Three Talking Points from Everton’s Meek 3-0 defeat to Manchester City

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Blues frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin was again absent for Sunday’s trip to the Etihad, marking the 10th game he has missed since sustaining an injury against Brighton on August 28. Initially the team managed well without his services as other players – most notably newcomer Andros Townsend – scored, but those days seemed long gone when the final whistle sounded in Manchester and the defeated Blues trudged lost from the field. pitch. The great Englishman is not an easy player to replace, given his combination of traits – aerial presence, hard work, pace and solid play – and none of the alternatives tried so far by beleaguered manager Rafa Benitez came into play. close to providing a viable alternative.

Against City, it was once again Richarlison’s turn to give the team a central point and as in his two previous attempts, against Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, he was ineffective. The Brazilian has repeatedly expressed his preference for playing down the middle, as a central striker, but it is becoming increasingly clear that he is a more influential player when he operates in his more famous wide left position.

In the last three games against City, Spurs and Wolves, he has run out of ball, comfortably under 30 touches in each game and has only collected one shot on target – against Wolves. He has a dismal combined xG (Expected Goals) of 0.1 from the last 2 matches and also didn’t create any chances for his teammates. He made a frustrated impression at the Etihad, which no doubt contributed to his being given a stupid yellow card, his fifth of the season, which will prevent the team from having him available for their visit to Brentford at the weekend.

The team needs Richarlison on the pitch, but in a position where he can show his talent, run quickly with the ball, take advantage of opportunities and help defensively. As a striker, he’s wasted, chasing wild clearances or battling for high balls against bigger mid-halfs (won only 1 of 9 air challenges on Sunday). Judging by Benitez’s comments after the game, Salomon Rondon is likely to replace the Brazilian against Brentford, although he has so far shown nothing in an Everton shirt and it is optimistic to expect this to change. But unless the manager rolls the dice and trusts a youngster like Ellis Simms, fans will be faced with either Richarlison or the great Venezuelan struggling at the top.

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Caught in No Man’s Land

As expected, Benitez took a pragmatic approach to the defending Premier League champions, emphasizing structure and defensive responsibility. He deviated from the 4-1-4-1 he had implemented since the second half of the Wolves match and returned to a 4-4-1-1 with Fabian Delph playing alongside Allan and Townsend moving forward as a nominal no. .10. The game plan presumably was to relinquish possession to City, take the pressure and then try to break the pace when the opportunity arose; such tactics had served the team well enough earlier in the season. After a decent start and especially after Demarai Gray robbed the Blues of much of their attacking threat in the 17th minute, and most notably after Demarai Gray withdrew through injury, Everton found themselves effectively cornered, the home side were in able to patiently search for openings at will.

Starving for the ball – City scored an astonishing 94.3% possession between the 15th and 30th minutes – the away side took an oddly passive stance, camped in their own half and unable to turn the ball around with any regularity. Everton’s defensive numbers looked decent, but this was more a factor of how a lot of defense they played, rather than a measure of its effect. Whether by inclination or instruction, the Toffees would apply an ineffective half-pressure, far stopping the player with the ball, who consequently had ample time to play a penetrating pass, or simply recycle possession. It looked like the players would either pull out of their positions, leaving gaps to be exploited, or turn around and beat for the pace. Regardless, this style of play helped Pep Guardiola’s men achieve a staggering 92.2% pass rate. Substitute Riyad Mahrez, introduced after 58 minutes, finished with more touches than any Everton outfielder, a humiliating stat.

Whenever Everton pushed their backline up, the Mancunians were just playing balls over the top. The Blues slowly became mesmerized, unwilling to actively apply pressure, so concerned were they to maintain a rigid form and present no significant threat during those rare and short transition periods.

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What now?

Few Blues fans would have been surprised by Sunday’s loss, not even by the way it unfolded. This is a measure of the class divide that exists between the two sides and also the current funk the team is in. The showing on Sunday continued the worrying trend of a faltering attack and it is unclear when or if this slump will occur. correct themselves. There is no set date for Calvert-Lewin’s return yet. Richarlison is totally wasted as a striker and is suspended for the next game. Gray is now injured, and early reports say he could be out until the new year. Abdoulaye Doucoure is nearing a return, as is Yerry Mina.

On Sunday and last week against the Spurs, Townsend was sacrificed in a central position, deployed more because of his pace of work and ability to follow instructions, rather than because of his attacking threat. To some extent this is out of necessity as Everton’s midfield options have steadily declined. Had Delph somehow failed to be available for 3 consecutive matches, things would have looked even bleaker. The upcoming game against an out-of-form Brentford side is absolutely vital as the Goodison Derby looms after that, followed by tough games against the youthful Arsenal side of EFC Mikel Arteta, the vibrant Crystal Palace outfit of Patrick Viera and Thomas Tuchels commander Chelsea, the reigning European champions.

What the hell is Benitez going to do, with a patched-together midfield and anemic attackers? Barring a miraculous early return for one of the club’s many injured players, it looks like the manager will simply replace Richarlison and Gray with Rondon and Alex Iwobi and either keep the formation deployed at the Etihad or the 4 Drawn up 1-4-1 against Tottenham and during the second half at Molineux. Of course Rafa sees these players in training every day, but desperate times may call for desperate measures and maybe he should roll the dice and give a few youngsters, such as towering striker Ellis Simms, or promising midfielder Tyler Onyango a chance? Or call on Jean-Philippe Gbamin to play in a midfield 3, with Delph and Allan, freeing up the influential Townsend to resume his role on the right wing? Admittedly, the Ivorian struggled massively against Wolves a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t alone in that and won’t regain his form by staying rooted to the bench.

Whatever Benitez decides, this moment is crucial and he has to get it right this time, both in terms of staff and approach.

Manchester City v Everton - Premier League

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