Long Reads

Everton’s Tactics Under Carlo Ancelotti

It still comes to a shock to many when you remind them that the Everton manager is Carlo Ancelotti. While there is a tendency to underestimate the size of Everton, even after thirty years of sustained mediocrity, the shock element of Ancelotti’s arrival on Merseyside is a marker of his success as a manager. To make a record of all the honours Carlo Ancelotti has won as a manager would mean creating another blog on top of this one, shining a light on a football CV that includes Champions League wins as well as winning all but one of Europe’s top five major leagues, so it is clear that in the last twenty to thirty to forty years of world football, there have not been many managers more successful than the Italian and Everton have not only a steady pair of hands but someone who’s tactical acumen can help bridge the gap to the top six.

Historically, Ancelotti has been known as a tactically flexible coach, that arrives at a football club and uses the current squad and culture of the football club as a judge as to what system to use, he simply sees more value in playing to the strengths of the team than enforcing his beliefs on a team even if they do not fit in with the culture of the team. However, he has always endorsed using a 4-4-2 formation, especially defensively. Yet, until the departure of Marco Silva at Everton had not played 442, in a consistent spell since the 1990s. David Moyes was an advocate of a 4-1-4-1 formation, Roberto Martinez played 4-2-3-1 without exception, Ronald Koeman was more flexible and switched between 4-2-3-1, 5-4-1 and 4-3-3, Sam Allardyce returned to the 4-1-4-1 played under Moyes and Marco Silva played nothing but a 4-2-3-1, despite declaring a preference to a 4-3-3 formation.

After the dust had settled on Everton’s 5-2 defeat in the Merseyside Derby, Marco Silva lost his job. Everton were uninspired, unorganised, flat and incapable of breaking teams down. So, huge credit does have to go to Duncan Ferguson for picking Everton up and most importantly setting Ancelotti up with a key way of playing going forward with the 4-4-2 formation.

The basic set-up

As mentioned, Carlo Ancelotti has gone with a 4-4-2 formation since he arrived at Everton, continuing the work that was done under Duncan Ferguson. Although, the personnel has changed much since Ancelotti took over, the key ideas both defensively and offensively have stayed the same in order to equip the current set of players with the fundamentals of what the Italian wants a far cry from Marco Silva’s tenure who never implemented his way of playing for consistent fear of losing his job.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, Everton have been less concerned with ball retention than they were under Marco Silva, often playing longer more often to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison as opposed to the slow build-up play under Silva. Everton, however, still play the ball out from the back under Ancelotti usually to Mason Holgate who finds a pass to one of the midfielders or sends a direct pass into the channels for Richarlison or to the chest or head of Calvert-Lewin.

In defence, Everton also defend in a 4-4-2 formation with the Merseyside club defending compact horizontally and vertically.

Everton under Marco Silva were among the highest pressers in the Premier League, particularly in the opening months of his reign, yet since Ancelotti has come into Everton, the Toffees defend more diligently, with the distances in the defensive unit becoming tighter and more compact than they were under the high pressing Silva.

Therefore, Ancelotti has got Everton a tougher side to beat first and foremost suiting the game of Yerry Mina and Michael Keane more so who are traditional stoppers when it comes to defending so by making Everton more compact, Ancelotti has got the best out of Keane and Mina with the form of Mason Holgate also proving to be key when Everton’s forward players defend from the front, leading Everton’s defensive line to be higher therefore the reliance on Holgate’s pace is greater when Everton are defending in space.

everton 442 narrow

Another aspect of Everton’s defensive strategy is the role of Brazilian striker Richarlison. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin have led Everton’s strike force in tandem but their defensive duties differ. Calvert-Lewin often plays higher up the pitch than Richarlison, offering an out ball for a potential counter attack or if the ball is deeper in the opposition’s own half to win it back higher. Richarlison regularly drops deeper with the shape of the team while he tries to win second balls from tackles or to win fouls himself to ease the pressure on the unit.

Although Everton under Carlo Ancelotti are not a heavy pressing team, the Toffees do not sit off the opposition sacrificing huge sways of ball possession unlike Burnley do in their 4-4-2 and like Everton did previously under caretaker manager, Duncan Ferguson.

closing down

Against sides that play out from the back, Everton press in uniform, with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin peeling out wide to close down the centre backs with one of the two midfielders, closing down the opposition’s holding midfielder to limit the ability of the opponent moving the ball up the pitch quicker.

Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin

The form of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has improved massively since the departure of Marco Silva and in particular, the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti.

