New defence could solve old Everton problem

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Yerry Mina and Michael Keane of Everton celebrate after the Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12, 2020 in Liverpool, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Yerry Mina and Michael Keane of Everton celebrate after the Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12, 2020 in Liverpool, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images) /
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Everton secured a fine 1-0 win over Chelsea last night and importantly a very welcome and long-overdue clean sheet to boot. Perhaps the new-look back four we saw yesterday can solve the team’s defensive problems.

While injuries, the absence of key players, a mis-firing attack and inconsistent form have all plagued Everton, the team’s defensive problems have perhaps been the biggest single issue for some time.

The Toffees have been vulnerable at the back ever since David Moyes left Goodison Park in 2013. The Scotsman’s teams weren’t very adventurous and exciting to watch, but they were usually very solid and didn’t concede a lot of goals.

His successor Roberto Martinez tried to change the way the team played to a much more open and offensive approach, but in the process he undermined the defensive strength that had been the hallmark of the team under Moyes.

After that failed experiment, the Toffees went back to a more conservative coach in Ronald Koeman who placed more emphasis on defensive, counter-attacking tactics. That too didn’t last long and the Dutchman left in October 2017.

Following the Sam Allardyce interregnum, when Marco Silva was made Blues boss in 2018, he started using a zonal marking system, which Everton’s defenders struggled to adjust to.

Last season the Toffees were again very poor defensively, leaking goals and with a spluttering attack struggled to produce any consistency in results.

The team were languishing in the bottom half of the Premier League and facing a relegation battle when they visited Anfield in December 2019.

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That match threw the team’s defensive frailties into a stark light and resulted in a five goal thrashing by the Blues arch enemy. It was the end for Silva and he was gone a few days later.

While Everton searched for yet another new manager, Duncan Ferguson was put in temporary charge and he went back to basics adopting a 4-4-2 formation with a renewed emphasis on defensive solidity.

This worked for a few games and when Carlo Ancelotti took the reigns at Goodison Park, he stuck to that tactical system for the rest of the season.

Generally the Toffees looked a bit more stable and solid in defence until the final match of the campaign before the Covid suspension, when they were decisively beaten 4-0 at Chelsea.

Well of course this season Ancelotti has usually used a 4-3-3 formation to accommodate his new signings, in particular James Rodriguez.

Right from the beginning of the season though, after an opening day clean sheet at Spurs, which was exactly three months ago, the defence was still leaking goals aplenty.

Ancelotti has tried all the combinations of players possible and another new formation a 3-4-3, in an attempt to stem the flow of goals. But the goals kept on being conceded.

Yesterday came a really tough match on paper as Everton faced a free-scoring Chelsea team which had scored more goals than other team apart from Liverpool. Could the Toffees hold them at bay?

Yes was the answer and into the bargain the team secured a clean sheet too. A major reason for that was the manager’s decision to go for a back four made up of centre-halves. A superbly battling midfield was also a key factor, but that back four worked very well.

The two who played at full-back, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey are versatile players who can operate anywhere across the backline and have also both played in midfield.

They seemed very comfortable at full-back yesterday. With their pace and confidence on the ball they offered enough of an attacking outlet in a game in which the Blues were largely on the back foot and importantly gave additional security and support to Micheal Keane and Yerry Mina.

Godfrey in particular was outstanding, coping with Chelsea’s pace and movement up front and supplying his team-mates with good ball.

While it might not be the answer every week, perhaps Ancelotti has found a backline that can finally help to overcome the problems his defence has wrestled with for so long, particularly without the first-choice full-backs.