In fact, Happy 2017!
With everything happening around Finch Farm yesterday we decided to push off the mailbag so I could put in my 2¢ on all of the developments.
Not because my editors trust my expert opinion on the topics of the day, but rather so you can contrast my ranting opinions with those of real soccer writers like Adam Braun and Sean Lunt and see how sane they are.
It feels as if the new year has brought with an endless amount of good news and enthusiasm around our rapidly evolving club, and this weekend was no different!
NO! I’m not just talking about a 2-0 win over Sunderland;
NO! It’s not just my general demeanor to be this upbeat on our Toffees.
(I just happened to get this gig in the middle of an upswing that has yet to subside. Check back with me when egos start to clash!)
YES! It has something to do with watching the Reds be absolutely Liverpoolian against Leicester Monday.
There is also just something about this mix of players that has galvanized both the players and fan bases alike.
Just check out when Gana-dinho opened his Everton scoring account with a textbook finish of a beautiful passing combination, highlighted a silky cross-field ball from young Mr. Tom Davies.
Idrissa Gana Gueye with his first #EFC Goal pic.twitter.com/FeiUfH4ixl— Trent Cini (@trentcini22) February 25, 2017
Look at the joy being shared by EVERY member of the squad and tell me Koeman hasn’t forged a team chemistry through hard work, nerves of steel, and a trip to Dubai in the middle of the winter.
Speaking of a mix of players, one of the biggest concerns about the last two seasons was that not only was the team having to fight relentlessly for every single mid-table point, but the squad that was doing was it OLD.
I mean, REALLY OLD.
Even if we did have success, nothing about it felt sustainable.
Thinking back to sides that included Barry, Jags, Gibson and the lot it’s a wonder that the Toffees didn’t ask for the Premier League to institute water breaks midway through each half so they could catch their collective breath.
This was also a major issue in maintaining leads and created an epidemic of giving up late goals.
Just how much has Koeman transformed the side in his few months in charge?
Good to see #efc getting younger as well as better. Team v #safc was youngest starting XI in the league at Goodison since May 2009— Paul Brown (@pbsportswriter) February 27, 2017
The youngest team since at Goodison since 2009! To put that into perspective the last time Everton rolled out a lineup this young Wayne Rooney DIDN’T have hair.
So then, after a great weekend, Everton fans were THROUGH THE ROOF to see this news on their Monday morning:
Super-agent Mino Raiola confirms on @talkSPORT that Romelu Lukaku has committed his long-term future to Everton.— Jim White (@JimWhite) February 27, 2017
I won’t get too excited because things are bound to change but worst case scenario we are set to capitalize on the Belgian no matter what he decides to do in the summer.
The way it is shaping up though, I am starting to think there is a real possibility he will stick around to see how the team looks next fall. Everton is on the rise, they already have a midfield grouping for the foreseeable future, and the other upper mid-table teams aren’t impressing anyone in the short or long term.
Toss in the fact that this young team looks absolutely terrifying to play against and it’s no wonder I’m envisioning European midweek matches next campaign.
If none of that makes you feel better, just remember you could be a Palace fan.
They can’t even vandalize things correctly.
Crystal Palace fans mistakenly vandalise their own team coach with the words 'Crystal Palace FC'https://t.co/sX9Ev8lz2W— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) February 27, 2017
Also, who in the world would be actively TRYING to associate themselves with the Eagles?? You think the Eagles bus is unmarked for a reason?!
For now though, onto the questions!!
@foleysthoughts how can we get Barkley, Davies, and Holgate in the same team? And should we? (assuming Gana, and Schneid need to play)— Trigger (@EvertonAstoria) February 26, 2017
Just as interesting as Everton’s transformation in personnel has been their evolution in formation and tactics.
The reader (along with every other Everton fan) has been wondering how Koeman is going to consistently get our best players on the pitch when four of them (Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies and Ross Barkley) play similar positions.
(We will get to Mason Holgate in a minute).
Well so far, the Dutch manager has been able to build the team on the back of those four without too much skill redundancy and without slowing the team down.
The fear was that by adding to a midfield which already has a history of being bureaucratic in it’s forward distribution and general attacking mindset.
So how did the boss balance out the four spatially against Sunderland?
First off, the influence of Gueye and Schnedierlin is apparent right away. Operating as the central hubs for the team, they connected the squad together.
I’ll be honest , one of my biggest questions concerning Everton’s acquisitions was exactly how Gueye and Schneiderlin would work together. They both had shown a tendency to sit deep, win lots of tackles and distribute. Both do it so well, in fact, neither needs a partner to shield the back four, unlike a Gareth Barry say.
