Feature

Why Dyche's defensive gamble paid off to keep Everton up

By Alex Keble 29 May 2023
Everton celebrate

Alex Keble analyses the risky formation change that delivered a classic Dyche performance - and safety

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On the final day, Everton survived being relegated by the skin of their teeth with a performance that encapsulated the changes Sean Dyche has made since his arrival at the club in January.

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The manager’s methods – defensive pragmatism, set-piece focus, and direct counter-attacks – haven’t taken hold at Everton to quite the extent he would have liked, but the 1-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth was pure Dyche.

Everton conceded 0.5 Expected Goals (xG) at Goodison Park, their lowest number this season, and had a mere 38 per cent of the ball, their lowest share of possession under Dyche against a team in the bottom half of the league.

The Toffees hunkered down, kept it tight and waited for that one special moment from Abdoulaye Doucoure.

The defence-first approach and 1-0 win might have appeared typical of their season. After all, six of their eight Premier League wins have come at home, and all have involved a clean sheet, with five being a 1-0 scoreline.

However, this was a little different from any other Everton match under Dyche.

For the first time since taking over from Frank Lampard, Dyche moved to a back three, a huge gamble given the circumstances but one that understood the limited threats that Bournemouth would pose.

Everton's formation v AFC Bournemouth

The formation generally looked more like a 5-4-1 system as Alex Iwobi and Amadou Onana dropped into wider midfield positions, although both players were relatively narrow and often Doucoure was free to press up alongside Demarai Gray, turning the system into more of a narrow 5-3-2.

This was not, as was suggested by many, a nervous or defensive move from Dyche. Instead he was responding to the specific and unusual tactical style of his opponent, having presumably noticed the remarkable narrowness of AFC Bournemouth’s attacking lines under Gary O’Neil.

Take a look at his team’s average positions against Everton on Sunday, and at Crystal Palace in their previous away match.

Bournemouth's tactical formation v Crystal Palace
Bournemouth's average positions v Crystal Palace
Bournemouth's tactical formation at Everton
Bournemouth's average positions v Everton

By crowding the middle column of the pitch with bodies – with a narrow three-man defence and a narrow three or four-man midfield – Dyche found a way to nullify AFC Bournemouth completely, hence why the Cherries had only seven shots on goal, the fewest Everton have conceded all campaign.

Bournemouth’s slender shape can also leave them vulnerable to quick counters down the wings, and it is therefore no surprise that Everton attempted 30 crosses – their fourth-highest tally this season – and had 27 set-pieces, their most of the campaign.

One of those set-piece crosses led to Doucoure’s decisive moment.

Doucoure's goal v AFC Bournemouth

In this action, too, we saw Dyche’s influence. Doucoure scored five Premier League goals this season, his most in five years, and all of them came in the 15 matches under Dyche.

That’s because Dyche has repositioned Doucoure to be his most-advanced midfielder, with licence to roam into the penalty area. 

Doucoure left the best until last – as did his manager, whose tactical move on Sunday proved to be just what was needed for Everton to crawl over the line and extend the club’s 69-year stay in the top flight.

Dyche ends the season with a 1.2 points-per-match average at Everton, 50 per cent higher than his predecessor’s 0.8, vindicating on the final day the managerial change.

But Everton supporters will expect a lot more from their team, and their manager, in 2023/24 and that is something Dyche and the players also stated immediately after the relief of the final whistle.

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