Everton host Crystal Palace on Saturday lunchtime, as Carlo Ancelotti’s side look to build on their last-minute win over Watford last time out. Reduced to ten-men after Fabian Delph’s red card, a late Theo Walcott winner on the break shocked the Hornets, and lifted Everton to ninth ahead of this weekend’s clash.
Crystal Palace on the other hand are on a torrid run, without a win since Boxing Day over West Ham, and only one win in eleven competitive games in total, as the pressure mounts on Roy Hodgson. A terrible goalkeeping error from Vicente Guaita consigned them to a 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United last time out, and their slide down the table comes as the underlying statistics catch up with the Eagles and the goals dry up.
Sat only four points off fifth, Everton will be keen to put the pressure on those ahead of them in the league, and coming up against Hodgson’s strugglers, they will be confident of continuing their fine form under Ancelotti, and moving up the table.
Everton head into the game full of confidence, and coming up against a Crystal Palace side desperate for points, the expected shape of the game would be to see Palace sit off and allow Everton to dominate, before they look to hit Ancelotti’s side on the break.
With Palace averaging 46.4% possession this season, it would come as no surprise to see Hodgson’s side set up as such once again, and they are often forced to do so due to the lack of pace at the back to warn against the opposition’s threat. With Mamadou Sakho a big miss through injury, a back two of Gary Cahill and James Tomkins is expected, with Joel Ward and Patrick Van Aanholt at full back Whilst they will be well equipped to deal with the aerial threat of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, any need to step high will leave them left vulnerable to the pace over the top, especially when considering the tenacious pressing nature of Calvert-Lewin.
Everton themselves will look to line up in the 4-4-2 that has served Ancelotti well since his arrival, and given that Palace look to congest the central areas with their 4-5-1 formation, the wings will be targeted by the Toffees. It is the left side of Palace’s defence that looks the most vulnerable, and with Theo Walcott fresh from a goal against Watford, he will be likely to start on Everton’s right flank. Up against Van-Aanholt and Wilfried Zaha, Everton will look to target Van-Aanholt’s defensive weaknesses like many sides have done this season, as well as Zaha’s own defensive weaknesses, and Djibril Sidibe will be tasked with creating overloads down this flank. Sidibe’s own high positioning will also allow Walcott to make runs inside the full backs and drift inside, so if Zaha is found wanting defensively, they could have joy down this flank. Although James McArthur is often found covering, this would free up further space centrally, and allow Gylfi Sigurdsson space to create, and with Palace packing the defence, there will be a large impetus on the Icelandic midfielder to provide. Potentially a worry for Everton, Sigurdsson has often relied upon creating chances from set pieces, and whilst it has served Everton well, the need to do so from open play cannot be ignored.
The high positioning of Everton’s full backs has been a trend under Ancelotti, with Lucas Digne also looking to play high, allowing Bernard to also drift centrally and cause problems, and this was evident against Newcastle in the 2-2 draw. Despite the late implosion off two Magpies set pieces, the ability to both control the game and break down the compact defence cannot be overlooked. Newcastle look to operate in a similar fashion to Crystal Palace, with Joelinton operating as a target man and the box to box midfielders looking to link the play, whilst also packing central areas in defence.
Standing out in particular was how Everton coped with the threat of Joelinton, with Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin proving effective in sweeping up the second balls in front of the backline, and a similar defensive job will be required from Everton once again. However, Delph will be a miss, and although Schneiderlin can slot straight back in, Palace may look to overload centrally with a midfield three, as opposed to Newcastle’s midfield two, and this could cause problems with Sigurdsson not as adept defensive, as well as expected to play higher.
A midfield battle could be what Palace want to see, and as a result the tackles markets on both sets of midfielders will be worth keeping an eye on, especially with both sides not afraid to move the ball long, and the number of loose balls for both sides leading to this battle.
In terms of Everton’s main defensive weakness, it does play into the hands of Palace’s main attacking threat, and it could be seen by Hodgson as a way of forcing Sidibe to play deeper. Zaha will operate on the left wing, and this was an avenue Watford exploited for their opening goal on Saturday, with Walcott’s own defensive vulnerabilities coming to light. Adam Masina was allowed to break from full back and net the opener as Sidibe was caught 2v1, and Van Aanholt does offer a similar threat, particularly on the break, and he is certainly worth keeping an eye on for the shots on goal markets, especially with an average of 0.9 per game and two goals to his name this season. 45% of Palace’s attack go down their left flank, and given Zaha’s influence, this is no surprise, and is certainly an area Ancelotti will need to tighten up on ahead of Saturday’s clash.
A quick tempo in possession will be key to Everton’s success, as they look to break down the struggling Palace side, whilst as they showed against Watford, they will also pose a threat from set pieces. With Everton’s tactical set up, corners would appeal, but the lines are too short considering the Toffees statistics, and an early goal would do little to help on those lines.
Without a goal in their last two, it is hard to see Palace creating too much, and 22 goals, with the underlying statistics of an expected goals of 22.24, does little to alleviate these worries.
Crystal Palace’s underlying statistics don’t make for great reading, with xGa of 38.10 despite only 29 goals conceded, and these statistics are starting to catch up with them. Everton’s own xG of 37.15 reinforces their attacking pedigree, and they showed against Newcastle that they are creative enough to break teams down, as well as willing to commit men forward. A threat on the counter if Palace are required to chase, Everton to score over 1.5 goals at 1.83 (Bet365) appeals.
The threat of Palace on the break does leave Everton susceptible to picking up cards on the break, particularly with the prospect of Zaha out wide and Everton being overrun in the middle. However, Palace themselves will be keen to stop the likes of Walcott and RIcharlison breaking themselves, and the two sides both possess similar disciplinary records. As a result, the card markets do take appeal, and it is the Bet365 bet builder option that currently stands out. With Everton expected to dominate, I’d expect Palace to accumulate more fouls, and as a result, Palace to have over 1.5 cards, and Everton to have over 0.5 cards is priced at 2.10 (Bet365). David Coote takes charge, and he has overseen 18 games with 73 yellow cards given out, so leniency isn’t an issue.