Everton have come storming out of the gates to start this season’s FAWSL. With two wins from two, the stage is set for an enticing encounter against Manchester City next weekend. Everton will be looking to build on a confident performance in their 2-0 home win versus Bristol City.
This complete tactical analysis of Everton in this article. There are already specific tactics evident that set the foundations of their style of play. This scout report will look at the four major areas of their game, what is working well, and what needs to be improved upon in the coming weeks.
Everton are going into their third season since having their bid for promotion into the top flight accepted. In the first two seasons, they finished 9th and 10th respectively, both positions representing second from bottom in that year. Willie Kirk was brought in last December and is now going into his first full season as the Toffees boss. He previously spent three years as manager at Bristol City before accepting a position as assistant manager at Manchester United in the summer of 2018.
Kirk wasted no time during the summer making this Everton side more of his own. Five of his six signings have already started at least one of the matches played. The biggest change has come in midfield. The midfield trio of Maéva Clemaron, Molly Pike, and Lucy Graham against Bristol City were all part of Kirk’s summer recruitment.
Above is the lineup from the opening match against Birmingham City. Everton mostly function in a 4-5-1 shape. Slight variations occur depending on situations during the match, causing the team to be in a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. In the second half of last season, Kirk experimented with his team lineup quite often. However, there has been almost no variation from this set-up to begin this campaign.
When Everton look to build-up play from the back, possession is normally held between the centre-halves and the number six. The midfielder drops to help drag the opposition out of shape and create gaps in the midfield, while also allowing the fullbacks to press forward and provide the width. Everton focuses mainly on getting the ball into the channels and letting their winger or striker run onto it. From here, they look to overload the box and get a cross in. Multiple avenues are used to achieve this.
The fullbacks press high and wide to stretch the pitch for multiple reasons. It spreads out the opposition’s defensive block and provides the three players who begin the build-up with different options to work through: wide to the fullbacks or centrally through the more attacking midfielders. The fullback positions also allow the wingers to come inside, with an emphasis on Chloe Kelly. She is at her best cutting from outside to in. Her two goals against Bristol City are perfect examples of her ability to attack space centrally. Below we can see Kelly operating inside due to the width being provided by the fullback.
When the fullbacks receive possession, they look to find a ball into the forwards. In some instances, the winger on the same side will bolt down the channel looking for a pass over the top or through the lines. However, the striker is also used in this situation quite often. The number nine will pull into the space between the centre-half and the fullback into the channel. Once the fullback has played this pass into the runner, the two forward midfielders will look to join the two other forwards in making runs into the box looking for a cross.
Another route they look for is a quick inside pass. The three players used to begin the buildup assess the opposition’s set up. If there is space on the inside, they will look to break the lines with a pass to one of the more advanced midfielders. You can see an example of this above.
Here, the midfielder looks for a pass to one of the wide players. Either a pass to the fullback who will play into the channel, or a direct ball into the channel to a forward from themselves.
The last major focus of buildup utilised has been the up-back-through approach. Here, a centre-half will normally find one of the advanced midfielders as we mentioned above.
However, instead of looking wide, the midfielder will play a back pass to the number 6 who will play a ball over the top into the channel. Above you can see the centre-back Gabrielle George playing a pass up the pitch. Graham in midfield and Danielle Turner push forward to provide options for the player receiving possession.
This example shows the final ball into the channel releasing the fullback. Kelly comes deep to receive the pass before dropping it off to Graham. Before Bristol have time to react, Turner is sprinting down the line and gets rewarded for her hard work. Using this approach Everton looked to keep the opposition guessing as to who would make the run into the channel. In other instances of this tactic, the wingers and forwards would be the ones on the receiving end of this move.
Out of possession
Setting up in their defensive shape, Everton prefer to sit in a deeper block rather than look to press up high. The wingers drop deep and form their 4-5-1 shape. The weak side winger will normally step up closer to the striker, while the ball-sided winger will sit deeper when possession goes wide.
Against Birmingham, a lot of possession was held between the opposition’s defenders. This emphasised Kirk’s focus on protecting the dangerous areas of the pitch. As soon as Birmingham began to step into the final third, Everton pressed more forward. This was in attempts to force the opposition backwards. The forward players will press high up the pitch on instances like a heavy touch, which led to the opener against Bristol City. For the most part, however, Everton prefer to sit in their shape and stay compact.
