The Second Year of the Project

Steve Ferns 25/07/2017 37comments  |  Jump to last
I hate that buzz words have crept into football in recent years. Currently we have “the Project” and “productivity”; previously we had “philosophy”. Moyes wasn’t too keen on management style buzz words but he did have “5-year plans” and used lots of old fashioned football parlance and clichés.

Koeman’s project is not clearly defined. We assume it’s about winning something, but really it is just another way of saying we will pay him a lot of money to achieve a goal, and that goal appears to be Champions League football.

A lot has been written on here in assessment of the former regime and evaluations of the success or lack of it, and the failings that led to its demise. Some seem to attribute the quite considerable success of the first year of Martinez as somehow being down to Moyes, but yet a lot play down the success of Moyes, which makes no sense to me either.

I have only ever called for the head of one Everton manager, and that was, astonishingly, Ronald Koeman. I vividly remember crying as an 8-year-old in a “ball park” in Southport in 1987 when my dad called me over to watch a TV where Kendall was giving a press conference to announce his resignation. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but my dad led me to believe that it was going to break the team up, and he was quite right.

Obviously, I was still a young kid for Colin Harvey’s reign and so, as painful as it was to watch Champions turn into also-rans, almost immediately, and see a class room full of half Evertonians, slowly become outnumbered by evil reds as they went from strength to strength and we slid down to mid-table. Next, Kendall came back and was gone. I was again angry at the blues for letting the great man leave, with rumours over a failure to sign Dion Dublin. Then came the Mike Walker years.

I was still just 15 when we sacked him, full of youthful optimism after the great escape and with an unwavering belief in my hero, Anders Limpar, and who I genuinely thought was the best striker in the world, the original TC (Tony Cottee). Everton fired Walker when I was fed up with him, but I hadn’t really joined in the chanting on the terraces.

Royle came and brought glory to Everton once more. It now seems such a short time from 1987 to 1995, just 8 years. When you look back over the last 8 years of your life it seems so short, but for a young child growing up from a point of success to success and 8 years of what I could only describe as torture in-between, it seemed like decades. Royle left amidst rumours of a purchase of Tor Andre Flo being rejected by the board, and I was heart broken once more as a true blue had left.

Then came the dour Scot. He didn’t impress me with his titles won in Scotland, particularly as he won them off the back of what had already been started by Souness. Smith actually won me around, with a succession of great performances and an exciting team with Oli Dacourt, Marco Materrazzi, John Collins, and Don Hutchison that seemed to be going places.

When things fell apart and the dark days came, I still clung to a view of “well last season we suddenly won 3 games in a row by 4 or more” and retained the view that Smith could turn it around. My dad gave up on a bleak boxing day game at Goodison against Derby. Smith played Unsworth at left mid, and we have a total of 6 centre backs playing (including Unsworth). Derby were just as bad and the game finished without a shot on goal. My dad didn’t go again for 10 years! Still I never called for Smith’s head, but I was not disappointed when he was sacked.

I got behind Moyes from the start. I always liked him, despite seeing his flaws, being frustrated by his tactics at times, and his safety-first approach. Moyes turned us into “plucky Everton”, but that was a damn site better than “shitty Everton” or “relegation-strugglers” as the papers called us. Moyes gave us our pride back, reasons to be hopeful, and most importantly he laid the foundations for his successors to build on. When he left for Manchester United, I was sad to see him go.

Moyes was a pragmatic manager. His Preston side were not defensive. And his first season here was very different from what followed.

However, it seemed to me that after a defeat to Newcastle, when we naively pushed for a stylish win, rather than closing up shop and “keeping it tight” as would become his hallmark, that Moyes changed.

Moyes was like an old diesel engine. He took his time. If we had lost his priority would always be a clean sheet. We would switch from attacking to defensive, no matter who the next game was against. And with the clean sheet he would slowly rebuild momentum, and only when we were on a run, playing with confidence, did he loosen the reins a bit. It’s unfair to call Moyes just a defensive manager because there were some magical momentums, particularly when Osman, Arteta and Pienaar combined with some lovely one touch stuff.

After Moyes left, I wrote an article on here pushing for Everton to appoint Marcelo Bielsa. Biesla was mentioned again in the last couple of days, when someone reposted a video of him giving a training session at Marseille where he told Benjamin Mendy that he could go on to become the best left back in the world; there was some sniggers, but the great man was right once more. It’s worth noting that Mendy has been signed by one of Bielsa’s proteges in Pep Guardiola, and there was no doubt a phone call or between the two to discuss the transfer.

I doubt Bielsa would have brought the success that I believe possible. But I am sure he would have brought an unprecedented level of excitement for us blues. The greatest attribute of his teams is hard-work, and immediately upon winning the ball the team attacks the goal as one. You will all recall his exciting Chile side in the 2010 World Cup.

I didn’t want Martinez because of the failings for which we now all castigate him for. Martinez would be over, and in that first season I was his biggest fan. And as you can see from the lengthy explanations above, I like I did under Smith, held to the belief that he could return to that glorious first season.

