Following Everton’s terrific 2013/14 season,an 11th place in 2014/15 was rather disappointing for not just Evertonians but football fans all around,after seeing Roberto Martinez instil some very attractive football at the club. Although there were times when we saw glimpses of last season’s form,Everton just lacked something this season. In this article,I will look to find out what was missing this season,but I won’t just be focusing on the negatives,Everton’s all round game will be analysed by myself.
One of Everton’s main problems this season was arguably the lack of depth in certain areas. When key players such as John Stones,Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas suffered injuries or became unavailable for other reason,Everton struggled in these particular areas. Due to Everton’s Europa League run,this meant they had to keep players fit throughout the whole season to play in two games a week usually,this wasn’t something Everton managed and the team definitely suffered at times because of this. Players that have become rusty and have next to no match experience in the last year were forced to be brought back into the side. Antolin Alcaraz,Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman became regulars in the team for a good number of weeks due to not just injuries but also fatigue,due to the high number of fixtures played by the Blues in short periods of time. Everton were certainly far from having consistent first eleven throughout the season and forced rotation was high throughout the campaign,I will look at this next.
Tim Howard was in goals for the majority of the season,other than the short stint he spent on the sidelines due to injury. While he was injured,Joel took his place in net,the Spaniard really impressing Everton fans with not just his goalkeeping skills but also his passion. Many Everton fans would have preferred Joel to remain in goal for the rest of the season.
Everton’s back four would have likely been the only consistent area of the team throughout the season if it weren’t for injuries. Seamus Coleman picked up an injury early in the season meaning Tony Hibbert had to fill in for a number of games,most notably the Merseyside Derby in which Hibbert performed surprisingly well against Raheem Sterling. Coleman’s main job on the right flank is to support Mirallas(Lennon later on in the season),he must get crosses into the box and provide width for the team when Mirallas goes infield. Coleman’s goalscoring record for a full-back isn’t too bad either,he often gets to the back post when the ball is on the left wing and often,Coleman will get himself a goal. The teams centre-backs are an English pairing. Phil Jagielka,as captain,played all but one game. Jagielka is the more limited defender of the two. John Stones on the other hand,is more of a ball-playing defender,he will often drive out of defence when space opens up and play long diagonal passes to either flank,due to Stones often playing passes out wide,he plays on the right,on his stronger foot to enhance his ability to play these passes. Leighton Baines,is a key player in Everton’s team. He is often the main source of width on the left,relied upon heavily to give Lukaku the service he would like from the left flank. Baines movement is more varied than Coleman’s,he will go inside on the underlap more often than Coleman,who relies more on his pace on the overlap than skill on the underlap,as Baines does.
Everton’s double pivot is made up of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. However,Muhamed Besic has often played alongside Barry in the pivot,allowing McCarthy to play further forward,this would be in a 4-3-3 formation,like the one played in the 1-1 draw at Anfield. Barry rarely supports attack,far more often remaining behind the ball to protect the defence when the opposition are in transition to attack or to help circulation if an opening doesn’t arise. McCarthy is the main ball-winner in the pivot,often being dragged out of position to press,however this is fine as Barry will cover for him. Everton’s wide midfielders varied throughout the season.Mirallas,Barkley,Pienaar,Lennon,Oviedo and Atsu all played as wingers in the 4-2-3-1 throughout the campaign. When Mirallas played out on the right,his varied movements were a very good tool to have on the wing. On the left wing however,this was at times a problem for Everton. Ross Barkley is certainly not a natural left winger and this could be seen at times. His movements were almost always based on cutting inside,this made him very predictable and easy to defend. In the ’10’ role was often Steven Naismith,however he played more as a second striker rather than a typical number 10. He was often forced to drift out to the left and swap positions with Barkley,this limited his influence as Naismith is another player who isn’t a natural winger.
Up front for the Blues was often Romelu Lukaku,however,Samuel Eto’o,Naismith and Kone were also used as striker. When Eto’o or Naismith played up front,this often forced Lukaku out to the right wing,somewhere he expressed his discomfort at playing.