My original thought was that Koeman would utilize Schnedierlin’s superior passing abilities in front of Gueye’s tireless industry to let Barkley and Davies be the instigators of the press around Lukaku.
What as different, however, was Koeman’s deployment of Gueye in a more attacking role. It’s not that he CAN’T do it, obviously, it’s that we haven’t seen it before.
When the Senegalese midfielder started off his Everton career, his stats had been seen by every Everton die hard, and his ability to win tackles and break up the play were the obvious reasons for his recruitment.
After a few matches, however, I found myself increasingly impressed by his combination play and mid-range passing.
For a player in his position, I was rating him mostly on their ability to switch the ball when an attack whimpers out on one side of the pitch.
Two months into the season, Gueye continued to pop up in ever more advanced roles, though his inability to consistently finish off moves with assists and/or goals stifled excitement around his prospects as an advanced midfielder.
No, one goal against Sunderland didn’t convince me of Gueye’s ability up the field. It has been his steady progression and improvement in his attacking thought processes that have been so encouraging.
Gueye’s venture forward in the formation also means his unmatched work rate and tackling ability will be deployed in the middle of the opponents engine room.
He, along with Davies and Barkley, can now prevent the other team’s metronome (in our case Schneidierlin) from dictating the match.
Under duress from two midfielders playing the passion of life-long Evertonians, and being relentlessly chased by the leading tackler in Europe, teams will look to clear out of pressure.
This allows our back line to collect the clearance and get the ball to Schnedierlin.
He will find himself in tons of space and free of pressure as the other three Toffees midfielders trap the opponents midfield in their own end, unable to disrupt the French midfielder’s rhythm on the ball.
Just how in rhythm was Morgan Saturday against Sunderland?
As Morgan goes, so goes the ball.
Him and Gueye were keeping the ball to themselves like the biggest kids at recess.
Besides both distributing to Gana as well as receiving it, Schneiderlin shared well with the center backs.
The passes to the rest of the midfield were one-way, however, with Barkley and Davies getting the ball from Schneiderlin, but not returning it very often.
This just belies Schneiderlin’s role as instigator and kick-starter of the attack, while Ross and Tom are tasked with finding the more advanced Lukaku, Lookman and Coleman (??) without returning the ball under the first sign of pressure.
(Seriously though, Morgan is a beast. He is going to be in the lineup EVERY match. He was man of the match and didn’t have a goal or assist. )
Well done, Morgan! @SchneiderlinMo4 is your man of the match! #EFCmatchday pic.twitter.com/GFJzltlX3M— Everton (@Everton) February 25, 2017
In fact, during the match I tweeted:
If you don't get why @SchneiderlinMo4 was a steal at 25 million you don't get the game.#tacklesandpassesandstealsohmy— Brian Foley (@foleysthoughts) February 25, 2017
He has opened up the team to all new possibilities as far as lineups go.
Getting all the way back around to you question, though, the ability of those two to beat a line of defense with their passing or their dribbling allows Koeman to construct a team that gets his best players on the field while maintaining structured, suffocating team tactics that are consistently executable.
THAT’S how he gets those four on the pitch.
As for Mason Holgate, I struggle to figure out exactly what Koeman has planned for the young man who he obviously rates.
When playing in a back three, Holgate has shown Premier League caliber physical abilities, and despite the occasional mistake (often attributable to youth) he hasn’t been a point of consternation every time he is near the play, much like Funes Mori had been the past few seasons.
When in a back four, however, Holgate seems stuck.
While he is certainly the designated back up to Seamus Coleman at right back, he won’t be getting on the field this season in that role barring injury to the high-flying Irishman.
A center back by trade, Holgate has yet to be handed the chance to operate in the center of the defense alongside Williams, even though Koeman has been more than open about the underwhelming impression the other center backs (Jagielka and Funes Mori) have made.
While Funes Mori has certainly taken steps to improve his decision making, it does raise a flag to me that Holgate hasn’t had the chance to show what he can do, especially since we know it is not his age that is holding him back, seeing as the team is full of teenagers.
Does Koeman not want to subject him to any major blows to his confidence, presumably pretty high based on his performances, before the end of the season?
What about next season, though?
If Koeman makes a switch to a back three then Holgate will be a big piece of the puzzle.
What if he doesn’t though?
Assuming Jags leaves, and the front office brings in AT LEAST one immediate-starter at the position (think Michael Keane), will Holgate be left to be Coleman’s backup and battle it out for the third center back spot with Funes Mori?
We also shouldn’t forget Matthew Pennington on the U-23s, and Brendan Galloway returning from a disastrous loan with West Brom, who could both offer competition to Holgate.