I cannot accept any argument that the first season was luck or just down to Moyes’s defence. Martinez got us 72 points, the fourth most we have ever got. We played the best football I have ever seen us play. It was a truly magical season and there was no luck about it. Where it went wrong was down to a number of factors, injury to McCarthy and injury to Oviedo / Baines meaning that we never again had the attacking threat on the left that we had for the first ¾ of that first season. McCarthy was unbelievable that season and we moved the ball very quickly.

Bielsa is the man that Pep Guardiola spoke to before making a final decision on taking his first head coaching position. He flew to Argentina and instead of an hour long meeting, they talked for hours. Bielsa took the dining room furniture into the back garden to help Pep understand some tactical utterings. Then Pep took the Barcelona job and did something football had never seen before and created one of the best sides the world has ever seen by combining the hard-pressing style that Bielsa pioneered and combined it with the Barcelona way implemented by Cruyff.

Guardiola's football is not all about passing. It is about hunting in packs, harassing the opposition, winning the ball high up the pitch and immediately attacking. Whereas Bielsa’s sides go straight for the goal and will use long passes, Guardiola takes a slightly more measured approach that involves less risk of losing the ball and evolved into a style whereby once we win the ball, you can’t take it off us. The modern Barcelona have lost all of the high-press from their game and resemble a more traditional Cruyff side.

Martinez was quite rightly fired. I won’t argue with that. He had lost the dressing room, his football was not working, and so he had to go. I didn’t push for Bielsa this time, my preference was actually De Boer on the basis that there would be less change from Martinez’s style and so less disruption. I was hoping that the Dutch great could inject some defensive know-how into the side whilst keeping the attacking flow of the team that I so loved to watch.

Koeman arrived and I, as ever got fully behind him. But I was not impressed. He was not saying the right things, he kept referring to Everton and didn’t seem to identify himself at all with Everton. Results were not good, the team was dull to watch to make things worse, and he seemed to be rubbishing the players.

Most of us, in agreeing that Martinez should go, were saying that the team was dramatically underachieving. In order for a team to underachieve, they must be below the level where they should be, which I think we all agreed was 7th. So for Koeman to come in, be below 7th, to play crap football, and moan about everything really pissed me off.

We also had a great U23 side with Tom Davies as the star. Many here were calling for Tom to play. And then he did. But who of us clamouring for Tom to play would have picked him against Man City, in That Game? Forget what’s happened since, but think back to the time, to when he’d played just a few games. I have been schooled by Moyes that you need to pick a rigid, defensive side against a team like that and to keep it tight. There’s no room in that side for an 18-year-old kid. Koeman disagreed and everything changed. From then on, we suddenly started to see Koeman’s Everton.

People talk about philosophy as if it is something new. It is not. In the 80s and 90s we called it, as I have done above, “style”. In those days, there were more varying styles. The passing sides like Norwich and Spurs, the long ball sides like Watford and Wimbledon, whilst Everton were a good passing side, we were a very energetic side, who liked to get the ball wide. We talk about the “high-press” ever since Bielsa and his disciples (Guardiola, Pochettino, and Sampioli) implemented it around the world, only to be copied by the likes of Klopp and then every other German side. My dad told me, "That’s nothing new son, we called it “closing down” and we were doing that in the 50s as a kid!""

What makes me think Koeman is the right man for the job is a number of factors. He is a stubborn man. Stubbornness is a curious quality. Alex Ferguson was a very stubborn man. He believed in himself and was single-minded and stubborn enough to achieve the success that he did despite the problems that nearly saw him sacked before we won anything. Roberto Martinez was very stubborn and refused to buckle or change his methods. But here it is viewed by us as a bad quality. Martinez’ stubbornness was not his undoing for me. An unwavering belief in his methods was fine. He was never ever going to adapt to the point where he’d throw on a big man and play route one football, and I was fine with that, even if it meant losing games.

What lost it for Martinez was an inability to fix things in the transition. To see that when we won the ball we did not move the ball fast enough. That Barry and McCarthy or Besic took too many touches, that the passes were not incisive enough and that we were not attacking sides. We were allowing teams to get back into defensive shape before we got an attack going, and so found it harder to get through sides. This was not a failing of his tactics, but of his coaching and management. When McCarthy was struggling with injuries and was not the same player, he should have identified the need for someone else to be brought in to do his job and to move the ball quicker.

Ronald Koeman is much more of a pragmatist. He is flexible in his tactics and formations. He likes passing football in the dutch way, but he never plays Total Football. His teams are much too rigid for that. You saw that Baines and Coleman were much more anchored in defence for the first quarter of last season. Effectively, he spent the first part of the season trying to make us harder to beat. Clearly, he missed out on some attacking targets. But everything seemed to change with Schneiderlin and a clear style of play emerged.

So what is Koeman’s style of play or philosophy? He likes a hard-pressing direct team. This is very much in the Bielsa style and he even played something resembling the Bielsa 3-4-3 for a period. Bielsa abandoned his 3-4-3 when he had his most success in Europe, with Athletic Bilbao, seeming to accept that you needed a back four to be successful in Spanish football and European football.

Bielsa is a very ruthless man. When he was manager of Argentina he was not popular. Bielsa has his vision, his way of playing and he selects the best players to fill the roles that he has. If a player cannot fit into his system, then he does not get selected.