When out of possession, Everton attempt to get the opposition to play down into the wide areas. Here, the defence clamps down on the opposition once the ball arrives. The fullback, two midfielders, and the winger often find themselves cutting down angles when the ball reaches the flank. As you can see below, Everton create a numerical advantage in the corner. They attempt to suffocate the opposition and force turnovers in this area.
If the outside press is beaten, the last midfielder in the centre of the park attempts to contain the attack and push it backwards. This is to allow time for the team to regain its shape.
When possession is lost, Everton’s initial press is dependent on where they are on the pitch. The player that has been dispossessed will normally be joined by a second player in the close vicinity to try and push the opposition backwards. The purpose of Everton’s press is to allow the side time to get back into their defensive shape rather than to win the ball back immediately.
Emphasis is added when the ball is lost in the defensive half or when a majority of the team is pushed forward. Two players will look to press the opposition quickly. They try to block off any forward options in an attempt to get the player in possession to pass backwards. This gives teammates further up the pitch the time to get back into shape. The image below shows the Everton defenders shifting to cover the forward options of the opposition. When this is successful, it forces the player into making a pass back to one of their centre-halves. Once this is achieved, Everton return into their 4-5-1 formation and sit in their deep block.
Once possession is regained, the focus is turned towards finding space in the channels again. Often, the wingers are deep due to their defensive duties. In this situation, the striker takes the responsibility of being the outlet.
Above we can see that a tackle has been made to regain possession. If the opportunity is there, the player now in possession looks for a through ball into the striker.
Once this pass is made, the striker holds possession until the rest of the team has the chance to get forward for a cross. If the quick ball forward is not an option, the ball winner looks lateral or backwards to evade the attempts by the opposition to regain possession. From here, Everton take their attacking shape and look for their attacking options we discussed above from their buildup play.
She only has one match under her belt in an Everton kit, but new signing Clemaron is already showing how important she will be. Her ability in the number six role gave Kirk’s side more confidence during build-up play.
Above you can see what was her normal position throughout the match. She was a key reason for the significant improvement in Everton’s passing in their second match. Kirk’s side were forced to consistently bypass the midfield in their opening game to get forward. With Clemaron in the number six role against Bristol, the team brought possession forward much easier. Her awareness and passing ability brought more harmony into the side’s play.
In addition, she is able to slot into a back three with Everton’s centre-halves. This gives them the ability to vary their shape during the initial build-up phase. Gabrielle George (in possession in the picture above) is also given the freedom to push up the pitch due to this. George is very competent with the ball at her feet and was used as an outlet numerous times thanks to Clemaron’s presence in the side.
Possession jumped from 36.11% against Birmingham City to 52.53% against Bristol, via Wyscout. In this possession, they increased their pass accuracy from 66.8% to 82.96%, in twice as many attempts. These statistics are perfect examples to show Clemaron’s impact on Everton’s side. Kirk will rely on her to bring a calm presence in the centre of his side. She will continue to be the unsung hero for his side as the season continues.
Major Strength and Weakness
Everton’s major strength is getting into crossing positions. Against Bristol City, they attempted 25 crosses, courtesy of Wyscout. Their wide and forward players are consistently looking to find space out wide as we have discussed. When these opportunities arise, there is normally an abundance of Everton bodies getting in the area.
One problem Everton found to consistently have in their first match against Birmingham was stopping the opposition from penetrating the defence through the half-space. Below is one example of a quick attacking move from Birmingham.
The centre-half finds a quick pass out wide to the winger. Everton take too long to react to this quick switch of play. This allows the Birmingham midfielder to make a run into the half-space and is found with a through ball.
Although it did not produce a goal, this tactic was a constant point of threat, especially in the first half. Going into the second half, Kirk looked to have attempted to fix this by having one of the midfield three dropping into this space.
Overall, it has been an overwhelmingly positive start for Everton this season. Manchester City represents a real test of character for this side next weekend. In both matches this campaign, they have bettered their expected goals. 2 against Bristol City with an xG of 1.29 and 1 against Birmingham with an xG of 0.84. However, Kirk’s squad is still working on improving in their attacking tactics to make sure this is not an issue. None of their goals have come from their focus on getting into space in the channels. It seems like only a matter of time before this tactic begins to reap rewards. With half of last season’s point total gathered already, Everton should look to finish somewhere in the middle of the table this campaign.
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