Ross Eaton writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Premier League opening day fixture that finished Everton 1-1 Tottenham.
Coming on the back of Euro 2016, which has caused disruption for many squads across the continent, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur are no different. These two sides have had a number of players representing their country at the tournament, leading to an incomplete pre-season prior to the Premier League season kicking off this weekend. Two men who have previously managed Southampton, Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino, have chosen not to over invest so far this summer, preferring to make just a couple of strong, yet not overly expensive signings. The pair met as managers of their respective sides, hoping to pick up their first three points of their 16/17 campaigns.
Everton: 22. Stekelenburg; 30. Holgate, 6. Jagielka, 25. Funes Mori; 16. McCarthy, 18. Barry, 17. Gueye, 3. Baines; 8. Barkley, 7. Deulofeu, 11. Mirallas.
Tottenham: 1. Lloris; 2. Walker, 4. Alderweireld, 5. Vertonghen, 3. Rose; 15. Dier, 12. Wanyama; 11. Lamela, 20. Delle, 23. Eriksen; 10. Kane
Ronald Koeman’s first XI consisted of two of his new signings. Goalkeeper Martin Stekelenburg was one of these. In front of him was a back-five (from right to left) of James McCarthy, Mason Holgate, Phil Jagielka, Ramiro Funes Mori and Leighton Baines. There was a midfield three of new signing Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley as the most advanced. Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu played as the two forwards.
Pochettino chose to select just one new signing, while retaining the rest of his starting eleven from last season. Lloris was in goals. Next up, a back-four of Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Rose. In front of the defence was a double 6, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama. The trio of Lamela, Eriksen and Alli remained behind striker, Harry Kane.
Flat, Compact Defense
Everton, defending in a 5-3-2 formation, operated a spatial-orientated approach in order to combat Spurs positional play and verticality in their passing from deep.
Perhaps both the most important, as well as impressive, phase of Everton’s game was the speed and effectiveness of their attack to defence transition. Attacking midfielder Barkley, dropped to the left of pivot Barry, while Gueye would maintain a position to Barry’s right. The wing-backs would drop on a vertical line with the central defenders to form a back five.
Defending in a deep block, Gueye and Barkley would press the centre and their respective halfspace, allowing Barry and the three centre-backs to maintain their positions, while the ball wasn’t on the wing. In an attempt to stretch Everton and disrupt their horizontal compactness, Spurs would attempt to switch the ball to the wing, where Walker and Rose would be positioned high up. Having wing-backs though, Everton didn’t have to shift too much. The wing-back would press the wing, while the ball-near CB would shift horizontally to cover the space behind them, preventing a run by a Spurs attacker, exploiting this space. As this happened, the other three defenders would shift over, to ensure that Everton always had four defenders covering the centre spaces.
For a team that was a rare breath of fresh air with some nice positional play last season, Tottenham’s spacing was very poor, and allowed for Everton to defend in a ideal shape against Spurs predictable patterns.
Last season, Spurs deployed nice positional play, with a strong possessional structure, providing a good base for clean build-up, as well as fluid football moving into the next phases of possession.
The sense of unpredictability in Lamela and Walker’s movements on the right was understandably difficult to defend. The horizontal movements of Alli to overload the left with Rose, while Eriksen occupied the halfspace and last but not least, the variability in Dembele’s movements from a deep starting position offered Spurs many different patterns within the shape. In their opening game against Everton though, none of this was evident.
Often, four players (Lamela, Alli, Eriksen and Kane) would overoccupy the centre and halfspace with very little space between each other, vertically, and horizontally. By constantly over occupying these spaces, Everton’s six central players were able to remain extremely compact horizontally, rarely being dragged away from their set zones. The dropping movements of Harry Kane were also very problematic for Spurs. Against such a compact defence, on both axes, vertical movements are needed to stretch the backline and create space between the lines, particularly by the striker to create space in between the defence and midfield. This was exactly what Kane needed to do, but failed to, in order to create some space for Spurs attacking midfielders.
Failing to find success in the centre, Tottenham attempted to stretch Everton’s block by playing diagonal passes out to their full-backs, who were positioned high on the wing. Again though, Spurs were unsuccessful. Due to Everton’s wing-backs being primarily based on the wing, rarely, if ever, venturing from there, Everton didn’t really have to horizontally shift or adjust their block, as McCarthy and Baines were already in a position which allowed them defensive access. One tool Spurs could’ve used to enhance their wing threat and exploit Everton’s single wing-backs would be using Eriksen, Alli and Lamela to move onto the wing alongside their full-backs, potentially creating an overload.
The problems Spurs had weren’t all down to the attackers though. A double-pivot of Dier and Wanyama, two players without great ability in build-up, wasn’t the most intelligent selection from Pochettino in a game where Spurs had the majority of possession. When Wanyama was positioned on the same line as Dier in build-up, this was unnecessary as Everton put little pressure on Spurs here, meaning Dier didn’t need Wanyama supporting him here. When Wanyama ventured forward into Everton’s block though, this was also useless as he provides no threat in tight spaces.
Neither manager will be delighted with the outcome of the game, though probably for opposite reasons. Koeman would be pleased with his side’s performance, particularly in defence, an area Everton look to have massively improved upon since the days of Roberto Martinez. The Dutchman though, will feel his side deserved the win, and will be disappointed the Toffees didn’t take all the points. Pochettino will be extremely frustrated by his side’s performance, their pressing was lacklustre and lacked intensity as compared to their usual standards, while their positional play wasn’t strong and provided no base for dangerous attacks. The Argentinian will feel slightly flattered with 1-1 though, and won’t expect many points should his side continue to perform in the same manner.
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