If there is one word that could describe Everton‘s 2018/19 season, it would be inconsistent. Tactical analysis and statistics has shown the holes Everton have had throughout the season. The Blues currently sit ninth in the Premier League table after playing thirty-six league games and picking up a total of 50 points. While chances are slim, they will be hoping to finish two spots ahead, in seventh, for the opportunity to qualify for the Europa League second qualifying round. To do so, Everton will have to win their upcoming two matches. They will also have to rely on other teams like Manchester City, Chelsea, and fierce Merseyside rivals Liverpool to take points off of their competitors.
However, the only reason Everton have a chance to qualify into the Europa League is because of the staggering improvement over the last few gameweeks. A couple of months ago, Everton found themselves languishing in eleventh place with eight losses in 10 games. The thought of Europe was wishful thinking, and the goal was to finish in the top 10. There were constant questions surrounding Marco Silva and his tactics. His set-piece setups, personnel in defence, and more importantly the lack of goals.
Everton were not scoring enough, and they were certainly not creating enough either. The lack of goals raised questions over Silva’s capabilities. He’s since changed two things that have increased Everton’s xG in recent weeks. This article will be a tactical analysis of the changes Marco Silva has made to improve the team’s xG. The likes of personnel changes as well as tactical changes have contributed towards the improvement.
Marco Silva’s formation
During Everton’s poor run of form, Silva would often tinker with the system. The Portuguese manager would often look to test new formations to breakdown opposition defences. Against Brighton, Marco Silva opted for a 3-4-3, hoping to pin Brighton back. However, their passing was too one-dimensional, and Brighton were well drilled in defence to keep them at bay. After Brighton scored in the 59th minute, Silva opted to switch to a 4-2-3-1. This was a massive improvement, as his team hit the woodwork three times, increasing their xG significantly. The first 65 minutes saw Everton’s xG at a mere 0.55, but after the formation switch it went up considerably to 0.96.
The next game, Silva started the match with a 4-2-3-1, and once again, their xG shot up significantly. While they did not win the game, they were averaging more shots on target than before.
The answer seemed so simple: stick with the 4-2-3-1. However, Silva entered the matches against Southampton, Wolves, and Watford with a different mindset. Again, he switched formation, and Everton suffered from low xG stats.
Silva eventually went returned to the 4-2-3-1, and Everton’s form skyrocketed. They have been able to beat several top six sides comfortably. A combined score of seven goals scored and zero conceded against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United have proven that the 4-2-3-1 is currently what works best for the Blues.
Marco Silva’s personnel changes
Changes in formation are not the only reason for improved Everton’s xG. If that was the case, then almost anyone can become a football manager. Silva’s use of certain players is equally as crucial in finding out why Everton have been successful as of late in creating and scoring multiple chances.
Gylfi Sigurðsson has recently been allowed by Silva to play his preferred number 10 role. Earlier, Silva experimented with his position, often playing him as a false nine, central midfielder, or on either wing. It’s clear that he thrives as an attacking midfielder.
He occupies pockets of space between the opposition’s midfield and defence, making him difficult to track. His vision allows him to pick out runs from the two wingers, and if he deems necessary, makes progressive runs into the box, while the defence is occupied. However, unlike a lot of attacking midfielders, his work-rate is incredible out of possession.
This was best showcased in Everton‘s 2-0 victory over Chelsea. In possession, he created chances, attempting to exploit Chelsea’s struggling back four. His movement off the ball allowed his side to win a penalty, which was converted off the rebound.
Out of possession, he was tasked with man-marking Jorginho, Chelsea’s primary creator from midfield. Nullifying him allowed Chelsea less possession, which in turn allowed Everton more chances to create goal scoring opportunities. Stopping Jorginho, stops Chelsea from building out from the back. Sigurðsson’s xG for the match was 1.54, his best of the season. He also created three clear cut scoring chances and made three progressive runs into the box.
Sigurðsson is a constant threat to the opposition because of what he does both on and off the ball; he’s played a big role in Everton’s resurgence this season.
Richarlison started the season quite strongly, scoring a brace in his first competitive match for the club. A couple of weeks later, he received a red card for butting heads. He has scored an impressive 13 goals for the Blues this season, and while he has been lauded as inconsistent, he has shown up in critical moments for the team. Unfortunately, he has been a victim of Everton’s lack of attacking options this season. Marco Silva has often opted to play him out of position as a striker, rather than his natural place on the wing.
In the matches that he has played in his preferred position, Everton’s xG rises significantly. The Brazilian seems much more comfortable running at defenders, rather than holding up the ball with his back to goal. The 2-1 loss against Southampton saw him occupy the centre-forward role and his xG was at 0; not registering a single shot.
Matches, where he has to alternate between the two positions, portray similar poor results. Everton’s surprising 2-0 loss against Fulham saw Richarlison again get an xG of 0. The scoreless draw against Crystal Palace saw him register only one shot on target, taking his xG up to a mere 0.07.
Richarlison is a young, pacy striker. His pace is limited playing as a centre-forward. The Brazilian is much better suited hugging the touchline and dragging defenders out wide. Furthermore, he likes to cut inside and beat the defenders to the ball using his pace. During Everton’s good run of form, he solely occupied either wing. Against Chelsea, he scored once and registered two shots taking his xG up to 0.71. Everton had an xG of 2.24 during the game, their best against a top six side this season, at the time.
It may seem strange to include Morgan Schneiderlin on a list of players that have influenced Everton’s xG. After all, he is a defensive midfielder. He rarely, if ever, roams forward, and his main job is to offer protection to the back four. However, that is likely the reason that Everton’s forwards have been so free-flowing in attack.
After the Tottenham loss back in December, Schneiderlin did not get any game time in the Premier League until the win against Cardiff City, nearly two months later. With him back in the side, Everton went on a run of good form. They were able to keep five clean sheets, three of them against top six opponents.
Silva allowing Schneiderlin to play alongside Idrissa Gueye. This allows for two defensive midfielders to be on the pitch. This forces the opposition to attack down the flanks instead of the central channel. It also otherwise forces long passes that are often lost in possession. Schneiderlin has averaged 5.5 interceptions since his return to the side. His presence with Gueye has allowed more stability defensively. This has given the forwards more freedom and less defensive work. The fullbacks are in turn allowed to run further forward and create.
Everton will need a lot of luck to finish seventh and have a chance of playing European football next season. With Wolves in blistering form, the Blues will need a miracle for them to drop points. However, after a thorough tactical analysis, the reason they are in this position in the first place is because of Silva finally being able to figure out a winning formula. The statistics do not lie. Even if they do not finish seventh, Silva has laid the foundation for success next season in the Premier League after a poor start to his first season on Merseyside.
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