I have managed to get all retro 2020 and come down with Covid so, to cheer myself up, have written an article that's actually about the football itself rather than the finances or recruitment etc (neither of which are particularly cheery subjects). This article is about the things to focus on to get us out of the mire and into a good (upwardly mobile) rhythm.

Obviously, the main challenge for Sean Dyche this season is to accrue enough points to keep out of trouble. Having added greater strength to the wings and attack this summer, we should be able to do that – hopefully by scoring more goals. 

But there are a few fundamental things still to address – building the sorts of team structures and partnerships that brought (relative) success under Moyes and (initially at least) Martinez. A few weeks ago I'd have opened with getting Branthwaite into the first XI to form a partnership with Tarkowski but that already seems to be happening.  So I've broadened my thinking on this.

1.  1.  Sort out the full-backs

Under David Moyes, we saw our full-back play (on the left) reach a very high standard indeed.  Martinez arguably took this to new heights with Baines (or Oviedo) and Coleman rampaging down both flanks, with the confidence that McCarthy and Barry were there as cover. 

Since then, Digne has had good spells and Coleman keeps defying the critics, but we’re presently not well served by our full-back play.  Mykolenko is a defensive full-back, possibly better suited to being the left-sided centre-back in a 3-5-2 formation.  Patterson is an attacking full-back, possibly better suited to being a right-wingback in a 3-5-2. 

Since Dyche generally plays a back 4, this may pose some structural problems.  But I wouldn’t overplay that.  Both full-backs probably need a good run of games more than anything. Last week, Mykolenko certainly had a good game for Ukraine against England in a back 4 and kept Saka quiet.

And one of the key ingredients of good full-back play is a strong partnership with the wide-midfielder or winger. In McNeil and Harrison, we now have industrious, diligent players on both flanks. That should make life easier for Mykolenko and Patterson when the wide midfielders are fit.

If we can materially improve our full-back contribution this season, then we’ll pose a much bigger threat going forward and be able to hang onto possession for longer.

2.  Get Garner and Onana playing together more effectively

Even in a back 4, full-backs now generally operate as wing-backs or auxiliary midfielders these days.  This is even more the case if you play a double defensive pivot in midfield which is what Onana and Garner look like, at least on paper.  Neither are hunters or pressers, like Gueye or Allan. Whilst they might be comfortable on the ball and capable of contributing in attack and marauding forward from time to time, they are both generally “sitters” (especially Onana) with a good long and short passing range.

This is not unlike, say, Petit and Vieira of old, or Wanyama and Dembele more recently.  But because they sit, the full-backs have to push on – otherwise we end up with 6 players behind the ball with no forward options and no forward momentum.

It’s up to Dyche to get this to work – and start easing Gueye out of the picture (since Gueye will be gone for Afcon and then leave at the end of the season). 

3   3.  Figure out who plays as the Number 10

With the sale of Iwobi, we’re now missing the recent best source of assists and creative short passing and movement around the opposition box.

Dyche needs to figure out who plays just ahead of the double-pivot in the central position.  From our recent history, you could see Cahill or Fellaini doing a fine job here – supporting Beto and arriving late for crosses from the wingers or full-backs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Cahill or Fellaini on the books. More disappointingly still, I can’t see us finding ourselves a Bergkamp anytime soon to play ahead of our double-pivot.

People might fairly point out that at Spurs, Wanyama and Dembele had our very own Dele Alli ahead of them doing great things in the Number 10 spot.  Sadly, as much as I’d love our Dele Alli dreams to come true – I can’t see that ever happening.  I’d be surprised if he ever plays another game for us.

Without a Cahill, Fellaini, Bergkamp or (functioning) Alli in the squad, the options are:

·    Play 4-4-2 and do away with the need for a Number 10.  I know a lot of fans are wishing their lives away for the return of 4-4-2, given we last experienced success with that formation. However, using Beto and (say) Calvert-Lewin together is, to my mind, extremely unlikely other than very late in games to snatch a goal.  With these two up top together, we’d be seriously undermanned in midfield and struggle to gain enough possession to get the ball to our forward double act. 

·    Play Doucouré, he’s the box-to-box athlete and has shown himself to be effective since Dyche joined. The trouble is he really is more an athlete than a footballer – despite the heroics against Bournemouth.  This is not the style of player you really want as a Number 10, as his passing range and skills are very limited.  He’s also off to Afcon and then free at the end of the season.

·  Play McNeil, he’s a quality footballer and regularly played this position (with Cornet wide left) during Dyche’s last season at Burnley.  This looks a decent fit to me, with Danjuma wide left and Harrison wide right.  It creates an attacking three behind Beto, who have a mix of pace, guile and athleticism.  However, McNeil’s stats faded badly at Burnley when played in this position and they went down – so it’s not exactly tried and trusted.

·  Play Danjuma, he’s also a talented footballer but very much a forward rather than a midfielder. It would be 4-4-1-1 to use Danjuma as the  Number 10.  He would be flanked by McNeil on the left and Harrison on the right – albeit this might interfere with Danjuma’s best work which involves cutting in on his right foot from the wide-left position.

In practice, I expect that Doucouré will occupy the role initially, but Dyche will vary it up once he has a fit trio of Harrison, McNeil and Danjuma available. Doucouré may then struggle to regain his place once he returns from Afcon.

Given the strengths and weaknesses of McNeil, Harrison and Danjuma, I expect it may become a little fluid as to which players occupy the wings and the centre at any one time.  A little bit like Leicester when they had the incredibly hard-working Okazaki behind Vardy – with Mahrez and Albrighton on the flanks. 


Reader Comments (28)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 14/09/2023 at 22:41:38
All good stuff Robert. But it seems to me that Dyche, like too many before him is trying to make what he has fit what he wants...the old Sq. pegs in round holes syndrome yet again.

