Everton going into an away fixture against one of the so-called ‘top 6’ with genuine optimism and belief that they could snatch a result, is a rarity, the reality come 15:50 on Sunday was, well, simply normality. Questions can be asked if players did in fact bottle it, or whether the overriding mentality throughout the football club means that it will take more than having a manager who has three Champions League’s in his locker to turn things around – but personally, it was said managers fault, more so than the character of those on the pitch, that squandered what was a massive opportunity to boost the clubs European hopes.
You could say that for a full 95-minutes, Everton were wretched and pathetic, even Carlo Ancelotti thought that “everything went wrong”. He specifically pointed out how “we were too open, not compact, lost a lot of duels, and with the ball, we made a lot of mistakes on passes”. In short, it was bad. Everything was bad.
But it was a specific 15-minute period towards the end of the first-half that epitomised the disjointed performance that I think we can all admit, we’ve seen before. With Chelsea ready to take a free-kick as we just passed the half-hour-mark, Ancelotti was feeding instructions to Tom Davies, who then relayed them to the rest of his teammates.
Everton had gone from 4-4-2 to 4-1-2-1-2 – or simply speaking, a diamond in midfield.
Ancelotti had seen enough! After 32 minutes, 2 goals down, and very little chance of getting back into the game, the former Chelsea manager *finally* changed it.
It was a spell during the game in which Everton didn’t actually concede, yet it was a period that displayed our problems more prominently than others. For starters, I thought I’d decrypt why Ancelotti thought the need to change it. The midfield was shite basically. I’ve touched on it before, but a double pivot consisting of Andre Gomes and Tom Davies just doesn’t mix well – the display at Stamford Bridge proved exactly why. While the 4-4-2 was structured rigidly at times, there seemed a disparity in terms of how the side wanted to play, the midfield especially was caught between pushing up and harrying the likes of Ross Barkley or Billy Gilmour, or whether to sit back and attempt to be more passive in their approach – a dilemma that also caused problems during the visit to the Emirates last month.
Yet while it’s maybe too easy to blame just the pivot of Gomes and Davies, the conflict between aggression and passivity was obvious throughout the side. The 2nd goal demonstrating that.
Sigurdsson, who fails to reach the long-ball directed at him, then does what Gylfi Sigurdsson does best – nothing. The lack of counter-press allows Billy Gilmour to comfortably turn and pick his pass as he took full advantage of Chelsea having an extra man in midfield. Sigurdsson’s (lack of) reaction forces Gomes to step up, who in turn just opens the gap for the pass into Giroud.
Marco Silva can be criticised for a lot of things, but as a pressing side, Everton were actually quite good. They weren’t the most efficient side to do it but they still counter-pressed relatively well. But since Silva’s departure, Everton’s PPDA (passes per defensive action) has gone up from an average of 8.52 (4th best) to 10.76 (9th best) under Ancelotti.
It was probably the goal that opened Ancelotti’s eyes to the fact that the midfield duo just wasn’t working. Hence the switch to a midfield diamond as shown below.
Unfortunately for Ancelotti, the change in structure did nothing in preventing Chelsea from creating chances. With Chelsea playing comfortably in possession, waiting patiently for spaces to become available, the side from the Capital still found it easy enough to make the Everton midfield look disorganised – may be signs that the diamond midfield wasn’t something worked on in training in the week beforehand.
As seen above, the midfield were now playing more clustered together in an attempt to stop the Chelsea trio, who were undeniably dominating the game. The idea of having 4 players playing centrally should have meant that Gilmour was no longer allowed the time to control the game but also to prevent Chelsea from easily overloading their attacking players in-between the lines. Yet as the image shows, our defence remained unprotected with the midfield shape leaving virtually a 4vs4 situation with Willian, Mount, Giroud and Pedro unmarked against Digne, Holgate, Keane and Sidibe.
Playing with a diamond in midfield has its strengths, it’s in fact a formation I like a lot – but it does have some highly exploitable weaknesses too if it’s not well-drilled enough. Specifically, through the vulnerability it leaves in wide-areas. While the formation means your full-backs become practically your only out-ball when attacking, it also leads to them becoming pretty isolated when having to defend too. Maybe not the best idea when one of your full-backs is Djibril Sidibe.