Bielsa managed Argentina in 2002, when they played England. Bielsa was battling the Argentinian press and FA because Argentina’s supposed best player was none other than our perennial transfer favourite , Juan Roman Riquelme. For those who have forgotten, Riquelme played for Villarreal when we played them in the infamous Champions League Qualifier. He was the ultimate luxury player. He was as good an old fashioned Argentina number 10 as you will ever find. He strolled around the pitch (never ran) and put his foot on the ball and dictated play. He slowed games right down, dominated the possession, and then exploded things to life with a pass into the box that no-one else could see. A master creator. But there was no room for him in Bielsa’s team.

You cannot have a midfielder who does not run. The high-press does not work if you have one player strolling around the pitch. Winning the ball high up the pitch and suddenly bursting at goal does not work if the No 10 gets it, puts his foot on the ball and lets the defence re-organize, whilst he looks for a Hollywood pass. Bielsa ultimately left the Argentina job because they would not let him drop Riquelme which meant Bielsa could not play the way he wants to play.

Koeman is in the same vein. Ruthless. He only wants players who will fit into his system, conform to his pre-determined roles and enable him to enact his vision. I think Everton’s square peg here is Ross Barkley. He seems at odds with Koeman’s hard-running side; he came good at the end of the season for me when he did conform and played on the right of a front three. But clearly Koeman was softening up the Everton faithful for Barkley’s departure, as he did not fit into the way he wants to play. He does not close down enough, he does not attack quickly enough, and he puts his foot on the ball too often.

Koeman played a variety of formations last season. Firstly, the 4-2-3-1 as favoured by Martinez. This made it an easier transition. Let’s properly understand the formation:

Fullback – old fashioned left and right sided defenders. Can go forward and overlap but has a wide player ahead of him.

Centre-backs – old-fashioned holding the middle with a “stopper” like John Terry who will go forwards to win the headers and engage the opposition striker and a “covering” centre-half who will drop deeper in case the other centre-half misses the header or gets skinned. The stopper is bigger and stronger and the coverer is quicker, more agile and usually better on the ball.

Defensive midfield – there are two players here. But they have very different roles. Liverpool had the perfect embodiment of them in recent years. First of all you have a Javier Mascherano, the bulldog to run around and chase everything and tackle – James McCarthy / Idrissa Gueye. Then you have the Xabi Alonso. The cultured player with a long range of passing who can find the passes forwards to the wings, the channels, and the striker. He should also be able to exchange quick short passes and move the ball quickly, so should have quick feet. Whilst this player is playing just in front of the back four, he actually has very little in the way of defensive capabilities which is why he needs the other player to cover for him. The idea is this player is so good at passing that he can launch a quick attack with a great long pass, think Alonso to Gerrard.

Attacking Midfielders – there are three of these. It depends on the type of formation as it can be narrow with attacking midfielders in the channels, like Mirallas, or wingers on the touchline, like Deulofeu. There is a central Number 10, who either is an out and out play-maker like Riquelme, but if you have a player like Alonso, then this central player can be more of a Gerrard or a Cahill, and instead of creating, they finish.

Striker – a lone striker who needs to be a great all-round player. Big and strong. Can hold the ball up. Can pass, can shoot, can do everything. Failing that, make him like Marcus Bent and be full of energy.

This formation is probably the most popular and has been for sometime. However, it is starting to become dated and its use is very much in decline. The frailties of it are the isolation of a number of players. Firstly the striker is isolated. He’s easily policed by two opposition centre-halves. If the opposition fullbacks can get forward they isolate further by pinning back the two wide players. The Number 10 can be easily marked out of the game by an opposition defensive two. And then your own defensive two find there to be little movement and so on winning the ball they take longer to release the ball and longer to get the ball forward. This is exactly what happened to Martinez’s side.

There is a number of 3-4-3s. I loved watching Bielsa’s 3-4-3 for Chile. Back 3 - Here you have two normal centre halves, with a third sweeping up behind. This ain’t a German sweeper though, this is a high defensive line to properly enable the high press, so the middle defender drops deepest to receive the ball in possession but he also strides forward with the ball when it is won, like a defensive midfielder.

Midfield 3 – the central player sits deeper and almost slots into the back 3 when defending, forcing the middle defender back. His two central colleagues are just that, central. They play as standard central midfielders and do not go wide, unless the play opens up for them to do so.

Attacking midfielder – this player could also be seen as part of a front 4! He plays in-between the central midfield 3 and the attacking front 3, which is why this formation is also called a 3-3-1-3 as it is hard to box him off as a midfielder or an attacker. Tim Cahill would be perfect for this role. It’s not a Number 10, it’s an all action Number 8 running hard, chasing and harrying the defence, giving it off keeping it simple and then getting in the box late to score.

Front 3 – as is the theme of this formation – they are all narrow. They are set up to pin the opposition defence back. You have a central striker and two inside forwards to work the channels.

This formation has no width whatsoever. There are no fullbacks and no wingers. It’s all "in your face" tackling, designed to not give anyone any rest, to win the ball and by formation design to be immediately on the attack. The opposition have to sit deep and attack you on the flanks. It didn’t work in Spain and Bielsa changed to a flat back 4 and tweaked a more standard 4-2-3-1 to fit his style of in your face football.

