I’ve always enjoyed writing season previews as there is usually a lot of optimism for the campaign ahead; the last couple of summers have usually been filled with positivity whether this has been generated from an awful 9 months before or a flurry of impressive signings coming in. However, this summer has been different, concerningly different. A divided fan base over many topics, not much change from a squad that continued to underperform under 3 managers. Not to mention being blitzed 3-0 by Blackburn and 4-1 by Stade Rennais with a team that should have performed much better.
Last season’s misery has appeared to run its way into pre-season and this has been due to two major problems… unfortunately, it’s both our attack and defence. This shouldn’t be a summer of agony, more like a summer for lessons; we need to re-evaluate what we should be aiming for, what to expect from this squad and, tactically, what our best options are.
Lessons we can learn from the World Cup
After every tournament, I believe there is some influence carried on from what we’ve seen on our screens to major leagues in Europe. For example, the Premier League has got much more technical, the effectiveness from “hit and run” tactics produced by Allardyce, Hughes, Pullis etc. has diminished considerably which has, in turn, enabled the more progressive Conte and Guardiola’s philosophies to flourish in England.
The common theme evident in the World Cup was the re-birth of the 442, especially as a defensive system. Uruguay, Sweden and Portugal where the effective teams deploying it, at times to perfection, enabling zero influence from opposition full-backs (who have often been relied upon to create chances in modern times). It also creates problems for your “number 10’s”, with most options having two or three men marking them out the game with very little space to work.
I am thoroughly convinced there is no better way to defend against a top team than the 442 and we need a renaissance in our defence, a new structure to get the best out of the team.
Marco Silva’s intention looks to set Everton up in this formation without possession, forcing sideway passing from Valencia on Saturday. It gives us an overload of numbers on our flanks, which certainly helps covering Baines when he plays. Sigurdsson pushes up alongside Tosun which helps him press both centre-backs, making a Schneiderlin/Gueye midfield partnership. Schneiderlin shows a number of times, even in this 50-second clip, pushing up too high, leaving a space behind him. Concerningly, there are gaps in our midfield, leaving a 2v2 or a 3v2 against both Jagielka and Keane who suffer immensely when we play a high line; which Silva has deployed at both Watford and Hull City.
An interesting factor would be the development of Jordan Pickford’s role with his distribution. Under Southgate, he played the ball out to the back three; sometimes completing more passes in one game than each England midfielder. Under the last three managers last season, he was heavily relied upon to get the ball up to Tosun or Calvert-Lewin, and the team would work from there. Under a 442-defensive structure, you give him a lot of options if he collects the ball, even if the formation stays the same; either playing it out to your full-backs to create an overload or getting the ball out as quick as possible to set up a counter-attack. Should a 442 set-up without the ball be considered? Yes is the answer.
How Marco Silva has set-up Everton
So how have we set-up in our pre-season games? The Portuguese man has put in a 433, a system that has benefitted some and been a problem for others. Funnily enough, it’s a formation that has always proved valuable to the defensive midfielder (in this case, Morgan Schneiderlin). It allows him to drop deep and join the backline, turning it into a 3-man defence with full-backs going forward. Having this player stay back gives you two options for your other central-midfielders, have both men go forward and go into number 10s or only one joining the attack whilst the other roles into another passing option.
Throughout pre-season, Kieran Dowell is the man going forward and has proved to be a key creative source in the games he has played; whilst Tom Davies patrols a bit deeper. These two are obviously not first-team starters, Sigurdsson will do a similar job to Dowell if Silva starts him there, whilst Gueye lacks the attacking intent to play as a ‘number 8’ like Tom Davies.
On the wing, we’ve seen both £40m Brazilian winger Richarlison and Sandro Ramirez in desperate need to prove himself. Both can drop into the half-space, but Richarlison does this considerably more and is the only player capable of driving the ball forward by himself. Here we see the Brazilian, already in the half-space, picking up the ball, sprinting forward and scoring; a type of player we have missed a lot. A number of times he has shown a lot of promise in these areas, providing more support for Cenk Tosun up front.
