Tactically Speaking - Everton

We take a closer look at how visitors Everton could approach today’s Barclays Premier League fixture

As you might expect for a club with such a versatile-looking squad, Everton play a balanced, possession-based game.

While some teams are pigeonholed for using a particular style, the Toffees are seemingly able to adapt their approach dependent on the opposition they are facing, or the situation of the game they are contesting.

Roberto Martinez makes no secret of the fact that he likes his team to keep the ball and pass their way through their opponents, if possible, but that philosophy saw Everton struggle for consistency last season.

Too often, Everton passed the ball aimlessly around at the back, inviting pressure on themselves and making a number of mistakes that led directly to goals being conceded.

This season, the Blues have instead adopted a more direct style based heavily on getting the ball into, and playing off, centre forward Romelu Lukaku.

The big Belgian, so often the scourge of West Ham United, has become a vital figure in Everton’s game-plan as a focal point for balls forward from goalkeeper Tim Howard, the back four or the two deep-lying midfielders.

This does not necessarily mean Everton play aimless long balls forward. While this still occurs on occasion, the Toffees more often than not try to draw the opposition out before knocking the ball into Lukaku’s feet or chest and asking him to bring others into play in the space created.

When Lukaku is able to take possession, he has a wealth of options supporting him in attack. Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone all backed up their striker superbly in last weekend’s 6-2 victory over Sunderland at Goodison Park, combining to score five of their team’s six goals.

All four are capable of collecting the ball and running at the defence at pace, while each has his own individual qualities to cause problems. Lukaku is tall and powerful, Deulofeu is small and skilful, Kone is quick and elusive, while Barkley has an outstanding range of talents at his disposal.

West Ham will be eager to stop Barkley picking the ball up deep in pockets of space, preventing him from using his pace and dribbling ability to draw defenders and create shooting chances for either himself or his teammates.

Alongside him, James McCarthy is an underrated yet important member of the Everton starting XI. Energetic and hard-working, the Irishman seldom gives the ball away.

The flip side to Everton’s preferred approach is that when Lukaku is off his game, Everton’s means of getting the ball into the final third can dry up somewhat. West Ham, therefore, will be keen to cut off the No10’s supply line.

Defensively, Everton play a high line and can leave space in behind for the opposition to exploit, particularly in the full-back positions.

Seamus Coleman and whoever fills the left-back position will be encouraged to get forward and support the attack whenever possible, leaving opportunities for the Hammers to counter-attack – arguably one of the strengths of Slaven Bilic’s side this season.

In the centre, England starlet John Stones has ability and composure that bely his tender age – 21 – but alongside him Argentina international Ramiro Funes Mori is new to the Barclays Premier League and has yet to fully settle in.

Another sign of Everton’s versatility is the strength of their substitutes’ bench. Steven Naismith has a hat-trick against Chelsea to his name and is adept at popping up in dangerous positions, while Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas is sharp and never afraid to shoot.

Saturday's teams have combined to score 41 goals and concede 30 in their combined 22 league matches this season, so one can expect an open, goal-filled game if those statistics are anything to go by!

Possible starting XI: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Galloway, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Deulofeu, Kone, Lukaku