A flexible formation changed the game as it finished Everton 1-1 Spurs in our opening Premier League encounter.
Formational flexibility is the step that we want to Spurs take this season. We got an early indication that we are making strides to achieve it at Goodison Park. Seeing his trusted initial setup stall, Mauricio Pochettino was quick to change it. The move turned the match around. The game finished Everton 1-1 Spurs but it could’ve easily been an away win.
Everton’s back three
Ronald Koeman had utilised a back three at times in preseason. He wasn’t shy about starting with it on opening day. In spite of playing James McCarthy at right back and giving young centre back Mason Holgate his debut, Koeman went with a 3-4-3.
The formation gave us problems for a couple of reasons. Firstly Everton were able to move the ball around at the back. Often only against Harry Kane, the trio could circulate the play around him. Even when we brought another presser, they still had 3v2 or an out ball to the goalkeeper.
Compounding this were Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye. Koeman went with two ball winners to shield his back four and congest the central areas we love to frequent.
The second issue we had with it was that our trio behind Harry Kane were too deep. Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing system often focuses on denying the ball in to the opposition’s defensive midfielder. The idea is to take away the central area of the pitch. The player on the ball then hesitates and is closed down.
With two defensive midfielders and a back three, we simply didn’t have the numbers to deny Everton moving the ball forward.
Everton forward ball movement
When Everton did have possession, they were looking to go up the pitch, and quickly. This would see them play a number of vertical balls. They were looking to either hit the feet or spray the passes in to spaces beyond our high line for Gerard Deulofeu to scamper after. The Spaniard would chase and look for Kevin Mirallas or Ross Barkley running off him.
Everton’s opener came from doing just this. Gareth Barry immediately sent a pass up the pitch, across the floor, in to the feet of Deulofeu. His first-time flick put it in to the path of Kevin Mirallas. Victor Wanyama tried to make a tackle, but was just too slow to react, tripping the Everton man.
Ross Barkley swung in the resulting free kick. Our zonal defensive system saw us caught out in our 1-0 preseason loss to Atletico Madrid. Similarly here, there was an overload and that caused our keeper trouble.
With bodies in front of him, Hugo Lloris was unable to commit to diving towards the corner until the ball had cleared them. The threat of one of them getting a touch to divert it was enough that he had to hold his position. It was a frustrating goal to give up, especially after just 5 minutes.
The goal also seemed to injure Hugo. He struggled on, but Michel Vorm had to enter the game midway through the first half. He slotted in nicely. Even though he was involved playing the ball around at the back more than he would’ve liked, Vorm’s distribution was good. He also made an excellent save as Deulofeu scampered on to Danny Rose’s poor back pass.
Spurs lack pressure
Vorm’s 1v1 save from Rose’s underhit pass showed how we were not putting Everton’s defenders under any kind of stress, but they were pressuring us.
The first half saw us fail to pressure Everton’s back three often enough when they had the ball. When we had possession, our advanced midfield trio were too central and not high enough. Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were caught cutting inside, often in front of the Everton defensive midfield pairing.
It gave us too many lines of defence to play through. Harry Kane was often 1v3 and we were restricted offensively to very little. A Christian Eriksen curler from outside the box that was easily gathered was about as good as it got.
Mauricio Pochettino partnering Eric Dier with Victor Wanyama didn’t help them. Both players are very similar in that they are excellent ball winners. However, neither is then looking to push up the pitch and get the ball moving in-between the lines.
Like to see us go 2 up top to put more pressure on the Everton back three.
— Spurs Fanatic (@spurs_fanatical) 13 August 2016
Spurs switch formation
On 55 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino had seen enough and decided to change it. He withdrew one of our defensive midfielders and brought on striker Vincent Janssen.
The tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 changed to a 4-1-4-1. Wanyama sat in front of the centre backs on his own. The four in front of him saw Lamela go to the left, Eriksen to the right with Kane and Dele central behind Janssen.
The move did two things. With the ball it got Janssen and Kane in the box. Lamela, Dele and Eriksen backed them up, as we simply overloaded the Everton defence.
Without the ball, all three Everton centre backs were now pressured. They were rushed, closed down or forced in to hurried clearances.
It was one such clearance that led to our equaliser. Erik Lamela closed down, harrying the defender to shank clear. Toby Alderweireld picked the errant clearance. He immediately got the ball out to Kyle Walker.
Walker vs Baines
We looked at the weakness Ronald Koeman teams have in the left back zone in the Everton vs Spurs preview. After Mauricio Pochettino’s formation switch Everton were forced back and Kyle Walker gave Leighton Baines fits.
Toby Alderweireld had passed the ball out to Walker, his under lapping run took Baines with him, allowing our right back to cross.
With Everton’s three centre backs now occupied by Kane, Lamela and Alli they all had someone to mark. Harry Kane’s run took Phil Jagielka underneath the cross at the near post, leaving Erik Lamela to steal a march on the inexperienced Mason Holgate. He overpowered the youngster to nod a precise header in to the corner, Everton 1-1 Spurs.
The formation switch really brought Walker to life as it isolated him 1v1 against Leighton Baines. Our chances continued to come from getting him in to the Everton left back’s zone.
Another cross found the head of Erik Lamela once again. However, this time he was squashed in-between two defenders and couldn’t direct it on target.
Walker roasted Baines once more to drive a shot in at Stekelenburg’s near post. The keeper pushed it round for a corner. The resulting set piece saw the ball fall to Vincent Janssen. With the goal gaping, Janssen did everything right as he swivelled and fired a shot. However, Stekelenburg anticipated it too well and was able to pull off a miraculous save.
The chances all came from Walker getting in to Baines’ left back zone, but the game was almost decided from the right. A break saw Harry Kane find Erik Lamela streaking beyond stand-in full back James McCarthy. Lamela delayed and should’ve cut back inside as the defenders slid across him. He didn’t and saw his shot deflected up and then tipped on to the bar by Maarten Stekelenburg. It was the final real chance that could’ve broken the Everton 1-1 Spurs deadlock.
Everton 1-1 Spurs overall
Formational flexibility is the step that Spurs need to make this season. Having more looks than the trusted 4-2-3-1 will be key to making positive strides forward this season. It puts opponents off balance and makes us more difficult to plan for.
At Goodison it allowed us to alter during the game when things weren’t going our way. Against three centre backs, pressure has to be brought against all of them when you are an active pressing team without the ball. Spurs did that after switching to a 4-1-4-1 and pushing the front five players on.
The final score was Everton 1-1 Spurs but it could’ve been an away win in the end. Spurs were dominant in the second half as Everton were forced back and looked like the 70% fit team that Ronald Koeman said they were before kick-off.
We won’t play two strikers every week, but this is an exciting glimpse in to just what this season will hold. Having the flexibility to run a number of formations, even within the same game, will be the next addition to this young side.
Final score: Everton 1-1 Spurs.
MOTM: Erik Lamela.