Here you will note 3 players immediately, Fernando Llorente (of Swansea), who is the perfect lone striker, Ander Herrera (of Man Utd) who played as the attacking midfielder, and Javi Martinez, perhaps the best defensive midfielder in the world for the last few years or so. Bielsa used him in central defence like Guardiola did with Mascherano. He plays as a covering defender, sweeping up and chasing and harrying the attacks.

Koeman’s 3-4-3 is very different.

Back 3 – as about wing backs – wide and pushed up operating as wingers and getting right forward but also trying to defend as fullbacks.

Central midfielders – these operate as per two central midfielders in a 4-4-2. They need to both be box to box and to get forward. They don’t worry about bring the ball out of defence as the middle centre back does this. It does not suit Gueye and Schneiderlin, but rather Klaassen and Davies.

Front 3 – here we have a narrow 3, with a central striker and two inside forwards operating in the channels and not getting wide.

We should not see this formation again as Schneiderlin does not fit into it. If you call the wingbacks defenders and rename the formation a 5-2-3 then you can see how Koeman has adapted. You then push the middle central defender forwards and make him into a defensive midfielder, ie, Schneiderlin and then the 523 is a 433 and this is where we are at now:

Centre Backs – as above, stopper being Williams and the covering defender will be keane but he is also more of a stopper. Koeman likes his centre-backs big and strong.

Fullbacks – less like wing backs but far more licence to go forwards than in a 4231.

Central midfield – Schneiderlin to drop deeper on the left and pick the ball off the back four and bring it out, Gueye to harass and harry and make most of the running. Centrally of the two will be Klaassen. This position is about harassing, harrying, chasing and winning the ball, but also to be the play-maker the focal point of the attacks. This is not a Riquelme style play-maker, but someone who never puts his foot on the ball, someone who takes few touches, someone to keep the ball in motion, to keep the attacks going and to not lose momentum.

Attacking 3 – a central striker and two inside forwards. Sandro looks top class and still so young. He appears to be predominately right footed. His role is to run to the left of the central striker, slightly deeper and to play the channel. The central striker Koeman prefers is the Lorente or Pelle type.

Some may not know what the “channel” is. This is the gap in a 4-4-2 between the full-back and the centre-back. Modern formations see more players in this area, such as Eden Hazard. If a winger hugs the touchline, he has less room, can become isolated and it’s hard for him to get the ball. A player in the channel can go outside onto the wing or come inside for the shot.

Kevin Mirallas does his best work as an inside forward operating the left-hand channel. He loves to run in off the fullback across into the central striker position and shoot with his favoured right. Sandro looks like he does this also, but whereas this is all Mirallas does, by this I mean he hardly ever gets properly wide and whips in a cross, or puts in a good pass, the signs are there that there are more tricks in Sandro’s locker.

Coming in off the left is not a good trick for a team with a static Number 9 like Lukaku. The fullback follows the winger, and the gap left is not exploited. Rooney playing up top has shown that he will pull wide, knowing what Sandro is doing and will fill this gap. Rooney is a clever footballer and can see this. Rooney will then either get into space in the left position, or he will make the fullback stop his run, or he will drag the centre-back out of position creating a space to run into. This move suddenly is very effective with options and a defence pulled apart due to the mobility of these two players.

The problem for most sides is replicating this on the right-hand side. This means finding a player who has a good left foot and is comfortable on the right. There is one we can all name, and that is Lionel Messi, who has made this his stock in trade and, being so unusual, left backs have found this hard to deal with. However, we have our own player: Ross Barkley. He is right footed. He moves the ball mainly with his right, but he can do so with his left. He will cross with his right, as per that perfect cross for Lukaku. But what sets Barkley apart in this formation from most is that he actually shoots better off his left. So Barkley can turn inside and let rip with that almighty howitzer of a left foot. He can also slip a pass into feed Sandro or Rooney.

Sadly, for me, Barkley is not going to be here much longer. So, this is a position I think we need to fill. Sigurdsson is definitely Goodison bound, that is obvious. Sigurdsson can’t play the central midfield role. He’s too deep there. It’s not his game. He’d be a square peg in a round hole. Sure, he runs far more than most. He will fit into the chasing and harrying. But his game is not moving the ball quickly from deep, it is slipping people through on goal from just outside the box. This is why I think he will play on the right of a front three.

Keiran Dowell has enjoyed a good run out in pre-season as part of a front three. I think he’s done himself a few favours and will have impressed Koeman. But I do think this is Koeman trying to get the side ready for Sigurdsson. Here’s a similar player in terms of style. Neither will get wide and get a cross in from the by-line, but they will turn inside and cross from anywhere, even unorthodox positions, or just play a great long pass in.

I think back to Southampton and their front three of Mane, Tadic, and Pelle. Mane brought the speed, Tadic the tricks and passing, and Pelle the strength and power. So I see Sigurdsson as a Number 10 operating from a number 7 position but with a lot more running, chasing and harrying, as a Tadic. Sandro is Mane. He just needs a Pelle. Rooney can play as the Number 9 and as the wide Number 10. It’s a long hard season remember.