When pressing,Everton adopt a 4-4-2 formation. Naismith and Lukaku being the two up top. This pair’s main job is simply to block simple passing lanes from CB’s to CM’s,if Lukaku or Naismith doesn’t manage to block the pass,the winger move into the halfspaces and attempt to suffocate space in central midfield.Lukaku and Naismith are not physically demanded of until they are defending in their own half,at this point,Everton take up their usual 4-2-3-1,Lukaku pressing the CB’s intensely,Naismith man-marking the DM to limit his influence and prevent simple circulation. Everton’s whole team bar Lukaku and Howard at this point,take up man-marking duties. They all track the player they are marking and press them quickly when they receive the ball.
When Everton are defending their first third,the oppositions final third,Barry and McCarthy do not press such large areas of the pitch,they are more limited in their pressing and remain central mostly. When the opposition moves the ball onto either wing and a cross looks likely,Barry will drop alongside Stones and Jagielka to form a back five. This allows Everton to defend their own box in larger numbers than opposition have in the box.
Possession and Build-Up
In the first stage of possession,when Howard has the ball,both CB’s split to the edge of the 18 yard box and the FB’s take up positions high up the to create more space for the CB’s,Howard then distributes the ball to a CB.
When the CB receives the ball from Howard,the CM’s then look to open up a lane for them to dribble or pass into. They do this by moving into the opposite halfspace,dragging players away from the lane. Circulation will continue until there is an opportunity for a player to drive into space or there is a good chance to play a through ball for Lukaku,Mirallas or Baines. Barkley will always come inside to play as a second ’10’ alongside Naismith,this gives Baines lots of space on the overlap.
Final 3rd Chance Creation
For a team with a striker with the physical presence of Lukaku,Everton certainly don’t put a lot of croses into the oppositions box,Everton ranked 17th in the Premier League in terms of crosses. Everton far more often hold the ball up out wide and wait for a late runner on the edge of the box,they then often work the ball out to the edge of the box for a shot. When an Everton player is driving at the defence centrally,Lukaku and Naismith will often split to either side of the 18 yard box to open up space for a shot or for themselves to be slipped through on goal.
Areas of Weakness
An area in which Everton particularly struggled in was their weakness in the defence to attack transition. This meant Everton rarely made the most of counter-attacks,these often being slowed down by players being weak in this transition. Everton’s strongest player in the defence to attack transition is Ross Barkley,however his ability in this transition couldn’t be used as much as Everton would have liked due to him being on the left-wing,this meant he saw less of the ball and when he did receive it,he was forced to cut inside onto his right foot if he wanted to take a shot,this slowing the counter-attack down. Below we can see how Barkley’s options are limited and how Everton lack strength on the counter.
This issue was eventually addressed by Roberto Martinez,in late January. Aaron Lennon was signed on loan from Tottenham,his raw pace really helped Everton in this transition as it meant counter-attacks were mor soften successful in creating chances. Everton based the majority of counter-attacks on the right wing following Lennon’s arrival. Everton often overloaded the right wing and right halfspace due to them having four very strong players in the transition on their right side.
Another weakness in Everton’s game was their lack of a ‘needle player'(a player who can pinpoint passes through short spaces and operate we’ll in very tight areas). This meant the Blues struggled when teams played a low,compact defensive block and were limited space. Leon Osman slightly improved this when he began to play more games later in the season.
Everton certainly didn’t have their best season of recent times,especially compared to their terrific 2013/14 performance. Some would blame it on the Europa League’s draining schedule but I believe it was down to the poor addressing of issues. Next season,Everton will be looking to get top six and over the summer,Roberto Martinez is most definitely expected to spend some cash. A winger will probably be his main priority,the return of Aaron Lennon or Gerard Deulofeu may be a possibility. With Tom Cleverley already added to squad,this bulks up Everton’s central midfield and at no cost,Cleverley joining on a free transfer from Manchester United. Martinez must address his tactical and personnel issues over the summer if Everton are to reach the heights of 13/14 again.