Everton visited the King Power Stadium for the opening fixture of their Premier League season. They played largely the same way they did last season; their entertaining forward play, pressing and passing combinations resulted in a dominant display, even though they left two points in Leicester, due to their inability to defend set pieces, and a lack of pragmatism in the final minutes of the game.
Everton started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Gareth Barry was back after his successful loan spell, just like Aiden McGeady. Steven Naismith started behind Romelu Lukaku, while the duo of Pienaar and Baines started on the left once again. Séamus Coleman was not fully fit to play the full 90 minutes, so John Stones started at right-back.
Leicester City started in a 4-4-2 formation. New signing Leonardo Ulloa started up front alongside David Nugent, while Riyad Mahrez played on the wing in place of Jeffrey Schlupp.
Everton's game plan
There wasn’t much different about the style of Everton compared to last season. They dominated possession by creating numerical advantage around the ball. The front four of Naismith, Pienaar, McGeady and Lukaku tried to receive the ball between the lines, and create space by exchanging positions. During their build-up, their objective was to get the ball forward as quick as possible. Leicester's strikers had a unique role in preventing Everton from doing so.
The role of Leicester’s attackers during defending
Leicester set up a mid-block, so they dropped back to the midfield line, and started blocking the build-up play of Everton. The two strikers, Ulloa and Nugent, actively took part in the defending. When Gareth Barry was on the ball, they blocked his forward passing options.
All of Barry's passes. Source: Squawka.com
The interceptions of Leicester.
Leicester’s defending when Everton were building up in a wide area.
The increased defensive work of Ulloa and Nugent came with a significant downside. They were more fatigued when Leicester where attacking. The pair won only 54% of their aerial duels, and they struggled to hold up the ball. On the whole, their defensive contribution was enormous; they congested the area, made it hard for Everton to pass the ball forward from the build-up.
When Distin - a not so prolific passer - had the ball, Leicester could take advantage, and intercept poor passes.
The interceptions of Leicester.
Everton’s transitions from attack to defence
When Everton lost the ball in the final third, the players closest to the ball closed it down, while the rest of the team dropped back, making it hard for Leicester to catch them on the counter. Another result of Everton's pressing was that Leicester often rushed when they regained the ball, which resulted in mistakes and poor passes. All in all, their 78% passing is not that much poorer than Everton's 84%, but it shows how much subtle differences count.
Movement in the final third
Most of Everton's attacking play involved Pienaar. The South African combined well with Baines as usual, but often turned up in the middle, playing between the lines, combining with Naismith and Lukaku. Let's look at a few instances of the Everton players combining in the final third.
Interplay between Baines, Lukaku and Pienaar creates the second Everton goal.
Pienaar moves to the middle, the defenders are playing one-on-one with the attackers.
Lukaku moves deep, Pienaar and Naismith play in the hole.
Pienaar plays in the middle, Lukaku gives the pass to Naismith while he attacks the space behind the defense.
Jeffrey Schlupp's introduction in the 64th minute made Leicester a lot more dangerous. He was a lot quicker than his marker Stones, who he frequently outpaced. Jagielka provided backup for Stones when needed, but Schlupp was quicker then him as well. Schlupp had one dangerous run from which he shot over the goal, plus he created a chance for Ulloa from a cross.
Chris Wood equalized four minutes from the end of the game. In my opinion, Everton were not pragmatic enough during the final minutes with a one goal lead. In these circumstances, you often see good passing teams running down the clock with low-risk passes, and keeping the ball circulating. Everton were still trying to attack, and catch Leicester on the break; Lukaku even attempted a backheel pass in the final third in the 85th minute. Such flair play is not needed when you are simply looking to keep your lead. To be fair to Martínez, he substituted Coleman for McGeady after he lost the ball twice during his last minutes on the pitch.
We can expect to see the same principles during Everton's attacking play as we did last season. There will be a lot of interchanging of positions, attackers moving into the area in front of the box, and turning towards goal when they accept the ball. When they lose the ball, they try and win back the ball early, or at least delay their opponent, giving time for the rest of the team to get back into a solid defensive block.
Everton looked the better team throughout the game, and should have won it. Their inability to defend set pieces and a lack of pragmatism cost them two points. They need to win such games if they are to build on their successful campaign of last year, and do well in the Europa League as well as in the Premier League.