Everton’s first assignment of the new Premier League campaign saw them travel to London to face Tottenham Hotspur. The Toffees had made a few smart signings over the summer – particularly in midfield where Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodríguez had been brought in. Pundits were intrigued to see Everton’s tactics and how they would fit all of those players into one team. There were high hopes for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, and the first match against José Mourinho’s Spurs was set to be a real challenge.
After an exciting encounter, Everton emerged 1-0 winners thanks to Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal. Here, we take a look at how they were set up and analyse some actions from the match in this tactical analysis.
Before we start the analysis, let’s take a look at Everton’s lineup. On paper at least, Carlo Ancelotti fielded a 4-3-3 with Jordan Pickford in goal, and Michael Keane and Yerry Mina right in front of him. Lucas Digne was fielded at left-back, while captain Séamus Coleman was on the opposite flank – picked over Jonjoe Kenny to deal with Son Heung-min. The midfield comprised of new signings Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré along with a familiar face in André Gomes. Beyond them, James Rodríguez was operating on the right, Richarlison was on the left to test Matt Doherty’s defensive abilities while Dominic Calvert-Lewin played as the centre-forward.
Spurs’ Lazy Pressure
Everton were never hurried on the ball, as Spurs’ frontmen refrained from pressing them too much. José Mourinho called it the ‘lazy press’, but in truth, it was a very non-existent press.
In this instance, Spurs’ front four – Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min are nowhere near the ball and don’t look like they’re going to trouble Everton in any away. In fact, the Toffees have five players in an area around the ball where Tottenham have none.
This allowed Everton to settle in possession, regroup if they had lost their shape and then work spaces to start an attacking move. They did so thanks to the fluidity in their midfield.
Everton’s Attacking Movements and Positioning
When Everton had the ball, James would drift inside from the right, leaving space on the right for Séamus Coleman to overlap, although he rarely did so because his main job was to focus on Son Heung-min and keep him in check. Richarlison would push forward and join Calvert-Lewin in the box, leaving Lucas Digne with space on the left flank.
Allan would stay back to screen the defence, while Gomes and Doucouré moved up and down the midfield third depending on the position of the ball.
Above, you can see how Gomes and Doucouré have joined Allan around the centre of the pitch since the ball is there. Up ahead, notice how Richarlison has tucked inside along with Calvert-Lewin, while Digne is staying wide.
Everton moved the ball quickly thereafter, and reached this position:
Here, James has cut inside and found a very nice pocket of space for himself, while Richarlison has also moved to a more central position, dragging Matt Doherty with him and leaving space for Digne behind. James can play a pass into that area and find the full-back in a good attacking position. Calvert-Lewin has drifted to the right to attack the far post if a cross is delivered, while Richarlison can prove to be a threat at the near post.
Coleman did overlap on certain occasions though.
In this example, James doesn’t have space to cut inside because he is being closed down by the midfielder. But, since Coleman has come forward, he can pass it to him and drop back.
Yet again, James has space to cut inside and spread the ball wide. He can either find Digne on the flank or deliver a cross for Richarlison who has dragged Doherty inside to create space for the full-back.
In other cases, Doucouré drifted to the right and let James operate centrally.
The motive was always the same – to let James cut inside onto his left foot and create lots of space on the left side for Digne and Richarlison. This time, the Brazilian has stayed wide because Digne hasn’t moved further up the pitch, so he chooses to carry the ball and then cut inside.
Everton’s pressing and defensive shape
They changed their formation as Gomes went forward and joined Calvert-Lewin to press the back-line. Behind them, Richarlison, Doucouré and James were asked to cut the passing lanes and keep Spurs’ midfielders occupied. Meanwhile, Allan stayed back to control the space between midfield and defence.
Everton changed their formation quickly when Spurs found a way to break the press.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men switched to more of a 4-4-1-1, as James Rodriguez didn’t track back too much, and was used as an outlet with Calvert-Lewin ahead of him. The back four remained as is – Coleman was tasked with marking Son, while Digne kept an eye on Lucas. In midfield, Allan made sure that Kane wasn’t allowed to find space between the lines, while Doucouré and Gomes tracked Alli’s drifting movements to either side of the pitch.
After scoring the goal, Everton were keen to protect the lead, and they did so with another slight change in formation.
You can see that in effect here, as the ball is on the far side. James and Richarlison are pretty much horizontal to each other now, as Allan has moved slightly backwards and allowed Gomes and Doucouré to stay a bit more central. Naturally, they dropped their press at this point.
Everton were well-disciplined and held their shape throughout the match, deservedly winning the three points.
Everton held an interesting line when defending wide free-kicks.
Unlike most teams, they sat deep inside their own box – even close to the six-yard box. Last season, they conceded 15 goals from set-pieces – joint third-highest in the division. Carlo Ancelotti was clearly trying to fix that, and although this is a risky option (a small flick can lead to a goal), it worked on this occasion.
Spurs, on the other hand, held a significantly higher line.
Against a less physical side like Tottenham, this lower line might do the trick for Everton, but against a bunch of bullies like Burnley, they may have to reconsider this.
It’s always hard and unwise to read into a side’s first game and decide their fate for the rest of the season, but the signs were certainly encouraging for Everton. Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look midfield was very good, as James already seemed to start controlling proceedings from the right, Allan bossed Spurs’ attackers in front of the defence and Doucouré brought energy to the match with his box-to-box running.
Evertonians shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves, but this could be the start of something good for the Blue side of Merseyside.