This past weekend, Southampton welcomed Everton to St. Mary’s to mark game week 12 for both teams’ 2019/20 Premier League campaign. Before the game, the Saints had not managed a single home win in the league. Similarly, Everton was without a single away win in the league up to this point. Making for an interesting and important contest, both sides needed three points to get their season back on track and to help get clear of the relegation zone.

Shortly after kick-off, Everton broke the deadlock after four minutes through a set-piece, Tom Davies heading home from a corner kick to make it 0-1 to the visitors. In the second half, Southampton replied after 50 minutes, Sofiane Boufal collecting the ball from an Everton clearance and sending it back across the goalmouth for Danny Ings to convert 1-1. Seventy-five minutes in, and it is Richarlison who gets the third and final goal of the game to give Everton their first away win of the season. Final score Southampton 1-2 Everton.

In the tactical analysis below, we will look at how Everton dictated the game for the hosts and how Southampton had to adjust. Also, how Everton’s attacking strategy in the second half was nearly their undoing.

Lineup

Premier League 2019/20: Southampton vs Everton - tactical analysis tactics
[via Wyscout]
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton stick to the recently adopted 3-4-2-1 formation. Taking up ‘Wing-Back’ positions was Cédric Soares on the left and Stuart Armstrong on the right. For a position that is typically characterized by athleticism, ball carrying into space and crosses into goal scoring positions, it was a case of ‘day one’ in these new positions for Soares and Armstrong as Wing-Backs. Oriol Romeu and J. Ward-Prowse were playing as double-pivots in front of the back three while the attacking trio of Danny Ings, Moussa Djepeno, and Nathan Redmond commanded the front line.

Marco Silva’s Everton went into the game in their usual 4-2-3-1 shape, with three changes from last week. It is the same back four that played last week with 30-year-old Morgan Schneiderlin reintroduced to the starting XI beside Tom Davies in central midfield. Richarlison and Theo Walcott were occupying the wings as the high-wide attacking outlets that played off Gylfi Sigurðsson and Cenk Tosun in the attack. Alex Iwobi and Calvert-Lewin started on the bench, however featured late in the send half along with Michael Keane.

Everton’s mid-block dictates the play.

The game got underway with an Everton side who had a plan to dictate the game off the ball and a Southampton side that was looking to get success by building from the back. Everton was successful in doing so by retreating to a mid-block in a 4-4-2 shape out of possession. Everton’s compact movement denied Southampton their targeted passing lanes to the central midfield and wing-backs. If successful, it would mean Everton could press the isolated player on the ball, win possession and counter-attack through Walcott, Richarlison, Tosun ahead, and Sigurðsson just behind.

Tosun and Sigurðsson are the first lines of defence blocking passes to the double-pivot central midfielders of Southampton. On the wings, Richarlison and Walcott remain compact with central midfielders. However, if a pass is made to either of Southampton’s wing-backs, Walcott & Richarlison will press their respective counterparts with intensity. Meanwhile, Schneiderlin and Davies bock central passing lanes.

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Above, we see Tosun presses Southampton’s centre-Back, Bednarek. Meanwhile, Sigurðsson drops to cover central option, and Richarlison positions himself should a pass arrive at the wing-back. These situations forced Southampton to play long aimless ball to untimed runs, thereby relinquishing possession. Everton’s long direct play to Richarlison and Walcott resulted in a lot of turnovers high in Southampton’s half. Ultimately recreating the defensive mid-block situation many more times. Southampton in the first half lacked intensity in possession, moving the ball in slow horizontal patterns, which did not help their cause for a solution.

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Although due to perhaps poor final execution on the ball in these moments, they were unable to collect a reward, the closing stages of the first half seemed to show positive signs going forward. In the three images below, this is a moment Southampton showed how to beat the block and use the overload with wing-backs

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Having transferred possession from the other side of the field with a bit more pace, Everton were found unbalanced, and options to go forward seemed to show. Southampton’s centre-back is about to play the ball to his nearside wing-back. Note the run of Southampton’s central-midfielder, Ward-Prowse.

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Ward-Prowse runs into the half-space ahead of Armstrong and occupies Everton’s left-back, Digne. In this phase, Digne cannot leave this position as it would open a passing option in the channel for Southampton’s central-midfielder. Also, Digne’s closest centre-back just out of frame is occupied by Ings, meaning Everton must delay and rely on the recovery run of Richarlison.

