This post originally featured on our comprehensive world football analysis sister site, totalfootballanalysis.com.
Everton came into this FA Cup weekend on a dismal run of form, having won only one of their last eight games in the league. Lincoln City, on the other hand, were flying high, sitting on top of League Two. The stage was thus set for an FA Cup giant-killing act. However, despite a defiant display from the Imps, Everton’s superior quality ultimately told as they won the game 2-1 to progress to the next round.
Lincoln City and the Cowley brothers have already won a lot of admirers through their continued push for promotion from League Two to follow up their elevation to the Football League last year. This performance established just why the duo are one of the hottest managerial properties in the Football League at the moment.
Lincoln’s stable defence
Games featuring sides with such a vast gulf in quality and resources usually have a set pattern. The bigger side dominates possession, while the smaller team looks to sit back and defend while looking to nick a goal through a set-piece or counter-attack. This FA Cup third-round tie was no different on the surface. Dig a little deeper though, and one can see the defensive fortitude of this Lincoln City side.
The Imps were tireless and organised, getting men behind the ball and frustrating their more illustrious opponents. They looked to minimize space in central areas and behind the defence and were happy to have Everton move the ball out wide, adept as they were at dealing with crosses. The images below will show just how intent the Imps were to not allow Everton to create anything centrally.
Lincoln played in a low block, getting men behind the ball quickly once they lost it and dropping their defensive line onto the edge of their penalty area.
Their obsession with being compact centrally did, however, lead to Everton’s first goal. Leighton Baines had the freedom of Goodison Park to swing in a cross for Ademola Lookman.
Nevertheless, it was an admirable effort from Lincoln City, as they managed to frustrate Everton for the majority of the game.
Everton struggle for creativity
Against sides playing with such a deep defensive line, there needs to be a ‘lockpicker’ in the side, someone who can literally thread the needle and find teammates in space. Everton do possess someone approaching that level of skill in Gylfi Sigurdsson, but while the Icelander started the game, the Toffees still struggled to break down a resolute Imps defence. One of the few times they managed to do so was for their second goal.
Bernard was a lively presence throughout the game, drifting across the pitch from his position on the left. This allowed Sigurdsson to go out to the left on occasion, but it is debatable if this was the best move. He has done his best work from central areas and notably struggled under Sam Allardyce when played on the left flank. This fluidity may have contributed to Everton’s lack of cutting edge, as it was left up to the full-backs to provide width.
Tom Davies also had an underwhelming game in midfield, so much so that he was dragged off for Andre Gomes at half-time. The Englishman struggled to dictate play and often looked like he was not on the same wavelength as his teammates. This was another contributing factor to Everton’s stodgy display. On this evidence, Davies will find it extremely difficult to take Gomes’ place in the side.
Everton managed to eke out a welcome win here against solid, disciplined opponents, but it was the visitors who went home with their reputations enhanced. The Cowley brothers could not repeat their FA Cup heroics of 2017 this time around. Nevertheless, their sides’ superb defensive organisation and desire impressed even the home fans at Goodison Park. Everton, on the other hand, look like they have a lot of work to do if they are to be ‘the best of the rest’ in the Premier League.
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