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Assessing Everton's Ideal Lineup: Part Two

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The debate over Everton's best tactical setup rages on...

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After Everton's thoroughly disappointing 4-3 loss against Stoke City earlier this week, I posed a question: "What is Everton's ideal lineup?"

RBM readers and writers wrote back in numbers, and here we will take a look at some of the key suggestions and discussions put forward in those comments.

Gareth Barry

I was surprised to see any disagreement at all about whether or not Barry deserves a continued place in the starting XI, but the English midfielder was at the center of multiple discussions.

Does Barry have the necessary pace to fill the role of a defensive midfielder, or is his lack of speed a prime culprit in Everton's inability to defend?

While I agree that Barry obviously is going to be one of the slowest players on the pitch at any given time, I'm not sure that it makes any discernible difference for his team. The 34-year-old tends to sit so deep that he is left with little ground to cover in transition.

In particular, when the full-backs are getting in extremely advanced positions, Barry tends to sit almost as a third center-back, just in front of the back four. When the ball turns over, he very rarely has ground to cover to make his way to the ball; rather, he can either step back between the center backs and allow the attack to come toward him, or step forward, likely committing a professional foul, as we've become accustomed to from Barry.

Additionally, Barry's play-making ability is crucial if the Toffees continue to dominate possession in matches. Barry is an underrated passer of the ball; recall that he had four assists, 1.3 key passes per game, and an 86.7 percent passing completion percentage in 2013-14, and his play this year has very much mirrored his first year on Merseyside.

There just is not anyone else in the side who brings the same combination of experience, defensive prowess, calm in the midfield, and passing ability as Gareth Barry. To me, he must stay in the XI.

Using Two Wingers

This should not come as a surprise, but RBM has made it clear that we want to see two legitimate wide players in the midfield.

Not a single person suggested that Arouna Kone or Steven Naismith should be occupying either wing, which signals the unsurprising conclusion that we are all sick and tired of Roberto Martinez's tactical adventure on the left wing.

Intelligent minds can differ on which two wide players should occupy the wings (I am partial to Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon myself), but the main point is that the Toffees need width to stretch the field. Right now, opposing clubs are keying on Deulofeu on the right and Barkley in the middle, and attacks are predictably hitting walls and leading to turnovers, which leads to counter attacks (and we all know the side apparently does not know how to defend those).

The introduction of any two genuine wide players (with the instruction to stay relatively wide, of course) will stretch opposing back-lines. This will allow Ross Barkley and whoever else is in the center of midfield more space to operate, while also making the attack a little more balanced. By bringing some of the attacking thrust to the left side, the dangerous Leighton Baines can get more involved.

Goalkeeper

I still fail to understand the amount of pure vitriol getting spewed at Tim Howard, a good servant to the club for nearly 10 years now. I understand some of the criticism of his play, but not the nature in which it is being expressed. At any rate, that is a discussion for another time.

RBM is split about 50/50 on whether Howard should maintain his spot in goal or Joel Robles should enter the side. Tactically, there isn't a ton to say about this question, but it is worth noting that Howard still has some support within the fanbase, while others have decided his time is up.

Pick the Best Ten Outfield Players

Malesherbes suggested an interesting experiment that is worth fleshing out a little here: start by worrying not about formation, but simply who you think are the best ten outfield players in the side, then find a formation from there.

For me, this is a non-issue, as my top ten players are the ones I suggested earlier in the week, leading to this lineup:

Of course, it isn't always that neat and tidy. Malesherbes' 10 players were Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, and Tom Cleverley.

That group is a little heavy on central midfielders and a little light on width, but it remains an interesting thought process.

ClashSLF's Lineup

Clash utilizes Aaron Lennon on the right, a player I have made clear deserves more chances going forward, which leaves Gerard Deulofeu on the bench. As much as Deulofeu's diving and lack of defensive effort can frustrate, I just don't know if he can be left off the field given that he already has two goals and seven assists this season.

The central midfield pairing of Besic and McCarthy is an interesting one, which to me signals an effort to have these midfielders focus on defense first. Given the Toffees' horrendous defensive record, having the midfield pair focus on defense is a solid move, but as I mentioned above, I think Gareth Barry has to be in the side.

Darren Melling's Lineup

In Darren's eyes, the Toffees are side playing a simple game being over-complicated by a stubborn manager.

He raises an excellent point, and his lineup reflects that. Darren's lineup is, on paper, very similar to what I suspect Martinez would currently say his best XI is, only making changes at left midfield and goalkeeper.

The biggest change for Darren would be tasking the central midfielders with playing defense first and playing a simple game, leaving the attacking work to the team's front four. The 4-2-3-1 is designed to do just that, and given that Darren has chosen to utilize the team's four most dangerous attacking players in his front four, his ideas make a lot of sense.

Belfast Blue and Portland Eric's Lineups

I've grouped these two together because they both leave Everton a little too exposed at the back to be an ideal long-term solution.

In Belfast Blue's lineup, James McCarthy takes on the role of most defensive-minded holding midfielder, which is not a role he has played frequently in an Everton shirt. McCarthy has almost always played with either Barry or Besic present to do the majority of the dirty work, and with Ross Barkley alongside him, McCarthy would have to do almost all of that by himself. This lineup would create a ton of offense, but I'm just not sure there's enough defense to compensate.

I like Portland Eric's idea of having Muhamed Besic as a midfield destroyer, the role he was born to play. But, Besic, still only 23 years old, has not yet shown the necessary maturity to be taking on such a massive defensive role on his own. I fear that the Bosnian would be too easily pulled out of position, leaving a currently shaky backline exposed far too frequently.

Do you have addition suggestions? Thoughts on the examples and discussion points I've included above? Let me know in the comments!