The last time Everton won at Anfield, Trent Alexander-Arnold had just had his first birthday. September 1999 was the date, a match that lives long in Don Hutchinson’s memory and almost no one else’s. But even though it had been more than twenty-one years since Everton last won at Anfield, you just got the feeling that it might happen again this season. In the end, Carlo Ancelotti put on a tactical masterclass and his team put on a defensive clinic, but Liverpool were also woeful in attack and looked on different wavelengths at times. It all culminated in a historic win for the Toffees and an embarrassing defeat for Jurgen Klopp as things continue to go from bad to worse for the Reds. Here is a tactical analysis of Everton’s historic 2-0 win over Liverpool.
OUT OF POSSESSioN: 5-3-2
Carlo Ancelotti’s men set up in a 5-3-2 formation, attempting to thwart Liverpool’s fullbacks from getting forward and simultaneously compressing space in central areas. First and foremost, the back-five worked together to attach themselves to the front three at various moments. Salah, Firmino and Mane always found themselves marked by at least one of the back-five if not Tom Davies, and as a result struggled to get a foothold in the game. This level of marking required constant communication from the centre-backs in particular, constantly calling out to each other about the movement of the front three. The 5-3-2 shape also looked very much like 5-3-1-1 at times, with a four man midfield diamond comprising of Tom Davies at the base, James Rodriguez at the top and Doucoure and Gomes doubling down with the wing-backs on Liverpool’s fullbacks. Richarlison led the press during Liverpool’s build-up, with the rest of the team shifting and sliding with the play and James Rodriguez often joining up in more of a regular 5-3-2 shape. Although the Colombian was a relatively passive passenger in defense, he also wasn’t completely useless and stuck to his defensive tasks well enough to help his side see out a clean sheet.
The benefit to the 5-3-2 above anything else was Everton’s compactness in shutting down central areas and stopping the front three from getting on the ball. Godfrey, Keane, and Holgate were exceptional in stopping Liverpool from playing, no matter how much positional interchange they attempted. Keane in particular was immaculate, stepping across every single time Liverpool looked like they might be in on goal. Tom Davies in front of them was also superb, making five tackles in the match. So although Liverpool dominated the ball and had a large percentage of it in Everton’s half, they could hardly create anything of note and looked a shadow of their former selves.
In possession, Everton advanced into more of a 3-5-1-1 or 3-5-2 shape, with Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne galloping forward to join the attack. Coleman often inverted himself, particularly when the ball was on the left side. This could have been a method of counter-pressing, as he stuck to his task excellently well in terms of sticking to Andy Robertson and not allowing the Scottish fullback any space on the ball. By remaining inverted, he could ensure a stable enough position to counteract the free-flowing fullback any time Liverpool were able to regain possession.
Although they were more than up for the task defensively, Everton really struggled at times to get a foothold in the game. They failed to effectively play out from the back, and were caught time and time again from Liverpool’s aggressive press in central areas. With the effectiveness of Liverpool’s pressure, Everton were often forced into making longer passes, but had no one to get on the end of them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin only came on in the 62nd minute for James, finally allowing the Toffees to have an outlet up top in the form of a target man. Richarlison’s pace in behind could have been helpful, but Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak were usually up to the task in nodding the ball down and restarting play. The one time that Kabak failed to effectively clear his lines, the ball fell right to Doucoure and then James Rodriguez, who in the blink of an eye threaded the ball through for the Brazilian. Richarlison’s movement for the goal was exceptional, situating himself in between Kabak and Alexander-Arnold, while also on Kabak’s blindside, and then surging onto the perfectly-weighted pass from the Colombian midfielder. A South American connection at its finest, and after scoring minutes into this game from Liverpool’s inability to clear their lines, Everton were able to settle into their defensive shape quicker than they might have expected. Once Dominic Calvert-Lewin came on the team again had more of a natural outlet, which was crucial in creating the chance for the British striker to win a penalty toward the end of the match and seal the deal for Ancelotti’s side. For large spells of the game Everton were poor in possession. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The same cannot be said for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, as they were fairly poor in possession, and it really mattered.
