A huge win at Goodison last week was followed by an equally satisfying one in Croydon on the week-end. The most pleasing element – the gritty nature of the performance. Every player from one to eleven showed hunger and desire, clearly brought about by Koeman’s ruthless leadership. His message to his players, now finally hitting home, is simple – Play my way, and if you don’t perform, you’re out. He has tinkered with his formation and starting line up all season – Now he has implemented a trademark shape and playing style that his players have finally got on board with.
No more shape shifting
The 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation looks a natural fit for the current set of players Koeman has at his disposal. The three centre backs appear more solid as a trio than when any of them are deployed in a pair. Holgate and Funes Mori both like to break forward out of defence to start attacks, previously leaving their partner exposed to the counter attack. However, now the teammate on the other flank can stay back with Ashley Williams, effectively protecting against the counter.
The midfield trio of Davies, Barkley and Barry have a fine balance – The two youngsters provide energy, skill and drive, whilst Gareth Barry offers safe discipline, direct and precise passing combined with terrific reading of the game – However his position is likely to be filled by new arrival Morgan Schneiderlin once the Frenchman settles.
Baines and Coleman now find themselves higher up the pitch playing as wingbacks, easing their defensive duties. These new roles are ideally suited to the pair, particularly in Coleman’s case, as he can be defensively more suspect.
Lukaku is no longer as isolated; with Kevin Mirallas now supporting his compatriot. Currently playing as a second striker running around the main man, Mirallas is filling the position he says he has always preferred. When you add into the mix the fine displays of Joel, along with positive impacts from new signings Lookman and Schneiderlin – Everton look to have found a stable equilibrium.
Options thin from top to bottom
If Koeman has found his Plan A then he must build his squad around it. The first XI is good, however there is simply no quality cover, nor is there an effective Plan B. Waiting in the wings at left back is Oviedo, who Koeman has thankfully placed firmly in the category of “Waste of space”. In contrast, deputy right back Holgate is thriving in the centre of the park, making his name as one of the finest young defenders in the league.
Any injuries to the back 3 and the blues become worryingly exposed. Jagielka is currently the only other senior option, although he is said to be the next victim to face Koeman’s remorseless axe.
With Idrissa Gana Gueye to return from the AFCON, alongside James McCarthy and the returning Mo Besic on the bench – cover in central midfield is the only area on the pitch that can be deemed sufficient. Koeman has seemingly prioritised strengthening this particular area with his acquisition of Morgan Schneirderlin and the promotion of Tom Davies.
Moving further up the field, it is clear that the depth in attack is not as strong as it is in the middle of the park. Lukaku needs support, and indeed someone to give him an occasional rest. Despite the collapse of the Belfodil transfer, it looks like Koeman and Walsh will look to strengthen in this area.
No standing still
Koeman is implementing a similar style of play seen at Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino. They too do not play with wingers, instead utilising their full backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker as highly effective wingbacks. Their main man up top Harry Kane is ably supported by a fine group of midfielders behind him, none better than the young Dele Ali – a real superstar who Tom Davies and indeed Ross Barkley should look up to. League leaders Chelsea are also playing a similar system under Conte – It is clear that when it works it can be supremely effective.
A criticism of the current Spurs’ side is the lack of wingers Pochettino has at his disposal. Chelsea on the other hand have an abundance of creative maestros who are equally comfortable out wide as they are in the centre. With Bolasie and Deulofeu not available, Everton now have similar gaps in their squad to the ones seen at White Hart Lane.
Koeman must have the players for his system, as well as ones that are capable to adapt to a ‘Plan B’ approach. It would be encouraging to see him continue to promote from within, however the squad certainly requires enhancing with one or two quality acquisitions. One week remains in the transfer window – In which time Koeman and Walsh will no doubt be busy to add one or two bodies to hand Everton the required boost for the remainder of the league season.