I am not calling Koeman a genius, just passing on how I understand Koeman’s tactics, how he has played, and how he appears to be setting the side up to play. This is now his team. If they aren’t players he signed, like Coleman, then they are still his players because he has kept them in his team as they play his way. That way is fast football like Bielsa, which is why I have mentioned him so much, and in your face football. It’s not quite the high press all action football or Bielsa or the knock-off version Klopp plays (heavy metal football the Germans called it), but it’s similar.

Koeman is more flexible and pragmatic. Bielsa’s lack of pragmatism, his stubbornness will mean that he is remember as a cult figure in football, the pioneer of the high-press, one of the great football philosophers but sadly not one of the great managers. If you want to catch him in action this season, then watch Lille. His antics on the sidelines are almost as entertaining as his team's. It’s that pragmatism that allows certain managers to succeed.

Was Alex Ferguson the best at coaching players? Well, he never went on the training pitch and got his hands dirty for the last five seasons at least, so surely not. Was he the best at tactics? He was never a pioneer like Bielsa, he instead followed the fashions and implemented them, which is why he did not replicate his domestic domination into European Domination and he is seen as somewhat less tactically aware than say Mourinho. Neither was he a great scout, he signed many big named obvious players and had them flop badly. Perhaps the greatest of these was Juan Sebastian Veron, one of the best players the world has ever seen, and back in action in Argentina now well into his 40s, but Ferguson could not work out how to utilise him, and yet, either side of his spell in England, he was world class.

Ferguson, like the great rugby coach Clive Woodward, is a master delegator, he employs the best scouts, tacticians and coaches and then brings it all together. We may be doing that now. Walsh, Koeman, and Unsworth. We mostly seem to be feeling very optimistic.

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Reader Comments (37)

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Thomas Lennon
1 Posted 26/07/2017 at 15:17:33
I will watch the next season with greater interest having read that, a very clear analysis of tactics. I don't think you mentioned where Pickford's greater distribution fits in?

Thanks Steve.

Jimmy Salt
2 Posted 26/07/2017 at 15:29:33
Good read.
Started it in work.
Had to finish it whan I got home.
Chris Williams
3 Posted 26/07/2017 at 15:47:58
Very good and interesting that, Steve.
Steve Ferns
4 Posted 26/07/2017 at 16:00:05
Thanks guys.

Thomas, yes, I thought I'd mentioned Pickford.

Basically, Robles and Stekelenburg collect the ball, and take a few steps backwards and you will see them wave their arms forward trying to clear everyone out of the box. Tim Howard was similar. He would wait a long time. when Martinez came, he did attempt a few throws but they weren't much good.

I cannot profess to have seen Pickford enough to know how he will play, but having seen him twice, and having seen lots of him on YouTube, it appears that he is capable and more importantly, confident enough that he can release the ball with attackers still in his area.

The way he kicks the ball is interesting. He does not do the old fashioned drop kick that all goalkeepers do. He seems to drop / throw it to his right-hand side and then kind of side volley it down the pitch. Whereas the drop kick sees the ball launch high into the air and fall down onto the centre-forwards head, Pickford hits the ball a lot flatter. It doesn't go as high in the air, it doesn't travel as far, and the pass is completed a lot quicker. He seems to aim for space in the channels for players to run on to, and this is something that will need to be worked on, but surely a whippet like Sandro would be looking for a pass like this anyway.

I think Pickford is signed for his ability to do this, almost as much as his potential as a shot-stopper. I think Man City missed a trick here as Guardiola would certainly appreciate it. He's more a Bielsa keeper though, as this instant ability to launch an attack would be greatly appreciated by him.

Jamie Evans
5 Posted 26/07/2017 at 16:36:14
Good article, although I can't agree with your thoughts on Veron, certainly not one of the best players the world has ever seen.

I like Keoman and we certainly have the best depth in midfield to have a good go in the league and all cup competitions this season. I'm not advocating rotating players, but we could line up for one game with Gueye, Schneiderlin and Klaassen followed by Barry, Davies and potentially Sigurdsson.

Probably still a bit light up front and on the wings, but I really hope Dowell gets a chance as every time I see clips of under 23's and the recent friendlies he scores from out of the area.

Mike Gaynes
6 Posted 26/07/2017 at 20:17:18
Steve, I've seen Master's theses that were shorter than this!

Thanks for the hard work and thoroughness in assembling this. Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Interesting comparison of Koeman to "El Loco" Bielsa, whom some here were promoting as a potential candidate for our manager's position before Ronald got the job. I disagree a bit that Bielsa's Chile played 3-4-3... to me it was clearly a 3-3-3-1 with a lone striker as a possession/targetman laying off to the three midfield runners. I think Ronald Koeman tried at times to duplicate some of that dynamic when he went three at the back last season.

And had you not added your postscript at #4 regarding the importance and style of Pickford's distribution, I would have written almost exactly what you did. Pickford's aggressive passing with those low-driving kicks – that side-volley is designed to impart backspin, which like a three-iron makes the ball fly flatter but carry farther – will be crucial to Koeman's attack model this season.

