Premier League victories had been hard to come by for Everton in 2019/20, winning just twice in eight matches, but these will be three of the easiest points they gain this season. From minute one, they imposed themselves on the game and with central attacking pairing Alex Iwobi and Richarlison leading an effective press, West Ham struggled to get out of their own half. Everton’s energy in and out of possession combined with the in-form Andriy Yarmolenko absent from the starting lineup, saw West Ham fail to test England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during the opening quarter of the match. Justifiably left on the bench following two international matches with Ukraine, at a time that he continues to work his way back from an achilles tendon rupture, West Ham lacked pace to get in behind Everton’s defence. Whilst tidy in possession, wide midfield operators Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals were not able to get beyond resolute full backs Djibril Sidibe and Lucas Digne. Without adequate support from full-backs Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku, both of whom possess the pace and power to trouble Everton in wide areas, West Ham’s attacks became very one-dimensional. Therefore, a first clean sheet in seven games owed far more to West Ham’s inability to carve out clear cut opportunities than Everton completely reverting to the form of eight clean sheets in their final 11 games last season. The difference being, they no longer have Idrissa Gueye.
Perhaps West Ham looked to exploit this midfield weakness, but their narrow shape simply allowed Everton to crowd the midfield and hunt the man on the ball until possession was overturned. With target man and main goalscoring threat Sebastian Haller also preferring to receive the ball to feet rather than in behind, defenders Michael Keane and Yerry Mina pressed aggressively, forming a high line which forced him away from goal at every opportunity. Therefore, Everton’s well-organised defensive shape saw them effectively deal with all three of West Ham’s main threats: creative midfielders, pace in behind from the full-backs and Haller’s ability to bring others into play as a target man. Everton’s high line was particularly key, reducing the space with which West Ham’s midfielders could work in, squeezing the game away from their goal in the knowledge that their opponents would struggle to get in behind.
The result of this was a dominant, thoroughly deserved victory for Everton, with Bernard’s 17th minute opener fully deserved following a period of early pressure. It could have been 2-0 just six minutes later as Richarlison and Iwobi played a one-two before the Brazilian struck the post. Everton’s energy allowed them to play the match on their terms, forcing West Ham to retreat into a deep defensive line out of possession. Consequently, they lacked the ability to win possession back high up the pitch, failing to punish nervy moments in the Everton defence such as when Michael Keane had to chest down a driven Pickford pass on the edge of his own penalty area during the first-half. This retreat into their own territory also limited the effectiveness of Manuel Lanzini, who as the left-sided of three central midfielder, was often tasked with aiding full-back Masuaku in dealing with the excellent Walcott and Sidibe. Whilst Lanzini’s defensive efforts were admirable, the fact that the majority of the Argentine’s work occurred in such areas demonstrated the superiority that Everton held in the game. They effectively suffocated West Ham throughout the game, forcing them backwards whilst they enjoyed plenty of the ball in the middle and final thirds.
This is further indicated by the average positions maps shown below. Everton central defenders Keane (4) and Mina (13) were able to squeeze up, owing to West Ham’s lack of threat in behind. Comparing them with Diop (23) and Ogbonna (21) from West Ham, there is a clear difference, as is the case with the entire teams aside from the two deeper lying central midfielders, Davies (26) and Gomes (21) with Noble (16) and Rice (41). This was not an issue of a lack of possession as Everton only edged it 52-48%. Instead, West Ham did not have possession in the final third frequently enough, taking 117 touches to Everton’s 189. The two wide designated wide players, Anderson (8) and Fornals (18) came looking for the ball in deeper positions where they were not required far too often and this combined with the two full-backs failing to venture forward often enough made the nature of West Ham’s attacks fairly predictable. They were easy to defend against and operated too deep when in possession, whilst Everton looked to play forward at every opportunity, backed by a variety of attacking threats. This included last season’s most creative defender Lucas Digne, who after creating four chances, at least two more than any other player on the pitch, cemented his place as the league’s second most creative defender behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. Aided by set-piece duties, this resulted in him operating around as high up the pitch as opposing attacking midfielder Fornals. Such positional differences mean that Everton’s 316 touches in the opposition half to West Ham’s 219 was no surprise.
