There is nothing like a little January transfer window to get you hyped as we always let ourselves fall into it. Based on the rumors Everton feel they can make a better pitch to Andriy Yarmolenko this window and bring him into the Everton squad. I wanted to look at what that team might look like. Along with the assumption we can sign him I will also assume that Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar, Aiden McGeady and Darron Gibson are all with other teams or not used in major roles for the remainder of this season. Lastly the team will make no other signings at the attacking midfield position.
With all those stipulations in place lets look at the Everton roster for advanced midfielders as I don't see any reason this roster would change us from a 4-2-3-1 formation. Behind Romelu Lukaku we have a grouping of Gerard Deufoleu, Ross Barkley, Yarmolenko, Kevin Mirallas, Arouna Kone, Aaron Lennon and to a lesser degree Tom Cleverly and Leon Osman. Based on the current rotation you would assume Lennon, Cleverly and Osman would be mainly used in Cup ties as well as for injuries and suspensions.
That leaves us with a rotation of five players to fill three spots. The left wing position has been the toughest spot for Everton to find an answer for and I don't believe Yarmolenko actually is the answer there. His natural position has been used on the right side. I would not label him a winger though as he prefers to cut inside a lot and shoot with his preferred left foot. Looking at his Zone from the Champions League matchup with FC Porto below you can see he sets up inside the fullback and to the outside of the central forwards.
For a comparison here is an image of Deufoleu against Aston Villa when Everton won 4-0.
That's not a huge change, but notice how the entire team is shaded to Deulofeu's side and he's closer to the sideline than Yarmolenko played. There is also a bit of shading further back to midfield for Yarmolenko than Deufoleu and the reason for that will show in some of the stats.
So Yarmolenko plays a more central and back position than Deulofeu on the right side. That would allow Barkley to push higher as well. So is Yarmolenko just a Deufoleu replacement? No. They play a slightly different game although both have an excess of flash as well as finish. Yarmolenko does have playing history on the left, but his ability with his left foot shot is enabled by attacking from the right. After watching many of his Youtube videos I can say that the goal he scored versus Everton was not a one time thing for him.
Yarmolenko Defensive Ability
The heart of the difference between Yarmolenko and any of the Everton options is his defensive ability to go with his attacking. Yarmolenko is no slouch defensively and his highlight real is filled with solid takeaways and hard effort to save lost possession. In his 5 games so far during the Champions League (only sample of stats available for this analysis) he has averaged 1.2 tackles per game and 1.2 interceptions per game. This also includes the fact he only played 18' in the last game in December due to an injury.
Comparing that to the rest of Everton's best options you see Barkley, Deufoleu and Mirallas fall at less than half than that. Admittedly when Mirallas first joined Everton he was getting more than one tackle and interception per game, but has dropped since. None of them would be labeled as defensive midfielders and Gareth Barry makes twice as many tackles per game as Yarmolenko for comparison, but he might be the best of the attackers at helping when possession is lost.
Once again a solid player who can play a bit further behind and be an asset defensively helps free other players like Barkley and Lukaku to find their chances. That also is helped by the fact that he has gotten fouled more often per game in the 5 Champions League games than Barkley and especially Deufoleu who fails to draw fowls because of his now established flopping reputation.
Distributor or Attacker
Passing is a question mark for the Ukranian as he only completes 78% of his passes in that admittedly small sample size against Champions League competition. Here is the Everton group so far this season.
Once again he seems to me to be best on the right side and taking time from Deufoleu although Mirallas has only played a hand full of games and not against Champions League competition. Here is a comparison of what kind of passing each player is doing.
In this breakdown we see what each player is really bringing except Mirallas. Yarmolenko can make a key pass and pick out players in the final third as well as creating his own chances. Barkley is a much more effective dribbler with space and will attack almost anyone. Deufoleu has improved in both respects by looking for the long pass more and taking on defenders, but is a step behind them both.
I would say if Mirallas is still not in Roberto Martinez plans than one of the two would need to play on the left side and my feeling is Deufoleu might be the better option. He has skill to cross with both feet and likes to take on defenders. He's struggled to link up well with Seamus Coleman in my opinion so perhaps Leighton Baines might be worth a shot as a one-two partner. That leaves Barkley central and Yarmolenko on the right.
This formation also allows Barry to support the left side where Deufoleu is less responsible defensively and not put extra pressure on the defenders. This setup would also allow Martinez to rotate Mirallas in to give each player rest especially Deufoleu if he has games when his inconsistencies hurt the team.
Yarmolenko is an amazing talent and has not only put up numbers in the Ukraine League, but his showing in this years Champions League has been very impressive. Everton fans will surely remember him from his electric performance in Europa League what feels so long ago and would surely love to see a player of his skill on the team. I think the £21 millions won't be the final number and expect the team if serious is going to have to be talking in the £25 million to get this done. It's a big chance but one that reminds the Premier League that they are serious.