Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Southampton's crunch clash with Everton at Goodison Park in the Premier League.
How have Everton evolved tactically under Frank Lampard?
Just under one year ago, Lampard was unveiled as Everton manager alongside two new attack-minded signings in Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek (on loan). The idea was clear: Lampard was to liven up the Toffees and he’d been given the tools to do it.
Immediately, Everton began pressing high and making games high-octane, energetic affairs – but slowly, over the following 12 months, the energy dissipated and the defensive line dropped deeper. Now, Alli and Van de Beek are gone, they often play with five at the back and sit very deep – a total 180 on Lampard’s initial approach and presumed preferred style.
Summer signings Conor Coady and James Tarkowski marshall the defensive line and defend the box; with Ben Godfrey back from injury it becomes an effective three-man corps. Stacking the defence hasn’t necessarily resulted in protecting Jordan Pickford, though: he’s made the third-most saves (68) of any Premier League goalkeeper this season.
How will this battle differ from the last time these two sides met?
The most obvious difference is that there’s a different face in the Southampton dugout, and Nathan Jones will walk into Goodison Park full of confidence in his team after two excellent cup victories.
There’s perhaps a more important difference in midfield, though, which may go some way towards shaping this game: Roméo Lavia is back for Saints – while Alex Iwobi is injured for Everton.
Iwobi was the best player on the park when these two met in October, controlling the pace of the game from midfield and delivering an assist to cap it off. Without him, the Toffees find it much harder to dictate proceedings and that will likely instruct a more counter-attacking gameplan.
Lavia’s presence in the centre for Saints is huge – vividly illustrated in midweek against Manchester City – as he facilitates lots of short interplay and good periods of possession. He’ll play the Iwobi role from the first meeting and hope to deliver just as much damage.
What else can Southampton use to their advantage?
Jones will be pleased that several Southampton players have jumped into form in the last week: Sékou Mara’s first Saints goal is a huge plus; Kyle Walker-Peters’s performance against Man City was a sight to behold; Lyanco’s getting better by the game; and Gavin Bazunu is looking steadily more assured.
Just as important as Southampton’s renewed confidence, though, will be the strategy of preying on their opponent’s lack of it. Goodison Park isn’t a happy place right now, with fan unrest directed toward both the dugout and the director’s box. There’s a planned sit-in protest at full time from the home fans to show their dissatisfaction with how things are going.
A fast start, an early goal or even just some good initial possession could work the crowd to Southampton’s benefit.
Predicted XI (5-3-2): Pickford; Coleman, Godfrey, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko; Gueye, Doucouré, Onana; Gray, Calvert-Lewin.
-With Godfrey fit and both Coady and Tarkowski remaining key, Lampard could well revert to a back-three formation
-Iwobi’s injury opens up room for Doucouré to step into the midfield
-Gray and Calvert-Lewin will try to combine in attack – but can sometimes end up isolated and outnumbered
-Pickford, Onana and Tarkowski have been Everton’s highlight performers of late