West Ham United – Everton: Irons Forge Everton’s Doomed Reality (2-1)
The ease it took for West Ham United to break into transition indicates the sorry state Everton has slid into. Though Frank Lampard’s team had a few positive passing links, it is their fragile backline, costly individual errors and limited play in possession that see Everton in the middle of the relegation battle.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
David Moyes knows his way around a drop zone, one which he had flirted with both of these clubs in the past. It’s his work, that transforms the clubs from lower midtable to European outlets, that gives Moyes his stock; a similar pathway he is guiding West Ham through, a decade after he saluted the Everton crowd one last time. Though a Champions League spot may be out of the question, their Europa League quarter-final against Lyon meets them in midweek.
How Everton could do with Moyes’ sturdy hand once again. Their downfall is a resemblance to the likes of Portsmouth or Aston Villa but on a bigger scale. Frank Lampard’s team have not been sucked under into the drop just yet, but a tricky fixture list towards the season’s end has them likely to crumble. Lampard has yet to provide any solidarity, good starts in games aren’t unusual, but a fragile pressing scheme, poor defensive arrangement and bizarre in-game decisions have left Everton vulnerable.
Having been out for four games, Jarrod Bowen returned to the starting eleven for West Ham, one of the three changes made to the team that started away to Tottenham Hotspur. Both Ben Johnson and Arthur Masuaku were replaced by Ryan Fredericks and Pablo Fornals, as Moyes started his team in their usual 4-2-3-1 system.
Lampard made five changes to the team that was battered by Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. Allan was the biggest omission in the midfield, as he was still suspended, whilst Yerry Mina and Andros Townsend are also out of action. Vitalii Mykolenko, Donny van de Beek, Demarai Gray, Alex Iwobi and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were planned to all come back into the team, but an issue with Van de Beek in the warmup saw Mason Holgate take his place in the midfield.
Basic ingredients from sticky Toffees
With two teams being slow and conservative in possession, the game saw long phases and frequent exchanges between the two. Having said that, one team was clearly better than the other when moving the ball around. West Ham’s flexibility comes from its center, where Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček were allowed to move behind the midfield line between rotations, whilst Saïd Benrahma, who played as the ten to start, was able to drop and combine in deeper areas of the field.
West Ham’s circulation enabled them to move the ball cleanly out wide, most importantly pulling Everton’s 4-1-4-1 medium block more onto one side. This was reflected a few moments in when a carry from Rice forced Richarlison, who started on the left, more central and created a one-two between Fredericks and Bowen. The ball produced from Fredericks found Pablo Fornals at the back post, who was in a lot of space but was blocked by Michael Keane.
4th minute: Common problems in Everton’s 4-1-4-1 medium block. Rice was able to play the ball into Fredericks far too easily (Grey ball, first pass) whilst Holgate failed to screen Bowen in the halfspace, with Iwobi engaged with the right-back (Black ball, second pass.) One-two was exchanged, and Fredericks’ low ball found its way to Fornals on the far side.
In possession, Everton stuck to their 4-1-4-1 shape, with Mason Holgate positioned in front of the center-backs, playing in the position we can assume Van de Beek would’ve taken. There were a few positives in this system, most notably Alex Iwobi, whose position on the left of the three center-midfielders saw a lot of progression come from the Nigerian, both in positions in front of the midfield where he could pick or pass into Mykolenko or Richarlison, or in faster attacks when his carrying between the lines encouraged moves behind the defensive line. Nevertheless, these moments came few and far between.
Everton was far too reliant on the left side to retain the ball, whilst being far too easy to counter against. With both Iwobi and Abdoulaye Doucouré committed to pushing up, once Everton was in the opposition half, this left Holgate with too much space to defend once West Ham had turned the ball over. Add Michael Keane being dragged away with Michail Antonio, in positions the striker loves to move into to asset the counterattack, and West Ham created another big chance early on. Fornals threaded through Bowen, as the counter moved from left to right, before Benhrama’s pause drastically opened the field for a pass back into Fornals, but Jordan Pickford’s tackle was enough to stop the trigger from being pulled.
A slow game with uncomfortable matchups
Despite West Ham’s strengths on the transition, this was ultimately a slow match as the possession count favored Everton after ten minutes. Lampard’s team continued to be left-sided and dosed with poor execution, as short combinations weren’t progressive nor pulled West Ham out of their block. Everton’s best movements to get up the field resulted in more direct balls into Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s path and the second balls being fed into Richarlison or Demarai Gray in space, though even when these moments worked, Moyes’ team had no issue in stopping these attacks.
