Talking Tactics

How Everton can capitalise on set-piece threat to stay up

By Adrian Clarke 28 May 2023

Adrian Clarke analyses the Toffees' dead-ball strengths and AFC Bournemouth's weakness at defending them

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Match analysis - Everton v Bournemouth

A win against AFC Bournemouth would guarantee Everton's Premier League status, and set-piece situations could be their best avenue to achieve victory.

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Gary O’Neil’s Cherries have leaked a division-high 21 goals from dead balls this season, including eight in their last 13 matches, consistently failing to defend corners or wide free-kicks with conviction.

It is their weak spot and, even without the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton have more than enough aerial prowess in their ranks to cause Bournemouth further problems.

The relegation battle

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
17 Everton EVE 38 -23 36
18 Leicester City LEI 38 -17 34
19 Leeds United LEE 38 -30 31
20 Southampton SOU 38 -37 25
See the full table

Last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers was typical of Everton’s frustration from dead-ball situations across 2022/23.

Four of the six best chances they created at Molineux stemmed from set-pieces, but Sean Dyche’s men failed to convert any of them.

Only two sides have a higher Expected Goal threat (xG) from set-plays than Everton, which outlines the danger they pose, but they have scored a mere seven goals.

Top teams for set-piece xG 22/23
Team xG Goals
Newcastle 20.80 10
Brentford 17.97 15
Everton 15.56 7
Arsenal 15.36 14
West Ham 15.06 11
McNeil's a dead-ball master

Having being reunited with Dyche, his former manager at Burnley, Dwight McNeil has been outstanding for Everton, scoring five times and making two assists since early February.

McNeil’s left-footed set-piece deliveries are excellent. The 23-year-old has created 25 chances from corners and wide free-kicks this season, ranking him joint-eighth alongside Leicester City's James Maddison.

If he can produce quality on Sunday afternoon, it could make all the difference for Everton.

See: Relegation battle: What each club need

Defending set-piece situations has been a nightmare for Bournemouth all season, with corners causing them the most problems. They have conceded 16 goals this way.

Cherries' set-piece goals conceded
2022/23 Goals conceded
Corners 16
Wide free-kicks 4
Throw-ins 1

There have been recurring patterns to the way Bournemouth have been exposed from dead balls.

From wide free-kicks, their passive zonal marking set-up allowed Benoit Badiashile and Casemiro to wander through unopposed to score against them.

From corners, they have had a huge issue coping with balls whipped into the near-post domain, conceding six goals in this manner.

The last two goals of this type saw Michail Antonio and Emiliano Buendia pull away from a position next to goalkeeper Neto to apply the finish.

This also happened in a 3-2 win at Nottingham Forest, when Cheikhou Kouyate scored in the same manner.

Antonio's goal v Bournemouth
Michail Antonio makes a forward and outward move away from goalkeeper Neto
Antonio meets an outswinging corner with a near-post header to score

Bournemouth, who have conceded at least twice in 13 of their 18 away matches this season, also don't mark players who are standing on the edge of their box at corners.

Eager to fill the penalty area with as many defenders as possible, they have been caught out by this tactic several times.

Goals from Crystal Palace's Eberechi Eze, Arsenal duo Reiss Nelson and Thomas Partey plus West Ham United's Declan Rice have all centred around leaving a man spare on the edge of the area.  

Eze's goal v Bournemouth
Eberechie Eze is left unmarked outside the box and, when the ball is pulled back to him, he scores with a first-time finish

On paper a home match on the final weekend against mid-table opponents looks an ideal fixture, but Everton have lost their last three matches at Goodison Park.

Bournemouth have also beaten them in four successive meetings, scoring at least three times on each occasion.

Although they are the Premier League’s second-lowest scorers, Everton must adopt a balanced approach and be careful not to leave unnecessary holes at the back.

Keeping things tight early on and waiting for the right moments to strike from set-pieces could form part of Dyche’s initial game plan in a must-win encounter.

Also in this series

Part 2: Why Smith must trust Maddison and Barnes against West Ham

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