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Everton welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Goodison Park this Saturday afternoon in a clash between two of the Premier League’s most intriguing teams. The former are hoping to break into the top six and beyond this season, while the latter are intent on making the leap from perennial title challengers to champions.
Furthermore, both appear to be focused on progress whilst simultaneously maintaining a long-term approach off the pitch. The average age of the nine signings made by the Toffees in the summer transfer window was 24; the average age of the five Spurs brought in was 24.2.
Yet, while sustainability remains central to both teams, they are also keen for success in the short-term. And, on the basis of their opening three league fixtures, both will no doubt be hoping for improvements after the international break.
After a 1-0 win over Stoke City, Everton drew away to Manchester City and lost 2-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham, meanwhile, followed up an opening away win over Newcastle United with a defeat to Antonio Conte’s reigning champions and a disappointing home draw with Burnley.
Here, Football Whispers break down the key tactical aspects to look out for in this meeting of upwardly mobile Premier League teams.
EVERTON’S DEFENCE THE KEY
Team news: Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori and Yannick Bolasie are out with long-term injuries; Ross Barkley, James McCarthy and Davy Klaassen will miss also this weekend through injury.
Everton are one of the more adaptable teams in the Premier League. Tactically, Ronald Koeman has a number of options up his sleeve, and isn’t afraid to vary the personnel selected, the way his team lines up or the style of play depending on the opposition at hand.
This flexibility is something that wasn’t present before, with Roberto Martínez generally refusing to alter his strategy or shape. Another aspect that has improved since the Spanish boss departed is the team’s defensive organisation.
Everton conceded 50 goals plus in Premier League action in two of the three campaigns prior to Koeman’s appointment. Their average goals against during this period was 48. However, in their first season under the Dutchman’s auspices they conceded just 44 times.
An example of the club’s improved solidity without the ball was seen in their second fixture of this league campaign, away to Manchester City. While Pep Guardiola’s side were not quite as fluid in their movement off the ball as they would like, they were nonetheless faced with a stout defensive side with an emphasis on intensive man-marking.
Everton set up with a low block and attempted to reduce the space in behind their back line for City to exploit through the pace of Gabriel Jesus or intelligent runs of Sergio Agüero. Their defensive shape was a rough 5-3-1-1, with the extra numbers in deep positions aiding them in marking effectively man-to-man.
Koeman instructed his side to counter-attack with speed and directness, utilising the pace and aerial ability of Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the sole centre-forward. The youngster was a viable outlet for long balls over the top, which perhaps explains why the Toffees hit 77 long balls in total that evening – three more than their already considerable average.
The strategy Everton used for the clash with Manchester City wasn’t perfect, but it did help them to secure a point when many expected them to return home empty handed. They would be wise to adopt a similar stance when welcoming Tottenham to Goodison Park on Saturday.
Team news: Danny Rose and Erik Lamela are out with long-term injuries; Fernando Llorente could miss this weekend due to lack of fitness.
Tottenham’s playing their home games at Wembley Stadium has taken attention away from more pressing tactical issues. While they have failed to win at the temporary ground in two league outings there, the real hoodoo relates to their seeming inability to break down defensive opposition.
Chelsea were exceptional defensively on their visit, grinding out a 2-1 win thanks in the main to being resolute at the back. Conte switched from his usual 3-4-2-1 and went with a 3-5-1-1. Adding an extra central midfielder in place of an inside forward, the basic shape was very similar to that used by Everton away to Manchester City.
The titleholders sat back and opted to retain their position when Spurs had the ball. As a result of this collective approach, few gaps opened up for the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane or Christian Eriksen to exploit. An example of this can be seen in the below still.
Essentially the entire Chelsea team retreated to their own half when Tottenham attacked, congesting the space available. And, with plenty of numbers centrally, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were often forced wide.
Spurs will be without Rose, meaning Ben Davies will start again this weekend. Serge Aurier could also make his debut on the right-hand side in place of Kieran Trippier. However, none of these wing-backs are known for being able to beat their man in the final third, even if that latter can deliver quality crosses into the box.
As a consequence, Everton will likely attempt to follow the blueprint laid down by Chelsea and limit the space available centrally. They would do this safe in the knowledge that Tottenham’s wide outlets lack the skill or incision to come inside or dribble beyond multiple defenders.
The return of Morgan Schneiderlin will aid them in this respect, with the Frenchman coming in alongside relentless ball-winner Idrissa Gueye to provide a secure defensive barrier in central midfield.
Koeman should return to the 3-5-1-1 shape that worked away to Manchester City, with Gylfi Sigurdsson providing creative support to Calvert-Lewin, whose athleticism and strength in the air make him a dangerous counter-attacking force.
One thing the Dutchman should look to avoid, however, is instructing his side to man-mark as they did against City. Instead, he should focus on a similar strategy to that used by Conte, whereby the team prioritises keeping its shape regardless of the opposition’s movement.
If Everton can learn from Chelsea and put in an organised defensive showing, their chances of sealing three big points will only increase. Tottenham will then have to innovate to find a way past a compact opponent, which is something they have failed to do thus far this season.