Speaking to Sky Sports after the Merseyside derby, Carlo Ancelotti said: “I am very pleased for the club and the supporters. I hope for sure that they are going to celebrate tonight. It was a good performance. A lot of fight and spirit. I am really happy.
“We played with two strikers James Rodriguez and Richarlison and we played with [Seamus] Coleman to fix the position of Robertson and four at the back to control [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mane and [Roberto] Firmino.
“We wanted to avoid the pressure from Liverpool. We know they press a lot but sometimes we had the opportunity to play. Richarlison is back. He is scoring and is playing with a lot of consistency. He has that quality.“
In this short snippet of his press conference, Everton manager pinpoints his tactics and how he was able to stop Liverpool at Anfield:
- Playing James Rodriguez alongside Richarlison as strikers
- Putting Seamus Coleman on Andy Robertson to man-mark him
- Playing a flat back four to control Liverpool’s front three
- Three in midfield to match Liverpool’s midfield
Liverpool vs Everton
Systems and Formations
Liverpool set out in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Mane, Firmino, Salah up top; Thiago, Wijnaldum and Jones in midfield and Jordan Henderson continues to deputize at center back alongside new signing Ozan Kabak.
Everton came into the game using a variation of the system they used against Manchester City with this 4-4-2 / 5-3-2 shape with a back four of three natural center backs; Holgate, Godfrey and Keane, Digne and Coleman flanking Doucoure, Tom Davies and Andre Gomes with Richarlison and James Rodriguez up top.
There were two major areas Ancelotti had to address after the Manchester City game: the wingback role and the midfield structure.
Aside from the shift from the 4-2-3-1, which was caused by Mina’s injury, the shift to the 5-3-2 against City set the blueprint for Everton’s win at Anfield.
Everton’s shape was fluid but the principles were evident during the game; the back four stayed more flat and compact to keep Liverpool’s front three at bay, Seamus Coleman marking Andrew Robertson as the rest of the midfield kept Liverpool’s trio in front of them and Richarlison and James Rodriguez in attack.
The midfield Everton deployed was interesting as out of the four, two were natural fullbacks. Maybe the reason behind Ancelotti playing them there was to give them a higher starting point to track the threat of Liverpool’s fullbacks.
The back four
The Everton back four included three natural centerbacks; Holgate, Godfrey and Keane, this allowed them to go man-to-man with Liverpool’s trio anytime they dropped in between the lines. As seen in the sequence above, all of Liverpool’s threats in the final third are covered and this results in Curtis Jones taking a low quality shot which went off target.
Seamus Coleman vs Andy Robertson
Digne’s role and Coleman’s roles were basically the same; man marking Liverpool’s fullbacks to minimize the threat they posed moving forward. Seamus Coleman especially did a fantastic job of handling Robertson and even helped Holgate with Mane on the right flank. The job of the fullbacks was simple; move up to meet Trent and Robertson when they advance, and drop deep to contain overloads whenever Salah and Mane drift inside.
Trent and Robertson had very quiet games, according to fbref, the duo combined to complete only 7 passes into the 18-yard box and 1 cross into the 18-yard box during the game. Coleman and Digne (and Richarlison on the left) did a great job of shutting down Liverpool’s threat from wide areas. Essentially starving Liverpool’s front three from any sort of consistent threat or service into dangerous areas.
The midfield battle
The midfield was similarly deployed to prevent ball progression mainly from Jones and Thiago, their job was simple, stop attacks before they develop. Doucoure and Andre Gomes really imposed themselves physically on Jones and Thiago who were almost non-existent in the game leading Klopp to substitute them when Liverpool were chasing the game. The Everton trio ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively for pressures during the game (figures via fbref below)
The main job of the midfield was to always keep Liverpool’s midfielders in front of them while covering any dangerous passing lanes into Salah, Mane or Firmino.