Anto Byrne
7 Posted 26/07/2017 at 21:48:33
Manchester United and Ferguson had this belief that they were unbeatable and that was installed in the club. I'm hoping Koeman can do the same at Everton were we have this belief system that we are not just a plucky also ran but the main event. This can be achieved with a more aggressive style of play; all the great teams have this ability to dig deep and get down and dirty when required.

If your like me you endured the seventies Red Shite winning everything. They always win at all costs and I hated Kenny Dalglish, the dirtiest of players I have ever watched, but hey it makes it a winner and that's what we want at Everton – mongrel player's burning blood.

Steve Ferns
8 Posted 26/07/2017 at 22:01:21
It's hard to accurately define the Bielsa 3-4-3, is it a 3-3-3-1? or a 3-3-1-3? or even a 3-4-4? The players never stand still for long enough to assign them a position.

The question is can Ronald Koeman do that with us. Sigrdsson ran the furthest of any player last season. He's clearly preferred to Barkley for that very reason. All the players we have signed can put a shift in.

Last season's running stats were quite disappointing for him as we were in midtable. Koeman will clearly want to see us towards the top of the table, although less like the headless chickens of Liverpool who came top.

James Flynn
9 Posted 26/07/2017 at 22:42:27
Thanks Steve.

This was excellent writing.

Andrew James
10 Posted 26/07/2017 at 23:01:52

I think we must be roughly the same age given what you said about the Royle era but I must have a very different idea of football than you. You definitely subscribe to tactics and formations winning through. I am more inclined to indulge the odd maestro if the players around him can trust him.

However, I really enjoyed this article. It seems Barkley is on the way which is a crying shame for me because the reasons given – albeit by our blunt-not-the-best-with-English manager – seem ridiculous and I think he could have played in the formation you have mentioned.

I think things were slowed down thus far because of Lukaku's immobile nature and wanting the ball to feet in unrealistic positions.

I liked your view of Rooney – he will unlock defences and was the underrated supporting act to Ronald and Van Persie for many years.

Iain Love
11 Posted 26/07/2017 at 23:34:40
Enjoyed reading that, Steve, being a bit older than your good self, I especially liked the comment about "we called it closing down".

I still play 7-aside and as an elder statesman usually end up picking the sides. Apart from picking players to play in their natural positions, my next preference (above talent and skill) is always what I call "legs" – Gueye and Kante epitomise this.

The addition of Klaassen, Sandro and hopefully Sigurdsson is joy to my ears, as it means we can move the ball quickly, regain possession, and put the other team under pressure.

David Ellis
12 Posted 27/07/2017 at 05:45:24
Very good article. It's a pity you were too young to see Reid and Bracewell as a defensive midfield pairing (in a 4-4-2 formation). Bracewell was the one who could do the great long pass. Reid was a ball winner and always the easy short ball option. Everton played in very neat triangles so the player on the ball always had at least two options – Reid was usually one of them.

I would love Schneiderlin and Gueye to replicate this. Gueye has more pace than Reid had and he uses it well, but perhaps lacks the guile. Schneiderlin has many of the same qualities that Bracewell had – but not so good at tackling.

But the big difference is that Reid and Bracewell immediately clicked (Bracewell's debut was a charity shield game at Wembley against Liverpool in August 1984 and we played them off the park – playing keep ball for the last 15 minutes – fantastic – bear in mind that we had not won a trophy in 14 years at the time). The were also both big personalities and both became managers later (as did several in that side, Ratcliffe, Heath, Irvine and Sharp .and Andy Gray almost did) – this certainly helped them dominate games.

I haven't really seen Schneiderlin and Gueye click yet. I hope that is down to lack of game time together. I think this is a key part or our engine room – individually they have the skills but it's not quite there yet for me.

Mike Gaynes
13 Posted 27/07/2017 at 07:00:40
Iain #11, I wish I played in your game.

I'm 61 and I still don't get to pick the sides.

Tony Abrahams
14 Posted 26/07/2017 at 07:15:02
Steve, sometimes I don't give you a chance because I hate reading long posts, but I think you talk a lot of sense and obviously love your football.

I used to be football mad, could watch or play it all day, and it always brought me nothing but joy, and I think you must be very similar.

I honestly don't study it no more, but have come to realise that there are only two ways in which a manager can be successful now, They need time or they need money? (Maybe it's never been any different.)

Koeman bored the life out of me for most of last season, but it's obvious to me that he knows both football and players. A bit to ruthless for some? (How the fuck can a professional manager be too ruthless?) but I think he came to Everton and must have been shocked by the standards (application) that he was met by?

You explain how he wants to play and it's got me worried when you talk about a narrow front three, because I look across the park and see Mane coming in from the left, and Salad coming in from the right; I just hope the bastards, don't succeed!

The best style in football, is any that a manager can really implement on his team, and it's obviously the reason why Koeman has made so many changes so quickly? Let's hope it works, although it's got to be given time, which is something I'm not sure Koeman has got that much of?

Steve, I agree that Ferguson was not a master tactician but don't think this was the reason he failed to dominate Europe as much has he should of done. Don't forget that, in the era of possibly his most dominant side, which was full of leaders, winners, and personalities, the European rule was that a team could not play more than three foreigners, so Man Utd had to field at least 8 English players in every game.

