Everton’s Tactics under Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti took over Everton in December,
leading them to two consecutive wins against Burnley and Newcastle United. Up to and including the game against Crystal
Palace, Everton have won five league games, drawn two, and lost only to Manchester City,
although they did also lose a Merseyside derby in the FA Cup to a very young and inexperienced
Liverpool side. Ancelotti is one of the leading managers in
world football, with significant successes achieved during his time at AC Milan, including
two Champions League titles, as well as league wins with Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and
Bayern Munich, and another Champions League win with Real Madrid. He’s known for being a tactical flexible
coach, overcoming a slightly dogmatic adherence to a 4-4-2 developed at Reggiana and then
Parma, and he’s also well-regarded for adapting his tactics to suit his squad and for his
man management skills. Despite this flexibility, Ancelotti still
likes his sides to defend in a 4-4-2 shape. He believes this achieves the greatest degree
of horizontal and vertical compactness, a clear echo of the influential Italian coach
Arrigo Sacchi. Ancelotti also seems to favour a degree of
pressing, especially high. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the more aggressive
presser, while Richarlison tends to sit off slightly to mark the diagonal out-ball from
left-side to right, but he will engage should the ball move across to the opposition right
back. Behind these two, the midfield generally align
as a horizontally compact line of four, with the wingers tucking inside slightly; this
allows the full backs to push up and press should this line be by-passed out wide and
they are, in turn, covered by the centre-backs moving wide or the central midfield dropping
off. It’s also worth noting that one of the two
central midfielders, usually Gylfi Sigurdsson, is also freed up to push forwards to press
centrally should the opposition start to move the ball backwards in anything other than
a very controlled manner. This is a good indication of how Ancelotti
mixes zonal and man-orientated pressing. Should this happen, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin
tend to fan wide to ensure the press is uniform across the pitch. This pressing system has downsides which,
interesting, are echoes of some of the problems Ancelotti had at Napoli too. The aggressiveness of the full backs, and
the 4-4-2 formation, mean that should team bypass the first two lines of the press, Everton
can be caught out. This is especially the case if a centre-back
is pulled wide and the central midfield cannot cover quickly enough. However, it’s an issue that, on balance,
is probably worth accepting given Everton’s increased ability to win back the ball and
transition to attack. In attack, Everton have looked fairly assured
since the Italian took over. In common with a number of other teams, a
central midfielder, usually the more defensive of the two from the central pairing, will
drop off to provide the semblance of a back three. This permits the full backs to push high and
wide and provide crossing opportunities. On the left especially, Bernard will drift
infield to be an option for the dynamic, attacking Lucas Digne to work one-twos and find space. On the right, Theo Walcott will sometimes
do this, but he also likes to go outside while the right-back pushes in – this worked very
well for Everton’s first against Crystal Palace, for example. Walcott’s pace and energy has been a factor
for Everton, as he is able to get back to double up defensively with the right-back,
either Sidibe or Coleman, and then burst forwards to provide an attacking threat. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin appear to be
working well in tandem. Richarlison can loiter behind the aerially
strong Calvert-Lewin, waiting for knock downs or half clearances, but the Brazilian will
also run ahead the English striker, who is happy to drop back and play him in, or look
to shift the ball wide before moving into the box. The Brazilian certainly has a freer role,
but he is not the sort of ‘striker’ who actually drops off and mostly plays as a ten,
nor does he play as an inverted forward who happens to be in a front two rather than a
front three. He is arguably Everton’s most dangerous
player and Ancelotti has found a role for him that accentuates his strengths while also
managing to retain enough structure to ensure he’s part of the defensive set-up. Everton look most dangerous when they can
run at pace against a defence, using the skill and awareness of players like Richarlison,
Bernard, Digne, and Calvert-Lewin to drive at teams. The set-piece threat of Yerry Mina is significant
too, as Watford found to their cost. Everton can construct attacks from deeper,
but they have to work hard to manufacture the little opportunities to get players into
space and use the pace that makes them dangerous. Nonetheless, under Ancelotti, Everton seem
to be a team with a clearer identity and plan than under Marco Silva; the experienced Italian’s
man-management, tactical astuteness, and ability to work out how to get the best from a squad
is paying dividends for the Toffees.