The addition of striker Cenk Tosun raises one important question for Everton going forward — how can he be best included into an existing squad with both obvious talent and glaring holes?
Sam Allardyce faces the challenge of getting the most out of his awkwardly assembled squad (thanks for that, Ronald Koeman), and it’s a little unclear at this stage exactly what he has in mind.
Let’s start with a basic assumption — Big Sam brought Tosun in to be a regular, reliable first XI player. Expect the Turkish attacker to slot directly into the starting lineup once he’s had a few training sessions with his new teammates, and expect him to stay there barring unforeseen circumstances.
What, then, does that do for Allardyce’s tactics going forward? Let’s take a look at a few preferred lineups Big Sam might have in mind, now that he’s gotten the man he wants to lead the line.
(Note: Because this is largely a forward-looking exercise, I’m including Everton’s injured contingent in my thinking. Additionally, I have no idea who Sam’s preferred center-back pairing will be at this point, so I’m using my preferred pairing for now.)
The first, and I think most likely option, involves simply slotting Tosun in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin at the top of the attack, and leaving everything else the same.
Since Big Sam took over, the Toffees have had reasonable success using Wayne Rooney as a 10, with Gylfi Sigurdsson tucking in from the left side, and the right-sided winger hugging the right touchline — going forward, expect that to be Bolasie more often than not.
There are two potential problems with this setup. First, it relies a lot on Rooney to be the creative catalyst, and he’s been ineffective since returning from illness against Bournemouth on December 30 (159 minutes in three matches, two yellow cards, no goals, no assists).
Maybe Rooney is just having a rough patch, maybe he’s still sick, maybe he’s coming back down to earth after a hot spell — or maybe it’s some combination of those things. At any rate, there are reasonable questions to be asked about utilizing the 32-year-old attacker as a fulcrum in midfield.
Second, it relegates Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the bench — perhaps an unfair fate for the young striker given his performances this season. At the very least, substantially reducing DCL’s playing time could torpedo his development, which should be a top priority given that Everton likely has little left to play for this season.
There is a way to fix both of those problems without significantly changing Everton’s shape, though I’m far from enamored with it.
Move Sigurdsson into the center of midfield at the expense of Rooney, and a place opens up out on the left wing. The Toffees have been operating without a true winger on the left most of the season anyway, so Calvert-Lewin could slot into that position.
The idea of Bolasie and Coleman down the right whipping crosses into two true strikers is a tantalizing one, but I do fear this setup would leave Everton one-dimensional, and forces Calvert-Lewin into a position he isn’t particularly comfortable in.
If you want to get both Tosun and Calvert-Lewin in the lineup in their preferred positions, you’ll have to move into a two-striker system — something we’ve seen exceptionally little of from Everton over the past decade, largely because the club has so infrequently had two talented strikers!
There are two ways I can see Everton utilizing a two-striker system, and both have their shortcomings.
Straight out of the English football traditionalist’s dream, Everton could go to a 4-4-2.
The Idrissa Gueye — Morgan Schneiderlin pairing in the center of the midfield here is a must, as its the only pairing with enough defensive awareness and distribution skill to have any chance of success without a third player in the center of midfield.
Even with them both in though, the idea of Sigurdsson and Bolasie being asked to hold a fair bit of defensive responsibility seems unwise. At best, it’s a waste of their attacking ability to have them adopting such deep starting positions. At worst, it’s a defensive nightmare waiting to happen. Sigurdsson is a willing defender, to his credit, but lacks the physical speed and strength often needed in defense, while Bolasie has the physical gifts, but not the mentality.
There’s one other potential option, which I think makes marginally more sense than the 4-4-2.
A 3-5-2 would allow Sigurdsson to play in the center of midfield, give Coleman and Baines permission to get forward, and utilize both of Everton’s strikers.
There are two main drawbacks here as well, though. First, there’s no place for Yannick Bolasie in this lineup. He could certainly play as part of the strike partnership, but there’s no starting role for him here, and that seems a drawback given the way he’s returned from injury.
More importantly though, I’m not sure Everton’s got three center-backs I want to see in the lineup on a match-to-match basis. Ramiro Funes Mori and Mason Holgate both have the athleticism to play in the outside center-back spots, but have historically lacked strong decision-making skills.
Michael Keane and Ashley Williams have had up-and-down campaigns, and Phil Jagielka has been solid, but isn’t getting any younger.
The addition of another competent defender would make this setup much more tenable, but as things stand, it is probably only an outside contender as well.
So where does that leave us?
Most likely where we started — with Cenk Tosun coming in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin in a like-for-like swap, relegating the English striker to a regular role on the bench. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it appears to be the most sensible option of what’s available, at least if no other new players are brought in this January.