In my opinion, it’s a balanced and structured system, something different than what we’ve seen from our last four managers. The only manager that has used this formation consistently was Ronald Koeman, which revived Barkley (when playing right wing) and had Mirallas drop much narrower towards Lukaku. Silva’s system shows a lot of promise, however only a few players suit it and a majority of the players struggle to play anything else other than a Martinez 4231; which I think rings an alarm bell.
Lessons Learnt from this Squad: The 4231 vs 433
For those who are regulars on the blog, I usually have a lot of criticism against the 4231. It has not worked under four managers, from the pass-obsessed Martinez to the excitement-assassin Allardyce. I can see benefits to play it, but Everton suffer and statistically, it shows. In the last two seasons, using the 433 has accumulated more points and much better defensive stats than the 4231.
Offensively the stats are more inconsistent, for example, Everton’s xG in a 433 last season was only 0.83, whilst the season before it was 1.37. In the 7 games the 433 was used, we averaged just 7 shots per game in 17/18, whilst in 16/17, we averaged 15 shots in the system. I haven’t looked into what opposition the formations were used against, but against the top teams, Everton have dropped much, much deeper and cramming our own penalty area in order to keep the opposition out.
Overall, the 433 provides a bit more defensive stability, conceding fewer chances from good areas and enabling a better defence. A points difference of 0.2 per game may seem small, but it could be the difference between two or three positions in the Premier League.
build-up presence, Idrissa Gueye struggles to have any attacking threat despite being one of our better players statistically. Rooney was a good influence against teams below us, but when facing the top clubs, he was turned over easily… however, there is no midfielder in the team that can replace him. Richarlison scored a total of 0.46 xG+xA per 90 minutes, whilst having a 0.08 xgBuildUp – no attacking player in the squad had less, but in terms of scoring/assisting he is right up there.
The effects of no Mikel Arteta in our midfield still loom large, even if it has been 7 years since his departure. We’ve lacked a real link between defence and attack, a 36-year-old Gareth Barry probably the closest player since. If Silva and Brands need to go for one player from now to the end of the transfer window, it needs to be a centre-midfielder who can provide a good attacking influence.
So, can Marco Silva deliver?
Without being pessimistic, I have doubts. Silva picked up results at the start of last season at Watford, with a dynamic, aggressive team; but massively overperforming until a meltdown midway through his reign as manager. This isn’t necessarily his fault, but you can see he lacked little control over his squad, whilst now he is managing a team that is extremely fragile.
Before our “approach” for Silva, the Hornets had lost just four Premier League games in 11; afterwards, Watford lost 8 games in 13, a 23%-win ratio in this time. The Portuguese man didn’t change his tactics much during this time, sticking to his 4231 and 433 formations. This made a big effect on how many chances Watford created under him – which wasn’t much better than Everton’s levels under three underperforming managers.
The squad is capable of playing some good football, if you keep hold of Lookman and give chances to Dowell; Silva will have the players capable of playing the fast, expansive football that he wants out of Everton. Richarlison already looks like he is going to take a serious amount of weight, carrying our team’s attack, it’s up to Sigurdsson and Tosun to prove themselves.
In defence, Marco Silva didn’t play a low block during his time at both Hull or Watford; which is concerning because defending deep looks like our own option from staying solid. Keane and Jagielka are both incapable of playing a high-line, with only Holgate being real competition for their places in the team. Digne is a good replacement for an ageing Baines, whilst Coleman isn’t going to hit the same gears he did before Koeman’s appointment. It is a mess of a backline and Silva’s defensive record doesn’t help my concerns; 44 goals being conceded in 24 matches is an alarming amount.
Everton needs stability and with that, we need time and patience. Marco Silva has set the team up in our best performing formation and the signings still left from last season can show if they can play in a strong system, not under hoof-balls straight to our striker. The Toffees have tended to improve in the first year under a new manager, let’s hope this continues.
My Predicted Finish: A classic transitional season.
Data from understat.com and @11tegen11.
Up the Toffees