The biggest threat from Everton came in the form of Richarlison, who proved to be a tough forward for Ryan Fredericks to handle. Richarlison’s curved runs, from out wide to inside or vice versa, always created separation between himself and the right-back. It was this movement that created one of their top chances, with an unchallenged Iwobi able to split the lines and slide the Brazilian through. Although Richarlison’s touch took the ball past a charging Łukasz Fabiański, Fredericks recovered before Richarlison could put the ball in the net.
28th minute: After Dawson had engaged with Gray, off an Everton throw-in, space opened for Richarlison to produce another curved run around Fredericks and into vacant space. With Iwobi unchallenged, he was afforded a lot of time to thread the perfect pass into Richarlison.
Nevertheless, the catalyst to Everton’s downfall can also be accredited to the sheer amount of costly errors individuals have made throughout the season. When in the medium block, the midfield three did not effectively cover passing lanes and this enabled West Ham to move the ball between the lines with ease. As Rice pinged the ball into Bowen, a clumsy foul from Holgate gave Aaron Cresswell an opportunity from range. An excellent free-kick curled away from Pickford, into the top corner of the goal.
Everton continued to defend frantically by this point and West Ham continued to open up their opponents when they were in their medium block. This was due to Everton’s wingers pressing in more narrow areas, without the center-midfielders altering the deep and flat positions to cover the spaces.
As a result, the right side of Jonjoe Kenny and Michael Keane was isolated against Antonio and Benrahma, who had swapped positions with Fornals as the match progressed. Kenny continued to leave far too much space against Benrahma, only reacting once the winger had received the ball in possession. This was highlighted in a late opportunity at the end of the half, as Benrahma’s wall pass met Antonio’s run between the two center-backs. Antonio rounded Pickford, but the angle was too tight to put in the net.
Hammers down on the Everton fightback
The second half started in Everton’s favor, without the visitors being drawn into the chaotic moments that make their defense uncomfortable. Instead came the limited possession phases, but Lampard’s team were quick to offer an attack in another area. A sloppy pass back from Rice was welcomed by Iwobi, who moved into positions he adores, around the edge of the area, in the halfspace, with a backtracking defense. Calvert-Lewin opened the field with a run in Craig Dawson’s blindside, but his shot hit the very top of the crossbar. How Everton has missed those types of connections throughout the season.
Nonetheless, the visitors equalized soon after. West Ham dealt with the corner’s first phase, but Richarlison was able to flick the ball back into Holgate. His shot may have taken a huge deflection, but it nestled into the corner.
The goal appeared to encourage some momentum, but just a few moments later, another costly error gave West Ham free rein to punish their opponents again. Keane’s poor decision to pass infield to Iwobi was met with a weak touch from the midfielder, and Antonio was in a golden position to counter. Fornals fed Antonio, already behind Kenny, and though Pickford saved the shot, Bowen was positioned perfectly for the rebound.
57th minute: Player positions in the buildup to Bowen’s goal. A massive gap was created as a sloppy phase between Keane and Iwobi saw the ball turned over into Fornals’ path. Very poor positioning amongst the Everton backline when attempting to build.
Everton’s threat had diminished by this point, as the counterattacking ability of West Ham started to creep back into their play. Everton was continuously finding themselves far too narrow and drawn towards the ball on the counterpress, instead of potential vertical options, quite the common theme under Lampard teams. Nonetheless, chances of a comeback were dealt another blow, as Michael Keane was sent off with just under half an hour still to play. The third game in a row that an Everton player has been dismissed.
The offensive threat from the visitors had ended, Holgate slotted into the vacant center-back spot, whilst Lampard’s only change was to take Calvert-Lewin off and replace him with Anthony Gordon, an unusual change as the chance to continuously go direct was better off with the aerial dominant striker in that position. Everton was reduced to the 4-4-1 formation and West Ham enjoyed a stress-free final stage of the game.
A comfortable victory without hitting the higher gears. West Ham may not have had total control for most periods, but they didn’t need to. Their transitional threat was made evident and with huge games coming up, Moyes needs to keep as many personnel fit as possible.
This was one of the more plausible performances for Everton, but that is more of an indicator of how far the bar has fallen. The link between Iwobi and Richarlison, as well as a few inspiring Calvert-Lewin moments, give signs of encouragement, but an easy press to play through, combined with very limited possession play, is a match that any team will favor themselves against. Everton is in deep trouble, a six-pointer versus Burnley awaits.
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