Perhaps the most significant factor around his game for both coaches is the fact they both get a full week to rest up and prepare for this game. Since Carlo Ancelotti’s first game against Arsenal back on December 21st, his four subsequent games came at an average of 3.5 days apart.

Graham Potter similarly took charge of five games in that same period with an equal average. Allowing ample time for both sets of coaching staff to prepare their players and analyse their opponents.

Context

Everton will be keen to return to winning ways after their home defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup this past Sunday. Brighton & Hove Albion will also have their targets ahead of this Saturday’s clash, with only one win in their previous seven the Seagulls will be aiming to course-correct their season at ground that has not been a place of good fortune in recent times. Brighton’s two previous visits to Goodison Park ended in defeat, also conceding two or more goals in their last four head to heads at this ground.

Brighton’s Neil Maupay has scored three goals in his last seven games and found the target once in the reverse fixture against Everton this season. You would be confident he will be one of the first names on Graham Potter’s team sheet come Saturday.  Similarly, Ancelotti will most certainly hold a place on the starting XI for the in-form English target man Dominic Calvert-Lewin who also got his name on the score sheet against Brighton earlier this season.

No surprise to announce the significance of this fixture is in the points, Brighton who are currently placed fourteenth in the Premier League table can leapfrog Everton who now sit in 11th place. Everton are only one point clear of Brighton on 25 points going into this game, meaning there is the potential to go four points clear by Sunday or fall two points behind.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game between Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion, we have provided a tactical preview that offers a comprehensive and straightforward tactical analysis of how both teams will match up. Furthermore, considering all aspects of the analysis, we aim to find what or who will be the difference in this game and the tactics behind it all. Below we will look at the attacking and defensive qualities of both teams as well as key players that can decide the game.

Potential formation & lineups

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On the back of the Christmas fixture pileup, It is challenging to say with certainty that we be sure of either managers starting XI. Having played five games in under three weeks, both managers have been forced to rotate their squad in recent games to maintain performance intensity. However, all factors considered for personnel and formation this season, I believe the above to be the most prominent starting lineups and formation for both teams.

Everton: 3-4-2-1

Ancelotti has almost a full-squad available this Saturday as one absentee is noted Alex Iwobi. This Saturday is perhaps where we will get to see who makes up the managers strongest XI. We can be confident Calvert-Lewin will lead the line followed closely behind we may find the Brazilian duo of Richarlison and Bernard make their first start together since the game against Burnley in December. The wing-backs Lucas Digne and Djibril Sidibé along with Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford seem to have cemented their names in the team since Ancelotti’s early reign began at Everton so do not expect any changes there. The experienced Gylfi Sigurðsson and Fabian Delph may cover the inside just in front of the back three of Mason Holgate, Yerri Mina, and Seamus Coleman.

Brighton & Hove Albion: 3-4-2-1

A formation we come to see Graham Potter frequently tweaks, sometimes inverting the top two units and even reverting to a back four with two committed full-backs in attack to offer eight players on the attacking phase. I think with a full-weeks rest Brighton will return to a back three to neutralise Everton’s attempt at a central overload. Dan Burn is out for this game and with Solly March questionable Graham Potter may recall Gaëtan Bong in at left wing-back. Although Bong has only made four appearances this season he has a superior tackle success rate to some of his teammates of 75% and has shown to be a good fit for the side.

Everton’s defensive five

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Everton’s back three as reflected on the team sheet in recent weeks become a back five in the defensive phase. Perhaps the first noticeable change since Ancelotti’s appointment, the back three make the central areas difficult to penetrate through and serve to force opposition attacks wide. The wing-backs that are fundamental to the attack moments before and potentially moments later are tasked to join the back three in the defensive phase.

Everton’s transition to attack

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As we can see from the above two images, Everton had been deep and centrally compact in their own third defending their opponent’s attack. Centre-forward Calvert-Lewin doubles up with Tom Davies the central-midfielder to win back possession. In the preceding two seconds the right wing-back Sidibé makes a run at pace to offer width and depth as Everton transition to attack. Everton have become noticeably more efficient in the transition to attack under Ancelotti. When necessary Everton will exercise patience by playing backwards as far back as the goalkeeper to retain possession, ultimately to move their opponent and penetrate with a greater chance of success in the next phase.

Everton can hurt from the half-space

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Above we see an unconventional but effective passing and movement phase from Everton. Variations of this type of passing sequence have been exercised in recent weeks. As the RWB Sidibé offers width that stretches the opposition defence horizontally, this allows the right centre-back Coleman to come through unmarked. As Everton have two inside midfielders occupying the oppositions defence man-for-man on the same side, Coleman’s run if matched will create a passing option of a teammate in a central area; otherwise, If it not he can enter the box unmarked and receive a pass that will develop an excellent goal-scoring opportunity. Teams typically do not have this level of versatility of deeper defensive players making runs beyond the striker into the penalty spot but it is a style of football I believe will cause more hurt to the opponent than themselves if executed timely and with precision.

Everton’s movement to meet crosses

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Although the player’s runs will change in relation to the cross, we generally see an orthodox yet most effective positional setup of the players targeted to meet the cross coming into the box. Calvert-Lewin the centre-forward becomes the front post option, while the opposite side player cuts inside quickly to be available as a back post option which is generally not as high as the front post option (Calvert-Lewin) such that he can be a different angle to the ball and be visible to the crosser. Finally, there is the cut-back option; generally, this will be the near-side midfielder however in the above illustration in this attacking phase it was the right-centre-back that comes into play as the cut-back option. Everton’s success in front of goal has come mostly by way of crosses this season and that does not seem to be changing under Ancelotti. Brighton will need to be effective when dealing with crosses come Saturday.

