With the 2015/16 English Premier League season approaching its final third, two teams’ impressive away records stand out among the crowd: Tottenham, who are staking a refreshing claim for the league title, and Everton, who are enduring a far more underwhelming campaign stuck in mid-table.
I took a further look to see just why two clubs who have suffered just a solitary loss away from home have such different records. To be more specific, I wanted to find out what has been holding them back and making them easier to play against at Goodison Park. With six of their seven defeats this term coming at home, it is fairly easy to see that their problems lie on Merseyside.
This has prompted understandable frustration from those fans who were expecting to see their side competing for the European spots, especially in such a tumultuous season. Whilst this is still not out of the question, addressing their home form is now paramount if they are to finish anywhere near the top six.
So what happens in these home matches to make them more vulnerable than when they play away?
Everton remain a possession-based side predominantly, with only six teams in the league having more of the ball on average. However, one thing that can hold Roberto Martinez’ men back is slow build-up speed. They are patient in their approach, giving opponents the time to get men behind the ball and form a defensive screen. As a result, this sees Everton push more men forward, which inevitably leaves space to expose on the counter.
It is worth noting that throughout the season, no side have conceded more than the 23 goals let in by Everton at their home stadium. They do compensate for this with a potent attacking line up though, boasting the second strongest scoring record at home in the division, with just Man City hitting the net more in front of their own supporters.
One key finding is that Everton often find themselves going behind at Goodison. They have conceded the first goal in 9/14 home games and have failed to win any of these. With opponents able to get ahead, it makes Everton’s game plan of patient build up harder to execute as their visitors sit even deeper and soak up more pressure.
What is interesting is that when Everton have scored the opening goal, they are unbeaten, winning 4/5. A lead gives them a far greater ability to dictate matches with long spells of possession and leaves opponents struggling to hit back without leaving themselves heavily exposed. When visiting teams do push forward, Everton have proven to be ruthless in attack, scoring at least three in each of their home wins:
Surely the opening goal cannot be the only thing to blame for their struggles, though?
When looking at their away fixtures, where it is important to remember that they have lost just once all season, the trend does continue and Martinez’ men have only fallen behind three times. They have shown more ability to overturn results on their travels, however, achieving four points from losing positions.
With opponents more naturally inclined to be proactive at home and push men forward, this would appear to suit Everton. They often display more defensive discipline on their travels too, with the full-backs not being as adventurous and ultimately leaving them looking much more organised. Indeed, they boast the second strongest defensive record in the league when on the road, conceding just one goal per game on average and earning clean sheets in half of their twelve matches.
One other interesting observation is the vast difference in the number of shots taken when at home compared to when away.
While there is actually very little difference in the amount of Great and Good Chances generated home and away, the number of Attempts taken is almost double at home. This points to the fact that Everton are more inclined to take on poor shooting opportunities, often because sides are positioned much deeper and make the route to goal harder. When away they appear to be more ruthless in their approach, most likely because they have more space to exploit on the counter attack:
Does this indicate that the team’s playing style is wrong?
Not totally, but it does suggest that they struggle to adapt their approach depending on the game state. Often Everton find it hard to turn over games with their slow build up and opposition teams are comfortable knowing that if they can get ahead a defensive shell will stand a good chance of holding up. Martinez tends to be reluctant to change his side’s tactical approach too, rarely throwing on additional forwards or taking a more direct approach, which can see them become one-dimensional and compounds the issue.
Away from home, where they can be a more counter-attack based side, they are far more effective. The side typically uses the pace of their forward players to good effect to gain a lead, before using their ability to keep the ball and consolidate effectively from there.
It is a finer balance at Goodison though, where fans are expecting them to dominate the ball and play attractive football. However, this often comes at the cost of defensive security.
If Everton seriously have any chance of making the top six come the end of the season, then being less open and keeping things tighter at the back is vital. This is especially true early on in games, as it is now six times in all that they have been behind in the opening half hour of home matches.
Of course the mental aspect of the game also needs to be considered.
Martinez and his players will surely feel a sense of growing pressure with each passing home game, due to the expectation on them to pick up points. If they open up and take risks to achieve this then there is naturally a greater chance of them scoring the first goal and going on to control the game. However, there is just as much chance that they are exploited on the counter and fall behind. Every time the latter happens, the pressure rises and visiting teams gain a significant edge.
When playing away from home, there is less of that initial pressure on the squad, with the players and staff able to go into matches knowing teams will not set up too defensively against them. Picking up wins is also less of a mental obstacle for the side, with a draw often considered a decent return from an away game in the Premier League. Draws have been a staple of their away results, which does give the side a bit of momentum and confidence. However, it also increases the need for wins at home just that little bit more and further adds to the pressure they feel at Goodison.
Overall on current form it looks difficult for Everton to mount a serious challenge for the top six if their approach does not change. However, if they are able to tighten up at home and keep themselves at 0-0 for longer, their chances will improve greatly, especially with their attacking threat. Their away form is already steady enough to rely on, but losing games at home is continually holding them back.
This season’s table is so tight that turning a few defeats into draws could make a big difference before all is said and done. A late tilt at the European places could still be on the cards, but would that be enough to put Roberto Martinez back in the good graces of the majority of club’s supporters?
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Alec Payne (@Payney3)