Crystal Palace and Everton started their campaigns in the Premier League 2019/2020 season yesterday. In Selhurst Park, the teams faced each other for the first official game of the season. The 0-0 result was the same as last season’s match, but a draw with goals would have been the result fitting better to this game due to the opportunities created from both sides.
No doubt Everton was the team with more initiative during the game. The “Toffees” had 65% ball possession and performed 519 passes (80% accuracy). While the “Eagles” had 35% ball possession and performed 268 (60% accuracy). Despite the inequality in ball possession and the number of successful passes, the chances at goal were balanced. Crystal Palace’s strategy was to explore the offensive transitions and in the second half, Roy Hodgson’s men had two tremendous goal-scoring opportunities.
This tactical analysis will explain the tactics and strategies used by both coaches, focusing on the following key points: Everton’s offensive organization, Crystal Palace’s defensive organization, and Crystal Palace’s offensive transitions.
Marco Silva and Roy Hodgson shaped in their usual formations. The “Eagles” shaped in a 4-4-2, with Jordan Ayew playing as the free man upfront with striker Cristian Benteke. While the “Toffees” in their usual 4-2-3-1, which turns into a 4-4-2 in the defensive moments of the game. Richarlison and Bernand played with inside roles to leave free space on the flanks for the full-backs, Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman.
Everton’s offensive organization
Besides the high percentage of ball possession, Everton found a lot of problems in their attempts to penetrate Crystal Palace’s defensive organization and to reach the final third with the ball. Everton’s ball circulating was slow and predictable, which allowed Crystal Palace to shift from side-to-side and to cover the spaces.
The majority of the passes were mainly performed backwards and sideways, with few vertical passes in order to break Palace’s lines and reach the final third. Even when Crystal Palace’s players were late to cover the spaces and there was a chance to play the ball vertically, Everton’s players opted to not play vertically. Playing in this way, Everton made it easier for Crystal Palace to defend.
Bellow, we see one of the situations when Palace’s players were late to cover the spaces. André Gomes is in the free space, and his body position is the correct one to receive the pass from Mina and then to connect with one of the front players with a pass or break Palace’s midline in progression with the ball controlled. A bad decision from Mina saw him opt to make a long pass to Coleman and the ball was lost.
Bellow, we see another situation when Crystal Palace failed to close the space between sectors. This time the ball enters in that space after an excellent pass from André Gomes which allowed Richarlison to receive, turn and face the opposition with the ball controlled. Palace’s left-back Van Aanholt can’t press Richarlison because this would free up Coleman on the flank. As this play progressed, Everton created the best goal-scoring chance of the first half.
Everton also tried to exploit one of the moments of the game where they are stronger: the offensive transitions. Crystal Palace’s conservative strategy limited Everton’s chances to making use of the offensive transitions. In the situation shown in the analysis image below, André Gomes quickly changes the center of the game and launches Bernard onto the attack after possession was recovered.
An excellent move from Bernard saw him cut inside to take his marker with him and open the space for Digne’s overlap. Unfortunately for the Toffees, Digne didn’t follow the thoughts of his teammate, stopping his run and the ball was lost.
Crystal Palace’s defensive organization
From the beginning of the game, the “Eagles’s” strategy was clear: invite Everton to go high on the pitch by defending in a medium/low block and not pressing the first build-up phase. The objective was to stay compact with the sectors close to each other and closing the inside spaces to not let Everton connect their sectors through the middle and in this way to force them to play to the flanks. They tried to explore Everton’s high positioning with offensive transitions.
From the image above, it is possible to see how compact Crystal Palace was, closing the spaces on the side of the ball and leaving the space on the opposite side free. As Everton’s ball circulation was slow, Crystal Place had time to readjust the position and shift depending on the side of the ball. The strikers Ayew and Benteke barely pressed the players responsible for the first building up phase, their task was to make sure André Gomes or Schneiderlin (depending on who would appear in that space) wouldn’t receive the ball between lines.
As mentioned in the previous section, during the first half only once were Everton able to explore the inside space between defensive and midfield lines and generate a dangerous situation, which shows how successful this strategy was in the first half.
Crystal Palace’s offensive transitions
If in the first half Everton was well prepared to react fast to the ball loss and avoid Palace’s offensive transitions, the same can’t be said about the second half. The first signs of the second half showed Everton taking more risks which was taken as an advantage by Crystal Palace to explore the offensive transition.
In reverse of what happened in the 1st half, the first phase of construction was mainly done by the centre-backs, while both midfielders positioned slightly further forward and the full-backs projected higher on the pitch. This strategy left Everton more exposed and allowed Crystal Palace to make use of their biggest strength: the offensive transition.
Twice in a row, Crystal Palace created two goal-scoring opportunities using fast offensive transitions. Benteke with an excellent pass put Ayew one on one with Pickford after defensive discoordination and bad defensive positioning from Schneiderlin and Yerry Mina. If the idea is to play the offside trap, the reference for the positioning has to be the defender who is closer to the ball in this case, Michael Keane.
Schneiderlin stops his run too early, while Mina is a step forward compared with the reference man. If this hasn’t been practised, then Mina and Schneiderlin shouldn’t have stopped their runs. Schneiderlin should have tried to anticipate and cut out the pass, while Mina should have covered the space in case the ball passed through.
One minute later, another ball was lost by Everton’s midfielders and Crystal Palace again took advantage of the offensive transition. Benteke cuts inside and takes his marker with him (Keane), while a bad decision from Gbamin to follow the player with the ball left Meyer free.
There were two big mistakes from Everton in this situation. Gbamin follows the player with the ball (Benteke), instead of closing the space on the right-hand side to cover Coleman’s absence, while Digne was also displaced from the defensive line, leaving Meyer onside.
After a very entertaining first 30 minutes of the second half, the intensity of the game dropped considerably. Everton controlled the game with the ball but without creating goal-scoring opportunities. Not even playing against ten men Crystal Palace tried to take the initiative of the game, but rather than keep on trying to play in a conservative way and wait for the right moment to recover the ball and go on an offensive transition.
A false start of the season, especially for Everton who has big aspirations this season. Marco Silva’s team aspires to fight for the places that give access to European competitions but for this to happen his team have to improve some aspects of their game. Especially the moment of offensive organization. Everton is a team that feels comfortable playing in offensive transition but against teams that defend compact with low or medium/low block tactics (like Crystal Palace), the team has difficulties to break the opponent’s block because of their poor mobility and movement. Crystal Palace, despite the difficulties they have shown in the offensive organization (also due to the strategy for this game) and linking the game between sectors, has shown that they can be a very dangerous team in offensive transition.