Everton – Watford: Two Evenly Matched Premier League Sides Play Out Thrilling Draw (2-2)

Everton took a controversial early lead, before Watford battled fiercely to turn this game on its head. A late equalizer by the home side put the cap on a thoroughly enjoyable Premier League match, during which both teams were able to show what they are made of.

Tactical analysis and match report by Martyn Davis.


Judging by their strong performances so far, Everton and Watford look like two sides that should be fighting for a place in the Premier League’s top half of the table. A glance at their Expected Goal numbers reveals similarity in quality.  You can explore these advanced statistics for all teams on our stats page. Both look roughly the same defensively, while Everton appear slightly better going forward.

Going into this match, Everton’s manager Marco Silva brought on Michael Keane for Kurt Zouma in central defense, as well as introducing some new faces up front. Cenk Tosun and Ademola Lookman made way for Theo Walcott and Bernard.

Compared to Watford’s narrow defeat to Manchester City, Javi Gracia made two changes to his starting eleven. Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah were replaced by Domingos Quina and Ken Sema. Watford also switched formation: from a 4-3-3 shape, back to their usual 4-2-2-2 formation.

Fluid Everton control early phases

Everton lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape that allowed fluid movement and combination play. Technician Bernard cut inside from the left, allowing Lucas Digne to bomb up the flank and put crosses in, while Walcott tended to start wide and dribble inside. Seamus Coleman responded to his movements, over- or underlapping accordingly.  Underlap means that the fullback joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside.

Gylfi Sigurdsson played as the number ten, looking to receive in pockets of space between the lines. Richarlison took up a central striking position and did a good job tying up Watford’s center-backs. Idrissa Gueye performed his usual role of shielding the defense while André Gomes had more freedom to push up on the right and support the attack. In other words: Everton played in a fairly standard modern 4-2-3-1, with minor adjustments for specific personnel.

Watford 4222Everton’s positioning and general movements in their modern 4-2-3-1.

It was notable that Everton tried to counterpress immediately after losing the ball, showing their desire to dominate the game. They were successful in this regard for much of the first twenty minutes or so.

When Everton attempted to play out from the back, Watford would push up into a 4-3-3 formation and deployed a high press, with one of the four midfielders moving to join Troy Deeney and Isaac Success up top. After the initial buildup, however, the away side would drop into a deeper 4-4-2 organization, allowing Everton to comfortably play their possession game. This deep block conceded space in the wide areas which was exploited with passing triangles between wingers, fullbacks and supporting midfielders. Digne’s crosses from the left were particularly prevalent in the opening stages.

Despite this dominance, it was a counterattack in the fifteenth minute which gave Everton the lead. Walcott received a flat pass with his back to goal before playing in the onrushing Gomes who cut it back for Richarlison. The Brazilian buried the chance, and despite Watford players protesting against an offside in the buildup, the goal stood.

Physical Watford cause problems for home side

Watford’s 4-4-2 transformed into a 4-2-2-2 when in possession. The wingers Roberto Pereyra and Ken Sema were each playing on the opposite flank to their favored foot. This allowed them to cut inside with the ball at their feet or drift centrally to receive between the lines. Naturally, this opened the door for overlapping movements from the fullbacks. Meanwhile in midfield, the central midfield pairing of Abdoulaye Doucouré and Quina acted as a steady platform for the players in front of them as they won the ball back regularly and started counterattacks.

Everton tacticsWatford’s 4-2-2-2 formation in possession.

Deeney and Success had a symbiotic relationship up front. The former tended to drop deep and play with his back to goal while the latter was more active with runs in behind. They both provided strong outlets for long balls or flat passes and made life difficult for Everton’s center-backs.

Yerry Mina in particular looked to be struggling as he arguably should have received a second yellow card for one of his awkward attempts to control the strikers. Deeney fed a ball into Success who would have been one against one with Jordan Pickford if it had not been for Mina’s questionable challenge. Watford also created a few other chances, one coming through the intelligent movement of Pereyra, who directed his header off target.

