Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton – Tactical Analysis

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

The papers would have no shortage of headlines to choose from after the five-goal thriller at Vicarage Road. Four goals in the first half alone and the team that was reduced to ten men on 70 minutes snatched a late winner as the curtains were closing on this intense Premier League game.

Carlo Ancelotti took to twitter to commend his Everton side for their 3-2 victory away from home, stating “a victory from strength of character”. Having trailed two goals to an in-form Watford side the Toffees levelled the score just before by half time, only to deliver the games fifth and final goal in the dying embers of the game while down to ten men.

The Hornets will count this game as a chance missed, Nigel Pearson’s men seemed to be cruising to a 2-0 half-time scoreline when two set-pieces undid them in a matter of minutes. Defensive errors and near misses will resonate more with them when reviewing their performance as they allowed the visitors to walk away with three points at the final whistle.

The tactical analysis below tells the story of the game from a tactical standpoint. Our analysis delves deeper into the tactics deployed by both managers. Supported by key statistics and data, we look at both teams style of play and how they matched up throughout the game.


Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics
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Watford: 4-4-1-1
Pearson makes one change to the side that lost to Aston Villa last week, Craig Dawson is withdrawn in place of Christian Kabasele at centre-back. Kabasele makes his first start since his red card against Wolverhampton Wanderers two weeks ago. The household striker Troy Deeney leads the line followed closely behind by Abdoulaye Doucouré and Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra on the left and right-wing respectively.

Everton: 4-4-2
Three changes are made to the side that started against Newcastle one week ago. Morgan Schneiderlin is withdrawn from centre-midfield in place of the veteran Gylfi Sigurðsson while Brazilian Bernard is replaced by Alex Iwobi on the left side of midfield. Mosie Kean makes way for Richarlison to complete the partnership alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin up-front.

Everton’s build-up & wide attack

Under Ancelotti’s tutelage, we continue to see Everton exercise a patient build-up play that develops into in wide attack with penetration and purpose. Whether it is a goal-kick, game restart or in the transition to attack Everton will play back to the defensive unit and build their attack from their third.

While the centre-backs split and the full-backs push higher up the field, one of the central-midfielders will drop alongside them to offer an overload with a shorter passing distance. Should the opposition strikers press the centre-back in possession, this third man at the offers an outlet to beat the press and play through the unit into the midfield. The central midfielders will offer unorthodox movements that are varied and hard to defend.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

As per the image above, we see Fabian Delph and Sigurðsson stretched horizontally to opposite sides of the field. Although not a fixed position, Delph and Sigurðsson will move on different horizontal and vertical lines to one another always relative to the teammate in possession.

As the attack build into the midfield, the wide midfielders will come inside into the half-space while the full-backs occupy the widest channels on the field. This creates an overload in the central area and serves to allow one of the wide players, winger or full back to make runs into the vacant space behind the pressing full-back.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

As we see in the image above Theo Walcott the RM attacks the space to receive an attacking pass from his RB Djibril Sidibé. Notice above Calvert-Lewin the CF remains central and high to occupy the centre-backs and be ready for a penetrating pass or cross into the box.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

As play progressed into the final third Everton, purposefully set up to execute and score from crosses from full-backs on both sides of the field. As we see above RB, Sidibé takes up a position which allows sufficient space and time to set and deliver a dangerous cross into the box.  RM Walcott still moves to offer an attacking pass option into the half-space although this would not be Everton’s primary target as both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison prepare to attack a cross in this moment.

For this style of play, Everton achieved an xG total of 2.20 for this game, considering their well-organised attack, good movement in the final third and the quality of their forwards Ancelotti seems to be getting it right for the Toffee’s.

Right-footers on the left

Something overlooked and not acknowledged very often in the game is the significance of having a left and right-footed player on the flanks. For one reason, by having an opposite sided foot player on the wing such as a right-footed player on the left, then cutting in and dribbling horizontally is sure to cause movement in the opposition backline and sometimes results in a shot or chance created. Although when this happens, very often space is created in the wide-area the attacker has come from, such that by a reverse pass or re-circulating possession back to that flank would allow that teammate waiting, enough space to create and execute a cross.

