Davide Ancelotti’s excellent work revealed as Everton make outstanding strides in one key area #Everton

Davide Ancelotti’s excellent work revealed as Everton make outstanding strides in one key area

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Another set-piece goal earned Everton all three points last week as they beat Norwich City 1-0 to continue their hunt for a place inside the European positions.

Michael Keane’s winner was Everton’s 10th set-piece league goal this season and seventh since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti back in December. This at a glance may seem decent but fairly unremarkable, particularly given that multiple studies have concluded that around only 3% of corners lead to goals, meaning most sides won’t care too much about aiming to excel in this department.

However, perceptions about the value of set-piece situations have recently started to change, with dead ball opportunities now being seen as an area in which teams can improve their goal return quickly with extra training and without needing to spent huge sums of money.

Furthermore, it was highlighted in a paper produced by Stats Perform scientist Paul Power back in 2018 that teams are actually more likely to score from set-pieces (1.8%) than from open-play possession (1.1%).

These may only seem like marginal differences at a glance, yet in a low scoring sport such as football, these differences can have a huge impact across the course of a campaign.

For Everton, seven of their 18 league goals under Ancelotti have arrived from set-pieces, which is more than a third. Whilst Ancelotti takes credit for this notable improvement in Everton’s threat from these situations, it is his son, Davide Ancelotti, who seems to be the key component behind the success.

When asked about duties at the club in an interview published on the official Everton website, the 30-year-old said: “My job when we are not on the pitch is to prepare sessions for the coming days, to prepare set pieces and, with other staff, the strategy for the next game.”

It’s difficult to truly identify specific routines the former Napoli assistant coach deploys at Everton, especially given that there will be plenty of variance from game to game given both the different strengths and weaknesses of opponents.

Yet, we can pinpoint some of the basic concepts used so far which have made Everton such a threat from these dead-ball situations.

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Lucas Digne and Gylfi Sigurdsson are Everton’s most relied upon set-piece takers, although it tends to be the Frenchman who takes the lion’s share these days. We will regularly see each player sending in both inswinging and outswinging crosses, however, there is an argument to say that it is perhaps the inswingers that have proven to be the most dangerous for the Blues so far.

One of the ways in which Everton have profited from these inswinging corners is by having an attacker making a blindside run towards the near post and then looking flick the ball on to a teammate behind.

Whilst often only a deft touch, it’s surprising just how much the initial contact disrupts a defensive structure, with players losing their marker or switching off in their designated defensive zone.

We see an example of this in the below taken from Everton’s 1-1 draw with West Ham back in January. Prior to the corner being taken, note the position of Mason Holgate who is occupying a place inside the six-yard box near the goalkeeper. Meanwhile, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is being tightly marked by Pablo Zabaleta.

Holgate loiters near the keeper whilst Calvert-Lewin is marked by Zabaleta

As the cross comes in, Holgate makes a blindside run towards the near post and flicks the ball on towards Calvert-Lewin inside the six-yard box.

Holgate wins the flick on
Holgate wins the flick on

The initial header by Holgate causes a momentary lapse in concentration by Zabaleta allowing Calvert-Lewin to escape the Argentine defender and latch onto the ball and head it into the back of the net. 

Calvert-Lewin latches onto the flick on to score
Calvert-Lewin latches onto the flick on to score

The same nearly proved to be successful again, this time against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby last weekend. Holgate again makes a clever run towards the near post and wins the initial flick on where Calvert-Lewin is loitering in the centre of the six-yard box.

Holgate again wins the flick on
Holgate again wins the flick on

Liverpool’s defenders focus on the initial contact made by the Everton defender and lose track of Calvert-Lewin lurking in the six-yard box. However, Everton’s number nine can only direct his header wide of the goal on this occasion.

Calvert-Lewin's header is just wide of the goal
Calvert-Lewin’s header is just wide of the goal

Everton have also done a good job of formulating systems that create obstacles for defenders to try and navigate around in order to track their respective Blues attacker. A good example of the same is in the below taken from Everton’s 3-1 win against Crystal Palace in Febuary.

This time, Digne is taking an outswinging corner which will be aimed towards the penalty spot. As a result, Everton’s most aerial dominant players occupy positions in and around the area highlighted in grey.

The ball is being aimed towards the penalty area
The ball is being aimed towards the penalty area

As the ball comes in, Calvert-Lewin begins to make a run towards the goal, whilst Richarlison starts to travel towards the area just vacated by the striker. Cleverly, that run by Calvert-Lewin blocks the path of Crystal Palace defender Gary Cahill who is trying to man-mark Richarlison. As a result, the Brazilian can win the header unopposed and direct it towards goals.

Richarlison fires his header onto the bar before Calvert-Lewin follows up on the rebound
Richarlison fires his header onto the bar before Calvert-Lewin follows up on the rebound

His effort rebounds off the underside of the bar and into the path of Calvert-Lewin who fires his shot past the keeper.

The Blues’ good dead-ball work hasn’t been exclusively associated with just corner kicks, they have also produced some good attacking moves from free-kick situations too.

In the below taken from Everton’s 3-2 loss at Arsenal, Sead Kolasinac is making his intentions to tightly mark Yerry Mina clear. It’s likely that during his opposition analysis ahead of this game, Davide Ancelotti would have identified these sorts of defensive behaviours by Arsenal in terms of using such tight marking against the most dangerous of opposition attackers and therefore the Everton coach would have configured a way in which to exploit it.

Mina tussles with Kolasinac prior to the free-kick
Mina tussles with Kolasinac prior to the free-kick

With Kolasinac holding tightly onto him, Mina begins to make a run in behind Arsenal’s defensive line, pulling the defender with him. This action allows Everton’s attackers to gain an extra yard on their defenders when charging into the box.

Mina make sure Kolasinac plays all of Everton's attackers on side
Mina make sure Kolasinac plays all of Everton’s attackers on side

This sequence of play eventually results in the Blues scoring a goal from the second phase of the set-piece thanks to an excellent overhead kick from Calvert-Lewin.

There is an element of dark arts going on in the above goal vs Arsenal, yet, this is not uncommon in set-piece plays, with blocking and pushing all regularly used to gain an advantage by both attackers and defenders. It’s also worth remembering that this passage of play was reviewed by VAR and deemed fair enough to allow the goal to stand.

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The above is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the level of detail and analysis both Ancelotti, his son Davide will be investing to improve this area of Everton’s game.

Yet, their hard work is already paying dividends and the goals scored from these dead ball situations could prove crucial in where the Toffees end up finishing at the conclusion of this campaign.

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