Thomas Lennon
15 Posted 27/07/2017 at 07:16:36
Dave (#12) was that the game we Ole'd for most of the second half and Liverpool gave up! That was a sight difficult to believe after their total domination of the 70s and the moment I started to think we had something.
Tony Abrahams
16 Posted 27/07/2017 at 07:34:22
I think it's very hard to tackle in football now, David, but Schneiderlin does it better than most in my opinion. Watch him tackle on the blind side; he's as good as anyone I've seen for a long time at coming in unnoticed.
Paul Tran
17 Posted 27/07/2017 at 08:19:46
Steve, that's a cracking read.

I remember Reid talking about the great mid 1980s side; how they always tried to play in the other team's half, squeeze the space and allow the more creative players to shine. These days, some call it pressing.

Take a look at Cruyff's book 'My Turn'. There's a chapter devoted to tactics, where he explains his 'pressing' game that Koeman subscribes to, in detail. He references Koeman and, interestingly, Martinez in the book.

Martinez had three main (amongst many) issues. He wanted to play like Barcelona, but forgot that they work like dervishes when they haven't got the ball. He told everyone we needed seven players (which we did), before knowing he could buy them, which for me was the start of him losing the dressing room. He also failed to realise that positivity only works with evidence; without that, your credibility goes.

Koeman got the work rate up, made sure he'd be backed to revamp the squad and will never be a cuddly evidence-free optimist. I think he's brought stronger characters into the team, while weeding others out.

Will it be entertaining? I think so. Players who move the ball more quickly will see to that. Will it be successful, ie, trophies or top four and beyond? Let's see.

Cheers Steve. Most interesting read on here for ages.

Tony Hill
18 Posted 27/07/2017 at 08:44:03
I confess I have no idea how Koeman wants to set us up. Last season seemed chaotic at times with initial selections and substitutions and Barkley was one casualty of that. Most of the time we were lumping it up to Lukaku and watching it bounce off him back to a congested midfield.

I hope this time to see a defined approach which involves attacking football played with speed and flair. We shall find out.

Stan Schofield
19 Posted 27/07/2017 at 18:07:29
Steve, thanks for an excellent read. Good analysis of tactics. I'd thought that the recent signings would give us a faster passing game, with players who can quickly anticipate what they're going to do with the ball before they receive it. Your analysis provides more food for thought.
Thomas Lennon
20 Posted 28/07/2017 at 15:02:50
So Steve -– where did we go wrong last night?

a) New team seemingly a long way from developing match play understanding?
b) Met a team slightly fitter and determined to stop us playing?
c) We need one or two more players.
d) Tactical failure.

Mike Allison
21 Posted 28/07/2017 at 17:08:42
Thomas, I'd say it's a, b and c. And we still won.
Rob Dolby
22 Posted 29/07/2017 at 12:20:24
This season should see some sort of tactical influence from Koeman as I can't see any pattern to what he is trying to do. Two holding midfielders and one up top.

Most teams sit tight behind the ball and hit on the break its having the quality and speed that makes the difference.

I would love to see Bielsa, Hasenhüttl or similar manage in the Premier League. Someone with radical ideas on how the game should be played rather than an endless stream of safety first Pulis type managers. Be interesting to see how Huddersfield get on this year as Wagner has got them promoted with tactical nous rather than buying his way out of the league admittedly he did have a couple of Chelsea loan players there.

It's a given that players should work when they haven't got the ball which is why Barclay has spat his dummy. Motivating multi millionaire players to maintain their hunger to win has to be key. The worry for me is that we are very short on wide players and strikers. Koeman seems obsessed with center midfielders.

We are also lacking in quality, Rooney and Baines have it, Mirallas occasionally shows it and Davies is showing good signs. I do not think that is enough to get us higher up the league than last year. In fact, without Lukaku's goals, I can see us struggling to maintain 7th.

Mike Galley
23 Posted 29/07/2017 at 21:44:39
David Ellis 12.

I, too, was at Wembley that day. It still rankles that we let them off with a 1-0 defeat. I was only 14 and a massive Kevin Richardson fan Brace won me over instantly!

Rob Dolby
24 Posted 29/07/2017 at 23:05:57
Kevin Richardson is the most underrated player I have known whilst following the Blues. The lad had everything, left foot right foot could tackle and pass. The chemistry with Reid or Bracewell probably was his downfall. Championship winner with the Blues and Arsenal in 1989, what a player.
Geoff Williams
25 Posted 30/07/2017 at 09:20:36
Williams the big stopper? He must be the shortest centre back in the league and not far off being the slowest.
Ian Smitham
26 Posted 30/07/2017 at 10:06:18
Really enjoyed a thorough and interesting contribution, thanks, and also to the responders. I too was at Wembley that day.
David McMullen
27 Posted 30/07/2017 at 15:21:57
Good read (still reading!). For me, I've still not worked out Koeman's style of play. Last season, the first couple of months, it was clear we had no idea of his style of play.

We enjoyed the earlier parts of Martinez's reign we can't blank out the chant "the School of Science is on its way back". I still feel the build up is far far too slow and it was also still evident on Thursday.

Again those can deny the Moyes era but I thought there were some cracking footy at times and the way we used to break was quick. Look back look at some of the results we had over the likes of Man Utd and Arsenal and Man City.