Secondly, in the very same scenario of a player cutting inside and dribbling horizontally into the central area of the field also allows the dribbler to safely shield the ball on his dominant foot, look up and play a forward pass across the field to the opponents weak-side.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

In the image above, we see Deulofeu, a right-footed player cut inside in a one versus one with the Everton midfielder. Simultaneously the Watford left-back Adam Masina moves back across from the half-space to offer a forward option to drive into the box or deliver a cross potentially.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Similarly in the above image, we see two Everton forwards Mosie Kean and ball carrier Richarlison offer good movement to play out of Watford’s block. As Richarlison, the right-footed player cuts inside with the ball he creates another option to drive at the Watford centre-back in a dangerous area and this position would also allow him to play a pass across to the weak side should options arrive in ample time.

Both Watford and Everton used right-footed players on the left-wing, Watford first using Deulofeu and then Isaac Success later in the game. Similarly, Everton used Iwobi in the beginning and finished with Richarlison on the left, all of which would be right-foot dominant.

Watford’s defensive discipline

Although through the course of the game Watford conceded three goals, the scoreline does not do their defensive organisation any justice. Everton found the net twice from set-pieces, albeit poorly defended and once from a counter-attack in the last minute when Watford were pushing for the winner. Although from open play, Watford’s defensive structure, intensity and pressure seemed capable to develop a performance that would deliver three points.

Watford done well to deny Everton the space to dribble and cross the ball which they so desired. It was clear Watford knew Everton would look to get success from wide areas and the Hornet’s needed to efficient out of possession in these areas.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

As per the image above, Watford are defending an Everton counter-attack while waiting on midfield support to drop back and defend. Notice the positions of the Watford back four relative to the position of the ball.  The Centre-backs remain centrally compact, adjoined closely are the full-backs who by being positioned specifically as they are denying any passing options through the defensive line. Subsequently, although Everton have the superior numbers in the final third they are unable to play through the block. Meaning the ball carrier Fabian Delph would need to slow his run to turn and release a pass out wide still in front of the Watford defence. Watford did not press the ball carrier here, this good defending serves to sacrifice space but deny penetration.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here, we also see how Watford planned to neutralise the Evertonès advances in wide areas. Watford’s midfielders and forwards done superbly to deny the cross and isolate the crosser. In the bottom left of the image the LM Deulofeu is still engaged with the Everton supporting CM while the Watford CB’s are positioned in the box between the width of the posts to deal with any potential crosses should they be delivered.

Watford exploit the high-line

In the transition to attack, before Everton were offered any time to get their defensive organisation Watford targeted the space vacated by Everton’s advanced full-backs. If a long ariel ball was able to be delivered to two or more forwards in the transition to attack, Watford would often deliver with precision. Otherwise would the long pass not be available at that moment they win back possession then the men in yellow would go hunting in packs combining firm ground passes forward. A one-two around blue jerseys when possible along with good ball carriers they would exploit the empty space of the Everton backline.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here we see CF Deeney rises high to knock down a header to his right where the support CAM Doucouré would arrive to receive going forward in his run.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

We also see above, moments when Watford were transitioning to attack, they would exercise good dribbling, passing combinations and wide support to attack the Everton backline. It was clear Watford although these chances would come few and far between they would still aim to play these moments well and get success in front of goal.

A final and still important point to mention from this, Watford got there two goals from this forward playing strategy. Although not directly in the moment a long pass was played it was the secondary success of exploiting the vacant half-spaces, winning, corners, free-kicks and throw-ins in dangerous areas.

Watford’s long-direct response

Ben Foster, the Watford Goalkeeper, exercised the power of his left foot to drive a long ball to the forwards to contest in dangerous areas. From almost every goal-kick Watford set up to compete for a long-range pass from Foster into the final third of the field. In anticipation, Watford’s midfield and near-side full-back moved within close proximity of the ball to compete for second balls and deny Everton any success in transition.

From Foster’s distribution, Deeney and Doucouré’s ariel contests and the supporting midfield not only did Watford enjoy a lot of success in advancing their attack and creating secondary opportunities from set-pieces but this also served to stop Everton in the transition. In the moments when Everton won possession, the pressure from the men in yellow was too much to build-up to the second or third pass.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here we see an example of the position ad movement of the Watford strikers and midfield. As Deeney contests for a ball with the Everton CM, Doucouré the CAM makes a run into the vacated space behind Deeney in anticipation. In front of Deeney is the supporting midfield where they also prepare for any loose balls to contest.

