Talking Tactics

Why Everton's path to a return to form lies in the air

By Adrian Clarke 11 Jan 2024
Calvert-Lewin TT

Adrian Clarke pinpoints how Toffees' aerial threat can hurt high-flying Aston Villa

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 21.

Team analysis: Everton

After losing their final three matches of 2023, Everton go in search of a reboot when they host high-flying Aston Villa in their first Premier League match of the calendar year.

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Everton will also be keen to avenge a resounding 4-0 loss to Unai Emery’s side back in August - and their hopes of doing so were boosted when Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s red card from the FA Cup third-round tie at Crystal Palace was rescinded this week.

Calvert-Lewin has gone 12 matches without a goal in all competitions, but his power and pace could pose a real threat to Villa’s high line.

His aerial prowess also has potential to trouble them, especially if Everton can impose themselves enough to provide quality service into the Villa box.

The forward, along with team-mate Beto, is one of the strongest attackers in the division at winning aerial duels.

Top strikers for aerial duels
Player Aerial duels/90 Player Aerial duels won/90
McBurnie 16.5 McBurnie 8.1
Calvert-Lewin 11.6 Beto 5.5
Morris 11.4 Calvert-Lewin 5.1
Osula 11.3 Morris 4.8
Beto 10.6 Wood 4.7
Playing to their strengths

In truth Everton played well for large spells of their defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

The only poor performance came in a comprehensive 3-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers, so Sean Dyche will be eager to focus on the positives.

Aerial power is Everton’s core strength - they have won more aerial duels than any other team this season - so a refusal to engage in that type of contest can pay off against them.

Most aerial duels won in 2023/24
Club Aerial duels won Total aerial duels
Everton 351 665
Nott'm Forest 348 664
Luton Town 336 687
Sheff Utd 326 725
Liverpool 319 559
Brentford 314 651

Dyche's biggest frustration from those three defeats will have been the way all three opponents forced their own style on the Toffees.

Interestingly, those matches all featured 20 or fewer aerial duels, all inside the top five for the lowest tallies in Everton matches this season.

Everton’s opponents worked very hard to press and therefore stop Dyche’s men from launching long balls and crosses towards their main striker, minimising the aerial duels they had to contend with.

And in possession Everton’s opponents built attacks that avoided hoisting high crosses into the penalty area, which suits central defenders James Tarkowski, Jarrad Branthwaite and Michael Keane.

The table below highlights how the seven Toffees matches which featured the fewest aerial duels were all lost by Dyche’s side.

Everton's matches with fewest aerial duels
Match Aerial duels Result
Man City (H) 14 L 3-1
Aston Villa (A) 18 L 4-0
Spurs (A) 18 L 2-1
Arsenal (H) 19 L 1-0
Wolves (A) 20 L 3-0
Fulham (H) 24 L 1-0
Wolves (H) 24 L 1-0

It is crucial they ensure this Goodison Park encounter becomes the type of match that suits them better.

Forcing transitions

Another of Everton’s strengths is their directness on the counter.

They have produced 20 shots from fast breaks this season, second only to AFC Bournemouth's 21, so Villa, who like to push bodies forward, will need to be wary of transitions.

Spurs found it difficult to contain Dyche’s side from breakaways in their recent encounter, with Everton racking up four shots from fast breaks.  

This situation below saw Calvert-Lewin race clear after great work from Jack Harrison, who won the ball deep inside his own half.

DCLSpurs

During the three-match absence of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Everton have not been quite as robust in central midfield, and this limited their ability to force turnovers.

His impending return, possibly against Villa, will increase their potential to spark breakaways.

Their opponents will leave space in behind for them to run into.

Set-piece concerns

One other problem area for Dyche’s side has been defending set-pieces, with eight concessions hurting them throughout the season so far.

Not too many have stemmed from losing headers inside the box.

Instead, the bulk of Everton’s issues have centred around reacting slowly to short-corner overloads - Arsenal and Spurs both scored from them - and disorganisation from the second phase at set-plays.

From this short corner, Spurs’ 3v2 allowed them inside the box, and from a partially cleared cross, Son Heung-min scored.

Spurs3v2

Wolves scored twice from deliveries into the box when Everton were sluggish to respond to initially repelling a corner.

Man City’s Phil Foden also scored from outside the box when he was not closed down quickly enough from a recycled set-piece.

While Everton have not been as poor as results suggest, there is still plenty for them to work on as they seek to get themselves away from the drop zone.

If they fail to learn from recent errors, Villa are certainly good enough to punish them on Sunday.

Also in this series

Part 1: Rejuvenated Barkley can lead Luton to Premier League safety
Part 2: What Newcastle must do to withstand Man City pressure
Part 4: How can Man Utd unlock Hojlund's vast potential?

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