We remain too slow... too lethargic... too measured. Look at the 1995 FA Cup Semi-Final – see the tempo and think: Do we play like that now?

Steve Carse
28 Posted 30/07/2017 at 20:53:56
Last season was as bad on the eyes as anything Moyes ever served up. On many occasions, it assumed a combination of Moyes's risk-aversion and Martinez's ponderous ball movement.

We can only hope there is an improvement this season. No sign of it last Thursday but surely it will come.

Charles Barrow
29 Posted 30/07/2017 at 21:38:58
I'm with Tony Hill . Not sure what his tactics are. Although it was pretty clear in every away game I went to. Get Williams or Jagielka to smack it a hard as they can over the heads of the midfield for it bounce off Lukaku, for the opposition to get possession immediately!
David Chait
30 Posted 30/07/2017 at 21:59:35
Superb article! Heck of a lot of effort and thought went into it! Enjoyed it immensely!

It helped me see the role of two defensive midfielders differently. Also showed why Arteta was brilliant in the role as the ball receiver from the defense and launching the attacks... he was also a very underrated tackler.

You don't seem to be too sure about Schneiderlin if you look at the role he plays. Forcing the team to suit him it seems.

But Koeman does appear to have bought very well based on the system you feel he will play. Klaassen is key to quickly linking play.

Hope it all clicks!

Sam Hoare
31 Posted 30/07/2017 at 23:14:41
Brilliant article, Steve, that makes it clear where we need to strengthen.

a) The Pelle type striker – Giroud must surely be ideal for this role even though I'd prefer someone a touch more mobile ideally.

b) The Tadic type – Sigurdsson is obviously the pick for this role though I'd again be looking at slightly more mobile options; otherwise, we are depending a lot on Sandro for our movement.

c) Possible upgrade on Williams & Jagielka; Michael Keane seems more of a stopper and I'd like us to get in a solid strong centre-back with pace to play the cover role. Someone like Joseph Yobo (on a good day!). Van Dijk would be ideal but unlikely. Jeison Murillo is apparently available for £14m and would be a good option perhaps or Kostas Manolas would be a more expensive, high-profile defender with good speed.

d) Possible cover at full back. Not convinced by Martina and, much as I love Baines, I don't think he's been at his best for a while.

I suspect a) and b) are the priorities

Brent Stephens
32 Posted 30/07/2017 at 23:34:27
Possibly the best piece I've read on TW. Excellent. Thought-provoking.

Mike Gaynes: "I've seen Master's theses that were shorter than this!"

But few Masters theses are this interesting!

Don Alexander
33 Posted 31/07/2017 at 00:34:59
With genuine respect to Steve, the tactics, formations or whatever else might deliver success will matter diddly-squat unless Koeman can in the next two years convince players that they need to go onto the pitch willing to all but die unless they win or, in some rare circumstance, draw.

Unfortunately as the Premier League has gone on, too many players seem to turn up for "training" in their gold-plated, mink-lined, diamond encrusted skiddies without the vaguest notion of what the fans (and club) require.

Jay Harris
34 Posted 31/07/2017 at 00:43:14
That is the modern conundrum, Don.

All the extra money flowing into the game has gone on creating bling bling egotists and greedy agents.

It is about time the various FAs took some action and regulated this situation better.

For that sleazebag agent of Lukaku's to get £30 to 40m just for bringing Pogba to Man Utd is obscene, immoral and offensive – especially to the man in the street who struggles to take his kids to games – let alone buy the exorbitantly priced and constantly changing kits.

Laurie Hartley
35 Posted 30/07/2017 at 01:00:51
I really enjoyed that article, Steve.
Andrew Keatley
36 Posted 31/07/2017 at 02:06:31
Thoroughly interesting and insightful piece; thanks Steve.

In terms of the role of Schneiderlin, I wonder whether he could play as a centre-back – very much in the same way that Javi Martinez, and even Javi Garcia, have done – particularly if Koeman decides to experiment further with playing 3 at the back. We've seen Besic as a centre-back in pre-season, and I should think that Schneiderlin could be very well-suited to the sweeping/ball-playing of the 3.

As for Sigurdsson (and you and I have discussed this on an earlier thread) I do think that – particularly in the 3-3-1-3 formation that you outline – Sigurdsson could play centrally in the Ander Herrera or Tim Cahill role – arriving late in the box, as well as taking up position on the edge of the box and looking to thread balls through to the attacking three.

I know you say it's not traditionally a "Number 10", but I think that Sigurdsson is more in the mould of an Eriksen or a Lampard than he is a Veron or a Riquelme (or an Aimar or an Ortega – Argentina loves a Number 10).

Dale Rose
37 Posted 02/08/2017 at 12:42:00
Very interesting and well thought out. I think the current team and Under-23 team are very good. Its an interchangeable outfit.

However, one man got most of our goals last year, he has gone and we don't have anyone else. Unless we buy a striker, and a good one, we will do nothing and end up in the same position as last season.

We didn't look good against the opposition last Thursday night and have a very difficult start to the season. I was very optimistic that this may have been our season. Now I'm not to sure. The only positive is that some of the posters on here don't pick the team.

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