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Toffees’ Tuesday Mailbag

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Answering all of your relevant, and irreverent, questions on Everton.

Oh what a time to be a Toffee!

Just when you thought the current campaign couldn’t get any more unpredictable, our beloved Everton go and take part in one of the most entertaining Premier League matches in recent history.

This match had it all:

- Complete 1st half dominance

- Early 2nd half incompetence

- Late match heart and determination

- A four-goal performance!

- Goal celebrations before the actual goal!!

- 6 goals for Everton!!!

Do you remember the last time Everton hung a six on the scoreboard?

It was a 6-2 drubbing of Sunderland in November of 2015, with the hero of the match being the hat-trick hero, none other than Arouna Kone.

Everton v Sunderland - Premier League
Arouna Kone celebrates his hattrick
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Exactly, it was in a different lifetime! While you may remember that match due to it’s absurdity, it certainly feels like it happened eons ago.

So how did the team follow up THAT six-goal outburst?

By winning two out of next eleven league matches, burying any goodwill accumulated from scoring half a dozen goals deep in supporters’ memories, and subjecting fans to the awfulness that was last winter.

Can Ronald Koeman’s Everton squad capitalize on their offense explosion to enter, dare I say it, the Champion League race? Or will Toffees fans simply remember this weekend’s magic as a glimpse into a brighter future?

Onto the questions!!


Was Ross Barkley out of line celebrating before he had actually scored?

- Kelly (Newport)

Oh, our precious diamond.

I think at this point it is safe to say that Ross Barkley has taken another major step forward in his career.

For all of the hand-wringing and anxiety about the Academy-product’s Everton future, and lack of production, at the beginning of the season, we now find ourselves watching Mr. Barkley blossom right before our eyes.

No more indecision about when to drop deep to receive the ball, when to take on defenders, or when to press. He now strides about the field with the certainty of a player who knows both what is expected of him AND how to deliver it.

You can’t really overstate the impact that Koeman has had on Ross. Not just in the technical/tactical sense, but in the professional sense as well.

He has shown Barkley that if you show up to training every day and work hard to execute the game plan, even on those little annoying things you “already know how to do”, not only will there be opportunities to show off your undeniable skills, but you will have the confidence to know WHEN to use them.

As opposed to spending all game looking for chances to show the fans his immense talent, he instead operates within a system that not only he trusts, but one that rewards him for doing so by giving him numerous chances for him (and the team) to benefit from his creativity to explosiveness.

So, getting back to Ross’ premature celebration, and if I thought it was out of line.

In a word: NO.

I must say that I generally fall on the more conservative style of fandom. I like my athletes humble (not boring), deferential to teammates when receiving credit, and displaying unwavering professionalism at all times.

So when Ross did this, my own reaction surprised me:

Everton v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Ross Barkley celebrates before scoring Everton’s sixth
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

I was thrilled! Look at his face! That’s not revenge or hubris, that is JOY.

There are a couple of reasons that I am comfortable with him celebrating early:

  1. He didn’t direct anything towards an opponent
  2. It wasn’t preconceived
  3. He engaged the fans

I think the moment he found himself clear in on goal, just reward for another STELLAR performance, he wanted to share it with the fans!

Barkley’s body language tells the story of a man who it is all finally clicking for after years of two steps forward and one step back.

Those raised arms are his show of appreciation to the countless Everton fans that have stuck with him through his substantial growing pains, waiting for him to finally blossom.

Now that that day has arrived, it’s our duty to push him to the next level and drag us there with him.

In the meantime?

Throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care!!!


I know you like Lookman, how did Lookman do in his first start?

-Eric (San Francisco)

I will try and keep my comments on young Mr. Lookman as brief as possible, considering I have spent time in each column fawning over him. He’s amazing, world-class, and we will remember this first start generations from now as we recall his greatness.

But I won’t ramble.

In fact, I’ll make it a haiku:

Fearless Lookman roams

The goalmouth calls out for him

Dare he not answer?