Richarlison, despite Silva’s faith in him, was one of the key sufferers of the Portuguese manager’s pedestrian 4-2-3-1 formation. Richarlison often played out on the left or the right hand side under Silva, staying out wide to link up play and playing with chalk on his boots when it was clear that Richarlison’s strengths coincide with playing centrally and as close to the box as possible. Now, Richarlison was one of Everton’s more consistent performers under the ex-manager but his development at the club was stunted by the manager limiting his strengths.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, the Brazilian has mostly been used centrally, working in tandem with Calvert-Lewin, creating one of the most lethal attack forces in the league.

Both are good in the air, have a turn of pace and have a good for goal so they both complement in each other quite well to the point that you can not limit one aspect of Everton’s attack in either player because the other possess a similar quality.

Yet, the rise of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been remarkable. Whilst, he has always had the ability to hold up play and win aerial duels, Calvert-Lewin had struggles getting into good positions going forward and ultimately being clinical enough to be a difference for Everton.

With the help of Ferguson, the ex-Real Madrid manager has found a way, by playing a more direct 4-4-2 to create more chances for the forward line and getting them in positions to effect the game rather than to play a possession style of play beyond the reaches of the current Everton midfield while also limiting the attacking player’s’ ability to score.

Also, as well as their potency in front of goal, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin work very hard for Everton, defending from the front, with Richarlison completing an average of 6.06 successful pressures per 90 with Calvert-Lewin himself completing 5.39.

In the simplest of terms, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, work hard, complement each other well, are good in front of goal and offer Everton an out ball when defending deeper.

Issues with the midfield

The biggest issue at Everton that needs solving is the issue in central midfield. In fact, if you like, the legacy of the Marco Silva reign is how pedestrian and slow Everton were in transitioning the ball from defence to attack and the lack of mobility Everton have in the middle of the park once Idrissa Gueye had left the club to join PSG in the summer.

All of Everton’s midfielders have issues which mean that they can not be Everton’s main midfielder. Morgan Schneiderlin is sort of good at what he does, screening the back four and recycling possession but isn’t quick enough and is not dynamic enough to start every week in a 4-4-2 for a team chasing the top six potentially.

Gylfi Sigurdsson evades all responsibility on the pitch and as a supposed key creator in the team does not effect the game from the midfield and always has very few touches of the ball. While he is good at set plays, his commitment and his mobility in transitioning from defence to attack has to be questioned.

Fabian Delph has not performed for Everton at all this season. He offers good leadership and experience to the team but impacts very little on the pitch, other than sideways passing and the ex-Man City player is coming towards the latter years of his career, especially with the injuries he has sustained.

Tom Davies is not good enough to be a regular starter for Everton in his current form also. While he does move the ball forward more than his midfield counterparts, he has poor decision making and is not good enough defensively to start for the club. Davies could need a loan deal or a permanent transfer away from Everton altogether.

Jean Philippe Gbamin has been injured all season so it is difficult to judge him so that leaves Andre Gomes. Andre Gomes’ ability on the ball and his ability to move the ball forward for Everton with quality exceeds all others in Everton’s midfield. There is certainly an argument to suggest that Everton need to start Gomes to add that quality in possession to the team due to the limitations of the other midfielders. The issue with Andre Gomes however is his defensive ability. The Portuguese midfielder’s performance against Aston Villa in August is a clear example of his lack of diligence defensively and in a 4-4-2 formation the midfield needs to be destructive in stopping attacks more so because most teams now play with a three man midfield so the pressure on the two is exacerbated.

Moving forward

Despite the limitations, Everton have a good basis to move forward with under Ancelotti. The back four defends better than it did, the limitations in midfield are not as prevalent due the slightly more direct approach from the team and the attack has improved massively as a result and the increased intensity to Everton’s play.

Of course there are still issues, Everton were not 18th at the start of December for no reason despite the limitations of Silva. Jordan Pickford ranks pretty low in terms of Premier League goalkeepers, Everton’s right backs are not good enough with Djibril Sidibe having no positional awareness and Seamus Coleman not providing as much going forward as he did, while there is a shortage of quality on the right hand side of midfield with Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi and Bernard do not always strike a good balance between keeping in shape and creating moves drifting in from the left, but Everton are a more efficient, flexible side under Carlo Ancelotti than they were under Marco Silva. The Italian will need time with Marcel Brands to improve the core of the team but with patience, the appointment of the Champions League winning manager could prove to be the club’s most shrewd appointment since Howard Kendall.

About the author


Owen Parkes

Owen Parkes, Everton fan and sports journalist. Follow him on twitter @owenparkes123 and check out his blog owenparkesblog.wordpress.com

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