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On Paulo Fonseca’s potential fit at Everton

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Shakhtar manager being linked with hopefully-soon-to-be-vacant position at the Toffees

Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

After another lifeless, tactical inept, and infuriating loss, Sam Allardyce’s time at Everton is surely coming to a close.

He’ll likely survive the rest of the season, with Everton probably having nothing left to play for, but results under the English manager haven’t substantially improved, so it’s hard to see him coming back after the summer. If Farhad Moshiri truly has dreams of making the Toffees upwardly mobile, he’s going to need another new manager.

One of the most frequently-mentioned replacements is a manager who was in the discussion after Ronald Koeman was fired earlier this season — Paulo Fonseca. The Portuguese manager is in charge of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, which makes things...complicated.

Fonseca has done an objectively good job at Shakhtar. He won the Ukrainian league and domestic cup there last year, leads the Ukrainian Premier League so far this season, is currently in the semifinals of the Ukrainian Cup, survived a Champions League group that included Manchester City and Napoli, and proceeded to beat AS Roma in the first leg of the Round of 16 in the same tournament.

So, the results definitely indicate that he’s creating a high-quality product. The issue, then, is just that we (as supporters) don’t know that much about him and his style because he’s managing in Ukraine!

Fortunately, we at RBM stumbled upon an excellent, detailed profile of Fonseca from Spielverlagerung, a tactics-heavy footballing site.

It’s lengthy, but absolutely worth a read — there are a couple of key points I’d like to pull out of it though, particularly because of their uniqueness or their applicability to Everton.

Shakhtar plays almost exclusively in a 4-2-3-1, with very little squad rotation

Fonseca is a man who knows what he likes — he uses the 4-2-3-1 basically every match. You might call it more of a 4-1-4-1 at times, but the setup is what it is — one striker, three attacking midfielders, a box-to-box midfielder, a holding midfielder, and a back four.

He also prefers to avoid squad rotation where he can. To wit, Shakhtar have played seven Champions League matches this season. Eight of its players have started all seven, with another three having started six of seven.

Fonseca and Shakhtar rely on what I’d call a medium-press, not a true high press

The Ukrainian club’s defensive shape relies not on pressing into the attacking third without the ball, as you see with teams like Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur, but instead selectively allowing the ball into the middle third, then suffocating the opposition at intelligently selected chokepoints.

In essence, Fonseca looks to limit you to only a few passing options out of the back into the midfield, all of which his players are prepared to quickly strike at once the ball is moved into the middle third. It involves the same sort of swarming to the ball and effort to force turnovers as a high press, but comes with a lower risk/reward balance.

Fonseca likes wingers comfortable both in the central and wide channels

Spielverlagerung describes the players in the attacking midfield three as both at home dribbling in wide areas and cutting inside to create space for the full-backs out wide. If Fonseca took over at Everton, he’d already have multiple players fitting this description.

Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie, Ademola Lookman, and Nikola Vlasic are all confident dribblers and crossers, but have spent time playing in a central role as well.

Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman are quite confident getting into the attack, so that would be another area in which Fonseca could pick up at Everton where he left off at Shakhtar.

Fonseca relies on a dynamic box-to-box midfielder, which he might not have at Everton

A lot of what Shakhtar does relies on Fred, the Brazilian box-to-box midfielder at the center of the Ukrainian club’s plans. Both Manchester clubs have reportedly shown serious interest in the midfielder, and if Spielverlagerung is to be believed, it’s easy to see why.

He covers tons of ground, defends smartly, can contribute to the attack, and moves the ball through the midfield well. What else could you ask of a central midfielder? Across all competitions, he’s started all but one of Shakhtar’s matches in which he’s been available this season (He missed two matches through yellow card suspension and three matches due to a doping ban).

Everton simply doesn’t have a player who can do all of what Fred does. Idrissa Gana Gueye can do his defensive work and be a top-level ball-winner, but he’s not worth much in the attack. Tom Davies brings a little more in the attack, but isn’t a particularly reliable defender.

In theory, Everton could bring in a player who fits that mold — but complete box-to-box midfielders don’t grow on trees, and those who do exist can usually do better than a mid-table Premier League team.

Finally, in the backline Fonseca likes his centerhalves to be reasonable passers of the ball. That is an area that the Blues will have to address anyway this summer, so if the Portuguese manager does take over, he can bring in exactly what he deems necessary there.


That’s a pretty high-level takeaway from the Spielverlagerung piece, which I must reiterate is worth your time to take a closer look at. But the overall key points are these — Fonseca has his own clearly-defined style, some parts of which mesh well with the pieces Everton already has in place.

However, he might need to adjust his plan to an extent without a player like Fred in the setup, unless he could work some magic with Gana or attract a Fred-like player to Goodison.