The Formation Debate
I’ve been surprised that so many observers of the Blues have concluded that Frank Lampard may be going with a back three system for the upcoming season. Mostly, the line of argument seemed to be that:
- Everton are stacked at centre back, with the addition of newcomer James Tarkowski, brought in on a free transfer from Burnley on July 1st, and
- Lampard played a back-three formation on numerous occasions last season.
My counter-argument here is that the transfer window has a long way to go and Everton have so far been minimally involved, despite numerous rumours regarding supposed targets. The next few weeks will surely see players arriving and departing Goodison Park, radically changing the makeup of the team. Secondly, the new boss played the cards he was dealt after being parachuted into the midst of a impending relegation fight with no way to change the squad at that time. He used a formation that would accommodate the players he had available.
On Saturday night (local time, a sleep-depriving early hours Sunday endurance test for us UK-based fans!) the Toffees did indeed come out in a 3-4-3, which appeared to confirm fan speculation as to the manager’s intentions. Lampard’s comments post-match, however shed doubt on this, the Blues chief suggesting he’d have preferred to play with three in midfield - as Arsenal did - and that the makeup of the current team forced his hand somewhat in deploying a back three.
He also mentioned that he is in constant contact with director of football Kevin Thelwell over transfer dealings, so it figures that this starting eleven and formation could see significant transition between now and the opening competitive fixture, against Chelsea on August 6th, especially with the Blues continuing to be linked with midfielders Morgan Gibbs-White and Aster Vranckx.
The Right Stuff
Without wanting to get carried away over Tarkowski’s debut in a Royal Blue shirt (which looked pretty cool on my monitor, actually), considering this was a pre-season friendly and he played only the second half, I have to say I liked the look of him. Yes, the Gunners’ press, which was quite intense during most of the first 45 minutes, slackened off after the restart, but the former Burnley man cut an impressive figure. Lining up on the right side of a three-man central defence Tarkowski was calm on the ball, composed and neat in his distribution. I can’t recall him resorting to the kind of aimless punt up the pitch that became a feature of Everton’s play last season and to an extent was still present during the game’s opening period.
Alongside ex-Clarets teammate Michael Keane, who cuts an occasionally a jittery figure and the teenage Reece Welch, the 29-year old seemed to exert a calming effect, which may prove as useful as his individual play during the heat of competitive matches. The man clearly has character and confidence, demonstrated by him showing for the ball and distributing neatly, linking up particularly well with 18-year old right wing back Stanley Mills. He demonstrated the positional sense and timing in the challenge that we’ve come to expect from watching him ply his trade under Sean Dyche all those years.
It was also great to see him stand up for his young teammate, when Arsenal substitute Nicolas Pepe squared up to Mills in added time, Tarkowski shoving the Frenchman away and telling the 27-year to pick on someone his own size, in effect.
Other than Tarkowski, a number of Blues players were in the spotlight at the weekend in Baltimore. From the starting eleven, left wingback Niels Nkounkou showed some of the pace and intent to get forward that he’d displayed in a few early appearances under Carlo Ancelotti, but looked suspect positionally on the defensive side, which fans had suspected may be a reason he’s not been used much since. The Frenchman is still only 21 and has something about him, so it’s to be hoped that the excellent coaching staff currently in place at Everton can bring him along. On the opposite flank, Nathan Patterson had few opportunities to impress as the Blues failed to see much of the ball for long stretches.
Dele Alli was deployed narrowly on the left behind lone striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but was largely starved of the ball. Tom Davies was given an opportunity as part of a central midfield two but predictably the Toffees were outnumbered in the centre by the Gunners and failed to enjoy any real possession.
In the second half it was all change and a chance for some youngsters to show their stuff. Mills was a lively presence on the right side of defence and Welch was steady enough in the central trio. Lewis Warrington appeared to be the most comfortable player on display in terms of collecting the ball and laying it off from a deeper midfield position. Regulars Vitalii Mykolenko, Anthony Gordon and Alex Iwobi looked just that as all played confidently after the interval. Forgotten man Jean-Philippe Gbamin, seeing his first action for the Blues after spending time on loan at CSKA Moscow put in a solid 45 minutes, playing a little further ahead than Warrington and showing some mobility and poise, possibly as a result of that game time in Russia.