From these very early returns, we can glean a few things — he’ll use actual wingers, try to keep players in their natural positions, and won’t hesitate to use young players if the moment is right, as it was for Beni Baningime yesterday. These are all good signs, and clear improvements over Ronald Koeman.
But, as you’d expect, there are still plenty of questions about how Unsworth will approach managing this oddly configured Everton squad. Let’s take a quick look at three of the most pressing questions for Unsworth that we still don’t quite have answers for yet.
What will Wayne Rooney’s role be?
Unsworth started Rooney as the central striker in a 4-3-3 yesterday, but that doesn’t really provide much insight into his usage going forward. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench because of their recent workloads, he was a pretty sensible inclusion for this match — but that won’t always be the case going forward.
Sigurdsson, you’d expect, will be the top-choice No. 10 when he starts, and he and Rooney haven’t played well together — largely because Rooney likes to drop deep and operate in the space that should be Sigurdsson’s. Koeman didn’t identify this issue and it was one of the final tactical errors he made in charge of Everton.
That aside, Calvert-Lewin has probably been the most complete striker to play for Everton this season, and it’s hard to see Rooney supplanting the young Englishman on a regular basis — you’d suspect, anyway.
So, what will Rooney’s role be under Unsworth? Super sub? Rotational striker / No. 10? Will he take the place of Calvert-Lewin or Sigurdsson in the normal starting lineup?
What’s going to happen at center-back?
Phil Jagielka’s super-human resurgence this season has been something to behold, and when paired with Michael Keane, Everton looks to have reasonable defensive stability in the middle.
Ashley Williams’ super-human decline this season has also been something to behold, as he’s turned from a decent defensive contributor into a monumental black hole over the course of the summer months. Nearly every play he makes is a mistake, and his poor set piece marking cost Everton against Chelsea.
Mason Holgate hasn’t been much better at his supposed “natural position” of center-back. His decision-making is astonishingly bad — at times, it appears that he is actively trying to identify the wrong place to be or play to make. He’s got the size and speed to make up for those errors sometimes — but that can also be used to catch up to a player and then inexplicably kick him in the shins in the box, as he did against Lyon.
Unsworth elected to rest Keane yesterday, which was understandable given the minutes the defender has played. But, his absence meant the inclusion of Williams, which may well have cost Everton the match.
Keane and Jagielka cannot play together in every match until January — Everton plays three matches in eight days before the next international break, for example. But, Koeman, and so far Unsworth, could not find a way to make things work without that pairing.
Does he try Mason Holgate in the middle again? Go to another academy player? Become a magical center-back whisperer? Suit up and play alongside Keane and Jagielka himself?
What happens with Koeman’s central-midfield mess?
After Beni Baningime’s strong performance against Chelsea, here’s a list of central midfielders who might be able to stake a claim to playing time:
- Gylfi Sigurdsson
- Tom Davies
- Davy Klaassen
- James McCarthy
- Idrissa Gueye
- Muhamed Besic
- Beni Baningime
- Morgan Schneiderlin
That’s eight players for no more than three spots in any given lineup, and doesn’t even include the possibility that Wayne Rooney could play as an advanced central midfielder as well.
It’s an utter mess — one of Ronald Koeman’s doing, largely — but one that Unsworth may need to sort out in order to prove his ability to manage the club on a permanent basis.
It seems pretty safe to assume that the preferred trio will be Sigurdsson, Gueye, and Schneiderlin, but after that, the rotation is anyone’s guess. Muhamed Besic didn’t even make the bench yesterday, so his time at Everton could be coming to an end, though even that is just a guess.
And that still leaves Davies, Klaassen, McCarthy, and Baningime still vying for minutes with the first team — minutes that will probably be even more limited now that Everton’s Carabao Cup campaign is over and the Europa League probably isn’t far behind.
How can he continue Davies and Baningime’s development, build up Klaassen and McCarthy’s confidence, and start picking up positive results all the same? It seems an impossible task — so even managing two of those three things might be an achievement.
Unsworth has given Everton supporters reason to be confident that he can get the team going in the right direction, a pleasant change.
These questions he needs to face aren’t an accusation against him after one match either — he did a fine job against Chelsea, he’s just not had time yet to make clear his answers to these questions.
But, he’s going to have to come up with good answers and quickly, at least if he wants to keep the job and get Everton back on track.