Will Koeman let him play in cup matches and keep him for cover just in case, or will he let Holgate find consistent playing time elsewhere out on loan?
I have no doubt that with his talent and impressive, albeit limited, performances he will have plenty of suitors, but is Galloway’s tale one for both parties to be weary of?
Will Koeman hesitate to send out Holgate for fear of losing a season of development?
We will find out once the summer market opens and Everton gets busy, especially in the back line, adding players who can help them reach their ultimate goals.
If I had to guess though, I think we will see Holgate out on loan in the Premier League next season to get more playing time and come back in 18-19 a complete player.
Time for a haiku, inspired by our own fearless manager.
The best result for @Everton 7th place Europe? @SouthamptonFC can be proud!— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) February 26, 2017
Want to make Europe?
Koeman most certainly does
Loyalty be damned
@foleysthoughts @RBMersey Is Barkley as a faux RW a good place for him for the rest of the season? Going forward next year?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) February 27, 2017
Of all of the formation and lineup oddities we have seen in the short Koeman era, Barkley’s deployment, and subsequent domination of matches, as a faux right winger may be at the top.
This is where they TELL US he will be lining up:
| Today's team news... #EFCmatchday pic.twitter.com/4PjDiDvne7— Everton (@Everton) February 25, 2017
The thought of trying to use Barkley as a Deulofeu-type winger elicits fear from Everton fans worried about Barkley’s growth continuing to be stunted.
He is bird!! You got to let him spread his wings and fly!!
Koeman, as I mentioned, however, has built a team that is extremely tactically fluid and aimed at getting the best out of each individual player.
In the current formation, Koeman makes two adjustments to get the best out of Ross.
1. Push Seamus Coleman forward.
2. Let Tom Davies do the dirty work.
With Coleman pushing up the line, Barkley is forced to tuck in to make room for his crossing and goal-scoring exploits. This allows Barkley to float centrally and pick up the ball in varying places on the pitch.
It also forces the opposing back line to continually pass him off as he is not just attached to the line and left for the left back to deal with.
Interchanging space with Lukaku and Lookie Monster, Barkley keeps the back line on their heels for fear of a piercing run by him or any of his attacking and midfield teammates.
While normally this adjustment would force Barkley to pick up tracking responsibilities to prevent a counter into the space behind the Irish Right back, Koeman has just the solution.
Sitting in front of Morgan Schneiderlin but behind the attacking line, Davies is able to contribute to the attack without sacrificing defensive integrity on Barkley’s side of the field.
What does it all add up to?
Ross Barkley in the attacking third. A lot.
Of his 39 total passes, 21 were in the final third, two created scoring chances, and they originated from a number of areas.
Sure, most started on the right side, but we can also see his desire, and given latitude, to get inside and be a creative force. His forays across the formation often see him not pick up the ball, but his creation of space plays an equally as important role in making special things happen.
In fact, watch Gueye’s goal against Sunderland again. Pay close attention to the run that Barkley makes to pull the Sunderland left back (Oviedo) towards him to create space for Coleman along the line.
Idrissa Gana Gueye with his first #EFC Goal pic.twitter.com/FeiUfH4ixl— Trent Cini (@trentcini22) February 25, 2017
**Also note that should Gana not have been there, Ross was also available for a pull back**
I would venture to guess that should we continue to see this formation (we will) Ross will have even more varied influence on the game against better sides as Gueye and Davies will be sitting slightly deeper.
More than anything though, this type of free flowing suits not only Barkley, but the team, right down to a T, and I for one think Koeman’s use of him out wide right is the perfect solution for the squad selection problem Koeman could be having.
He seems to have found the answer, and I don’t think he is going to change it.
@foleysthoughts @RBMersey On a less serious note: which Disney princess do you most closely associate with Leighton Baines?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) February 27, 2017
Alright Mr. Braun, challenged accepted.
First off, let’s see who we have to pick from:
Most of these ladies should be familiar to you, though some may be less well known that others.
One a side note, I PURPOSELY excluded Ella from Frozen.
Why? I thought you’d never ask....
- Locks up her sister because she can’t handle the emotioal turmoil of losing her parents AND having super powers. I’m a sympathetic person, but you have to get through all the stages of grief EVENTUALLY.
- Once revealed to have super powers , somehow a burden, she stalks off to the top of a mountain and builds a frozen ice castle.
- Once in her ice palace, she casts immediate and profound climate change across the entirety of her planet, because...you know.....teenage girls
- When the sister she had locked up like a goldfish comes to save her, Elsa tries to KILL HER WITH A GIGANTIC ICE MONSTER!!
