As the EPL returned, a key fixture was on the horizon as relegation bound Norwich City took on Everton at Carrow Road. It has been an extremely tough season for Norwich thus far, as the ever-growing shadow of relegation continues to linger over the club. Their last game saw them suffer a huge blow as they lost 3-0 at home to Southampton. They look destined for a return to the Championship bar a miracle. Everton, on the other hand, has made an insurgence in form since Carlo Ancelotti took over at Goodison Park and they look to be moving forward with him at the centre of the project. Their most recent result saw them pick up a point against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby where the result was 0-0. Out of both teams, Everton had the better chances and could arguably be disappointed that they did not pick up all three points. An interesting clash was, therefore, on the cards.
In the week he became a father, Michael Keane was able to score the winner as Everton ran out 1-0 winners. The result puts Everton 10th and only three points away from Tottenham Hotspur in seventh place. A push for a European place is most certainly on the cards for the blue half of Merseyside which would be an exceptional return in Ancelotti’s first season. Norwich, on the other hand, seems doomed for relegation as they now sit six points off West Ham who are 17th. It is not mathematically impossible for the canaries to get to safety, however, the likelihood of this is slim as they still have trips to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City upcoming.
This tactical analysis will examine the tactics used by Carlo Ancelotti and Daniel Farke to win the game. This analysis will also dive deeper into the reasons why Everton was able to edge out in this clash and why Norwich wasn’t able to get going.
Daniel Farke made a huge decision to leave out Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell who has contributed to 17 out of Norwich’s 25 goals this season. They lined up in a 4-4-2 with some variation when attacking. Tim Krul started in goal. Timm Klose and Ben Godfrey were the centre-backs. They would need to be sharp to keep out Everton’s attacking talent. Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons were the full-backs for Norwich. The pair are two of England’s brightest young talents and will most certainly develop into excellent footballers in the upcoming years. Kenny McLean and Alexander Tettey were the defensive midfielders. As will be looked at later on, Tettey had the responsibility to drop between the centre-backs to add an extra passing option. Onel Hernández and Lukas Rupp were the two wider players, who had the job of being a creative spark in what was a Norwich starting lineup without a lot of inventiveness. Onderj Duda and Josip Drmić were the two centre-forwards for Norwich. The dropping of Pukki was a surprise to many.
As for Everton, they also lined up in a 4-4-2 with a variation when they built out from the back. The ever-present Jordan Pickford started between the sticks. Michael Keane and Mason Holgate were the two centre-backs. Their combination of pace and technical ability appeals to Ancelotti in the centre-back area. Séamus Coleman and Lucas Digne were the full-backs. The pair would be vital for Everton when they looked to move the ball forward out of defence. André Gomes and Tom Davies were the two central midfielders who needed to get control of the ball to influence the game. Bernard and Alex Iwobi were the wingers, however, they often rotated in midfield which confused the opposition. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were the two strikers. They have both been excellent this season and have enjoyed great goal scoring form under the regime of Ancelotti.
Everton’s build-up play
A key component of Everton’s success since Ancelotti’s arrival has been their ability to build out from the back much more effectively. Their short passes since the Italian’s arrival has averaged to around 350 which is a huge increase from the 189 seen in the previous regime. The system of building out from the back is also unique and allows the midfield players to take up positions where they can receive the ball and have an influence on the game. In this particular game, the occurrence was that when Everton looked to build out from the back, Coleman, Holgate and Keane would form a back three. The purpose of this was to have an extra body in a more central position to build out from the back. This allowed Davies and Gomes to push into positions where they could receive the ball. It also allowed Bernard to push more to the inside and allow Digne to push forward. Iwobi also looked to push wide which left a gap for either Richarlison or Calvert-Lewin to find. They managed 53% possession which is evidence of their build-up play.
Below is an example of this structure in place. We can see Coleman, Holgate and Keane positioned as a back three. When Everton had possession of the ball it also meant that they could dictate the pattern of play and shift the ball from side to side to try and break down what was a rigid defensive structure that Norwich had in place. Despite it not being the best game, Everton had clear control over the game and this build-up structure allowed this control.
Evidence of this can be seen from the average positions taken up by the Everton players. We can see below the average position map and with this we can see the positions taken up by Holgate, Keane and Coleman. What we can also see here is how wide Digne is positioned with Bernard coming in more narrow. Iwobi is also extremely wide and Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are also close together as a front two. Gomes and Davies are also deeper to pick up the ball and move It forward. This was the pattern throughout the game and these average positions paint an accurate picture as to where the Everton players were positioned.
As mentioned, due to the weather and perhaps a lack of match fitness on the part of both teams, the quality of attacking play was not great. The team that was going to win was always, therefore, going to be the team that had much control of the game itself. As has also been mentioned, getting the ball forward into the midfielders was vital in this. In terms of forwarding passes, Coleman made 12, Keane made 15 and Holgate made 16. This shows how important building from the back using three players. The most frequent pass combination was from one of the centre-backs into either Gomes or Davies which is further evidence of this build-up play. This was not seen in the game against Liverpool as that game required a more defensive approach. What this does show is that Everton is turning into a pragmatic side, able to adapt depending on the game itself.
