Despite another summer of optimistic investment, Everton have once again stuttered in their start to the new season.
The Toffees are languishing in 14th having won just two of their opening six Premier League games so far and even at this early stage, voices of dissent against Marco Silva are emerging among supporters.
One of the main bones of contention against the Portuguese is that – despite having supremely gifted playmakers such as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex Iwobi, and a lightning-fast forward like Moise Kean, who can exploit space behind opposition defences – he insists on a policy of firing cross after cross into the box.
As noted by Opta’s David Alexander Hughes, the Toffees are dominating opponents and pressing as well as anyone, but a lack of inventiveness means they struggle to break down opponents that bunker in.
Signs of this pattern could be seen as early as Everton’s lacklustre 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa on matchday three:
Take the below as an example.
One of the three Everton attackers on the edge of the box should be occupying the space highlighted in order to receive a simple pass in a good position. pic.twitter.com/IdLJtkFD8x
— David Alexander Hughes (@DAHughes_) September 23, 2019
In the above thread, Morgan Schneiderlin has the ball midway inside the Villa half. He and Andre Gomes – who incidentally had his worst game in an Everton shirt that night – both enjoy spells of pressure-free possession and have a number of opportunities to shift the ball into the space on the right flank, moving the opposition back four across to try and create gaps for the likes of Richarlison and Alex Iwobi.
Instead, the ball is played back into Gomes, who ends up chipping a pass out to the left to full-back Lucas Digne. In isolation, it was a brilliantly weighted pass but instead of having players running across centre-backs or dropping into space, Everton’s attackers are stood in a pretty flat, static line, waiting for the ball to come to them. Play has been moved into the most congested area of the pitch and Everton offer nothing to try and break up Villa’s defensive block.
The move breaks down and Everton waste what was a great chance to test and penetrate the Villa back four.
This cycle has repeated itself time and time again this season, most notably in the recent home defeat to Sheffield United, which Evertonians did not take well:
What even is this Everton style under Silva? pic.twitter.com/eSxhRiNGHu
— Blueboy (@mrEH98) September 22, 2019
In the first situation above, Bernard should have a number of options available to him. Schneiderlin could come short to play a one-two with the Brazilian, where he could run into the half-space to receive the return ball, splitting and getting behind the Blades’ defence. He should even be able to pass the ball into that space himself but instead, four Everton attackers are stood in a tight space, simply waiting for a ball to be lofted into the box.
The final option, which is actually on and within Bernard’s line of sight, is a switch of play to the right flank. However, this is where the critical flaw in Silva’s gameplan really shows itself.
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Everton have attempted more crosses from open play than any other Premier League team since the appointment of Marco Silva in June 2018 (638), at a slightly-above-average accuracy rate of 20.5%. This season so far – and it must be noted the sample size is far smaller – has witnessed a dip to 17.65% in terms of accuracy in open-play crossing.
Sure, attempting more crosses is going to lead to more unsuccessful crosses, but when you boil it down to Everton’s two full-backs, a clear problem emerges.
Digne has attempted 28 crosses in open play so far in the Premier League at a success rate of 14.29%. On the right, Seamus Coleman has attempted 20 crosses, with just two (10%) finding their target. Coleman’s qualities are plentiful and when he’s driving into the box from the right, there are few full-backs in the league better than the Irishman. The problem is, he’s simply not doing it and that has to be via instruction from Silva; yet, he’s not an adept crosser of the ball.
Tuesday night’s League Cup encounter with Sheffield Wednesday offered Silva some respite from his Premier League struggles but it also offered him and Evertonians chance to take another look at on-loan right-back Djibril Sidibe, whose only other appearance in royal blue so far had been in the previous round of this competition against Lincoln City.
— Everton (@Everton) September 25, 2019
, even in this game, where Everton completely dominated possession, the same patterns still emerged. Sidibe picks up the ball on the inside right and no fewer than three Everton players start making runs toward the box, all in a very straight line.
This time, though, with Sheffield Wednesday’s right-back caught high up the pitch, Sidibe uses the opportunity to play a deft ball to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has had the foresight to use Tom Davies’ run as a distraction, peeling away from his marking centre-back who has been pulled away by his team-mate.
Sidibe finds his target wonderfully and the result is a thunderous finish off the crossbar by Calvert-Lewin. Everton are into the next round.
Yes, this was against Championship opposition, but it highlighted just how much more of a ball-player Sidibe is in comparison to Coleman and what a small bit of creative movement can provide.
Silva is a stubborn manager and is likely to stick to his guns. In the short term, Everton fans may not like it. However, in Sidibe, he might just have uncovered a key element that allows him to not only stick with his style of committing numbers into the box, but find genuine success with it using two French full-backs who can put it on a plate.