

In Sean Dyche’s fourth outing as Everton boss, we saw his team get the better of visitors Aston Villa for much of the match, yet still wind up on the negative side of a 2-0 scoreline. The statistics all told much the same tale: an xG (Expected Goals) for the Blues of 1.71 compared to 1.15 for Villa (excluding the penalty), 15 shots to nine, 59.2% of the host’s passes being in the opposition half, in comparison to 29.9% for the West Midlanders. Unai Emery’s outfit didn’t get off a shot between the 15th and 59th minutes.

So how did Everton not even manage a draw?

The new Blues boss has made major strides in fixing many of the problems that plagued the side under Frank Lampard. There is a stable defensive structure in place and a plan of how to attack, how to break an opponent down. After a slow start to this match, which saw Villa enjoy a lot of possession and come close to opening the score in the tenth minute, via a direct ball over the top to Ollie Watkins, the hosts made the necessary adjustments. Emery had set up in a 4-4-2 formation, which actually looked a lot more like a 4-2-2-2, nominal wingers Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn drifting inside in possession, sitting behind a front two of Watkins and Leon Bailey; the former occupying a more central striker role, the latter deployed more as a right-sided forward.

From around the 15th minute, Everton gained control of the match as they adjusted to this formation and started to press the visitors - who doggedly stuck with their intention to play out from the back - more efficiently. This led to a prolonged periods where the Blues had Villa penned in whilst they rained crosses in from the left - notably from Dwight McNeil - which continued into the second half. From the 27th minute to the 55th, the hosts racked up nine unanswered attempts on goal, generating an xG of 1.08, from which they really had to find the back of the net.

Therein lies the problem. Everton fired in 35 crosses with a success rate of 31% and 13 of their 15 shots were taken inside the box, so not exactly hit and hope. Some of McNeil’s deliveries were put into great areas, but either not converted, or there was nobody trying to get on the end of them. This lack of clinical finishing means that any time the team concedes, their chances of gaining all three points becomes remote. The side has generated just two goals from an xG of five, which underlines the need for both an improved conversion of chances and mistake-free football.

Everton FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
McNeil beat Cash like a drum in the first half
Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Time For Change

I’ve been reading rumours recently that Everton are about to trigger the option to buy Conor Coady, currently on Merseyside on a season-long loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Bringing in the experienced centre back, at a time that the Toffees were experiencing something of a defensive injury crisis early in the season appeared a shrewd move. After all, the Blues had started the campaign utilising a back three, which the player was well-versed in and a loan was a cheap, risk-free quick fix. In his early games at Everton, Coady seemed a good fit: composed on the ball, a vocal leader and organiser for a side that has often lacked these qualities.

Since that early period though, it’s been a case of diminishing returns, as some of the luck and last-ditch defending that had Everton riding high in the defensive league rankings, has dissipated. Under Frank Lampard, the midfield structure, the overly aggressive high press and advanced backline exposed the team, particular to the counterattack. Since Dyche came in, this has been largely corrected and the side has looked a lot more secure as a result. Take away Villa’s somewhat soft penalty on Saturday and the Blues have conceded three goals under the new man, in four games from an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of 4.8.

As outlined above, if Everton are to be successful in avoiding the catastrophe that relegation entails, then in addition to increasing their efficiency in front of goal, they have to get the absolute best from a defensive standpoint. In my view, starting Coady undermines this effort. The 30-year old was exposed one-on-one in space by Watkins, by a simple ball over the top in the 10th minute, only a timely intervention by Jordan Pickford prevented the Toffees falling behind early. Late on, when Everton were chasing a 1-0 deficit, Coady’s lack of speed and agility was brutally exposed by some rapid footwork by Emi Buendia, which put the game beyond the Blues.

Coady is a passive defender, whose preference is to retreat and buy time, rather than engage. This leaves a lot of the slack to be picked up by his defensive partner, James Tarkowski, but wouldn’t be too bad if his own interventions were decisive, but this isn't the case. He’s attempted only 20 aerial duels all season, winning just 50%, makes just 1.28 combined tackles and interceptions per 90 and only 0.91 blocks per match. He’s also beaten on the dribble more than half the time. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction based on him being exposed a couple of times recently, costing the team goals, it’s symptomatic of his general play.

There’s no reason why Dyche should be continuing to select Coady. He has better options available to him, notably the fit-again Yerry Mina, a far superior defender. Not only that, but I feel buying Coady for the agreed fee of £4.5m, based on what we’ve seen from his 22 league appearances, would be bad business and far from the bargain that it’s being presented as.

Everton FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Coady is blown past by Watkins
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Random Observations

Neal Maupay did his best and was probably a little unlucky not to end a goal drought now standing at 17 matches (nine starts), but his travails in front of the net should come as no surprise. In three seasons at Brighton & Hove Albion, the Frenchman scored 21 non-penalty goals in the Premier League from a cumulative xG of 29.0, underperforming expectations each season. He’s doing the same at his new team, managing one goal from an xG of 3.0. Everton brought in the main striker from a side notorious for squandering chances, but who at least created plenty, in stark contrast to the Blues. Whilst Maupay did manage to get his head on the end of an Alex Iwobi corner, firing in dozens of aerial balls from the flank is not giving him much of a chance to impact the game.

McNeil continues to turn around his Everton career under Dyche. He consistently beat Villa right back Matty Cash, particularly in the first period and fired in 13 crosses, some of which deserved better, ending up with an xAG (Expected Assisted Goals) of 0.5. He was the team’s main outlet for much of the game, receiving a match-high 16 progressive passes, completing six of seven dribbles and leading the hosts with three progressive carries.

Idrissa Gueye made an error attempting to tackle McGinn in the penalty area, even if it was a soft penalty with minimal contact on the Villa man. Otherwise though, he was again a stalwart in midfield, composed on the ball (89.3% passing accuracy) and racking up a combined nine tackles and interceptions, leading the side.

Abdoulaye Doucoure had another frustrating afternoon as far as capitalising on chances, but was doing a good job driving forward in support of attacks, as shown by his eight successful dribbles, from nine attempts. He was a little sloppy with the ball at times, but did set up substitute Ellis Simms for a decent chance late in the match.

Everton FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Doucoure was a handful carrying the ball but needs to add some composure in front of goal
Photo by Emma SimpsonEverton FC via Getty Images

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