Below is another example of the shape that Coleman, Keane and Holgate were taking and the available passing options. We can see Gomes available alongside Davies to receive the ball and move it forward. This is an excellent structure in terms of trying to build out from the back against teams who sit deep and soak up pressure.
Everton’s defensive shape
Despite Everton’s attacking play being highly impressive, their defensive shape was also noticeable. As mentioned, Everton lined up in a 4-4-2 with variation when they went forward as has been described, however, when they didn’t have the ball they stuck to a rigid 4-4-2. Their shape was very strong and it allowed them to be adaptable in transitions. They were able to make 11 transitions in higher areas of the pitch in comparison to Norwich’s nine. It was key that they kept their shape throughout the game to prevent Norwich being able to play through the lines which they often try to do. The midfield was key in this to track back and prevent Norwich being able to play quick football in key areas. This is an aspect of Ancelotti’s tactics which has also suited the current Everton squad as they are extremely hard working and understand the importance of keeping in shape and not allowing space to be created by the opposition.
Below is an example of the shape that Everton was able to keep throughout the game. We can see both Iwobi and Bernard, who are in positions to stop both Aarons and Lewis getting forward. Norwich’s full-backs are so important to their attacking play and stopping them was of great importance to Everton.
Everton have only kept eight clean sheets this season, which is fewer than Watford who are in a relegation battle and this is also less than Newcastle United and Crystal Palace. Defending has, therefore, not been something they have done particularly well this season. However, a clean sheet against newly-crowned champions Liverpool nd to then keep another clean sheet against Norwich is a good improvement in this area. The shape they kept throughout the game could be seen as a huge reason for their overall victory. It is often the case that when teams are not defending well, there is a call for them to adopt a more defensive style of play and abandon principles of play in order to keep clean sheets. However, Ancelotti has managed to find a good balance between good attacking play and solid defensive organisation since the Premier League restarted which has resulted in two clean sheets.
Below is a further example of Everton maintaining a solid defensive structure throughout the game. It was important to deny spaces that Norwich could potentially play through with the technical players they possess. Everton did a good job of this against Liverpool and in the game on Wednesday night. If they then continue this than the number of clean sheets they pick up.
Norwich’s attacking approach
Despite Everton having most of the possession and being dominant in terms of controlling the game, it is also vital to analyse how Norwich aimed to win the match. The build-up play that they took out during the game involved a diamond being created in the defensive areas. Krul would get on the ball and the two centre-backs would split to give him options on the ball. Tettey, as mentioned earlier, would then drop between the centre-backs and provide another option for Krul when he had the ball at his feet. The objective of this play was to almost suck Everton into pressing against this diamond and then play around it to create a situation for the attackers whereby they could get forward and break against the Everton backline. This worked on a few occasions, however, it could have been more effective than it was in this game. The build-up play was good in spells and with more practice and refining they could potentially have a strong system of build-up play from defensive areas.
Below is an example of this play from the back. We can see Krul on the ball with options to both his right and left and with Tettey sitting just in front it gives him a further option if necessary. Notice also how Bernard and Iwobi have broken out of their defensive shape to attempt to press the ball. This was a rarity during the game and had they managed to do this more often it could have shifted Everton out of their shape and created more space for the attacking players to get into.
As was saw earlier, looking at the average positions that were taken up by the players is important. When we look at this in the case of Norwich, it is clear to see how this build-up play was initiated. We can see Tettey’s position being a lot deeper than McLean’s who was pushing up the pitch. This is evidence of the build-up play that Norwich tried to initiate throughout the game and the effects it had on the rest of the players. The full-backs also did not get forward as much as was expected, mainly due to Everton’s excellent defensive structure throughout the game. There was an overall lack of cohesion in terms of Norwich’s positioning which is evident within the image below.
Making big calls in crucial games is extremely difficult, and credit must be attributed to Farke for not being scared to drop his two most important players. However, Dropping Pukki and Cantwell was a mistake from Farke, as the other attacking players in their place were not able to produce the same outlet that Cantwell and Pukki usually do. As mentioned, their attacking approach was to get them into positions whereby they had numerical advantages over Everton in key areas. This was done by the earlier build-up involving Krul and the diamond. When they got into key areas, they were unable to have that killer pass and finish that Pukki and Cantwell would usually provide. When Pukki and Cantwell came on, it was almost too late for them to salvage anything and had they been on from the start, Norwich could have had more success going forward.
Below is an example of when Norwich’s attacking play did work and they got into an excellent position to score. It is no coincidence that Pukki was involved with this when he came onto the pitch. We can see them breaking at some pace and Pukki having two options to pass to on the counter-attack. This situation did not occur often enough for Norwich to have any clear cut opportunities.
To conclude, Everton deserved the victory in this Premier League clash. Moving forward, they will be confident that they could obtain a European place. If this was the case, Ancelotti’s first season in charge would be seen as a huge success. Norwich, on the other hand, seems doomed to go down to the Championship after only one season back in the Premier League. Although the football they have played at times has been very exciting, their defence has hugely let them down. They will certainly be favourites to come straight back up, however, this season has been an overall disappointment.