Fulham continue to struggle since gaining promotion to the Premier League as they lost 2-3 to Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin continued his scintillating form and helped the Toffees get back to winning ways. Everton dominated Fulham for long periods, and after a tough run of results, Carlo Ancelotti’s side had many positives to take back home. Richarlison made an immediate impact after serving a three match ban, provided the assist for the first goal, and Lucas Digne chipped in a couple of quality assists. Fulham were the authors of their own misfortune against the Toffees. They missed their third successive spot-kick this season as Ivan Cavaleiro mis-kicked it and skied it over the crossbar. The penalty could have given them a chance to snatch away one point from the Toffees. Although Scott Parker’s men battled hard, but they felt slightly hard done by despite falling behind in the opening 42 seconds.
This tactical analysis we will get to know about the build-up play and attacking tactics used by both teams. In this analysis, we will see how the dynamism of Alex Iwobi as a wing back and Digne in an advanced role helped in breaking down a compact Fulham defence.
Scott Parker set up his team in a preferred 4-3-3 formation with Alphonse Areola in goal. The back four remained the same for a third game in a row. Mario Lemina started along with Harrison Reed and Bobby De Cordova-Reid in central midfield. Ivan Cavaleiro was drafted into the starting line-up and led the attack for Fulham, along with Ademola Lookman and captain Tom Cairney.
Everton set up in a 3-4-3 formation because of the absence of Seamus Coleman, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Jordan Pickford remained in goal. Ben Godfrey started alongside Yerry Mina and Michael Keane as part of a back three. This time, Ancelotti turned to Alex Iwobi to fill in as a right wing-back and Digne got a chance to play in an advanced role. Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan started as the central midfielders. While maximising the threat of Richarlison and James Rodriguez, they were deployed in free roles behind Calvert- Lewin.
Fulham’s build-up play & attacking tactics
We will now examine the build-up play and attacking tactics used by Scott Parker for Fulham and get to know what worked out and what did not.
Everton defended in a lopsided 5-4-1 shape with a low block. Therefore, Fulham pushed up the field and played a high line. During the possession of ball, Fulham started their build-up play in a 3-1-2-4 shape. Reed or Lemina operated as a single pivot in the centre while the other would move up alongside Reid and operate in between the lines to provide the creative spark. The front four would usually comprise Robinson, Lookman, Cairney and Cavaleiro.
Digne and Iwobi played as the wingbacks for Everton, more like deep-seated attackers. As we know that Everton was defending in a 5-4-1 shape, Fulham looked to stretch the opposition’s defensive block by playing through the wide channels and create openings within the defence line. As you can see here, Fulham creates a 4 v 3 overload on the right channel with the help of an overlapping full-back and Reed who helped by providing a passing option.
In the above image, you can see Iwobi getting caught out due to his wrong body positioning and Cavaleiro gets through in the open space.
This tactic could have worked out well pretty well on the right flank. Fulham got through a few times due to the weak defensive capacity of Alex Iwobi, but they looked to attack through the right flank, mostly. In the absence of Coleman, Fulham could have exploited the space between Iwobi and Godfrey, but they had other ideas.
Even after conceding the first goal within the first minute, Fulham did not let their heads drop and were level within 14 minutes.
As you can see here, Reed plays the ball to Reid. Reid plays the ball first time to Cairney, who takes a touch and plays it back to Reid through between a clutch of defenders. Reid takes a long touch and skips past Mina. He squeezes a low effort into the left bottom corner, past Pickford.
Everton will have to answer some questions about how their defence allowed that ball to be played through. Fulham exploited the space in between the back five with perfection.
Once again in the 70th minute, Fulham worked their way through the wide areas and created openings in the opposition defence.
As you can see here, Lookman starts his run from the touchline and beats Digne with a long touch. Just before getting tackled by Keane, he plays it to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is unmarked in the opposition box. The Chelsea loanee hits it first time, the ball takes a bounce off Mina’s heel and sails past Pickford to make it 2-3.
