Everton have been one of the form teams in the Premier League so far, but they fell short against Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday. Their performance was very unlike what we have been used to from Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season, so why was that? In this article, I will look at the reasons why Southampton managed to get the better of the Toffees in this clash.
There are two things we need to mention with this; Everton’s 4-3-3 formation, and how it limited them, and the role played by Southampton’s full-backs, Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand, in the win. We will start by looking at Everton’s formation.
Firstly, the 4-3-3 relies on the full-backs keeping the natural width for the team, because the point of it is to bring the wider attackers inside much more, supporting the central striker. Liverpool have shown this in their setup since Jurgen Klopp came in, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson both getting forward and providing the width for the Reds, putting crosses into the box for the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to get on the end of. Leicester are another who use a variant of it, with James Justin and Timothy Castagne getting up the pitch, allowing Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes to tuck inside and support Jamie Vardy in the middle.
However, Everton in this game didn’t have that, as their full-backs weren’t making these runs forward. The lack of natural width in this formation, along with the full-backs not getting forward, meant that Everton couldn’t get balls into their attackers that often. This is because, on the right side, they started Ben Godfrey. However, he is much more of a centre-back, and this is perhaps why he didn’t get as far forward as the full-backs need to to make this system work to it’s full potential.
This is where Everton went wrong in this game, and it was this that Southampton looked to take advantage of. As Everton didn’t want their wide forwards, Alex Iwobi and James Rodriguez, to get too wide, the Saints were able to move their full-backs higher up the pitch, and they dominated the wings as a result. This created a constant source of problems for Everton, because Southampton had passing options open on either wing because of this, and they could then get the ball into the final third relatively easily because of this.
To get the ball out to the full-backs, Southampton had to be patient on the ball, but they used the other downside of the 4-3-3 system, which is that there are clear gaps between the opponents, to do this. Therefore, when the moment came, and the space was available, Walker-Peters and Betrand made the run forward, and the centre-backs or central midfielders then passed the ball through the gaps to find them.
In the attacking third, Everton’s defence was too narrow, with the full-backs joining the centre-backs in looking to stop Southampton attacking centrally. However, that allowed the full-backs to take up positions either side of the box, meaning that Southampton could constantly get the ball into the box from these wide areas. Everton’s narrow defensive structure meant that, most of the time, they could block balls into the box, but the scoreline shows that they were opened up at least twice. Everton also didn’t get out to close down the Southampton attackers, because they would have left gaps open which the Saints could have then exploited.
Southampton, meanwhile, because they dominated the wings, could get up to close down the Everton players when they had the ball. The fact that they were using a 4-4-2 system meant that they had a full-back and a winger on either side working together, creating a 2-v-1 in the wide areas, increasing their dominance over the Toffees. This pressing was another key aspect that led to the Saints getting the better of Everton in this game.
Therefore, we have seen in this article the reasons why Everton lost their first game of the season at Southampton’s hands. It all came down to the systems that Carlo Ancelotti and Ralph Hassenhuttl used for this game, but what we have shown is that Everton’s structure gave Southampton the space they needed to dominate the game. Everton will bounce back from this defeat, but, for Southampton, this performance and result shows just how much they have improved in the last 12 months under Hassenhuttl, given that, 12 months ago, they had lost 9-0 against Leicester, with questions being asked about him and them. They have been struggling at the bottom of the table in the last few seasons, but it looks very much like they will be well clear from danger this season.