Even following Yarmolenko’s introduction for Anderson at half-time, the tide did not turn in West Ham’s favour. Creating one chance and taking one of the Hammers’ four shots on target, he was merely a dim light in a dark room. Bringing on the Ukrainian at the earliest possible opportunity as well as replacing Fornals just after the hour mark was the clearest indication of West Ham’s difficulty in the final third, with the two wide players failing to link-up with their corresponding full-back, nor posing much of a goalscoring threat individually. However, the blame should not simply go to Anderson and Fornals as none of West Ham’s attacking players were on form. An open play xG of just 0.25 exemplifies this, the third worst of 16 Premier League teams to play on Saturday. This was hugely disappointing, given that Everton had previously been amongst the league’s bottom half for xGC (expected goals conceded) in open play.
Everton’s recent frailties from set-pieces proved to be West Ham’s main hope of a goal as only the Toffees themselves (0.80) managed more than their 0.53 in Saturday’s matches. Although, this was largely skewed by one event in the match, a corner that should not have even been given as a result of an unspotted foul on Sidibe. Goalkeeper Pickford denied Ogbonna what looked a certain goal with the score at 1-0 – the xG of that being 0.41, from an chance that should not have occurred, further highlighting the misfortune Everton would have endured had they not picked up all three points. That Ogbonna chance was nearly half of West Ham’s total as they succumbed to a 2.09-0.78 xG defeat, demonstrating that Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late clincher and the subsequent margin of victory was fully deserved.
It is easy to highlight the issues with this West Ham performance but credit has to go to Everton and manager Marco Silva for the dominance they enjoyed throughout. The return of midfielder Andre Gomes was vital, after the Portuguese international played just six minutes across those most recent four defeats. He, and Tom Davies to a lesser extent dictated the tempo of the game, despite having a numerical inferiority against Rice, Noble and Lanzini – the latter who operated as a number 8 in comparison to Iwobi who played just off the front. No player attempted more than Gomes’ 46 passes, but his influence on the game goes beyond that numerical value. Most notable was how progressive he was with his passing as only Alex Iwobi (22) completed more passes in the opposition half than Gomes (21). Albeit, this is marginally less than his per 90 average of 22.84 in 2018/19. It is not so much that Everton cannot play without a progressive passer like Gomes, as in the 11 league matches he did not play last season, they still accrued 19 points – an average of 1.73 per game strangely beating their 1.42 average. Rather that following Idrissa Gueye’s summer departure, Everton suddenly found themselves without the dual midfield anchor that served them so well in 2018/19, hindering their efforts to regain possession through Gueye and in transition via Gomes. With former loanee Kurt Zouma back at Chelsea too, Everton’s defensive core has been ripped out and a lack of cohesion in defensive areas combined with somewhat related struggles in front of goal is a reasonable explanation for their poor start to the season. This is not a team that has gone from three points off Europa League qualification to relegation candidates – they simply need time to adapt and integrate the new signings.
Looking ahead, it is perhaps unwise to base assertions on these two teams based on this performance alone. West Ham put in one of their worst performances under Pellegrini, which leaves little for certain aside from Yarmolenko coming straight back into the starting lineup. Though with an xG and xA of 0.63 and 1.22 in eight appearances, he is hardly setting the league alight in the final third. Everton were excellent but remain fragile defensively and unpredictable in attack, both in terms of performance and selection. Coach’s son Richarlison is the first name on the team sheet, but his link-up play with Alex Iwobi warrants that to remain the case in the near future rather than both being axed to opposite flanks. This provides Silva with a conundrum: stick with the winning formula or accommodate Sigurdsson, who with 17 goal attempts and 22 chances created so far is one of just seven players to hit 15+ for each metric. Productivity has never been his problem and against defences less charitable as West Ham were, a potentially rejuvenated Sigurdsson following his goal certainly still has a key role to play for his team this season. With him, Bernard and Iwobi, Everton are spoilt for choice in the number 10 role, a theme that haunted the end of Ronald Koeman’s reign two years ago on Wednesday. But victory against West Ham will rightly help to dismiss rumours of Silva suffering a similar fate and signify that Everton now have many more weapons in their arsenal. Consistency will ultimately halt either side improving on 8th and 10th place finishes last season, as even after just one quarter of the season played, the very best and very worst of both sides has already been observed.
- Stats and position maps via Fantasy Football Scout Members Area
- Image Credit: By Biloblue – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, viewable here