Brighton play through the press

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I’ll make a light-hearted, complimentary and perhaps slightly poor joke about Brighton’s centre-backs. Perhaps when referring to Brighton, the acronym ‘CB’ can be understood as ‘comfortable ball-carrier’. Even when dealing with multiple phases of high pressure from their opponents, Brighton’s goalkeeper and defenders seem to control, dribble and pass with ease and a sense of confidence.

Against Chelsea and a goal down Brighton were not scared out of their principles no matter how high risk they seem to be. They move the ball well and show superb composure under pressure. Ultimately this serves to stretch the opponent, causing them to be unbalanced on one side (weak-side) as well as being vertically stretched to better their chances of creating goal-scoring opportunities after they play through the first line of pressure. It will be interesting to see come Saturday how Everton and Brighton will match up in this phase.

Brighton penetrate from the half-spaces

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Similar to Everton Brighton find penetration opportunities emerge from the half-space quite often. In the image above we see good horizontal rotations in midfield to allow the right-attacking-midfielder Tossard to penetrate with the ball at his feet unmarked. It is not always about overloads so much as it is about good movement in these areas and credit to Brighton they do this very well.

Against Everton perhaps the game can be summed up as the ‘battle of half-spaces’. The value of the half-space is also highlighted with good defending. Once defending players are positioned correctly and numerical superiority is denied, the attacking team can struggle as crossing opportunities are lost and passing angles are reduced forcing teams backwards. However, If defended poorly from his area of the field teams can be undone. Brighton will show their value in these areas come Saturday, particularly when they are quick in the transition.

 

Brighton’s full-backs are a mainstay in attack

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Whether Brighton play with a back three or a back four, the full-back/wing-back’s are a crucial part of the eight players that join the attacking phase. As we see in the image above both full-back’s for Brighton are on the same horizontal line, as they serve to stretch the opponent and deliver dangerous crosses in the box. Another reason for this is If one full-back defers or cannot cross at a particular moment then as the central players receive the ball and transfer the ball to the opposite side the opposite-side full-back is already in a high-wide advanced position to affect the game potentially with an excellent goal-scoring opportunity. Come Saturday, Brighton will need to be efficient when full-backs advance as they can be attacked and hurt in the transition by Everton who will no doubt account for this.

Brighton defend from the front

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Brighton will be set up to defend well in the defensive phase, as units will press together and drop together. We have seen Brighton press high and drop deep against teams build-up play, the moment to choose the latter or the former will be a question of isolation and support. In the above image, we see centre-forward Maupay angles his run to force the centre-back away from support and reduce his options. Once those options are defined in the moment the midfield can shift vertically and horizontally across in relation to the ball to block all passing angles. If possession is won back the Brighton players are within short passing distances of one another to advance and exploit a disorganised defence. On Saturday against Everton, it will be interesting to see where on the field Brighton will engage the press from Everton goal-kicks and will they subsequently get any success at goal.

Quick transitions can decide the game

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Both teams attack with eight players in their attacking phase, offering one or two from their defence to also enter the opponents final third they are both generally left with two designated defenders and those immediately surrounding the ball when possession is lost. The two designated defensive players occupy typically the central area meaning the wide areas adjacent to the two defenders offer an opportunity for a fast counter-attack to develop and potentially a dangerous opportunity to concede from. Should this happen, the likelihood is that would be contested by wing-backs and strikers to link well in these moments. Because both teams set up to build-up play and commit players and into the final third there is a good probability that we will see opportunities present themselves for both teams to counter-attack moments after defending. The last point to highlight on this, although not directly from a counter-attack, either team may still score from a moment created from a counter-attack such as a set-piece. It remains to be seen, however with which team will use the pace they have at their disposal well.

Final thoughts

Both teams will have done their homework well on each other come Saturday, denying the opponent’s numerical superiority in the attacking phase, changing shape to neutralise the opponent style of play and knowing the opponents’ set-piece playbook will all be transparent and known about each other. However, what cannot always be identified and prepared for are key players, key players who change the game. Sometimes that is an individual who can produce a moment of brilliance by dribbling with the ball and sometimes it’s an individual who can change the picture with a pass. If the game is tight, chances are fw and far between and the deadlock does not look like breaking, it will no doubt require some individual brilliance.

Although his stats are not too glamorous with an 80% pass accuracy, one assist and four goals to his name this season I think Gylfi Sigurðsson can be the difference. Owing to the fact that Everton’s success in front of goal is engineered from wide areas mostly I would not discount Sigurðsson’s role in the team due to low assist numbers. For a lot of the attacking brilliance, we have seen these past few weeks from Everton that Sigurðsson has been a quiet catalyst in the attack. We tend not to count the assist behind the assist most times however sometimes it is that pass that opened the opponent and generated goal-scoring opportunities and that is what I have seen from Sigurðsson these past few weeks.

I would favour the Toffee’s to take three points this Saturday, factoring in where the game is being played. It has to be said I would not overlook the underrated Graham Potter to set his team up to get a result on this ground, Brighton are a much-improved side under Potter and they have already caused a few upsets in the league this season.  What will be interesting to see is how Brighton will set up to play, will Brighton set up to consolidate for their opponent or will they take the game to Everton in Goodison. This fixture has produced many goals in recent times so It will be a game to watch.

Ian O'Neill