The news that Yannick Bolasie will miss the rest of the season after aggravating his ACL against Man Utd is a terrible blow to Everton. Bolasie has become a key player at Goodison – he has created the second most chances (20), he has the most assists (4), he formed a blossoming partnership with Romelu Lukaku.
He’s also been the only Everton winger to gain Ronald Koeman’s trust. The Dutchman must now replace Bolasie like-for-like with Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon, or he can switch to a wingerless formation. There are many advantages to switching to 3-4-2-1. 10 are listed below.
1) Holgate back in the side. Mason Holgate has looked really capable when he’s appeared this season and has demonstrated his suitability for this role by impressing at both centre-back and right-back. With Coleman further ahead assisting defensively and/ or slotting in alongside him off the ball, Everton would be stronger in this consistently weak area.
2) Williams into the centre. As Paul Riley pointed out it in this blog from October, Ashley Williams makes just 14% of his ball recoveries out of the centre (or made, as the case may now be). “No centre-back gets dragged less” – which contrasts sharply with Everton’s other centre-halves. Shifting Williams to the centre should add balance to the side whilst making the most of the side’s best blocker. He can also organise more effectively from this position.
3) Funes Mori in a more suitable role. Phil Jagielka’s increasingly bad form has thrust unimpressive Ramiro Funes Mori into the side. He may not stay there beyond January but for now, playing him as one of three centre-backs may be the best approach given his propensity to pull wide off the ball. Playing him on the left of a three would share his defensive workload while also allowing Leighton Baines to push further forward.
4) Less defensive responsibility for Baines and Coleman. Everton’s first-choice full-backs were never the best defensively even before Roberto Martinez filled their heads with nonsense, but as their match-salvaging equalisers at home to Swansea and Man Utd would suggest, they still have something to offer going forward. Playing them in a 3-4-2-1 would allow them to provide width which they’ve always been good at, and make more of their natural attacking ability while continuing to provide defensive assistance.
5) The ability to switch to a 5-man defence. As a space-squeezing exercise out of possession, Koeman would have the option of dropping Baines and Coleman back to make five at the back. Also, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas (or any other attacking midfielder of course) could drop into wide positions to form a four-man midfield. This may come in particularly useful when Everton experience the sort of attacking dominance Man City and Chelsea subjected them to.
6) Lessening Barry’s burden Quite understandably, Barry is looking increasingly tired. He’s 35, he’s had an 18-year career, and during his three-and-a-bit years at Goodison, his work ethic has put his younger teammates to shame. Koeman needs to look at a long-term replacement but for now, an additional defensive player would reduce Barry’s protective duties and allow him to concentrate on starting attacks and dictating the play.
7) Allowing Barry and Gueye to remain in the centre Once again referring to Paul Riley’s excellent analysis, the same blog piece highlighted how Barry and Gueye are dragged out of the centre more than any central midfield duo. As the side loses its shape and the first line of defence is weakened, Everton are exposed. With two defensive players on each flank, Everton’s central midfield duo will have to cover less ground and so should be able to increase their ball retrievals in front of the back four.
8) Baines crossing again Since Steven Pienaar got injured and then left, Baines has struggled with the lack of a consistent ally down the left. To compound matters this year, he often finds himself behind prolific crosser Bolasie who barely ever notices Baines let alone passes to him. With Bolasie injured, clearing the left-flank completely would allow Baines to get back to covering the full length of the pitch and providing more crosses.
9) Creative assistance for Barkley. Mirallas’ presence as an additional creative midfielder will help out Barkley who is so often smothered and overawed in the number 10 role he makes look like such a lonely task. Two attacking midfielders will present more problems for opposition defences and hopefully encourage Barkley and Mirallas to take more shots.
10) Support for Lukaku This is the main benefit. The whole point of this formation is to use the talent at Koeman’s disposal to improve the attack without compromising the defence. Lukaku is struggling to impose himself at the moment and Bolasie is his main supplier. He’s always worked well with Mirallas, less so with Barkley, but with the two of them just off him, he’ll be a lot less isolated. Plus, with three men in the box, there’ll be more margin for error with crosses, which will be particularly useful in Coleman’s case.
Click here to read my Everton Man Utd report
By Chris Smith
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