Leeds United picked up a valuable 1-0 win over Everton in an entertaining 90 minutes of football at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon.
Despite the game featuring just one goal, Jordan Pickford and Illan Meslier were kept busy as the two sides managed a combined 15 shots on target throughout the match. In the end, a brilliant finish from Raphinha in the 79th minute was enough to separate the two sides, with Everton now conceding a league-high 14 goals from open play so far this term.
The Toffees had two goals of their own disallowed on the night with James Rodriguez and Richarlison both putting the ball in the net before seeing their efforts chalked off for offside — Patrick Bamford suffered similar frustrations shortly after the hour-mark.
Leeds climb to 11th place in the Premier League table while Everton are sixth, missing the chance to go third.
Everton’s full-back crisis blunts the attack
With Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne absent, Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti was forced to field a back-five for the second game in a row, with midfielder Tom Davies operating at right-wing-back and forward Alex Iwobi on the left. Both players are well-known for their industry and high work-rate and the thinking was that Davies and Iwobi would have the legs to get forward and support Everton’s forward line while being able to work back and shut out Leeds’ exciting attack. Although not a disastrous performance, the reality painted a very different picture than the imagination.
Davies can be relatively pleased with his efforts going forward, with the young Englishman getting behind the Leeds backline on a couple of occasions and providing dangerous balls across the face of goal. His chance created for Abdoulaye Doucoure in the opening 10 minutes was a great example of this. However, as the game wore on, Stuart Dallas and Ezgjan Alioski doubled up to force Davies back, effectively blunting Everton’s entire right side.
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On the left, the pace of Leeds forward Raphinha kept Iwobi in check for the majority of the 67 minutes the Nigeria international was on the pitch. Time and again as Everton broke through the Leeds press, the likes of James Rodriguez and Allan looked to the left for a supporting run, only to find Whites right-back Luke Ayling stood on his own, with Iwobi seemingly terrified of leaving space behind him for Raphinha and Jack Harrison to attack.
The combination of both flanks being robbed of a natural full-back meant Everton largely relied on the magic of Rodriguez or set-piece situations to open up Marcelo Bielsa’s defence, with the decisive breakthrough ultimately eluding them. Everton did have chances, but it often felt like they had to force them through sheer will, rather than by craft.
Bielsa takes full advantage of Ancelotti’s reshuffle
The serious nature of Everton’s full-back problem was only fully magnified when the Toffees didn’t have the ball. Too many times, it was so easy for Marcelo Bielsa’s men to progress the ball deep onto opposition territory, forming triangles to pass around Everton’s midfield two of Doucoure and Allan, who were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by no fault of their own.
Leeds switched play with regularity, pulling Everton’s defensive line out of shape to create gaps for Bamford, Raphinha, Harrison et al, while their constant targeting of the back post Iwobi was defending caused problems all night long. It was a clear attempt from Bielsa to magnify the biggest area of weakness in the Everton XI on the night.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Leeds’ attacking play on Saturday was the fluid nature of their forward line. With Bamford as the focal point and the impressive Kalvin Phillips — who completed a match-high 79 passes — as the proverbial server, loading the ball forward from just in front of his defence, the trio of Raphinha, Harrison and Mateusz Klich swapped and changed with dizzying regularity. In fact, Bamford, Raphinha, Harrison and Klich each created two chances each on the night, illustrating just how effective they were as a unit.
One minute, Raphinha was popping up on the right, the next he was driving straight at Everton’s centre-backs. Then Harrison was the one running in at the back post before drifting inside to create shooting opportunities from the edge of the box.
As a result, Everton’s centre-back trio of Keane, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey was dragged out of position all night, while even when Doucoure moved to right-wing-back and Fabian Delph came off the bench to fill in on the left, they were tempted out to create space for Leeds to break in behind.
It was this method of play which finally yielded the Leeds goal, with the Whites creating an overload on Everton’s left leave Delph helpless before passing inside to get Raphinha one-on-one with Godfrey. There was still plenty to do from there, but the Brazilian did brilliantly to fire a shot between Godfrey’s legs and beyond the reach of Pickford.
Where Everton lacked craft, Leeds had it in abundance, treating us to some scintilating, sweeping attacking football.
Time to return to a back four?
Despite Digne being out for up to three months with an ankle injury and Coleman still unavailable, Everton are clearly struggling in a back-five, as further evidenced by their poor defensive performance in a 3-2 win over Fulham last week, with the Cottagers only missing out on a point thanks to a missed penalty.
Ancelotti confirmed in the days leading up to the match that right-back Jonjoe Kenny is available for action, while young French left-back Niels Nkounkou has been in action for the Toffees’ development side.
Kenny has been questioned for his positional play in the past, while Nkounkou is still a very raw talent. However, having them both play in their natural positions would undoubtedly offer Everton far greater balance in possession of the ball, with the likes of Rodriguez and Allan able to switch play to either flank safe in the knowledge the receiver will be on their stronger foot. In defence, for all their question marks, both Kenny and Nkounkou are natural defenders and wouldn’t need the likes of Godfrey and Holgate covering behind them and, thus, leaving their own centre-back positions.