Everton defended in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 block, similar to that of their opponents, with Sigurdsson playing alongside Richarlison up top. There were some differing aspects, however. Richarlison stayed high up the pitch, in an attempt to put pressure on the Watford backline and offer an outlet for quick transitions. This did create some uncomfortable moments for the away side who had to be constantly weary of the Brazilian. All in all, Watford were the better team for the second part of the first half and with refereeing decisions not falling their way, they would have felt unlucky going into the break.

Watford use width to swing game their way

The start of the second half brought little relief for Everton, who continued to be on the back foot. Watford were piling on the pressure. One benefit of the 4-2-2-2 formation is that the inverted wingers are given freedom to drift into midfield. With fullbacks who can provide width, a double pivot that offers defensive cover and striking focal points that can be linked up with and played off of, absolute freedom is afforded to the wide players. The technical ability of Pereyra is therefore well exploited in this system,  he showed by linking up with Success, drawing another foul from Mina. The resulting Pereyra free-kick skimmed just outside of the post. Javi Gracia decided to make further use of this systematic advantage in the 60th minute by introducing another talented dribbler, Gerard Deulofeu, in place of Sema on the right wing.

Minutes later, Deulofeu picked up a second ball and played in Kiko Femenía, who crossed to Pereyra. The Argentine could only hit the post but the rebound struck the legs of Coleman and the ball bounced into the net. A fortuitous goal, but one that was probably deserved. Then, just as Everton were preparing a substitution in response to the equalizer, a quick free-kick was played to Femenía. The right-back put in another cross, this time to the head of Doucouré who successfully put Watford in front, with twenty-five minutes to play.

Substitutions help Everton back into the game

Switching mindset from defending a lead to chasing one is always a difficult adjustment, but Everton did it in the best way possible. Marco Silva was able to make the aforementioned change, bringing on Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to play on either wing. Everton were subsequently able to reproduce the combination play that had defined the opening stages. The substitutes linked up well with Sigurdsson and the full-backs, meaning the passing triangles of the first half were back again.

Ironically, Yerry Mina – who potentially should have been sent off earlier- was fouled in the box and Everton were awarded a penalty. A fantastic save from Ben Foster was enough to keep out Sigurdsson’s effort though, which meant Watford were still leading. This prompted Everton’s final change as early as the 71st minute, as Cenk Tosun was brought on. The substitute filled the role of striker, meaning Richarlison moved to left wing. Calvert-Lewin came centrally to play as a number ten and Sigurdsson joined the double pivot with Gomes, following Gueye’s removal.

Gomes dropped deeper to support ball circulation with the center-backs, while Sigurdsson and both full-backs went all out attack. This created a structure that looked like a 3-7 formation for Everton. Naturally, this was not particularly effective for a patient buildup, but complemented the long ball strategy that Everton became increasingly fond of.

A few defensive substitutions for Watford, in the form of Chalobah and Adrian Mariappa, helped to stem the flow of attacks. Transitions through the dribbling of Deulofeu also helped to relieve pressure on occasion. Ultimately though, tactics could not prevent the equalizer. A needless handball led to a free-kick on the edge of the area in the 96th minute which was beautifully curled into the top corner by Digne, which felt like a fitting end for this intense and hard-fought Premier League match.


Everton are looking far more like themselves under Marco Silva. The calamities of last season are gone and they are back to having a modern tactical identity and a cohesive squad. Their underlying numbers put them closer to the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United than to the usual bottom half sides, which is right where Everton fans want them.

Watford aren’t too bad either. They were within seconds of a fantastic victory, only to be brought back down to earth with the last meaningful kick of the game. A draw probably is not a bad result though, and their performance was more than commendable. Javi Gracia’s use of a strike partnership in front of skillful inverted wingers makes Watford one of the more tactically unique sides in the Premier League. It works as well. All though they have a history of dipping in form towards the end of the season, they certainly look like one of the better sides in the league.



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Martyn Davis (20) is an aspiring coach and analyst who spends his time reading, learning and — more recently — writing about football tactics. He is a Liverpool fan who primarily watches the Premier League but tries to broaden his tactical horizons by watching as many different leagues and teams as possible. He writes for his own football blog as well as Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


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