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Blackpool 2-4 Everton | Three Takeaways From First Preseason Win For the Blues

It was thrills and spills at Bloomfield Road as the goals flew in at both ends

Blackpool v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
James Tarkowski has slotted in seamlessly and shows the calibre of signing Everton have to make
Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Wing-Back Attack

I’ve not been too excited at the prospect of Everton employing a back three system for the upcoming season and didn’t see much to change my mind as the team kicked off their two-game tour of the United States with a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. However, a much worse performance in the next match, against MLS outfit Minnesota United laid bare the problems facing Frank Lampard if he attempts to go with his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Simply put, without significant additions to the squad between now and the opening of the Premier League campaign on August 6th, the team cannot play the system the manager wants. Consequently, it was unsurprising to see the Blues come out at Bloomfield Road in a 3-4-3 (or 5-4-1) setup. Against an admittedly weaker opponent, in middling Championship side Blackpool, the plan worked a treat.

Key to the success of most systems that employ three central defenders are wing-backs: a demanding role requiring pace, work-rate and the stamina to bomb up and down the full length of the pitch, defending competently but crucially providing width and quality crossing. Nailing down the left side at Everton is Vitalii Mykolenko, a player who showed his worth after arriving at the beleaguered club in January, but about whom question marks remain as to how much he can offer going forward. On the right, currently-injured captain Seamus Coleman will be battling it out with youngster Nathan Patterson. The Irish veteran is probably favoured by Lampard, but it’s doubtful at this stage of his career if he can handle the physical demands inherent in the role; Patterson has not had a chance to show anything since signing from Glasgow Rangers in January and appeared positionally shaky in the US.

On Sunday both Patterson and Mykolenko were arguably the best players on the pitch. The Ukrainian made endless runs down the left flank, scoring Everton’s opening goal - a neat far post volley - and showed quick thinking setting up Dele Alli for the team’s fourth. He defended adroitly and demonstrated amazing stamina in making numerous runs into advanced positions, evidence that the 23-year old is developing into an all-rounder and one of the first names on the team sheet. The Scot also showed impressive athleticism to break into space frequently on the right, often offering a target for raking cross-field balls from defender James Tarkowski. The 20-year old gained in confidence after supplying the first of two assists in the game, a wonderful cross for Mykolenko and has a great chance to cement his place in the team in Coleman’s absence.

Blackpool v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
Blues wing-backs Patterson and Mykolenko were pivotal to how the match played out
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Midfield Question Marks

If this is the system Lampard will be utilizing this season, then fans will have to get used to seeing the team field only two central midfielders. At the weekend it was Abdoulaye Doucoure and Tom Davies and though the pair performed solidly enough, it was noticeable that things became a bit stretched in the second half as the home side increased the tempo and openings through the middle started appearing. The two seemed to alternate roles during the match, with one sitting a little deeper, the other pushing on to support attacks, which is how Davies ended up getting his headed goal from a late run into the box. Of the two, the former academy graduate made the better impression in an attacking sense, demonstrating some clever runs and linking play well, though any killer balls he attempted were misplaced. The Mali international did a solid job defensively, but took a few heavy touches and failed to impact the game offensively.

Both struggled to contain Blackpool whenever they committed runners from midfield, which is a worry considering the level of the opposition. One can easily imagine any Premier League team presenting a far greater challenge. This underlines the requirement for Everton to strengthen this position, whatever formation the team deploys, but particularly if there’s only going to be two in midfield. For this to work, the Blues need two complimentary players that possess strong positional defensive characteristics, pace and technical quality. Right now, it’s tough to see any players in the squad that fit the bill. It’s possible that one of Doucoure or Allan could do a job if paired with a superior player, such as Conor Gallagher, but both are more suitable to active defending in a pressing system. There are no easy solutions here, I’m afraid.

Blackpool v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
Tom Davies put in a solid showing but Everton have to bring in midfielders
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Attacking Needs

I can’t be the only one who was unsettled by the news that Dominic Calvert-Lewin would be held out of the line-up as a precaution (in addition to Demarai Gray), considering how injury-disrupted his last campaign was. Lampard has put the England forward front and centre of his attacking plans for the coming season and unless a reliable alternate is brought in, fans are going to be treading a tightrope all season. This was made clear as Everton were forced to field Salomon Rondon in Calvert-Lewin’s absence on Sunday. The 32-year old put in a decent enough shift in reality, holding the ball up and linking play reasonably well, even getting an assist (albeit being miles offside in the build-up, this being bizarrely missed by the assistant linesman). The Venezuelan is an honest performer, but is well below Premier League standard at this stage of his career and absolutely should not be the backup striker for the Blues.

Upon Rondon’s withdrawal around the hour mark, it fell to Dele to assume a false nine role, which actually worked quite well and saw the former Spurs star get more involved in build-up play, in addition to plundering a second goal. Whether this would go quite so well against sterner opposition is a moot point, but it’s a useful option to have as the boss needs to find imaginative ways to get Dele on the pitch as often as possible. This can only be an alternate, however and it is clear that the Toffees have to bring in someone comfortable with playing as a conventional centre forward. How this can be managed given the club’s apparent financial limitations is anyone’s guess.

Regardless, goal threat and flair are in short supply currently and Dele possesses these attributes in abundance, however dormant they’ve been over the past couple of years. He showed signs today of gelling with his teammates and it’s an argument that Frank could do worse than building the team around his unique talents.

Blackpool v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
Dele Alli fires home against Blackpool, showing that he can add goals to Everton’s locker
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images