Liverpool kept the same shape both in and out of possession (4-3-3), although they used the shape in different ways. Naturally as the Reds had 72% of the ball, we begin with what they accomplished and failed to accomplish with the ball. Liverpool had some solid performance both in and out of possession and were particularly adept at winning the ball back quickly and going again.
As per usual, the Reds played out from the back in a hybrid version of their diamond passing structure. Thiago and Wijnaldum would both drop in at various times to the side of the centre-backs, drawing an Everton player away and creating space for the other to pick up the ball at the top of the diamond shape (pictured above). Trent Alexander-Arnold was afforded far more room than Andy Robertson on the other side, and Liverpool used the right side as much as possible to advance into Everton’s final third. The 22-year old unfortunately dominated the headlines for giving away a penalty toward the end of the match, but he was easily one of Liverpool’s top performers. Going forward he frequented into the final third several times, and looked like the Reds’ only major goal or chance creation threat throughout the game. Curtis Jones also aided in Trent’s ability to gallop forward to a great extent, often making shadow runs when the Liverpool fullback had the ball at his feet, drawing players away and allowing Trent more space to advance into. At times, the 22-year old was still trying to hit long hopeful balls over the top of the opposition defense to no avail. But he was much better this game at carrying the ball forward at speed and delivering crosses from a higher position. While Jones and Alexander-Arnold looked to be on the same page, Salah was on a completely different wavelength and struggled to involve himself in the Liverpool attack. Recently, I spoke to Liverpool fan Russell Tho on the TMS Podcast, who said that Salah’s been Liverpool’s best player this season. Honestly, if you weren’t paying attention, you might not even have noticed he was playing in this match. Luckily the other members of the front three had their moments. Firmino looked bright and positive, trying to create shots out of nothing, while Mane looked lively and had two great chances to score. But again, Liverpool ultimately couldn’t break Everton down. They struggled in possession and couldn’t find a way past Everton’s compact 5-3-2 shape and the stellar goalkeeping performance from Jordan Pickford.
out of POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
For all Liverpool lacked in possession of the ball, especially in terms of chance creation, they were very good at winning the ball back and starting again. Thiago was exceptional in the Liverpool press, motoring around the field in what was probably his best defensive performance in a Liverpool shirt. I was critical about Thiago’s tackling a few weeks ago, particularly how often he went to ground. This was a different story. The Spaniard completely led the press and stopped Everton from gaining any traction in the match. Four tackles might not seem like a lot, but it is very high for a team that had 72% of the ball. With their high position on the field, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were also effective in the press, but more so in the half-space than strictly wide areas. Like the Toffees, Liverpool were also fairly comfortable condensing the space in central areas and forcing Everton into mistakes. Everton couldn’t cope with the pressure and ended up hitting several long passes right toward the Liverpool centre-backs to start again. Nathaniel Phillips looked a comfortable addition to the back-line and showed signs of promise once again. There’s a genuine argument that Phillips has been the Reds’ second-best centre-back this season behind Fabinho. Kabak still looks very raw, while Phillips has much more of a fear-factor about him and dealt with his aerial duels and Everton’s long balls well. Further up the field Everton didn’t have many chances due to Liverpool’s defense, but they ended up winning with ease by converting the few chances Liverpool gave them. Sometimes that’s all you need in football, and suddenly, Everton are now level on points with the Reds.
concluding thoughtsEmbed from Getty Images
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool showed moments of positive possession and pressing, but it was never enough to break down Carlo Ancelotti’s compact 5-3-2 shape. The Toffees put in a defensive masterclass, converted the few chances they were given, and came out on top. At times the match was attack vs. defense, with the defense ultimately coming out victorious. The last time Everton won at Liverpool was September 1999 (we see you Don Hutchinson), and perhaps, this is a signal of a real change to Everton’s fortunes for years to come.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Everton’s 2-0 win at Anfield for the first time in over twenty-one years. Be sure to check out everything else we’ve got on Liverpool using the carousel below, and subscribe via email or Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!