Full-backs and forward dynamism – where Everton can improve next season

There were moments at Kenilworth Road on Friday night when the mind drifted to what this game would have been like if there had been something riding on it from an Everton perspective.

Those final moments, as Luton Town laid siege and Everton defenders threw themselves in front of shots, would have been particularly agonising. So too the spell immediately after Elijah Adebayo’s equaliser midway through the first half, when the home side looked to be gaining the ascendancy.

Thankfully, that was not the reality for Sean Dyche and his side. Instead, with the job already done, those in the away end were afforded the unusual privilege of being able to taunt opposition fans with chants of “Going down, going down, going down.”

With their place in the Premier League already confirmed for a further year, this was Everton’s first match without pressure for some time — perhaps since the trip to Arsenal on the final day of the 2021-22 season.

So how were they with the shackles off? Well, pretty much the same as Everton with the shackles on, really.

You know what you’re doing to get with Dyche by this stage.

The “hard yards”, even with survival already in the bag. Commitment, with defender Jarrad Branthwaite and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford celebrating the former’s late block to preserve a point. Set-piece prowess through Branthwaite and James Tarkowski at the back post. Long balls, or “direct play” as the Everton manager likes to call it, in to the lone striker, with a second runner ready to support.

These are all the hallmarks, in a positive sense, of Dyche’s Everton and a campaign where they preserved their top-flight status with three games remaining.

But for those points deductions, they would be on 45 points now and comfortably mid-table. Given the challenges they have encountered this season, that in itself is an achievement.

To Dyche’s credit, the former Burnley manager has made Everton more resilient during his 15 months. He said after this 1-1 draw that “games like that have tended to go against the side” in the past but that they have started to change the record this season. “I thought we were slightly off, but the mentality of the side has grown hugely over the season,” he added.

But it was also a game in which Everton surrendered a lead, earned through Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s penalty on 24 minutes, and again showed clear room for growth heading into next season.

A consequence of Dyche’s preference for direct football over possession play is that Everton rarely control or take the sting out of matches, particularly when ahead. They played long to Calvert-Lewin but their high balls were largely meat and drink for a physical Luton back line.

5 3 Luton vs. Everton match dashboard wide

It can be a thankless task being a lone forward in Dyche’s team at times, particularly so when they retreat in a bid to preserve a lead. On those occasions, Calvert-Lewin becomes increasingly isolated and the opposition are usually able to sustain their own attacks.

As the below momentum graphic shows, Luton dominated last night immediately after Everton’s goal, with Adebayo’s equaliser seven minutes later coming after a spell of pressure.


“I think it’s (about) stepping it up a notch, like tonight,” Calvert-Lewin said, when asked how Everton can take further strides next season.

“Taking advantage of opportunities where we can turn the screw rather than waiting for things to happen and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck can help us go to the next level.”

Adebayo’s goal came after he pulled off to the back post, outmuscled Ashley Young and fired in. It was a physical mismatch; a moment where Everton keenly felt the absence of the injured Vitalii Mykolenko.

It was a reminder too that full-back needs to be a priority for the club this summer.

Young turns 39 in July, by which time he will be out of contract. Club captain Seamus Coleman, 35, is another whose deal is set to expire, while Nathan Patterson is yet to impress Dyche enough to earn a regular spot at right-back. Ben Godfrey has made several important contributions since returning to the side in recent weeks, but lacks guile on the ball and favours a central defensive role.

The need for an injection of pace and dynamism both there and further forward on the wings is clear, but finances remain uncertain for Everton with a takeover attempt ongoing.

Nor are they the only areas where there is scope for improvement.

Everton tend to be less effective the more possession they have. Including Friday night, they are yet to win a league game this season in which they have had 50 per cent or more of the ball. In those seven matches, they have drawn three and lost four. They are also the Premier League’s lowest scorers from open play.



Sean Dyche and his unlikely role as the star in a music video… yes, really

Part of this is playing style, but it is also about personnel.

Abdoulaye Doucoure has been a hard-working and often effective No 10 for Dyche, but there are also times when he looks like what he is — a No 8 thrust who’s been further forward into a slightly ill-fitting position. He can be untidy and is less creative than most others who play that role.

Games can pass him by, with his 28 touches the fewest of any Everton outfield starter on Friday by seven. There were times at Kenilworth Road when he had the opportunity to release runners into space but could not find the right pass.

A solution there is not easy, particularly given the work-rate and defensive cover Doucoure offers, but the team could at least do with an alternative option to help break open tight games. More variety, in just about every sense.

Dyche is unlikely to deviate too much from his tried and tested, but subtle tweaks and injections of dynamism and technical quality are needed if Everton are to build on the foundations laid this season.

Everton’s remaining fixtures: May 11, Sheffield United (home); May 19, Arsenal (away).

(Photo: Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)

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