Under manager Sean Dyche, Everton’s style of play has been transformed, utilizing a formation of 4-5-1. The Toffees have adopted a direct approach, offering more in attack than they did playing under Frank Lampard’s possession-based style. Under Lampard, Everton looked to build in attack.
This resulted in very little end product, hampered by a lack of attacking options and slow build-up play. In Lampard’s last 11 Premier League games, Everton only scored 4 goals. In Dyche’s first nine games, the side scored eight times. As well as utilizing a 4-5-1, Dyche’s attitude reflects David Moyes’ when he took over at Everton, fighting for three points as a team even when they didn’t always have the players.
Everton’s striker dilemma
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin injury-prone and recent signing Neal Maupay disappointing in front of goal, Everton has lacked a real target man. Recently, top scorer Demarai Gray has been put into the striker role, with Alex Iwobi returning to play wide.
Another option employed by Dyche has been former Sunderland loanee Ellis Simms. The same height as Calvert-Lewin, the striker is quick and has a strong physical presence. Simms has begun to grow into the Premier League. Looking isolated and nervy in the Merseyside derby, he showed signs of improvement, easing past Kalidou Koulibaly to score a late equaliser against Chelsea.
Highlighted in recent footage of Everton’s training sessions, there has been a real emphasis on getting the team fitter. They are also capable of running for longer periods. This was an area that Dyche wanted to strengthen when he came in, along with Everton’s pressing.
The importance of former Burnley players
Everton may have suffered from a lack of depth this season, only worsened by numerous key injuries. This was why it was particularly surprising when they made zero signings in the January window.
Dyche is utilizing what he knows, players he trusts from his days at Burnley. This was highlighted in his first game, a 1-0 win against Premier League leaders Arsenal. Two former Burnley players linked up as Dwight McNeil’s corner was headed in by James Tarkowski. The Gunners couldn’t take advantage of their 71% possession, barely troubling Jordan Pickford. The English keeper only making two saves at that point. Defenders threw their bodies on the line, while wingers worked with the midfield to block Arsenal centrally.
Under Frank Lampard, Everton were much more open, but under Dyche the Toffees remained compact. This style of play has also benefited McNeil, who is used to running back and working harder. Against Arsenal, McNeil and Iwobi helped their fullbacks, tracking back to stop prolific scorers Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. This all culminated in Everton players running more than 3km further than they had in any other Premier League game this season.
Lack of attacking threat means Dyche has also utilised a former weakness of Everton this season, in set pieces. Selling dead-ball specialist Lucas Digne meant Anthony Gordon was left to take over. Now with Dwight McNeil on set plays, Everton has played to their strengths. As the tallest team in the Premier League, they are using James Tarkowski as a target man. The centre-back is a leader in Everton’s defense. Tarkowski is third in the Premier League for both most aerial battles won and most clearances at 153.
Keane and Tarkowski also enjoyed a partnership at Burnley, with the latter looking up to Keane, hoping to follow in his footsteps when he left the club. Everton’s signing of Tarkowski originally looked like a replacement for the seemingly departing Keane.
Dyche has frequently mentioned the importance of having a relentless, winning mentality. Akin to other teams in and around the relegation zone, Everton has struggled to kill off games. Too often they have crumbled after conceding.
Notably, when Abdoulaye Doucouré got sent off after hitting out at Harry Kane, many fans would’ve thought Everton were out of the game. Kane himself converted a penalty to make it 1-0 after Michael Keane fouled Cristian Romero. But Keane’s incredible long-range effort – following a sending-off for Lucas Moura after a vicious challenge on the defender – saw another thrilling turnaround by the Toffees.
Everton is now in games until the very end. Sean Dyche’s repetition of “the minimum requirement is maximum effort” echoes Evertonians’ desire for their team to go out there and give everything for the shirt. In particular, Keane was seemingly out of the frame in favour of Conor Coady this season. He recently explained how Frank Lampard had told him that ‘there’s nothing really’ he could do to get a chance, with age being a factor. Conversely, when talking about Dyche, Keane told Sky Sports post-match, “I just know straight away he believes in me”.
There remains uncertainty about which three teams will be going down this season. Nevertheless, amid this uncertainty, Everton’s decision to go with a manager that has experience in relegation dogfights is paying off. Showing a fighting spirit that the club has lacked for so long, is vital in giving Everton their best chance to beat the drop.
Everton is away to Man United in an early Saturday kick-off. Last time out at Old Trafford it was a 1-1 draw.