Does Every Cloud Have A Silva Lining?
The Premier League seems days away from seeing the next managerial sacking. Everton’s abysmal start to the Premier League season has increased the pressure on Marco Silva. In this piece, we analyze the tactical issues Silva must resolve if he wants to save his job.
Written by Joel Parker.
Regardless of a manager’s personality or the philosophy they are trying to imbue in their team, football is first and foremost a results-based business. If results do not go your way, you can easily get the boot, even after promises of a “long term project”.
Everton are the epitome of this in recent seasons. David Moyes left Everton in stable condition after the reckless years during the nineties. In the last of his eleven seasons, Everton finished sixth; a squad far from perfect, but a team that had played with each other for years and finished in the top eight in all but two of Moyes’ ten complete seasons. Since then, Everton haven’t showed much progression.
Roberto Martínez showed promise; possession-orientated, strong in cup competitions and keen to develop young players such as Ross Barkley, John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. After Everton’s brilliant 2013/14 campaign, they crumbled in the next two, due to a fragile defensive organization and Martínez’s failure to use any other system than the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Ronald Koeman would be his successor. Though not helped by the terrible signings made by Steve Walsh, his time was cut short after Everton found themselves 18th placed, just two months into the 2017/18 season. Sam Allardyce replaced Koeman, an appointment of which it is still hard to believe it actually happened – which led to Marco Silva being brought in at the start of last season.
From Estoril to Everton
Silva saw success in both his native Portugal and in Greece, before Hull City turned to him to keep their Premier League hopes alive. He failed – but attempts to play attractive, high pressing, fast-paced football impressed Watford. Silva signed a two-year deal, lasting eight months before being sacked by a trigger-happy Watford board.
Everton brought in Marco Silva, hopeful that his ball-orientated, high-pressing, “positive” style of play would have more success at a bigger club. A strong finish to the 2018/19 season overshadowed the winter blues experienced at Goodison Park, after a disappointing first half of the season.
Now, two months into Silva’s second season, it shows that issues from last season have not been resolved, and the cracks have been clearly exposed. Even if the underlying process has not been as poor as recent results indicate – Everton are seventh in expected goals The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. difference, but seventeenth in actual goal difference – serious doubts keep circling around Silva’s work at Everton.
What’s going wrong from a tactical point of view?
Everton’s broken passing structure
The 4-2-3-1 formation is commonly used by teams aiming to control possession. Positionally, not only do you get a number of players in both wide channels, but you also have a strong midfield triangle, giving you great access in all attacking areas. That’s the theory though, and in practice Everton’s version of the 4-2-3-1 system is vastly different and it causes huge problems in their buildup play.
Everton’s shape versus Crystal Palace when building from the back.
Like most teams that aim to build from the back, both fullbacks push high and the center-backs move wider to create more space. The movement from Everton’s double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. – in this case, Morgan Schneiderlin and André Gomes – eliminates any chance of progressing the ball forward. Either one of the players drop between the space of the center-backs to form a temporary back three, while the other moves out wide, almost as if they are covering the space behind the advanced fullback.
Although Everton have plenty of bodies around their own half and middle third, If you divide the pitch in three horizontal zones, the middle third is the most central area. their chances of getting the ball forward are non-existent when they are more likely to keep possession. No matter who plays in the double pivot, they always cover the same position and with a painful lack of forward options they are restricted to making safe passes sideways or backwards.
The role that Gylfi Sigurðsson plays in this system restricts himself and the players around him. He plays as a second striker, rather than an attacking midfielder. Sigurðsson moves up the pitch, often positioned to the right of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He can get into decent shooting positions, but the Icelandic international is often eliminated from any passing sequences and gets a very limited amount of touches on the ball.
Everton’s passing structure fails to break their opponents down, moves are often followed by a backwards pass or losing the ball in the middle third. It’s no surprise that teams that defend in a low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. such as Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Burnley have all got points against Everton, conceding less than one expected goal on average in the process.