- Only after her sister, some guy and rudolph save her does she come to her senses and unkill the planet, save her sister, and expel the capitalist.
Long story short, SHE ISN’T A PRINCESS!!
So with that in mind, let’s countdown the ladies and find who is most like our beloved Leighton Baines.
THE OFFICIAL WHICH DISNEY PRINCESS IS MOST CLOSELY ASSOCIATED WITH
LEIGHTON BAINES TOP TEN LIST
(I know I know.....the title needs work)
10. Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
Why: Honestly, I’ve got nothing......... stays out of the way?!?!
Why not: She’s always sleeping on the job. She’s like was before he left: on the roster but absolutely useless.
Why: Hair is always part of the equation so there’s that.
Why not: Terribly out of shape from just sitting in her room playing with her hair, she hasn’t had a lot of chances to show her abilities. Had to be saved in order to move her prinecessing career forward, which makes me question her motives. NEVER an issue with Leighton.
Why: Has a fighting spirit and the proven ability to lead others into LITERAL uncharted territory. Can definitely keep you alive when you are going down.
Why not: Too individualistic, a bit of a hired mercenary. Isn’t loyal enough to the cause. Bring too much baggage.
7. Snow White
Why: Has shown a propensity for teamwork, and not unwilling to ask for help. Adaptable to her environment.
Why not: She’s always sweeping, not exactly the toughest job around. I bet she does it because it’s the job everyone notices. Poor Doc is trying to mend a broken bluebird leg on the dinner table using spider webs for gauze and birch sticks as a splint and Snow White is proud because her and 20 of her closest forest creatures got the dirt off the floor.
Thanks, but no thanks, Snow.
Why: Not afraid of anything, including a cursed man-beast. Never backs down, knows what she wants. (Sorry Gaston).
Why not: Runs away when things get tough. Concerned with her mental health as she tends to talk to the dishes and the furniture. Just too flighty to compare to Bainesy.
Why: Willing to do WHATEVER it takes to get what she wants. She’s a mermaid, so she’s got strong powerful
legs flippers? tail? Also, not a big talker like our main man LB, though hers is motivated less by personal inflection and more by an curse put on her by a gigantic evil octopus woman in order to fulfill her desire to make out with a guy.
Why not: SHE GAVE UP EVERYTHING FOR A DUDE SHE HAD NEVER REALLY EVEN MET!! This would be like Leighton leaving right now for a brand new Chinese league team. Not even an established one! It might serve your personal interests but it really screws over everyone else.
Why: She has spunk. Open to work with anyone she comes across, and doesn’t seem to have an ego. Pet Tiger is a good indicator she doesn’t take crap from anyone.
Why not: Doesn’t know a good thing when she has it, she flees those that love her the most without explanation. Add in the fact that she always thinks the grass is greener on the other side and it’s not hard to see why she’s not on Baine’s level.
Why: Undeniable and unquenchable thirst for victory. Loyal to those most important to her. Hair style choices are routinely (understandably) questioned.
Why not: Let the Huns in behind her defense. Couldn’t get people to rally to her. Lacked the ability to command an army and used some of the “dark arts” to win.
Why: Industrious. Works hard and never complains to anyone. Not afraid to do the dirty work, and in fact it is part of what defines them (Cinder-ella). Happy for others to take credit and wait for her chance, and when it did come, she took advantange of it. Her impact, much like Baines, is felt most noticeably in their absence.
Why not: Doesn’t take pride in her things (glass slipper). Doesn’t dictate her own circumstances enough. Even Leighton will take on a defender 1 v 1!
aaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnd the winner!!!!
1. Merida (Brave)
Why: First off, she is a sharp-shooter, much like our favorite left-footed Englishman. Compare them yourself!
She can even hit the target on the move from distance...just like our man Leighton whipping in one of his patented crosses!!
Beyond their tactical attributes, however, they have even more in common.
Their hair is recognizable, but does not define them.
Merida is FIERCELY loyal to her parents and siblings, even when things aren’t going great, and though independent a willing leader for the cause.
She is always trying to make the best out of any situation and goes to great lengths to save her family from eternal damnation, which based on what I know of the guy, sounds just like what Leighton would do.
Overall though, she’s loyal, has a tough attitude and can hit a target from range. Sounds like Baines to me!
@RBMersey given Rooney can't tie Zlatan's boots and is not a natural athlete how can he fit in Koeman's plans?— James Johnson (@JamesJo64540595) February 28, 2017
I’m going to go ahead and make the assumption that our man James doesn’t like the ever-growing prospect of Wayne Rooney rejoining the Toffees, though it might be unfair to say he can’t tie Zlatan’s boots, considering Zlatan’s shoes know better than to come untied.