Idrissa Gueye is back and the rest of the center midfielders are healthy. So why was Gareth Barry in the starting line up? Also, back 3 or back 4?

-Doug (Stafford)

Great question! Especially because Barry’s inclusion in the team demands more tactical discipline in order to best accentuate his strengths (distribution and closing off passing lanes) and hide his weaknesses (sprinting and lateral movement) than any other player.

While I was somewhat surprised by Barry’s inclusion in the lineup, there are a number of other mitigating circumstances that led to Koeman selecting the veteran midfielder.

First off, the inclusion of Ademola Lookman in the first eleven meant the removal of a veteran Kevin Mirallas. This raised the need for veteran midfield leadership.

Tom Davies has been playing well, but him and Lookie monster’s ages add up to about the same age as Barry.

Add in the fact that Mr. Davies was a little loose on the ball last match, and the switch to a more experienced player was aimed at helping calm the team.

Also working in Barry’s favor was that fact that the team has been on such a roller coaster.

Finally, Gueye had just come back from a tournament where he’d played 4 games in 16 days. Why risk him when we had so many players who were in form, and can play his position?

Sure, things are certainly trending upwards NOW, but between the loss to Leicester at home in the FA Cup to back-to-back one-goal performances, Koeman knew the team was due for an emotional let down.

By including Barry, he knew cool heads would prevail, the team won’t get too high or too low, and the squad could pick up three points with workman like efficiency. Even if it lacked some ‘sexiness’

How’d that work out Ronald?!?!?!

Seriously though, Barry’s inclusion shows another important fact.

Koeman doesn’t get caught up in the hype.

This might not come as a surprise to those of you who have ever seen the Dutchman or heard him talk, but even the best coaches get washed up in excitement.

Don’t believe me?? Lookman started!! He wasn’t even a professional player 24 months ago!

It would have been very easy for RK to toss Tom Davies in every match, taken the good with the bad, and racked up the numerous mistakes to ‘learning the ropes’.

Everton fans would have been thrilled to see their new starlet cut his teeth the next four months, knowing the long-term payoff would be there.

But would it?

Think about the mailbag question before this one. The one about Ross Barkley.

How did that approach work for him?

Not well at all.

Left to work out the kinks himself on the field he struggled for consistency and form.

He assumed that since he was starting consistently that as long as he showed up and played hard he would grow. The problems would work themselves out.

Instead, Barkley’s growth was stunted as he was free of accountability and shielded by managers asking us to overlook his deficiencies (even though the same ones kept appearing) in lieu of his potential.

Koeman, however, knows better than that and determines playing time based on your professionalism in training as well as your ability to execute.

I would guarantee that as the midfield numbers have swelled at Finch Farm, Barry has raised his game. You don’t appear in over 600 league matches without being one competitive SOB.

Is Koeman going to ignore this and just leave Barry on the bench?

Sorry Gareth, I know you have worked harder at training and executed better than Tom, but I’m going to start him. He’s just so gosh darn enthusiastic and the crowd would really like to see him.

If he does that now, he loses all of the gains he has made since taking over the side.

Instead, Koeman sets clear short-term goals for his players and lets them battle for them.

Then he reaps the rewards by having a team, sharpened by competition for spots, ready to implement his game plan.

So should we stick with a back four or a back three?

On the surface the answer to that questions would seemingly drastically alter the shape and approach of the team.

If you take a closer look at the stats, however, the differences between the two shapes disappears almost immediately.

When the Toffees play a back 3, those individuals are tasked with shutting down the other team’s attack within the width of the 18 throughout the defending third.

When put on a heat map, it looks like this:

whoscored.com

In our 1-0 victory at Palace late last month Koeman trotted out a back three of Mason Holgate, Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori.

The heat map shows that the back three formed a wall just short of the midfield line, and the ‘tail’ you see is simply Williams tracking back when the Eagles were able to get in behind our wing backs and get towards the end line (rare).

Against Bournemouth, however, the Toffees strolled out a back four with Funes Mori and Williams at center back.