As the Toffees efforts to remain in a compact shape as Chelsea built-up in-possession was failing, their pressing in more offensive areas was simultaneously faltering.
Before this, the front two of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin failed to make an impact further forward in terms of their pressing, but again the problems are obvious between the defence and midfield. Following the switch to the diamond, it was up to Gomes to play the holding ‘6’ role to screen the defence. He just didn’t really do the screening enough, as seen above, and below. Something Gomes is guilty of quite a few times, particularly when playing in a midfield-two, is how too often he jumps out of position as if he’s attracted to the ball – it’s the main reason as to why it’s integral that Everton sign an energetic, athletic defensive midfielder to partner him.
The gap in midfield is substantial. With the ball played through, the image demonstrates how poor of a hand the defence were given on Sunday. Not only had Gomes and Davies initially been attracted to the ball, but they then failed to react. The two images do enough to summarise how the rest of the match went for the Blues. The players come across clueless, unprepared, even disinterested. A combination of both poor coaching and bang average players.
Everton problem Ancelotti must fix to compete with PL elite.
David Hughes of the Liverpool Echo recently detailed how since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, one metric has considerably declined: ‘deep completions’. A pass completed within 20 yards of the goal. Since Boxing Day, Everton have made just 45 deep completed passes, the 4th lowest, before the departure of Silva, Everton were averaging the 7th highest amount of deep completions. While Wolves, who sit below Everton in this metric, prove that success can be had without having a heavy presence around the opposition penalty box, the fact that the current top 4 make up the ‘deep completions top 4’, indicates that you’d rather come out favourably in this category, than not.
Clubs who usually do struggle in their volume of these passes are usually the same teams who fail to confidently break down teams who sit a low-block. But in Everton’s case, it could be down to the formation they use. With the side now consistently playing in a 4-4-2, there is no longer a player who permanently holds down a central role behind the strikers. Yet even when we switched to a diamond, with Bernard playing effectively as a #10, Ancelotti’s men still struggled to create any kind of pressure on Chelsea’s defence. Everton made just 3 deep completions all game according to ‘Understat’, Chelsea made 10.
Everton’s incompetence in this area is proven here. Andre Gomes, despite all the plaudits he gets from Evertonians as the playmaking ‘quarter-back’ that we’ve desperately missed since his injury. Unsurprisingly, he failed to make a massive impact on Sunday in this department. For instance, with Gomes in space, and Everton with a (rare) period of applied pressure, Gomes ignores the options of Bernard and Tom Davies between-the-lines, two passing options that I’d expect my so-called ‘ball-playing’ midfielder to be making. Oddly Gomes swings the ball out-wide to Lucas Digne, who knocks it down to, well, no one.
This though was arguably an area that definitively separated the two sides. While the home side dominated possession with 60%, the Toffees still attempted 415 passes, Chelsea were simply just more productive with it. As already pointed out, Frank Lampard’s team thrived in the spaces Everton left open, Ancelotti’s players failed to acknowledge these spaces even existed in a Chelsea midfield trio that was made up of two attacking players, and an 18-year-old.
With only (roughly) 15-minutes analysed from Sunday’s game, it’s a tad obvious as to why Everton faced so many problems when coming up a genuinely good side. Ancelotti just got it wrong. And the minutes previous to half-time summed that up. In fairness, the personnel available currently isn’t great, though it was still almost the same team (if not a better one) that had bullied Chelsea before Christmas, and this Chelsea side was arguably a lot worse than the one that we faced at Goodison Park.
The contrast between the two performances probably best implies where we went wrong at Stamford Bridge. Everton lacked everything that made them so good in Duncan Ferguson’s debut match as caretaker manager. Structure, identity, personality. It will likely go down as just a bad day at the office, like Carlo said, “everything went wrong”. But that’s now Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea all played since his arrival, and still winless. Funnily enough, despite the current optimism, we’re on a run of just 3 wins in our last 10. Here’s hoping that will change next Monday.