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Talking Tactics

Holgate and Keane lead Ferguson's new direction

Adrian Clarke 12 Dec 2019
Duncan Ferguson, Mason Holgate, Everton

Adrian Clarke says Everton's defensive duo are key to 4-4-2 formation and direct style ahead of Man Utd test

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points ahead of Matchweek 17.

Expect to see Everton adapt a direct and aggressive approach within a 4-4-2 formation at Manchester United on Sunday.

Their interim head coach Duncan Ferguson asked his players to move the ball from back to front quickly against Chelsea last time out.

And the Scot's tactical switch paid off as Everton ended a run of three successive defeats with a 3-1 home win.

Key to that success was the solid central-defensive pairing of Mason Holgate and Michael Keane, who got the ball forward at the earliest opportunity, making 11 and 17 long passes respectively.

Physical test

It was such a noticeable feature of Everton's play that 'keeper Jordan Pickford did not roll or throw the ball out once, instead opting to go long with all 35 of his passes.

How Ferguson changed Everton
Passes Long pass %
Player v CHE 2019/20 ave v CHE 2019/20 ave
Pickford 35 30.3 100.0 69.4
Holgate 11 35.3 63.6 25.6
Keane 17 47.3 23.5 15.4

This type of percentage game, where the Everton front men had to win their battles inside the opposition half, was a ploy that unsettled Chelsea.

The young Chelsea defence struggled to handle the physicality of strikers Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who both scored.

Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to ensure his defence are ready for a similar examination at Old Trafford.

Contrasting styles 

Everton's robust style will be the opposite of what United encountered in their 2-1 win at Manchester City last Sunday.

Recording season-best stats of 36 tackles and 225 passes, of which 29 per cent were long, Ferguson's rejuvenated side performed with simplicity and force against Chelsea.

Everton can take further encouragement that three of United's poorest displays of the season – defeats by Crystal Palace and Newcastle United and a draw at home to Aston Villa – featured tactical similarities to theirs.

All three opponents sacrificed possession and adopted a direct approach, causing Solskjaer problems.

Provided that Everton have the same intensity levels and defensive organisation, their new style may not be to United's taste.

How Man Utd fare against long ball
Opp Passes faced % long balls faced Result
CRY 231 24.7% 2-1 (L)
NEW 281 23.1% 1-0 (L)
AVL 309 22.0% 2-2 (D)

One of Sunday's key battles could be between right-back Djibril Sidibe and Man Utd's Marcus Rashford.

Sidibe was outstanding against Chelsea, making seven tackles, four interceptions and three key passes. He also delivered a wonderful cross assist for Richarlison's opening goal.

How he fares in his duel with the in-form Rashford could determine Everton's fate.

Rashford will attempt to keep Sidibe occupied inside the opposition half for most of this contest, but when the Frenchman gets forward United must be on their guard.

Sidibe is by far the most accurate of all Everton's wide men when producing crosses from open play.

Most open-play crosses by Everton
Player Crosses Accuracy
Lucas Digne 74 14.9%
Richarlison 30 6.7%
Seamus Coleman 25 8.0%
Alex Iwobi 24 25.0%
Djibril Sidibe 23 34.8%

It will be fascinating to see whether Rashford is tasked with tracking Sidibe all the way, or whether left-back Luke Shaw will assume responsibility for closing him down.

There could be an equally fascinating contest on the opposite flank, where Daniel James comes up against Lucas Digne.

If Solskjaer's men do not block enough crosses, Everton could capitalise, using their aerial presence inside the 18-yard box.

Everton have scored 10 headed goals this season, second only to Liverpool. Richarlison has claimed three in 2019/20 with Calvert-Lewin scoring twice with his head.

It will be a big ask of Everton, but they do have the game to trouble Man Utd.

Also in this series

Part 1: Ings thriving in new Southampton system
Part 2: Pearson planning to keep it simple for Watford
Part 4: All-rounder Martinelli can trouble the champions

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