Everton analysis as Sean Dyche makes five key changes to solve biggest issue of the season
Sean Dyche started off his reign as Everton manager with a 1-0 victory over Arsenal.
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Sean Dyche scarcely joins an exclusive club after winning his first game as Everton manager. It was a feat achieved by his predecessor Frank Lampard - and Rafa Benitez beforehand. Given the pair lasted six and 12 months respectively, it means little.
Still, try telling that to those inside Goodison Park who watched the 1-0 victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal. Not only was a first win since October yielded, but the belief that Dyche can steer the Toffees out of their latest relegation dogfight is buoyant. Everton were full value for three points as they handed the Gunners only their second league defeat of the season.
Dyche wasn’t everyone’s first choice to take the hot seat. He still may not have convinced the entire fanbase he can ensure Everton retain their proud, perpetual Premier League status. However, with just five days to work with his new players at Finch Farm, the impact he’s had so far has been stark.
The first glaring change was how Everton set-up from the outset. When the team news came out an hour before kick-off, it was unclear whether a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation would be deployed. As Arsenal got things started, it was the latter. Dwight McNeil began on the right flank, with Alex Iwobi featuring on the left. In truth, Dyche opted for a system that is synonymous with encouraging a defensive style.
But the Blues’ performance couldn’t be further away from that assumption. Granted, there was an emphasis on being compact and retaining shape but it was designed around how goalscoring opportunities could be created.
Dyche is all too wary of the paucity of goals Everton have scored this season. And after not recruiting a forward in the January transfer window - along with the departure of Anthony Gordon - there have been genuine fears how the Blues can increase their threat.
A victory by the odd goal may not look scintillating. Yet Everton’s high-octane display deserved to be more emphatic. Their expected goals score of 1.58 to Arsenal’s 0.81 underlined this. Several big chances were spurned.
Dyche gave Everton clear orders to play on the front foot and be aggressive. An early, robust tackle from Vitalii Mykolenko on Bukayo Saka fired up the crowd and set the tone.
And while it was Arsenal who monopolised possession in the opening 45 minutes, the Toffees looked far the more likely of scoring. They fed off second and loose balls and aimed to attack at breakneck speed.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has had his injury problems this season but when available, Everton haven’t used him to his best qualities. That couldn’t be said against Arsenal. It was the sort of performance that brought the best out of him, despite operating as a lone striker and appearing isolated at times. He provided a focal point and was a battering ram.
Most importantly, Everton created goalscoring chances for Calvert-Lewin. He had four efforts on goal in total and will be disappointed he didn’t get anything on Amadou Onana’s cross and glanced a header wide. Regardless, Calvert-Lewin will take solace from the opportunities that fell his way. The goals are certain to come if he continues to get such service.
What’s more, crosses into the box were at the fulcrum of Dyche’s game-plan. McNeil had his best game since arriving by far. Dyche looked to utilise his cultured left foot by getting him into areas where he could deliver. Abdoulaye Doucoure should have buried a header from a whipped McNeil cross before the interval.
Given the lack of wingers, Iwobi may be shifted to the flank more often for the remainder of the campaign. The Nigeria international’s crossing prowess isn’t as strong as McNeil’s. However, he was still encouraged to get the ball into the danger zone as a skewed clearance or a block can provide opportunities from set-pieces.
Dyche has emphasised the importance of corners and free-kicks to his troops. Not one of the seven corners won was wasted. Balls were whipped towards the back post, which caused Arsenal issues. McNeil’s sumptuous delivery got its reward when James Tarkowski headed home with aplomb. How fitting it was that two of Dyche’s former lieutenants at Burnley combined for the winner.
The midfield three all dovetailed together brilliantly. Abdoulaye Doucoure was exiled by Lampard in his final days. Yet he was brought in from the cold and operated as a conduit between the engine room and Calvert-Lewin. It was a role that suited Doucoure.
Idrissa Gana Gueye prowled the midfield, while Amadou Onana’s performance was all-action. He made four tackles, and two interceptions and played two key passes. It was in the engine room where the game was won. Martin Odegaard, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey, who have been lauded throughout the season, barely made an impact.
But, most importantly, the work-rate displayed was magnificent. Dyche’s mantra is ‘the minimum required is maximum effort’. He expects sweat on each player’s shirt. Everton’s kitman will surely be able to vouch for that.