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Due to this moment of good movement and pace, Southampton was able to discover an outlet by playing a penetrating pass back across to Everton’s weak side, where the oncoming left-wing-back Cédric Soares was unlucky not to score due to an over hit pass. The runs from deep and the movement of the Southampton forwards helped create what nearly looked like Southampton’s best chance in the first half.

Everton’s inefficient attack.

The game offered Everton more moments to score than the hosts. Having found the net from a corner after four minutes, Everton did not look dangerous in front of goal until much later in the game. Everton played a lot of direct balls to runs of Richarlison and Walcott. Owing to Southampton’s central block of three centre-backs and the wing-backs getting caught higher up the pitch, the opportunity to get into the Southampton’s final third and create chances was likely to come from wide areas. For the few moments that Everton developed attacks in wide areas with targets inset for crossing, they were very wasteful.

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In the image above, Everton developed an attack down Southampton’s left side. Sigurðsson plays a pass to advancing The Walcott. With the supporting run of the right-back Sidibe engaging the Southampton defender, Walcott was afforded the opportunity to cross into the box. This moment ended with a high and wide off target cross, not even bouncing before it left the field. Many more moments like this on both sides of the field occurred; however, it seemed Everton would exercise crossing frequently even though they were not getting much success.

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Another example here from open play, five Everton players advance to goal scoring positions in the box following a counter-attack. At this moment, Digne takes a shot that veers high and wide off target — not taking advantage of the support within the box.

Ariel duels key in the second half.

Seldom in the second half did we see a display of one team’s attacking organization versus the other teams’ defensive organization. Due to both teams opting for long direct passes to the forwards very often, it meant both teams were stretched and unable to sustain promising attacks. Southampton emerged with a new lease of life at the start of the second half keen to get the equalizer. Southampton’s good play was, in part, a result of their own injection of pace to the game and also due to Everton opting for long direct balls to the forwards.

By Everton playing long passes for three forwards to chase, it meant their midfield was stretched and not capable to manage Southampton’s counter-attacks. As a result, inviting more pressure into their own third. When Southampton scored, it came from a second attack from a poorly defended corner, however a corner that was only conceded due to Everton turning over possession easily and inviting a counter-attack that had to be defended.

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A long pass coming from a goal kick, Pickford plays a ball to about 27 metres from the opponent’s goal for Tosun to contest. Off this header, Tosun looks to supply the runs of Walcott and Richarlison just ahead. Sigurðsson arrives from deep to meet a defensive header if won. At this moment, Everton was not successful as possession was lost, going back to the Southampton goalkeeper soon after Everton had to defend another Southampton attack in their own third.

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In the image above, we see Southampton front four attackers pressing Everton high. After possession was turned over after Southampton defender played a long aerial pass. Southampton’s high press up to this point had been quite unsuccessful, and at this moment it was very much the same, Everton bypassed the press by going wide and developing a promising attack.

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Following Southampton’s unsuccessful high press, Everton developed a promising attack. Southampton left to defend with 6 players on the edge of their own box; both teams faced very similar situations like this for the majority of the second half however unable to make it count as much as they would have hoped. This was a complete contrast to a very watertight defensive first half.

As a result of this initiative from Everton to play the direct high risk/high reward long balls, they opened the game up to Southampton, who grew in confidence and was unlucky not to find the net more than just the once. As a result of this play, Everton got their winner in the 75th minute. A counter-attack that broke down the left side of the Southampton defence, Everton right-back Sidibe crossed superbly low to the back post where Richarlison connected a left-footed shot inside the post to finish, 1-2.

Conclusion

From this analysis, it can be concluded that Everton controlled the game well off the ball, exercising the midblock well in the first half and their high intensity defending to disrupt Southampton’s advances. In the second half, Everton’s style of play switched to a more direct approach to find the pacey forwards. This initiative almost caused to concede but for the quality of defending from the Everton back four and goalkeeper.

Tactics wise, Southampton looked the better footballing side in the second half, with superb individual displays at times and the combinations in the final third they will be ruing their missed opportunities. Southampton seems to be in a bit of a rut right now, with the constant change of systems and rotating players the past few weeks the team needs to get some stability. Easy to see why there would be a lack of confidence in the dressing room.


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Ian O'Neill

Passionate about all things football: tactics, data & coaching.
Writing to educate, entertain & inform.
Ian O'Neill