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The starting XI that could save Marco Silva’s job

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With injuries aplenty, the manager’s options are quickly dwindling

Everton FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Credit to Marco Silva for at least trying something new on Sunday, when he rolled out a 4-3-3 against Tottenham Hotspur (it really looked more like a 4-1-4-1 at times).

It didn’t work very well, and on paper it didn’t look like it would work very well. But, for a manager who has been averse to change, the fact that he was willing to try something new was a positive, at least.

Of course, even if the 4-3-3 had worked to perfection, Silva would still be in a tough spot. Andre Gomes suffered one of the most horrific-looking injuries I’ve ever seen (do not Google ‘fracture-dislocation’, folks), and looks to be out for quite some time. The 4-3-3 more-or-less falls apart without either Gomes or Jean Philippe-Gbamin (remember him?), so there will have to be more changes this week at Southampton.

Oh, and there’s a reasonable chance that Marco Silva is coaching for his job this weekend, with Everton sitting on only three wins through 11 matches, and those wins coming against the 12th, 13th, and 20th-placed teams in the league.

So, this is a big one. But worry not Marco! I’ve got your starting XI all figured out for this weekend — don’t overthink it, just take it from me that the below will work and let’s get moving forward, eh?

Goalkeeper

Jordan Pickford. Done.

Full-Backs

Lucas Digne at left-back. Done. This is easy!

Right-back...ah okay, this is where things start to get difficult.

Neither Seamus Coleman nor Djibril Sidibe have been particularly good or bad so far this season. Coleman is better in short-passing buildup; Sidibe is a better crosser. Coleman is better in his defensive positioning; Sidibe has better recovery speed.

With it coming to pretty much dead even, I lean toward Coleman to get his leadership on the pitch, which certainly can’t hurt with the stakes continuing to rise.

Center-Backs

This is a tough one for me. I’ve staked basically my entire blogging / podcasting reputation on the bit that Mason Holgate is very bad, and yet in recent weeks he’s been anywhere from just occasionally bad to slightly above average.

Yerry Mina has arguably been Everton’s best player this season, so I don’t think there’s any doubt that you start him in this one — but the Holgate / Michael Keane decision is a tough one. The idea of Nate Redmond or Shane Long running with pace at or behind Keane scares me, so I guess I’m going to give it to Holgate for this one.

Center Midfield

There are a couple of decisions that need to be made here — both based on personnel and tactics. Essentially, who should play, and in which direction should the midfield triangle point?

For most of his time at Everton, Silva has preferred a 4-2-3-1, with a true No. 10 ahead of two deeper-lying midfielders. Last week though, he went with a 4-3-3 — Fabian Delph played as a true No. 6 with Andre Gomes and Tom Davies ahead of him.

I didn’t particularly like that setup, as it left a distinct lack of creativity in the midfield. Either way, Gomes is out injured, and there isn’t really a sensible replacement for him in that position — so back to the 4-2-3-1 we go.

With Gomes and Gbamin out, we’ve really only got three options at this position (Beni Baningime should have been given more chances than he has to this point, but that’s a separate topic) — Morgan Schneiderlin, Fabian Delph, and Tom Davies.

Putting Schneiderlin and Delph together is probably lack-of-pace suicide, so we’ve got to at least get Davies in there. That leaves Schneiderlin vs Delph, and I’ll take the Frenchman in that battle. Delph had a very good Everton debut, but has been underwhelming since — it’s past time Schneiderlin gets another crack, against his former side this time.

That leaves the No. 10 role, which is another one-or-the-other conundrum. Gylfi Sigurdsson no doubt has a ton of quality and is the most natural 10 on the team, but Alex Iwobi has shown a different kind of spark at that position in his few chances there. He hasn’t by any means grabbed full-time, permanent grasp of the position, but he’s ahead in the race right now, and has been better centrally than lined out wide.

Wingers

With Iwobi playing the No. 10, not a whole lot to really discuss here. Richarlison plays on the left, Theo Walcott on the right. Walcott has looked a different player since his re-inclusion in the lineup, and has offered more creatively than I ever really expected from him. Richarlison remains a black hole in terms of creativity, but the guy knows how to score goals from wide areas.

I never thought I’d be advocating playing two wingers who are so similar in style, but the various factors affecting team selection have made it pretty obviously the best choice. With that said...

Striker

Cenk Tosun has to start up top if the wingers are to be Richarlison and Theo Walcott. He’s the most creative striker Everton have by a wide margin — able to distribute both when facing goal (as he showed on his assist against Watford) and with his back to goal.

There have been two primary issues with Cenk’s game since coming to Everton.

  1. His finishing has been shaky at times — but he’ll be full of confidence after leveling against Spurs on Sunday.
  2. He doesn’t have the pace to effectively lead the high press — which shouldn’t matter against Southampton, who are likely to sit deep and operate such that the press isn’t an option.

I’d look for Tosun to drop deep alongside Iwobi, freeing Walcott and Richarlison to make runs in toward the center-backs in the final third.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean both have their strengths too — and I’d want to see both available on the bench. But in a match like this, with selection in the midfield and out wide being what it is, Tosun must start.


There you have it — my foolproof plan to take three points on Saturday and keep Marco Silva in his job at least a little while longer.

Will he follow this plan? Almost certainly not — I wholly expect Delph to start over Schneiderlin and either Calvert-Lewin or Richarlison to start up top over Tosun.

Of course, there’s a reason that Silva’s position is currently so precarious...