I don’t think he is alone in his reservations though, and I would venture to guess the split on whether or not Rooney should join the squad is almost 50/50.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the situation, so let’s start the conversation and see where it leads.
First, let’s start off by debunking the same old boring argument......
If Jose Mourhino doesn’t think he’s good enough to play, why should we?
Ok, so moving on.
Most fans first notions are to think of Rooney as a true #9. A hold up forward who will combine with the midfield, get in the box and finish off a move. He can certainly play this role, so let’s explore it first.
Then why the HECK the Toffees would pick up a 31 year old #9 when we are blessed to have one of the top 5 strikers on our squad already?!?!
Well, for arguments sake, that 31 year old IS the all-time leading scorer at one of the biggest clubs in the entire world, as well as being the all-time leading scorer for England.
While those accolades are born more of longevity, I would argue it is WORLD-CLASS talent having a prolonged career.
(I’m not saying that’s WHY you sign him, I’m just reminding everyone who sees ZERO intrinsic value why this conversation is happening in the first place.)
Also, like most soccer teams, it might be a good idea to have some backups. Sure, you can argue that picking up younger, cheaper players who can grow into the job would be better to have on the bench, but this line of thinking has a MASSIVE oversight.
As Everton inches closer to the possibility of balancing the League with Europe again, who can argue against bringing in one of the most proven European scorers in the history of the game?
Let me give you a scenario:
It’s 2017-2018, and the Toffees are on the road at Feyenoord in the Europa League round of 16 in March.
Sitting in 5th in the league with a top 6 matchup on the weekend.
The situation on both fronts are equal parts opportunity, equal parts fear.
Put all our eggs in the Europa League basket and we are one bad performance away from blowing all the hard midweek trips to get this far, AND the league standing will be sacrificed.
Belittle the European competition, rest everyone for the weekend and risk missing out on both fronts.
So what do you do?
Well, you turn to Wayne Rooney and ask him to spearhead the attack, with the knowledge Lukaku can come off the bench should the situation call for.
As an Everton fan I would much rather see Wayne Rooney leading the line for us in a European competition than say a 20 year-old who has seen very limited minutes behind Rom and has NEVER been asked to come through in European competition.
I’m basically saying we should bring in Wayne Rooey to win. Why do I think he can do that?
Because that’s basically his only job anymore.
Do YOU want a guy that basically only assists, scores, and wins?
(and get cards but that is neither here or there)
Let’s keep going though.
Instead of a #9, let’s look at Wayne as an attacking midfielder. While he isn’t Ross Barkley, he has been deployed there (usually starting wide and cutting in) numerous time for Man U. How would he do in that role for Everton?
Well, the first thought is that he isn’t quick enough to play in the midfield and would only slow down the squad.
That is definitely a fair point, but I think it overemphasizes the importance of speed versus vision.
For example, both Rooney and Couthino came on as subs in the second half of the Liverpool/Man U matchup in January. They both
While Rooney played the entire second half, Coutinho only played 30 minutes. So to be fair I cut down Rooney’s contribution to the same 30+ that Couthino was on the pitch.
No, I don’t think Rooney is Couthino, but this comparison shows how they offer similar skill sets.
Looking at the touch chart that is top center, we see that old man Rooney actually got STRONGER at the end of his 45 minute stint and influenced the game more as it wore along.
I should also remind everyone that this is the match that Zlatan scored in the 84th to earn the Red Devils the draw.
Coincidence that Rooney was on the field? I think not.
Besides WHEN he took his touches, it’s also evident from the graphic above that Rooney does not struggle to get up and down the line.
If you consider the midfield support Everton now employs, it is easy to see a lineup with Rooney AND Lukaku in the attack with some combination of Gana, Morgan, Tom and Ross to cover any gaps in the defense.
With Rooney’s threat from distance and Rom’s direct nature, teams would struggle to dictate a tempo to our beloved Toffees.
Make it s 3-5-2 and Rooney can be given even more leeway to roam and create attacking opportunities.
I can understand Everton fans not wanting to be seen as offering a legend his farewell tour, but anyone who has paid any attention to this team under it’s new management would realize that Koeman, Walsh and the bunch don’t mess around when it comes to the on the field performance.
Remember my haiku? Koeman leaves no room for emotion in his decision-making, and I don’t think the Rooney situation will be any different.
That being said, after looking into Rooney’s performance this year I think any fan would be hard pressed to say the Man U legend isn’t a major upgrade for our squad in the attacking positions.
Will the diminutive Englishman be coming home to Goodison next season?
I think it’s a sure (and good) thing.