Everton neutralise Foster’s distribution

In the second half, Everton targeted success when competing for the long ariel balls. Centre-back Michael Keane was introduced after Delph was shown red. It seemed Keane’s presence beside Yerri Mina served the Everton defence well as Mason Holgate was moved into midfield. The English centre-back rose high, contested well and offered good defensive headers away when asked.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here we see Keane for Everton rising hight to meet a long pass from Watford Goalkeeper Foster. As a result, Everton nullified Watford’s advances and in turn, helped his team transition to attack.

Keane ended the game with 100% defensive duels won, 100% aeriel duels won and 100% loose ball duels won, perhaps an earlier inclusion in the game might have helped Everton’s defensive tasks against this direct opponent.

Watford forced Pickford into distance

When Everton were reduced to ten men Watford changed their defensive approach. Initially, in the first half, Watford occupied a midblock allowing Everton safe horizontal passes before Watford would trigger the press. Now with ten men on the field, Watford aimed to dictate Everton’s attack and a clever move from Pearson it was. By introducing Danny Welbeck’s pace up front the forwards worked hard to cut off passing lanes and force Pickford and the isolated centre-backs to play long. As Everton played with only one striker with ten players, this meant Everton were inferior by numbers in the final third and ultimately could not contest with Watford’s superiority in these moments.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here we see Doucouré chase down the young English Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as although he may have tried to play short passes into the midfield he was forced long by the imminent pressure of the Watford forward.

Everton’s ten-men tactics

It was clear Ancelotti gave instructions to alternate the attacking strategy later in the game as Watford aimed to create numerical superiority in Everton’s build-up play.  At times, Pickford used his range to pick out Kean or Richarlison up front. Although no considerable success came from the long-passes it did serve to relieve the Watford attack and create secondary attacking opportunities in Watford’s half.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

In the above image, we see Richarlison starts in a higher position then comes towards the ball to meet and offer a flick header backwards. While CF Kean charges forward into the space to win a potential header to attack the last Watford centre-back.

Recognising the late stages of a game and the difference a counter-attack can make, usually, we are used to seeing Everton reset and play safe passes backwards in the transition to attack. Although with the lack of numbers now with ten men and the view that Watford’s backline was out of shape after they just attacked a set-piece, Kean played the first pass of the transition forward which Richarlison received then carried from his third into Watford’s final third. Meanwhile, Kean and Walcott who matched Richarlison for pace in support arrived in the box where Walcott finished from a two-pass combination past Ben Foster in goal to emphatically win the game in the closing minutes.

Everton quick in the transition

Everton showed tremendous energy and intensity in defence and with their quick organisation and defensive resolve the Blues’ reduced Watford to an xG of 0.74 which was lower than their xGA for the season, 1.14.

Everton in particular impressed in the transition to defend as they done well to isolate ball carriers, cut off passing lanes and deny opportunities into their box or final third.

Premier League 2019/20: Watford v Everton - Tactical Analysis - tactics

Here we see, moments after Everton contested for an attacking corner. Watford played a three-pass combination where Doucouré was free on the wide left of the Watford attack. Notice RB Sidibé moves quickly tp press the ball carrier, not showing him any opportunity to attack the space behind. Meanwhile, six players in blue are at full speed to track back and deny Watford any further opportunities to receive and combine centrally. In this moment Sidibé wins his one-v-one with the Watford forward and Everton are back in shape and ready to transition to attack moments later.


Watford will feel they deserved something from this game and perhaps rightly so.
The sophisticated data that is xG tells us a different story, such that the sum of Hornet’s attacks amounted to an xG of 0.74. meanwhile, Everton bested their opponents in this stat with a superior xG rating of 2.20.

But for those two defensive errors in the first half when Everton had two corners which they scored from very easily, Watford may well feel that was the difference between walking away with three-points. Yerri Mina the Everton centre-back will no doubt remember this game for a long time, not only for the unselfish reasons that his team came back from two goals down to win. Also for the fact that he scored two of his sides goals on the day. It seems glory and despair were dished out in equal measure today, Everton elated at the final whistle, Watford taste the bitter side of the beautiful game. Final score Watford 2 – 3 Everton.

Up next for Ancelotti’s and his men is a tough home game against Crystal Palace next Saturday while Nigel Pearson with take his Watford side on the road to Brighton as they will look to get their season back on track. For all things analysis and to see how these sides perform in their upcoming games be sure to check with us for a comprehensive analysis and review