When Sam Allardyce explained his Premier League survival blueprint on Monday Night Football in September, it seemed unthinkable that two months later he might be taking those same tried and tested methods to Everton.
Ronald Koeman’s side had only lost two of their first eight games at that point, but a season that started with Champions League aspirations has gone downhill rapidly. Everton sit 15th following a run of three wins from 13 games in all competitions, with Allardyce now favourite to take the reins.
The former Crystal Palace and Sunderland manager has an impressive track record for reviving struggling clubs, so how could his methods help turn Everton’s fortunes around? Here, we use his survival blueprint to find out.
Keeping clean sheets
Despite the arrivals of Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford in the summer, Everton have had big issues at the back this season. Only West Ham have conceded more goals (22), and they have not kept a Premier League clean sheet since their 1-0 win over Stoke on the opening day of the season.
Tightening up a leaky backline is a familiar task to Allardyce, who ranked keeping clean sheets as the most important point in his survival blueprint. It’s an approach which certainly paid off at Crystal Palace last season. The Eagles had only kept one clean sheet in 17 games before his appointment, but they went on to keep six in their final 16, winning all six of those games as they comfortably avoided the drop.
Palace’s struggles since Allardyce’s departure have only served to highlight his influence, and Everton are crying out for the same kind of treatment. As well their worrying goals conceded column, the Toffees have faced the most shots on target in the Premier League.
Making them tougher to break down would be the first step towards improvement.
Playing forward and winning knock-downs
Allardyce’s direct playing style is not for the purists but his record is proof of its effectiveness. According to his blueprint, the key factors are to play the first pass forward and to win knock-downs from aerial balls.
“I was brought up to always make your first pass forward if you can,” he said on MNF. “Even against the best defensive team in the Premier League, it’s a quick forward pass that creates the opportunity to score. Too many sideways or backward passes allow the opposition to get back into their own half and put up two banks of four.”
It’s an approach worth trying for Everton. The Merseysiders have averaged nearly 50 per cent possession this season but struggled to make it count, scoring just 10 goals in 11 games and creating fewer clear-cut chances than Swansea, West Brom and Brighton.
Winning knockdowns has proved difficult too. Everton have registered the second-worst duel success rate in the Premier League at 46.9 per cent, and the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku has left them without an effective focal point up front.
Allardyce would have to make do with Wayne Rooney, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Oumar Niasse and Sandro Ramirez until January, but in Gylfi Sigurdsson, he would at least have a player to provide the service. If he could bring in a target-man in the style of Christian Benteke when the window opens, Everton might begin to feel the benefits.
Prioritising set pieces
Allardyce could also improve Everton from set pieces. Allardyce has always prioritised dead-ball situations on the training ground and that hard work was particularly productive at Sunderland. During the 2015/16 season, the Black Cats scored more set-piece goals than any other Premier League side and conceded the fewest.
It’s an area of untapped potential for Everton. Despite the signing of Sigurdsson, an outstanding crosser of the ball who provided more assists from dead balls than any other Premier League player last season, Everton have only scored one goal from a set piece this season.
Jamie Carragher and Sam Allardyce answered Twitter questions on MNF
The lack of an aerially dominant striker is not ideal in that regard, but the likes of Keane, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams are all capable of capitalising from corners and free kicks. Having conceded three goals from set pieces at the other end this season, Allardyce would also be able to reorganise Everton in a defensive sense.
Exploiting opponents’ weaknesses
Everton have been found wanting tactically this season, but Allardyce is a manager always seeking specific ways to exploit his opponents’ weaknesses. The most famous examples came in the way he repeatedly unsettled Arsenal with physical tactics during his time in charge of Bolton, but there were standout moments at Crystal Palace, too.
In their shock 2-1 win over champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season, for example, the decisive goal came from a counter-attack in which they robbed possession from a Chelsea throw-in, with Christian Benteke instructed to receive the next pass on the flank in order to confuse Antonio Conte’s defenders.
“We looked at Stoke in the previous game, when they had shut them down at throw-ins and won the ball back,” he explained on MNF. “I’m not sure a lot of coaches analyse that, but it’s a free throw-in. If you get that right, you can be off on the attack. If you get it wrong you can find yourself defending. We broke away well.”
He added: “Everybody else had tried different ways of playing against Chelsea. Some had tried to match them, some tried 4-5-1, some tried two banks of four. We decided to play with no centre-forward. We put our centre-forwards in the wide positions, tucked in when we didn’t have the ball. Would Chelsea’s centre-halves come out and pick them up or leave them? We gave them something to think about.”
It’s the kind of thing Everton should be thinking about too.