Ahead of the FA Cup final in 2010 vs Portsmouth, then Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti sat his players down the night before the game for a team meeting.
He began that meeting by saying, “This is the last game of the season, we know what we’re able to do, and we know the opposition.” He then asked his players directly, “What do you think the tactics should be?”
The room fell silent and Chelsea’s players looked bemused, which is understandable. After all, it’s not the players who tell the manager the team tactics, it’s the other way around.
As you might expect, the Chelsea squad hadn’t been asked this kind of question previously, and they didn’t really know what to say. However, gradually as the shock began to wear off, the hands across the room started to go up and points started to be proposed.
Soon enough, there was a list of different tactical ideas for both the defending and attacking aspects of the game. From there, the gameplan was drawn up and the team talk was done.
The following day, the players went out onto the pitch and delivered it, winning the FA Cup and simultaneously sealing the domestic double along with the league title for Ancelotti.
Fast-forward nearly 11 years, Ancelotti was in charge of another huge English domestic occasion. There wasn’t silverware on the line in Saturday’s Merseyside derby, but there was plenty of local pride and the chance to banish a painful winless record stretching into its 22nd year.
And ahead of the match, Ancelotti adopted a very similar approach to the one he used before the FA Cup final in his pre-match meeting with his Everton players, as highlighted by Michael Keane.
The defender said after Saturday’s derby triumph, “Quite a lot of us have a lot of experience playing against Liverpool so in the team meeting this morning, the manager sort of said ‘what have you learned from the past and how do we want to approach this?'”.
“We knew what to expect from them, they are a great team but if you defend well, track the runners, work really hard then you can frustrate them. Obviously this season, there is space to hit them on the counter-attack and we took advantage.”
There’s no doubt that on the day Everton did that. Their pressing was much more relaxed than usual, highlighted by their passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) average of 19.52 – their season average so far is 16.01. There was also a big drop in the number of passes made per possession, down to an average of 2.6 from their season average 4.45.
Everton’s gameplan was clear, win possession of the ball back and move it forward quickly before Liverpool have a chance to settle into any defensive shape.
An example of the same is below. The Everton defence breakdown the Liverpool attack and the ball comes to Tom Davies inside the Blues penalty area. The midfielder has one thing on his mind, get it forward fast.