As another international football break lingers away, fans across England rejoice with club football returning. October and November months are usually the bellwether period, deciding how well a team is going to perform for the rest of the season with the points gap widening and more fixtures being set. Everton return with a home game against Crystal Palace in an important fixture for both teams. The Toffees face Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in the next three away fixtures, whilst the visitors not only play the first 2 of the teams mentioned but also host Arsenal and Tottenham at Selhurst Park.
Since being promoted in 2013, The Eagles have bounced between one anti-football manager to the other, Pulis, Warnock, Pardew (slightly more successful and likeable) and Allardyce have all spent time in the dugout. Times were set to be much brighter as Frank de Boer was appointed, one of Netherlands’ all-time greatest defenders and a manager set to bring in a more entertaining style of play. Five games in and he was sacked.
After de Boer, Roy Hodgson was brought in. He doesn’t fall into the “anti-football” philosophy of English managers, bouncing between 442 and 433 formations this season. Hodgson sets The Eagles defence up in a mid-block, compact with plenty of players in the middle of the field; which not only forces backwards/sideways passing but plenty of ball recoveries too.
Bouncing between 442 and 433 has both its pros and cons, the most notable being in defence; Crystal Palace’s xGA90 (Expected Goals against per 90) is noticeably different, in a 442 the goals and quality of chances leak through (1.71 xGA90), whilst in a 433 they are much tighter in defence and opposition teams struggle to create decent chances (0.50 xGA90).
In attack, Crystal Palace target significantly on the left side of the pitch, not only do you have an overlapping Patrick van Aanholt who is a threat going forward, but arguably Palace’s biggest threat, Wilfried Zaha, also targets this area to create an overload on the opposition right-back.
As you can see, with James McArthur acting as the midfield pivot and Luka Milivojevic behind him, The Eagles distribute the ball very well with Andros Townsend being fed the ball a lot whilst Zaha and Benteke have a fair amount of touches on the ball in this example. Outside of the “big six” clubs, only Leicester and Fulham have kept the ball more than Crystal Palace but converting possession into quality chances has been a newer problem. In the Premier League, only Newcastle and Huddersfield have a lower xG count than Hodgson’s team (7.02 expected goals), according to understat.
With this in mind, I’ve asked Dan Crame from The Eagles Beak to answer a few questions on Palace’s season and their view on The Toffees:
TA: Crystal Palace have a pretty decent record at Goodison Park, Everton winning just once at home against the Eagles since 2013. Are you feeling confident of picking up a result? What do you think is the best way to get a result against The Toffees?
DC: Palace do have a good record on Merseyside against both Everton and Liverpool. For that reason, I am quietly confident of picking up something at Goodison despite our poor run of results. It is important that we do get something from the Toffees due to our upcoming fixtures of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United.
Hodgson has been bouncing between playing a 442 and 433 this season, what formation has been most effective?
Unfortunately, neither formation has been effective due to the fact we do not have a clinical goalscorer up front. That said, we struggle even more without Benteke in the side due to the presence he has up top and work he does off the ball to create space and hold up the play. If Benteke does get back to his best in terms of finding the net, both formations will work wonders but at the moment it really is a waiting game for the big Belgian to return from injury.
One of Palace’s most talked about players is Wilfred Zaha. How important is he for the Eagles? Any other players Evertonians should be aware of?
Zaha is imperative to Palace as we only win with him in the side. This isn’t a good thing, especially in the Premier League and Hodgson will know that. On his day, Zaha is unplayable, beating players with the lightest of touches and creating space like gold dust. That said, Everton are facing Palace at a good time where Zaha hasn’t been on form. Quiet games against Southampton, Wolves and Bournemouth have seen some fans get frustrated with the Ivory Coast international. The Toffees will need to be aware of other Palace players like Townsend, Meyer and Van Aanholt if Zaha does have another game where he is ineffective.
In the league, only Cardiff and Huddersfield have scored fewer goals than yourselves, why are Crystal Palace finding it difficult to score goals? Is it just bad luck?
Its true, goals have been hard to find for Palace so far this season due to the underperforming strikers we have on our books. With our main front man Christian Benteke out of form and injured until at least January, Andre Ayew was brought in on loan to fill the void who really hasn’t made the impact we all hoped for. With Alexander Sorloth looking out of his depth in the Premier League, we desperately need an out and out goal scorer. A positive is Connor Wickham coming back from a long injury lay off. As a big fan of his, I can’t wait to see him back out on the pitch. In the meantime though, Palace are relying on other players to chip in with goals and all we can hope for is that they do.
Last but not least, what’s your prediction?
As long as Palace get a point or more, I will be happy as it would be very tough going into the next few fixtures against most of the top six with anything less.
– Thanks to Dan for answering my questions, make sure you follow @TheEaglesBeak on Twitter!
Meanwhile, Everton’s two wins on the bounce have cleared painted over some of the cracks a lot of supporters were afraid of. Silva’s selection putting Richarlison upfront and Bernard on the left certainly paid off away to Leicester, with a lot of space being created by our front four (full analysis here). The biggest positive has been Gylfi Sigurdsson adjusting to his second striker role, not only having good opportunities at goal but also having more of the ball and in more space further forward. When Tosun starts, the two find themselves covering the same space and failing to link with each other; whilst with Richarlison, the Brazilian targets the left side of the pitch allowing Sigurdsson much more room.
This shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Everton still have a problem in midfield and something we all hope Andrea Gomes can cover. The duo of Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye struggle to break lines and make passes that would cause trouble, often playing the safe card and going backwards or sideways. Breaking lines refers to a pass that can find players in-between the opponent’s midfield and defensive lines, or even behind the defence. If Everton had a player of this ability playing deep, Silva’s blues would be a very threatening team going forward.
Lucas Digne’s work on the left is a valuable asset in going forward, not only attempting more difficult passes but also feeding the ball to our attacking players. As well as this, his overlapping play enables Everton to progress the ball forward, Digne’s delivery from crosses is not too bad either. Aaron Wan-Bissaka versus Lucas Digne would be a very interesting match-up, the Palace full-back has made an absurd amount of tackles and his defensive statistics are impressive for someone his age.
To conclude, I’m expecting a gritty, close, cagey affair, but also some good technical play between both. Games between the two teams have often been close, Palace have been a tough side to chew at Goodison over the years. Both teams are pretty similar in the way they distribute the ball around the pitch, also containing enough game-changing players; who also have the risk of dropping out of matches. Will Roy Hodgson keep his 1-0 record on Marco Silva?
Up the Toffees