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Everton 2021/22 Season Preview: Wingers

With additional versatility added out wide for the Toffees, the wingers will likely be a more effective lot this season

Everton Pre-Season Training Camp Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Stats: 2020/21 Everton Wingers

Player Minutes Goals Assists xG+xA/90 (PL only)
Player Minutes Goals Assists xG+xA/90 (PL only)
Bernard 794' 3 1 0.15
Anthony Gordon 296' 0 4 0.02
Alex Iwobi 1883' 2 3 0.18
James Rodriguez 2046' 6 9 0.44
Theo Walcott 102' 0 0 0

Tactics

Last season was tough for Everton’s wingers. The 4-3-3 formation applied by Carlo Ancelotti had both James Rodriguez and Richarlison cutting inside from the opposite wings and relied almost entirely on the fullbacks to provide width. The 4-4-2 set-up was better, but when you’re relying on mazy Alex Iwobi and lightweight Bernard to deliver accurate crosses into the box, your gameplan is inherently flawed.

It was no surprise that Rafa Benitez came in and immediately set about improving winger depth. The Blues have cheaply added Andros Townsend, formerly of Crystal Palace and Newcastle United, as well as the young and talented Demarai Gray. Both should assist in providing attacking impetus, width, pace, creativity and proper balls into the box for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.

Looking at what the team was able to get out of its wide players last season, it’s small wonder the team struggled at times and the production from out wide will be key again this season especially with no central attacking midfielder besides James Rodriguez in sight.

Despite Ancelotti’s conciliatory words about Anthony Gordon, he rarely used the youngster. The cup games early this season will be the 21-year-old’s best chance to make an early impression on Benitez, though it is equally possible he gets shipped out on loan to the Championship along with Nathan Broadhead, whose name has been mentioned as available for outright sale.

Everton v Leeds United - Premier League
James Rodriguez and Alex Iwobi
Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images

Current Players

James Rodriguez

One of the big signings of last summer’s transfer window for Everton and then-boss Carlo Ancelotti, the Colombian and former Madrid player had his ups and downs last season. When he was on the pitch, active, intrigued and in the right headspace, he made noticeable his talent and ability, often on the right side of the shape but sometimes through the middle as something like a number ten.

Out wide however, he was often able to create chances - while playing in just 27 matches for Everton last season across all competitions, the playmaker proved that he still had lots to give to a team that believed in him. Six goals and nine assists, mostly early on, was scant reward for what he brought to the pitch, but his fitness and performance both sagged noticeably towards the end of the campaign.

Should he be sold elsewhere, the capital will be useful and will likely help to secure a midfielder or winger to replace him with. That said, he is a world class talent when he is on and in the groove and it would be a shame for Everton to sell him and miss out on that after just one year of experimentation.

Alex Iwobi

The versatile player is going on his third year with Everton, but appears to be a shell of the attacking threat he was at Arsenal. He has not played with much confidence since coming up north, and so it is perhaps fortunate for the Nigerian’s career that he has a new boss in Benitez to learn from. This will be the fourth experienced coach that Iwobi has played under in his career and this is certainly the time for him to break out or be shipped out with Atalanta rumoured to be interested in him.

Demarai Gray

The 25-year-old can play anywhere across the frontline and proven that he’s hungry enough to start in the three preseason appearances he’s made for the Blues so far. What is so interesting about this player in my mind, is that while he is a winger, he will likely be playing as a second striker as well, perhaps even more often than not. This has been witnessed across the preseason schedule leading up this weekend’s home opener against Southampton too. His creativity and blazing speed is a real wildcard for the Toffees, who have not had a player that can run at defences quite like him. He’s also got a point to prove after he saw less time in Germany than he likely believed he would, and so Everton can expect they will likely see a fired up and relentless version of Gray this season.

Andros Townsend

Signing the 30-year-old might be a piece of underrated business for Marcel Brands and Rafa Benitez. The veteran winger led the league last season in crossing accuracy and will be expected to reprise that role for Dominic Calvert-Lewin this season.

In the preseason friendlies he has also shown a propensity to cut in and let fly with his favoured left foot, which could of added value considering how few goals the Blues had from wingers last season. From a work ethic viewpoint he does provide decent cover so Benitez will not be hesitant to use him as a wide man in a 4-4-2 formation.

Anthony Gordon

The youngster has great talent but the problem has been that he is often overlooked for older, more experienced players and not picked up the requisite first team experience he needs with the Toffees. A failed loan spell at Preston North End over the second half of last season did not help matters.

Should he stay on Merseyside this season, he might make an impact in more ways than one, yet should he find a better opportunity than Preston to get more experience with, it might be in his best interests to look that way as well.

Nathan Broadhead

The 23-year-old Welshman was last seen with the Everton U-23 team and on loan at Burton Albion in League One. Last season was a bit of a breakthrough campaign for Broadhead with his eleven goals and three assists coming out of nowhere after only producing a total of nine goals in three years before that.

With no European football on the schedule this season to give fringe members of the squad an opportunity to play in, Broadhead will likely be off on loan with two years left on his current contract.

State of the Position

The wingers seem to be in better shape this season than they were last year. Iwobi badly needs to come alive as he once did with Arsenal. If Rafa and Big Dunc can re-energize him, while utilizing the talent and ability of James Rodriguez, the chances creation will be a lot better this year. Meanwhile, Townsend and Gray can really make their marks on this team too with their unique abilities, and there should be a lot more danger from out wide.

Gordon remains the one bright prospect from the youth side at the position, and whether James stays with the Blues or not, the club will likely have to invest in more wingers sooner than later to keep the pipeline filled for the future.


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