|*Denotes stats from 2015/2016 season
Ronald Koeman’s preferred 4-3-3 requires his strikers to do a little bit of everything. Because Everton doesn’t play with a true, creative No. 10, the club relies on its wingers (who often aren’t true wingers) and striker to drop deep and central to move the ball from the middle to attacking third.
When the wingers are working well, that duty falls more to them, freeing the striker to press the back line and look to make runs in behind. When they aren’t (as was the case for large stretches of the Ruzomberok series), the striker can get pulled pretty strongly into the center of midfield. On its own, that’s neither good nor bad — if you’ve got players who can do it.
Romelu Lukaku was always better at playing right up against defenders, rather than being forced to work in the midfield, though his passing and build-up play were above average as well. But with Everton’s new strike force, the question still remains — how can the players be best utilized? And how can the new players at wing get the most out of their central counterparts?
Of course, Koeman’s recent move to a 3-5-2 against Ruzomberok throws another wrench into those considerations. If he continues to utilize that system, then the ability to work well in partnership with another attacker will be crucial — expect one of the two to drop deeper than the other and look to serve in a playmaking role, while the other harasses the opponent’s back line.
The England U-20 striker is coming off a big summer, in which he scored the game-winning goal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Koeman has rewarded that success so far this season, starting the 20-year-old in Leg 1 against Ruzomberok and bringing him in off the bench in Leg 2, where he scored the goal that sealed the tie.
Calvert-Lewin’s success at the U-20 World Cup and against Ruzomberok came with the youngster in a true striker’s role. He’s spent most of his time at Everton shuffled out into a wide role, compensating for the club’s lack of talent there. He’s been substantially better when playing centrally, and Koeman would be wise to keep him there. He’s proven to be a decent finisher, hard worker, and smart player for his age, despite the fact that his technical ability still lacks compared to some of the more senior players in the side.
Despite my hopes to the contrary, I think we’ll see DCL mostly employed in the wide role, simply because he’s already probably third on the depth chart at central striker, and it is widely expected that the Toffees will bring in another player at that position. However, if the club moves permanently to a two-striker system, he could feasibly see more time there.
The Spanish attacker was excellent in a true striker’s role at Malaga of La Liga last season, but his best position is still a little unclear. He makes a lot of runs, is good with the ball in his feet, and has better pace that most attackers in the team — so he could very feasibly wind up playing out wide, rather than in the middle.
With that in mind, expect him to get substantially more first-team minutes than Calvert-Lewin if the team sticks to a 4-3-3. He’ll probably be the first-choice right winger in that system to start the season, even though most of his experience is as an out-and-out striker. His constant running could prove to be a nightmare for opponents, who will never be quite sure if he’s going to pop up next in the middle or out wide. For that same reason, he could also be a sensible choice in a two-man strike force.
Sandro is one of the players Everton will look to for goals after Lukaku’s departure — if he could get close to 10 goals this season, as well as a few assists, it would go a long way toward making up for the Belgian’s departure.
Somehow still only 31 years old, Rooney will have a point to prove back at his boyhood club. He looked sharp in preseason, but struggled in both legs against Ruzomberok playing as an out-and-out striker. Koeman has pretty clearly stated that Rooney won’t be adopting a deep-lying midfield role (thankfully), though he has indicated he could play as a true striker, behind another striker, or potentially out wide in a front three (please no).
Of the strikers currently on the roster, Rooney is the biggest question mark. Obviously, he’s had a storied career and will go down as one of the best to play in the Premier League, but it’s still unclear what he can offer at this stage. There’s no way he can be the first choice-option for this club, but his ability to contribute off the bench and as a squad rotation player could play a huge role in the club’s overall success this season.
State of the Position
It’s pretty widely believed that the club is looking to add another striker to the mix, and it’s still a definite position of need. Koeman ought to be comfortable using DCL, Sandro, or Rooney as rotation-level strikers — giving the club more depth at striker than it has had in a long time.
But none of those guys are capable of shouldering the majority of the load up front. DCL and Sandro could certainly one day be that guy, and Rooney certainly used to be, but another striker is really needed if this team wants to make a run in the Europa League and at the top four.
Olivier Giroud has been the main player linked with a move to Everton that would fit that need — but the Frenchman’s willingness to move from Arsenal is still in question. The Toffees are the most sensible destination for Giroud, should he decide to leave London, but that’s still a big question.
Edin Dzeko and Christian Benteke have also been linked to Everton, though less seriously than Giroud. Dzeko is woefully immobile, but a tremendous finisher, while Benteke isn’t quite the class that the Toffees need up top.
At any rate, Koeman has assembled a group of depth strikers that can do some serious damage — but only if a top-level finisher comes in to head the group.