The Yerry Effect
All credit where it is due. That goes to the players, who to a man performed to the highest level, which isn’t something that can have been often claimed throughout much of this awful season. Contrary to a lot of social media opinion, the effort has usually been there, the will to do well, but the performances have been far below what could be expected, even if the upper level of this Everton squad is not particularly high. Part of this can be attributed to the now departed manager, Frank Lampard, who is presently underachieving with a vastly more talented squad, at Chelsea. Also, there has to be an understanding that ability and consistency are two entirely different attributes.
Some of the Blues players have talent - Demarai Gray being the most obvious - but there is a reason why many end up at Everton, a team that has been for many years — until the havoc of the last two seasons — a distinctly midtable outfit, an outside chance of making it into the Europa League being the best it could offer in terms of achievement. No serious prospect of silverware on the horizon. So the players the club can attract are a mix of those past their best, youngsters beginning to take off, the mediocre and the aforementioned nearly-men; those who can play an eight or nine out of ten once in a while, when everything gels, but are otherwise firmly a five, or six. The consistently inconsistent.
Within that reality, it is the job of the manager to construct a working unit, one that offers each player a chance to emphasise their better qualities, whilst masking deficiencies. It goes without saying that this is not an easy task. It was certainly beyond Lampard, a novice head coach of dubious ability and experienced veterans such as Rafa Benítez. Even a true great like Carlo Ancelotti found the going tough. So it has to be acknowledged that Sean Dyche pulled off this feat - no mean one - on Monday at the Amex, as he came up with a plan to surgically destroy a hitherto impressive Brighton & Hove Albion side.
Now, one swallow does not make a summer. In isolation, this was a magnificent achievement for the Everton boss, but it cannot erase all that has come before. The Toffees were well into a deep funk, before this emphatic 5-1 victory, having failed to win in seven matches, whilst those sides firmly embedded in the relegation battle a month ago have extricated themselves, by winning matches. Before the Brighton game, predication models had Everton’s fate as being one of likely relegation and this can’t be ignored, but credit is due when it is earned and it is imperative that Dyche now carries on in this fashion, with emphasis on efficient attacking and mistake-free football.
Key to this system working was the unexpected inclusion of Yerry Mina. The big Colombian was not player of the match, did not make any critical play, or intervention. All I can say is that I felt a lot calmer seeing his name on the team sheet and I was just watching on TV, not actually lining up alongside him, as James Tarkowski was. The defender exuded assurance, and composure, as shown by his 88.2% pass completion rate (second only to Abdoulaye Doucoure), his team-high 13 clearances and three blocks and this effect radiated out all around him. The net effect he had on the entire defence and midfield cannot be shown in the raw data, but it was apparent to anyone watching.
He is a big personality and plays with unshakeable confidence, giving off the type of aura possessed by winners on the sporting field and this Everton side’s chances of success on the pitch are far higher with his presence on it. That Dyche didn’t see this earlier is a concern, but he came to the correct conclusion eventually and mercifully, it appears just in time.
The system Dyche employed against Brighton worked about as well as he could ever have imagined; far moreso in reality. Deploying Everton in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation, with Idrissa Gana Gueye at the base of a midfield three, the intention was to shut down the centre of the pitch and in this they were successful. Consequently, Brighton were forced out wide, targeting right back Nathan Patterson during the first period - during which the contest was essentially decided.
I’ve read and heard that the young Scot was given an arduous time of it by Kaoru Mitoma in the opening 20 minutes, but personally I didn’t see this at all. True, the dangerous Japanese saw a lot of the ball - as the Blues were playing narrow - and had the time to put in some decent crosses, but he was largely neutralised as an inverted winger, with the intention to cut inside onto his right foot, as we’ve seen often this term. Patterson dispossessed him shortly after, which set up Everton’s first goal and was rarely directly challenged thereafter.