Ancelotti brought in Andre Gomes, a more natural midfielder, to replace Iwobi and brought Seamus Coleman in to play wingback, this balanced the midfield more as it gave the freedom for Coleman to push out and stop Robertson before he entered any dangerous areas.
With the 4-2-3-1, that would have been difficult and Coleman would have been exposed for large parts of the game. But with an extra defender behind him, he was able to time his movements and execute his defensive duties more freely.
Everton’s midfield was very busy during the game on the defensive end, cutting out passing lanes, pressing the midfielder on the ball when the chance was there, and stopping transitions by fouling the Liverpool players any time there was danger. Gomes, Doucoure and Tom Davies combined for 9 fouls, the rest of the team had 5.
The icing on the cake was how Liverpool’s midfield (except Thiago) were so uninvolved in the play that Liverpool’s attack had to do most of the ball progression, this was even further highlighted when Klopp brought on Shaqiri late in the game to try and break down Everton’s block.
Richarlison and Rodriguez in attack
Ancelotti mainly played Rodriguez up top to release him of any intense defensive duties, and utilize his final ball in attack. James had the freedom to move between the lines to receive the ball, while Richarlison’s role was mainly to get in behind the defence and cause havoc with his runs and hold up play.
Dropping Sigurdsson for Rodriguez was a very brilliant move which paid off in the first 2 minutes at Anfield, if it was Sigurdsson in that play, it would be unlikely he would have found Richarlison’s run in-behind. Rodriguez was a very good threat to have on the break, his deft touches and long passes in behind were a problem throughout the game.
James made 24 progressive carries during the game, showing how useful he was during Everton’s transitioning from midfield. Any time Rodriguez had the ball, his first pass was into space for Richarlison to run onto. Richarlison tended to drift towards the left, up against Trent where he bet on himself to beat the fullback 1v1.
The two combined for the crucial first goal, as Richarlison bent his run behind Kabak, and James Rodriguez’s deft through ball found him.
Defensively, both of them did a good job of preventing Liverpool’s center backs from easily progressing the ball to the midfielders or out wide to the fullbacks.
Ancelotti clearly watched Liverpool against Manchester City earlier this month, as he adopted a similar press structure aimed at pressuring Alisson on the ball. Alisson had a nightmare at Anfield against Man City, and even though he did not make any mistakes against Everton, he was very wobbly with the ball at his feet. Sometimes Everton’s press even jumped the first line of Liverpool’s midfield to close down Alisson directly.
Whenever they could not press Alisson directly, they forced him to go wide, knowing that the center backs could not progress the ball properly.
This was maintained for large parts of the game, with Ancelotti making key substitutions. Unlike against City where he rushed and took off the midfielders keeping Pep Guardiola’s side at bay, crippling the structure that had served them well for over 70 minutes of the game. This left huge gaps in front of the defence as the game went on and City punished them for it.
Against Liverpool, the changes were methodic, and incisive. Calvert Lewin’s introduction against the tired legs of Liverpool’s midfield and defence paved the way for the late goal that killed of the game.
Everton’s system and plan worked magnificently well, as the majority of Liverpool’s touches came from the players who posed little threat or were under close marking during the game (Trent and Robetson).
The front three had a combined 7 shots with only three of them on target and two of them coming from the box. One could argue they created enough to win the game, but their main avenues of attack were shut down, and as a result the attack had to pounce on low quality chances.
With their build-up hampered in the absence of Van Dijk, their midfield not being progressive enough even with the addition of Thiago and their forwards often misfiring this season, this match was an accumulation of all these issues.
Everton cleverly shut down Liverpool’s build up by Alisson, man marking and physically imposing themselves on Thiago, Jones and Wijnaldum and containing their front three with numerical superiority at the back.
Most managers would go to Anfield and come out with zero points, but Everton walked into the Kop end and came out with a result. As a manager, limiting Salah, Mane and Firmino to three shots on target over 90 minutes is a win, and that was exactly what Carlo Ancelotti and Everton did perfectly.