Playing through the high press
Out of possession, Everton – like most teams operating from a 4-2-3-1 formation – switch into a 4-4-2 shape. Both wingers drop into the midfield line, while Sigurðsson pushes forward next to Calvert-Lewin. From there, Everton often setup a high block, A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. and press while in this shape. This has had an incredible amount of success against teams like Arsenal and Manchester United, who both are more likely to play the ball out from the back. Creating high turnovers and developing fast passing sequences is crucial for Everton, however once breached and with the opposition in the middle third, Marco Silva’s men face serious problems.
In pressing high up the pitch, Everton’s midfield and defensive lines are not close together, which results in plenty of room between the lines for the opposition to work with. Once the midfield line is broken, Everton’s positional structure is all over the place.
Player positions in buildup to Wesley’s opener, Aston Villa versus Everton.
Aston Villa exploited the holes in Everton’s high press to great effect, thanks to quick free-kicks and fast attacking transitions from deep. A prime example of this would be from their first goal, Gomes conceding a foul high up the field and Aston Villa eliminating him out of the defensive phase, creating an overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. on Lucas Digne. A quick turnover breaking through the defense that illustrated just how vulnerable Everton are once the first line of pressing is bypassed.
Another team that exploited Everton’s 4-4-2 defensive high block were – of course – Manchester City. The positioning of their midfielders was pivotal in building a successful passing network, both İlkay Gündoğan and Kevin De Bruyne occupying space between Everton’s central midfielders and wingers. This enabled both men access towards the middle of the pitch, while also overloading the flanks.
The set-piece saga
Everton have had problems with set-pieces, both attacking and defensive. While Marco Silva’s team puts up an elite volume of shots from these situations in the Premier League, they have yet to score from one. Over half of Sigurðsson’s creative numbers come from him crossing the ball from dead ball scenarios, which reveals a huge dilemma when considering to move him from the starting eleven. Everton are way over-reliant on crosses and set-pieces in order to access the penalty area.
Silva’s team may have attempted a lot of shots from dead ball situations, but that isn’t to say these attempts are dangerous. Everton rank twelfth in expected goals created from set-pieces – to have such a high volume of shots with such low shot quality shows that they should not rely on these scenarios to create opportunities. After all, other than Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Calvert-Lewin, is there any other player in the squad that poses a decent aerial threat?
Numbers defensively do not look much better either. Only rock-bottom Watford have conceded more goals from set-pieces than Everton’s six this season, while no club has conceded more since Marco Silva’s appointment at Goodison Park – sixteen from last season.
Silva organizes the team in a zonal marking setup – which is quite understandable considering the fact his team does not have much aerial presence. However, the way the players are positioned leaves them vulnerable at the back post, which has been exploited multiple times already. Everton often have a number of players in the six-yard box, occupying the front post and center of the box, while two players will man-mark the opposition targets. The front post has heavy numbers, but the back post is left unguarded and proves a regular target for opposing teams.
Burnley’s winner in the last match day came directly from exploiting this area. Seven Everton players were in the six-yard box when Ashley Westwood delivered his corner towards the back post, Jeff Hendrick was left free to sprint towards the golden area and shoot at goal. Both Bournemouth and Sheffield United also scored from corners aimed towards that area. With West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur – two relatively strong set-piece teams – coming up on the fixture list, Everton’s set-piece woes may as well continue.
As Albert Einstein once pointed out – insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. All these problems could have been highlighted from last season, but recent results have only seen these issues come to light. The high amount spent on players and the high expectations set by the Everton board have contributed to the feeling of disappointment that the present regression in results currently brings to Everton supporters.
So, does every cloud have a silver lining? There are positives in this Everton team – their high press is often very effective, and they are capable of building from the back without making many direct errors; sadly, the negatives prevail at the moment. The 4-2-3-1 formation in its current execution is painful to watch and it mostly results in Everton being incapable of breaking into the penalty area, unless from a cross.
These tactical issues don’t need to be covered up by another expensive transfer window – they need a manager who shows flexibility, who can establish multiple ways to break down teams, as well as an effective setup from set-pieces. Marco Silva may still be this man, but he hasn’t got long to show it.