In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting matches in world football, providing you with an in-depth tactical analysis powered by Wyscout tools and stats. This time, our eyes were on Saturday’s Merseyside derby at Goodison Park between Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton and Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
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According to Ancelotti, the derby against Liverpool was a decisive test for his Everton team,who surprisingly led the Premier League with 12 points after the first four games. Exactly 10 years after winning the last Merseyside derby, Everton looked in ideal condition to beat Liverpool again as the Reds had just suffered a resounding 7-2 loss at Aston Villa prior to the international break. Ultimately, the Toffees weren’t able to win, but the 2-2 draw kept their undefeated streak alive  while also keeping them on top of the Premier League table.

There were plenty of positive aspects for Ancelotti on Saturday: the way his team faced tough situations, equalizing two times after Liverpool went ahead. Calvert-Lewin’s towering header, being his 10th goal since the start of the season. James Rodríguez’s impact, with the Colombian being decisive far beyond his perfect assist for Keane’s goal from a corner kick.

Everton, though, suffered from Liverpool’s football, specifically struggling in containing them on the left-wing. In the Reds’ typical 4-3-3 lineup, the left fullback was Robertson – as always, with Thiago deployed as left inside-forward, playing deep to take care of the play’s build-up. Their movements – alongside with Mané cutting centrally – were problematic all game long for Everton’s players on that side. James on the wing, Doucouré as inside-forward and Coleman (injured after half an hour and replaced by Godfrey) as a fullback.

Thiago sat deep to receive the ball without being pressed and Robertson pushed on the wing as usual, without being chased down by James. All the while Mané kept the fullback busy on his side, Doucouré found himself outnumbered against Thiago and Robertson. Whatever he decided to do, Liverpool always found a free player to move the ball upwards on that side. If Doucouré marked Robertson on the wing, Thiago was free to receive. If the Frenchman stayed central to press the Reds’ number 6, Robertson was able to freely advance on his right.

Liverpool only took two minutes to take advantage of the space left free to Robertson to score the first goal. Although it’s true that Everton failed to properly cover the other wing too, as Salah was left free to receive the diagonal pass from Alexander-Arnold behind André Gomes.

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After controlling the ball, Salah turned, made a quick one-two with Firmino, and then switched play on the left wing. In this case, with the ball on the right side, Doucouré stayed in his zone, while James moved upward to press van Dijk if he had received the ball. Robertson had nobody in front of him and received Salah’s pass at the top-right corner of the box, beating Coleman and then crossing for Mané. The Senegalese shot the ball from inside the box, scoring the first goal for Liverpool.

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Salah switches play on the left for Robertson.
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Liverpool’s full-back enters into the box and crosses for Mané.

Everton’s struggles in covering the right wing were again obvious when Salah scored. In that situation, James covered the center by pressing Thiago, while Doucouré moved wide to follow Robertson. This left Allan with an uncovered side that was taken by Mané, who received a diagonal pass by Alexander-Arnold.

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Mané immediately passed the ball upwards to Firmino, who probably wanted to close the one-two but ended up passing the ball back to Fabinho. Henderson, who had just taken the throw-in – and who was the midfielder that moved the most without the ball, upwards and wide – found himself free on the right wing and received the pass from Fabinho. Even if his teammates didn’t have the time to reach the box, Henderson still crossed and found the deflection from Yerry Mina. With a clumsy touch, the Colombian passed the ball to Salah, who was able to shoot and score a volley with his left foot.

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Maybe Ancelotti intervened a little bit late in the game but when he did, his team immediately found the equalizer for the final 2-2 result. At the 78th minute, the Italian manager substituted Doucouré with Iwobi, forming a four man midfield that was able to better cover the wings without leaving empty spaces in the center, also freeing James to run between the lines. Moved in a central position, the Colombian was able to freely move on both sides, helping his team in possession. In fact, James was on the left-wing just seconds before Calvert-Lewin’s goal, receiving the ball from Keane behind Henderson, then serving Digne’s overlap.

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James perfectly measured the vertical pass to Digne who, without an opponent in front of him, only had to look at the box and cross the ball into Calvert-Lewin’s reach, with the Englishman being one of the best headers of a ball in the Premier League. The cross was indeed very precise and Everton’s number 9 equalized by jumping between Gomez and Robertson, scoring a header on Adrián’s right-hand side.

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Everton’s chances to create goal opportunities were heavily influenced by James, through the number of balls he played and especially the area of the pitch where he received the ball. With his cuts from the right wing to the center, the Colombian played in a vulnerable area for Liverpool – behind Thiago – but his teammates struggled to find him, especially in the first half. Everton mostly tried to avoid the Reds’ pressure by shooting long passes to Calvert-Lewin, giving up on trying to build-up the play from the back and looking for passes between the lines for James.

In one specific occasion, though, Everton was able to expose a weakness in Liverpool’s pressing by leaning on the Colombian in the play build-up. Sometimes, the Reds struggled to cover laterally when the opponent center-back managed to avoid the winger’s pressure.

It’s exactly what happened at the 19th minute. Mina surpassed Mané by passing to Allan, with the latter able to pass back to Coleman, who found himself free to play the ball and serve James. Even if he received in his own half – wide on the right wing – the Colombian still managed to create an occasion with a through pass which cut the whole Liverpool side, finding Calvert-Lewin’s run between the center-backs.

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Everton’s number 9 approached the box on the right side, finding a good shot that was ultimately deflected by Adrián. On the following corner kick, James found Keane’s header, equalizing the third-minute goal from Mané.

On other occasions when playing Klopp, Ancelotti succeeded in disrupting Liverpool’s game plan, highlighting the Reds’ flaws with strategies that took them out of their comfort zone. This time, his plan wasn’t as effective as usual, and Everton had to rely on Calvert-Lewin and James to overcome their struggles.

Long passing the ball to their number 9 was the only idea to bypass Liverpool’s pressure, a strategy that took James out of the game, particularly in the first half. After the break, the Colombian was more involved in the game, playing more balls behind the midfield line or behind Robertson. Everton’s ability to create dangerous situations grew, finally finding a 2-2 draw which gives continuity to a great start of the season.

Liverpool were the best team on the pitch for long parts of the game, always finding quick one-twos on the right-wing – which ultimately led to both goals – and freeing Thiago and Robertson on the other wing. It wasn’t enough to win but the worst news for Klopp is injuries: the worst one with van Dijk – who will need knee surgery – and then with Thiago, who suffered a hard foul from Richarlison that cost the Brazilian a red card. Two vital players for Liverpool, whose absences could weigh way more than the two points lost in the derby.


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