Everton’s build-up play vs Fulham’s high press
Throughout the game, Scott Parker’s team played very compact while defending. They defended in a 4-2-4 shape and hence not allowing progression through the central areas. Centre-backs Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo were marking Calvert-Lewin.The full-backs were tasked with marking the Toffees’ wing backs. While Lemina and Reed would mark Rodriguez and Richarlison.
Everton started their build-up play in 3-4-2-1 shape, with Allan and Doucoure operating as the double pivot. Even though Everton have a numerical superiority, they still couldn’t beat the first line of defence through the centre. A 5 v 4 overload was not enough to get through the centre. Fulham allowed Mina time on the ball and did not press him. As soon as the ball went to Godfrey or Keane, Fulham would start to press.
Thus, Everton looked to use their wing backs and get them to help in the build-up play. In the above picture you can see Iwobi has received the ball. As discussed earlier, Antonee Robinson begins to close down Iwobi. Tom Cairney follows Doucoure to not let him have the ball. Therefore, Iwobi had to pass the ball back. This tactic didn’t work out as Fulham pressed with high intensity and shuffled from one side to another quickly.
Ancelotti had to look for another way to get past this solid Fulham defence. While starting the build-up-play in a similar shape, we noticed a slight tweak. As you can see in the above picture, Rodriguez has drifted infield in the right half-space which has also allowed Iwobi to move higher up the pitch and go 1 v 1 with Robinson. Given a free role by Ancelotti, Rodriguez was present on the left, right, centre and basically everywhere. In this way, Everton was able to create a central overload and use Rodriguez to disrupt Fulham’s defensive structure.
Iwobi & Digne – The real threat
We will now look at how Everton made use of Iwobi and Digne as wing backs who were operating in between the opposition full-backs and wingers.
After giving away a two-goal lead, Fulham’s wide players could not track back in time therefore it created a disconnection from the midfield. As discussed earlier, Fulham began their press in a 4-2-4 formation, but when the press got beat centrally, the players were supposed to get into a 4-5-1 shape. As the wingers, Lookman and Cavaleiro couldn’t track back on time, it left the full-backs to deal with two players every time.
Through Digne’s very wide positioning, Everton exploited Fulham’s shape brilliantly and caused them great issues as they looked to maintain horizontal compactness. Iwobi started his run from the sideline and drove infield with the ball. He attracted players which made Fulham’s shape even more compact and had set Rodriguez free in the centre. As soon as Iwobi reached the opposition box, he played the ball to Rodriguez’s feet.
Rodriguez sends the ball into the path of Digne on the left flank and the French defender finds Calvert-Lewin near the six-yard box who buries it from close-range. In this way Everton could stretch the defensive block through some intelligent circulation of the ball and thus, Fulham had to cover more ground than usual to stop the attack.
Once again, Fulham find themselves in a similar situation. As you can see here, Doucoure wins possession of a loose ball. He plays the ball to Rodriguez and continues his run into the opposition box.
Rodriguez has possession of the ball in acres of space. They afforded him such a huge gap, and nobody tried to close him down. In the space left open by Fulham on their right-hand side, Rodriguez easily finds Digne with an outside of the boot pass. Digne takes a neat touch and chips the ball on to the head of Doucoure for an easy finish into the back of the net.
Clearly, Digne and Iwobi ran the show for Everton as Fulham had a mountain to climb with over an hour of the match still to play.
In the previous three defeats against Southampton, Newcastle and Manchester United, the Toffees have conceded 7 goals. Everton looked shaky at the back as they conceded another two goals this time but there is no stopping them in attack. They possess an attack that could do wonders. They are riding on the wave of Calvert Lewin’s form. His 10 goals put him on top of the chart of goal-scorers. Fulham got very hurt by their own defensive errors but did not mount a fight until the second half. Although they pulled one back around the 70th minute which reduced the arrears and ensured a tight finish.