Leicester vs Everton – Tactical Preview

Away trips to Leicester are tough for any team, but for Everton, they’ve continually struggled to come out the King Power Stadium with all three points. Just once in the last 9 visits have Everton been victorious in the Premier League at Leicester and with just 5 away victories in two years, The Toffees have got quite a lot of work to do in order to improve this record. Both teams are pretty similar in the ways they set-up, both play 4231 formations, both have similar xG and are close in league positions early on in the season.

As mentioned, Claude Puel sets up Leicester in a 4231, building a team entirely around high pressing and counter-attacking football. The Foxes are particularly good at long diagonal balls from the likes of Harry Maguire, Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy in order to break lines and pull defences apart, creating space in the opposition defence. With the pace of Demarai Gray, Jamie Vardy, Marc Albrighton and the addition of James Maddison, this style has been very successful for Leicester, scoring the most counter-attacking goals so far this season on 3.

Outside of the “Big Six”, Leicester are one of the better teams at forcing backwards passes and pressing as much as possible. Early on this season, we saw Leicester make it incredibly uncomfortable for Liverpool to create quality chances and denied access to their midfield.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 17.35.17
The Defensive Pressure Points map identify both when an attacking team gives the ball away from interceptions, tackles or losing the ball and when the attacking team pass the ball backwards. On this map, you can see Leicester winning the ball quite high up on the pitch.

As you can see, Leicester forced a lot of backwards passing and won plenty of possession in Liverpool’s own half. The hosts would change formation from a 4231 into a 442 (something similar to which Everton did away to Arsenal two weeks back). This was accomplished in two ways, the first would playing a high line and cutting passing lanes. The second would be collapsing onto the second receiver (as the ball is played forward from defence into midfield, the player pressing the defender would fold back and create a 2v1 against the ball carrier). Here are examples of both methods.

 

This would work effectively against an Everton team which struggles to contain the ball, Zouma and especially Holgate like to have a lot of the ball and try to play a high line when possible, Leicester has the team built to turnover possession quickly and overload a certain area when needs be.

The Foxes like to target one side of the pitch, both central midfielders can be moved over to one side to create a massive overload which can be very hard to break out of for opposition players. This creates a huge amount of space for players on the opposite wing to drift around and join the attack in an aim to pull defenders apart. We saw a good example of this in their 3rd goal at home to Huddersfield, six players already positioned on the right side of the pitch from a throw-in and exposing the opposition high-line.

Not only are they good at exploiting the right wing but they’re also strong on the other side, in fact, 39% of entries into the final 18 yards have come from the left wing. Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell overlapping him have proven to be a good partnership in terms of making progress with the ball, something Walcott and Coleman/Kenny need to be aware of.

The Toffees need to take control from early on, in the first 15 minutes, not only have they conceded 12 shots at goal in 7 games, but they are also at a much higher quality (0.21 Expected goals against per shot), 3 goals being scored. Everton haven’t started off quickly in games, 1 goal being scored in the first 15 minutes and having shots with little quality.

Marco Silva’s Everton have started off in an odd fashion. Some games you can see a clear game plan, others you can’t. Sigurdsson’s role as a second striker has both pros and cons, on one hand, you often see him occupying the same space as Cenk Tosun which can turn both men off in a game, on the other his shooting has improved immensely as we saw at home to Fulham with two slick finishes.

A huge talking point amongst Evertonians is our midfield and the problem of getting the ball up top to our frontline. At home to Huddersfield, Schneiderlin had 87 touches of the ball whilst Davies had 68 touches, whilst Tosun and Walcott had just 24 and 28. Everton have always struggled to feed our strikers and I believe a big problem is the 4231 formation and not using a 433 as an alternative.

A majority of Everton’s creativity runs through Richarlison and occupying the half-space gives him great options. Not only can he cut into the centre of the pitch on his stronger right-foot but also has the access to the wing if there is space for himself or Lucas Digne on the overlap. In this case against Fulham, he has the attention of 2 players, followed by a third when Digne loses his marker. He creates more space for other players whilst being on the ball.

The Brazilian is by far Everton’s biggest threat, it’ll be interesting to see if Leicester deploy a similar system like Bournemouth did. Not only was Richarlison pressed by two players but also his top provider would have their passing lane cut off and access to him was limited (if you want to read more on that game, here is my analysis).

Everton receive a lot of criticism defensively from their own supporters, but in comparison to last season, we’ve improved immensely. On average, just 9.24 passes are allowed from the opposition in our own half, which is only beaten by Arsenal (8.67), Man City (8.4) and Tottenham (7.47). Leicester are also good at this with an average of 10.69, which is ranked 7th out of the Premier League teams.

This doesn’t mean Everton are omitted to conceding good chances, Southampton had 1.77 xG when they visited Goodison Park, whilst West Ham has 1.39 xG. Personally, I am more confident in away games, despite the defeat to Arsenal we genuinely had a good game plan and, on another day, could’ve walked away with a victory.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 16.36.58
Everton’s Defensive Pressure Points away at the Emirates, the 442 deployed to success against a struggling Arsenal team.

Everton completely shut off Arsenal from progressing the ball, especially on their left. Leicester aim to keep the ball once they have it; containing 52% possession, which can only be topped by the “Big six”. Deploying a similar system out of possession can stop access to the creative and impressive James Maddison, whose input in the game can make a huge difference.

After making so many changes and risking a decent cup run for Everton, Marco Silva has made this into a must-win for Everton if losing in the cup means something. The Toffees run of fixtures are getting increasingly tougher with trips to Manchester United and Chelsea not far away, as well as a hard December on the horizon. Silva’s Blues need an away victory and a re-assessment of our targets during this transitional season.

In the Premier League, the team that has scored first in this fixture has never gone onto lose the match, Everton need to start strong at the King Power Stadium, a 100% winnable match and a fixture Marco Silva needs to prove how valuable three points here will be.

 

Guaranteed goals.

 

Stats via @11tegen11, @footballfactman and @AshwinRaman_

Feature image by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

 

Up the Toffees.

 

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