Final Third Blues

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Everton’s final third domination has been mentioned several times on the site over the last 12 months. No other team has spent as much time in the opposition’s final third as Everton over the last three seasons.

On average Everton spend a third of their time in the last third of the field. However, using our expected goals model similar to the ones used by the analysts at Prozone, we can see that Everton haven’t scored as many goals as they should for the shots they’ve had. We can also see that Everton have conceded more goals than they should have for the shots they’ve faced.

Basically, Everton’s dominance of the pitch is achieving the exact opposite of what it should be. Using these measures, we can calculate that Everton should expect to have scored 56-57 goals so far this season. They’ve managed 52. Also that they should expect to have conceded 33 goals so far but have actually conceded 38.

It’s easy to point the finger at individual mistakes for this – Jelavic up front and maybe Heitinga and Howard at the back. It’s a little harder to look at the system and say: “this just isn’t working”. So that’s what I’m going to try to do here…

My theory is that camping out in opposition territory isn’t doing Everton any favours. There’s generally two types of approach and both look to utilise width. The first approach involves working it methodically out to the flanks, and often involves an interchange between full back and wide midfielder before the ball gets sent in.

The second is utilising the long ball – aiming for the target man who brings others in before it’s again, generally worked wide. Everton use both the long ball and the cross more than the majority of teams. Defenders know what’s coming. They sit back and defend deep content to face play knowing they’ll seldom get turned round. If they do it will be close to their own goal line and there’ll be plenty of team mates defending the cross centrally in the box. Rarely do you see teams playing a high-line against Everton.

I wanted to test how Everton’s attacking efficiency changes depending on how territorially dominant they are. Thankfully, the split between games where Everton have spent a third or more of their time in the final third, and games when they’ve spent less than a third of their time in the final third is almost equal.

It actually turns out that Everton score more and are better at converting chances when they’ve been territorially dominant – chance conversion is around 95% of that expected. This is compared to around 87% when Everton spend less than a third of their time in the attacking third.

While these figures blow my original theory out of the water, they point to the fact that Everton don’t really have variety in their attack and simply aren’t prepared or equipped to break quickly on an opponent as a team. Mirallas is key to this. He’s demonstrated his ability to do this by going it alone in recent games against Stoke and Spurs.

The rest, however, struggle as they don’t possess the Belgian’s pace. Even with the goal against City, Fellaini’s pass to Jelavic was fairly dismal and the Croatian was forced to check inside to pot-shot from outside the area. The shot even needed a looping deflection and Hart to be caught in no man’s land before it found its way into the net. The key then, may be to get Mirallas more involved centrally to enable quicker and more direct transitions between attack and defence. Hopefully it’s something that Everton will improve on as a team next year.

The figures are much more revealing defensively. Splitting the games again as before, Everton’s defence becomes solid when the team isn’t dominating the opponent. Forced to concede territory, Everton resume shape with bodies behind the ball. In these games Everton concede less than expected , letting in 19 goals when they’d expect to concede 20.

In the games when Everton dominate the opponent, the defence collapses alarmingly, conceding 19 goals when they should only be expecting to concede 13. It’s really not surprising when you consider how advanced Baines and Coleman become in these games.

Distin and Jagielka are relied upon heavily to hold the fort. They’re both physically gifted and need to be as they’re expected to hold a high line. Everyone’s still having nightmares about Heitinga being expected to do the same against Kone at Wigan and Benteke at Goodison.

Finding the perfect balance between defence and attack is always going to be tricky. It makes more sense to fit the system to the players rather than the players to the system. You only have to look at Villas-Boas at Chelsea or Rodgers at Liverpool earlier this season to see that.

By @footballfactman

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2 thoughts on “Final Third Blues

  1. very good point about the balance…when we predominantly have to focus on defence i.e man utd, man city, arsenal we’ve kept clean sheets, but conceded 2 goals or more against basement dwellers norwich, reading, wigan and villa when the onus has been on us to take the game to such sides. Balance clearly an issue. Nice work fella.

  2. @footballfactman wrote: “In these games Everton concede less than expected , letting in 19 goals when they’d expect to concede 20.

    In the games when Everton dominate the opponent, the defence collapses alarmingly, conceding 19 goals when they should only be expecting to concede 13.”

    Does Heitinga feature more often in the latter group than the former or is his distribution in the sets relatively equal?

    Great article by the way … thanks!

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