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Zachary Wu writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Premier League match that ended Everton 4-0 Manchester City.
Koeman’s Everton hosted Guardiola’s City in a clash of ideologies. Koeman being much more pragmatic while Guardiola far more idealistic. Everton were in decent form, having collected 10 points out of a possible 15. City’s form was also on the up, winning 4 of their last 5 games while conceding just 3 goals within that period. It was all set to be a closely and tightly fought encounter. However, that only translated to the chances created but not the scoreline.
Koeman set up Everton in a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation, with Barkley joining Lukaku and Mirallas to form a front trio when they had the ball and then dropped into midfield to form a 3-5-2 formation when the ball was lost. Due to the lack of possession Everton had, Barkley was forced deeper and hence was constantly seen as part of a midfield three. The formation actually worked out well in the end, as City’s attackers played narrow and had to rely on fullbacks giving the width. This meant that Everton could crowd the centre with 3 players, then use their wingbacks to engage City’s fullbacks high up the pitch and pin them back in their own half or force them towards the touchline. With a man orientated approach in midfield, this made them very hard to play against.
Koeman, an astute tactician, knew how to play to their strengths. He had a fast, strong and powerful striker in the form of Lukaku who could get behind the City defense with long balls or use his aerial ability to win headers against the City centre backs and then lay balls off to Mirallas and Barkley who were often in close support. Lukaku received 31 passes, 15 of which were long passes while playing 17 short passes out of 18 passes himself which is an indication of Koeman’s strategy.
He also was aware that Everton were not good at building out from the back and would be vulnerable to City’s zonal orientated press. Hence, he had instructions for Robles to reduce playing out from the back and kick it long. The difference between Robles’ kicking is very different to Bravo who was instructed by his manager to keep the ball on the ground. This strategy was pretty successful, considering that Everton scored 3 goals after a long ball into the right half space.
Koeman also instructed his team to sit deep and crowd the dangerous zone 14, the area just outside their penalty box. For large parts, they fared decently against a world class attack of Sterling, Sliva, Aguero and De Bruyne, restricting them to just an Expected Goals tally of 0.83. However, the aforementioned quartet were just whiskers away in tucking away potential goals, with De Bruyne the architect of many of the moves. There was also a (very soft) Sterling penalty shout. If City had finished one of those chances, it could have been a very different scoreline.
After experimentation with half backs and even a back 3, Guardiola opted for a traditional back 4 with overlapping wingbacks with the attackers narrow, trying to exploit the half spaces and the channel between Everton’s midfield and defense in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. On paper, it seemed like a good idea, trying to gain a qualitative and quantitative advantage in the centre. Also, this formation had worked magnificently in City’s last game, a 0-5 thrashing away of West Ham in the FA Cup.
However, it did not go to plan. Compared to the West Ham game, when City’s fullbacks pinned West Ham’s wingers back, against Everton the advancing fullbacks were pinned back by Everton’s wingbacks and were not able to consistently influence play in the final third. Toure, who often had to drop deep to form a temporary back 3 to bypass Mirallas and Lukaku’s pressing often had little pass options through the centre. As a result, City defenders were often forced to play balls that were unsuitable for clean progression of play.
In this snapshot, Otamendi (yellow) plays a dangerous ball to David Sliva (orange) due to a lack of available options. He has few pass options, with possible options like Zabaleta eliminated as Barkley (red) is in close proximity. By playing a dangerous high ball to David Sliva (orange), who is not good in the air, Otamendi is forcing a situation of qualitative inferiority, forcing City to lose the ball.
Subsequently, De Bruyne and Sliva (purple) had to drop deep to receive balls from Toure.
This resulted in City having fewer men in the final third to attack Everton’s backline. Also, the Everton backline and midfield displayed high levels of compactness and staggering in midfield, making them almost impossible to play through at times, leaving the City attackers always in their cover shadow or being tightly marked. Sterling, the most technically inept out of the attackers, struggled to get the ball under control in tight spots and lost the ball frequently. Also, by playing this diamond shape, City were faced with a 3 vs 2 quantitative inferiority upfront which allowed Everton to have a spare man against the pacey Sterling and Aguero. With always a sweeper to cover the 2 Everton centrebacks who were man marking tightly, it was almost impossible for City to break through and create clear cut chances.
What was said earlier is illustrated in this snapshot. Sterling has no options to pass to, with all players tightly marked and Williams (pink) the sweeper to ensure Everton have a quantitative superiority at the back). Sagna (out of frame) is closely marked by Baines (out of frame), rendering him as a non-existent passing option. Left with no options, Sterling plays it back to Otamendi.
Having taken the lead, Koeman saw no need to have any major changes. To his credit, his team had executed his game plan magnificently, limiting City to just a few half chances. There were some minor changes though. After Schneiderlin came on, he joined the midfield trio while Barkley went up front. There was no more or little sliding in a 3-4-3/3-5-2 shape, but more of a permanent 3-5-2 shape with Barkley and Lukaku up front. The rest of the subs were to replace tired legs.
Seeing his most creative players being constantly harassed when on the ball, he decided to move one of them deeper and putting Iheanacho just off Aguero like a second striker. Sliva played Zabaleta’s role as a shuttler as one of the sides of the diamond, giving him more time to pick laser passes and not being harassed by the Everton centre midfielders. This however, (possibly due to lack of options from the bench) made Sterling play as a no 10. This is not the most ideal as his first touch, press resistance and strength are not his strongest assets. His pace would have been much more needed in wider areas where he could stretch opponent lines or perhaps take a man on. Without a change in formation, personnel or tactics, City’s play remained roughly the same for the remainder of the game. Perhaps a formation with much greater width would have been better, allowing City to get behind Everton’s wingbacks and take advantage of the sliding of the midfield trio to exploit the half spaces.
One must be wary of the media attention after the game. Many media outlets were calling this a tactical masterclass from Koeman or that Guardiola is a “fraud” who can only work with brilliant players and has been tactically found out. This is far-fetched. City despite all their flaws in their set-up, had a better xG tally than Everton, with Everton just 23% favourites to win the game, let alone by this score line. Also, Guardiola is just 3 points off 2nd place and has more points this season than last year’s City team. I wouldn’t call that a failure by any stretch.
City must have felt hard done by losing this match, especially by this score margin. The City attackers in general did well and were often just a whisker away from prodding the ball into the net, with Aguero, Sterling and Sliva all coming close. Kevin De Bruyne created many chances for the attackers too. Others were extremely culpable, Clichy playing a poor pass to lose the ball for the first goal, Toure taking a heavy touch for the second and Bravo letting Lookman’s shot between the legs. Many critics have called Bravo to be dropped too. The title race is certainly over for them.
Everton must feel very smug with the result, having taken advantage of City’s errors ruthlessly. They scored 4 goals with just 4 shots on target. On transitions and at crosses, Koeman’s teams are deadly. However, they are not going to face teams every week that play such a high line or score 4 goals with just an Expected Goals value of 0.58. This shows they were never good enough to justify their 4 goals scored. They will struggle against parked buses if they fail to create high quality chances.