The Seagulls invite the press in their own half, desiring to evade it with one-touch passing, opening up spaces which can then be exploited, but Dyche wisely did not fall into this trap. Instead, the Blues retreated into their own territory, challenging Roberto De Zerbi’s side to attempt to play through them. Doucoure and James Garner paid close attention to Brighton’s central midfield pivots, Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo, blocking the pair off, rather than rushing them. This was excellent positional defending and presented the opposition a major headache, forcing them backwards and to the flanks repeatedly.
When Brighton tried to progress the ball into the final third, then Everton’s press was triggered. With small gaps between players, even if the pressure was eluded the formation was not compromised. When the interception was made, or the receiving player dispossessed, then the Blues were prepared to break forward with speed. The fullbacks, Gueye and Garner generally hung back, giving the visitors a strong defensive shape if the counterattack broke down, so the team were rarely left exposed themselves. At the game’s conclusion the Seagulls had generated zero shots from transitional situations, compared to four from the Toffees.
If Everton were disciplined defensively, then they took maximum advantage when going forward, scoring from four of their eleven attempts at goal. Key was the continued availability of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who provided a strong focal point for the team, challenging Brighton’s defence in a variety of ways, using his strength, pace and agility to keep them guessing. The striker won 69.2% of 13 aerial duels, recovered five balls, offered the Blues an outlet and worked extremely hard throughout, even during the second half, when attacking forays were rare.
Tasked with breaking into Brighton’s territory in support of Calvert-Lewin were the trio of Doucoure, Alex Iwobi and Dwight McNeil, and all three excelled. The hosts, currently sitting in seventh place in the Premier League, were constantly carved open by the speed and directness of Everton on the break. Though the South Coast outfit ended up with a higher xG (Expected Goals) than the visitors, a big chunk of this came from Mac Allister’s inadvertent point-blank range goal and as a result of late pressure when the winners were already determined; in the first half they could only muster an xG of 0.27 and were well and truly outplayed.
McNeil was a phenomenon. The winger’s faults: a relative lack of pace and a complete reluctance to use his right foot (even while walking the ball into the net!) are well-established, but his strengths are often overlooked, particularly during the Lampard era, when the boss appeared not to trust him. Enjoying as he does the full backing of Dyche, the 23-year old is playing with confidence, belief in his own ability and is blossoming as a result. He is remarkably press-resistant and runs with the ball exceptionally well, completing all five attempted dribbles at the Amex, carrying it three times into the opposition area. McNeil provided a team-high three key passes (leading to a shot) and took both of his goals with aplomb; his seven strikes for Everton this season now equal his total for Burnley across 133 league appearances. The stamina he showed on Monday was quite astonishing.
Brighton, a possession side that loves to play quickly through the middle, were reduced to attempting 44 crosses, with nine successes. The Blues back four repelled this aerial onslaught with relative ease, racking up an eye-watering 40 clearances. Dyche had trained his charges to shut off the middle channel and force the hosts wide, and it worked.
"The gameplan was to stay in the middle, force them to play wide, and to counter with good goals."— Royal Blue Mersey #AllTogetherNow (@RBMersey) May 8, 2023
Sean Dyche had the beating of Roberto De Zerbi today. #EFC #BHAEVE pic.twitter.com/yUJxnx0LNi
Patterson had a strong game, proving the value of picking a right back to play that position, rather than shoehorning a central defender in. As mentioned, the 21-year old dealt (mostly) effectively with Mitoma, who has presented a significant threat all season. The Scot led the team with a combined seven tackles and interceptions, put in three blocks and made six recoveries. He was the only Everton player to complete a cross (from three attempts). it’s great to see the youngster trusted at last.
Lampard made a terrible call in marginalising Doucoure. Since being reinstated in the team under Dyche, the Malian has scored four goals, from 12 matches, all coming in his last seven appearances. His second goal, a brilliant counterattacking movement which he initiated deep in the Everton half, showed what a box-to-box midfielder he is, when used correctly.
Iwobi put in an outstanding effort. The Nigerian led the Blues with three passes into the opposition area and carried the ball well, succeeding in 71.4% of his seven attempted dribbles. Defensively, he played his part, as shown by the 14 ball recoveries he made all the while running diligently back and forth up the pitch.
Stats provided courtesy of fbref.com, whoscored.com and fotmob.com