Taking a look at the heat map of the center backs AND Barry, we see the first evidence of Koeman’s big illusion:

whoscored.com

It looks eerily similar! The only difference is that there are two ‘tails’ since both CB will track as the ball progresses down the touchline.

Not only that, with 196 and 187 touches, respectively, the impact of these two setups is even more even.

Long story short Koeman swaps out a CB, in this case Holgate, and replaces him with a deep defensive central midfielder (Barry), and have the different sets of three work together to deny the middle of the field to their opponents.

Want more evidence that the difference between our back three and back four is negligible?

Well, considering they don’t merit mentioning as defenders in a back three, and do in a back four, you would assume that no one’s job would change more than our beloved outside backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.

So how much did the change of formation impact these two and their ability to contribute to the attack (especially Seamus the goal machine)?

whoscored.com

Look familiar?

The only difference is that there are two ‘tails’ since both CB will track as the ball progresses down the touchline.

Not only that, with 196 and 187 touches, respectively, the impact of these two triplets is even more equitable.

Long story short Koeman swaps out a CB, in this case Holgate, and replaces him with a deep defensive central midfielder (Barry), and have the different sets of three work together to deny the middle of the field to their opponents.

Want more evidence that the difference between our back three and back four is negligible?

Well, considering they don’t merit mentioning as defenders in a back three, and do in a back four, you would assume that no one’s job would change more with the shape than our beloved outside backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.

So how much did the change of formation impact these two and their ability to contribute to the attack (especially Seamus the goal machine)?

Well as you can see, Coleman tends to sit higher when Everton play a back three, as is to be expected, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

While he may be closer to the goal, he doesn’t see the ball nearly as much.

Against Crystal Palace, with three in the back, Seamus only got the ball 29 times the entire match.

Playing AFC Bournemouth this past weekend though, the Irishman found the ball 50 times, quite a jump. So even though he may appear more attacking in a back three, the back four allows Seamus to get on the ball and have a bigger impact on the game.

For the remainder of the season I anticipate Koeman will flip between the two, especially since the club held off on any long-term center back replacements in January.

Given my personal preference, I would like to see us play four in the back as much as possible and let our midfield get comfortable covering as much space as possible.


Think Niasse stays with us after his loan? He scored against Liverpool.

- Steve (Michigan)

Who would have thought it, right?

Outcast from the first team by Koeman after 45 minutes, it seemed as though Niasse’s future at Everton was written in stone. A gravestone.

Then, the former Russian Premier League Player of the Year was given a reprieve by Hull City.

Hull City v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

While I would assume Koeman wanted to sell him outright, the circumstances ended up so he only would be loaned out, with the option to buy in the summer.

Considering he cost over 13 million cool ones, the idea of making some of that money back on a player who was apparently totally out of the picture is an appealing one.

Funny thing happened though:

He scored.

Then he did it again.

Against Liverpool.

Now before we anoint him our new savior and pair him with Romelu Lukaku next season in our minds, remember a few key points.

Niasse has always been a scorer, but as we have seen with Hull, it happens almost exclusively on broken plays or DEEP counter attacks.

That isn’t to say that is not an effective, and required, approach at times, but it’s not Koeman’s style. If we are truly aiming to be a Champions League side year in and year out, then players like Niasse aren’t going to cut it.

I know.....I know.....goals are impossible to come by; we shouldn’t just give them away.

You know what is HARDER to come by, though?

A quality coach who can change the entire direction and mindset of a club in a matter of months.

If he decides the cost of success is getting rid of Oumar Niasse, I have no reason not to trust Koeman’s decision.

That being said, Niasse seems like a genuinely nice guy, and I hope he finds great success this year and beyond, and find a team he is comfortable playing for and who can capitalize on his talent.

He should know that every Everton fan supports him, even if it is only so we can make as much money as possible on him.

So no, even if he scores 10 goals, I don’t think there is any way Niasse ever puts on an Everton kit again.

Thanks for another great signing Roberto!!