If Onana is, as you say a 'Sitter' well let him 'sit' and, like Barry, drop into the 2 man back line when the FBs (whoever they are) push up. Thus a 'weak looking 2' becomes a 'Big 3', Garner and Some Other Guy (not a just a younger Gana, more like a Garner+) comes in to replace the, to me, aging and faltering Gana in a 4132 and we're starting to get there.

'There' being The Mid Field, which had been generally gash and lacking Intensity for 10 yrs....or more

Ben King
2 Posted 14/09/2023 at 23:56:51
We'll very rarely have all of McNeil, Harrison and Danjuma all fit, firing and on form….which is why we needed to strengthen.

I'm so keen to see if Beto and Calvert-Lewincan play together but I accept that it massively weakens the midfield.

But, when (or if) everyone is fit then it does give options and flexibility.

We really need a positive result v Arsenal on Sunday. I'd bite your hand off for a win but not losing is key: we need to accumulate points and confidence fast.

Dupont Koo
3 Posted 15/09/2023 at 00:30:58
Speedy recovery, Robert!

Re wingers tracking back, when Townsend first joined, I was so pleased watching him tracking back and double-teaming opposition wingers every game: his best work was shutting down Trossard completely with Seamus away at Brighton. Once Harrison gets fit, we will get a younger (and as quick) version of Townsend in that role. That should help Nathan & Seamus tremendously on defending.

For Onana, a lot of Evertonians began writing him off when they found out he isn't exactly the next coming of Vieira. That's quite harsh, IMHO. He might not throw thunderous tackles like Vieira, but Onana can still turn midfield battles in our favour once he levels up on Concentration and other Defensive intricacies (which is where Dyche's coaching team earn their paycheques supposedly). So, hopefully we can see the Onana & Garner playing in pairs soon, if not the Gana-Garner-Onana Trio that both Lampard & Dyche have yet to unleash.

4-4-2 is still possible, as long as we have 2 Betos or a healthy DCL playing alongside him. Let's face it, we all know DCL is another walking Mina, in terms of knocks, bruises, muscule tear, pulled hamstrings, ankle twists...

Agreed with you totally though that it will indeed be very exciting seeing Beto protecting the ball against opposition Centre Backs, with Danjuma, McNeil & Harrison making instinctive, fluid & creative runs! Can we start dreaming again seeing the 2nd coming of the Arteta, Cahill & Peanuts Trio? Fingers crossed!

Robert Tressell
4 Posted 15/09/2023 at 00:57:48
Thanks Dupont.

Realistically it's going to take a while before we can really see how Dyche is trying to set us up.

Hopefully the chemistry (and to use Derek's word intensity) improves in a midfield which isn't functioning right and hasn't been for ages.

Jim Bennings
5 Posted 15/09/2023 at 06:43:24
As soon as I read the comparison of Onana and Garner with Petit and Viera though, I mean seriously Robert?

I don't think Onana is in the moment enough to be a reliable sitter to be honest.

To play that role think of how disciplined you have to be, just from watching the likes of Gareth Barry, Lee Carsley to quote two from the pace of the modern era.

James Garner still doesn't possess the attributes yet either in my opinion to be a truly string pulling central midfielder.

The fullbacks I agree with that we haven't and probably will not see the like again of wheb we had Baines and Coleman at the peak between 2010-2016 they were sensational.

Lucas Digne meant we didn't miss Baines as much as we thought we would but since Digne has left, there's been a hugley problematic hole in both right and left back areas.

Danny O’Neill
6 Posted 15/09/2023 at 07:44:03
Interesting points from all.

I have said before, with others, that I feel Mykolenko would be suited as a left sided centre back in a 3. But then Dyche isn't going to play that. As Robert points out, he done a decent job for Ukraine and on Saka. Here's for a repeat on Sunday. If you like a defensive full back, maybe he's as good as we can hope for right now. Let's face it, it is what we have. Patterson is still young and learning. I agree, maybe right now better as a wing back, but that goes back to playing a 3-5-2. Let's not forget, Moyes was undecided on Seamus in the early days and tried him out as a right sided midfielder until he settled as a right back.

I don't know what to make of our formation or midfield, which too often is wide open. We are a bit of a patchwork quilt, probably as a result of the rapid turnover of managers and coaching staff of recent seasons.

Garner can become a playmaker but is young and still learning. I'm not sure about Onana's best position. Young and still learning. Needs to find consistency and get involved more. Doucoure is better if we get him in a more forward position. I wouldn't call him a number 10, but he's good at bursting forward and when he is given licence to do that, he gets goals. Gueye, even at 33, is as fit as a fiddle, but is a hunter, not a sitter. He will go chasing the ball down. We need someone in there to do the mopping up.

I don't like 4-4-2. As I've said many times, it leaves the midfield exposed and open against most opposition in the modern game. There's no point having two strikers if you can't supply them. So for me, it's going to have to be Beko or Calvert-Lewin. Maybe throw both on together in a "break glass in emergency" situation. But likely to be rotational.

I genuinely think a fit McNeil will make a difference and looking forward to see how Danjuma fits in. I have no knowledge of Harrison, having not watched him. But we do seem to have a lot more attacking options, which is what we've been screaming for.

Top analysis as always Robert. My research at the moment is looking for the best train fair for Sunday and knowing that I will cut a solitary figure amongst hundreds of Gooners.

It hasn't been a great start, but a long way to go as always.

Lee Courtliff
7 Posted 15/09/2023 at 07:47:34
Dyche hardly ever played Cornet wide left, he was used up front in a 4-4-2. Only occasionally did he put him out wide. McNeil did sometimes play from the right, usually late on in games but it never worked out for him there.

He's old fashioned left midfielder, not a modern winger who wants to cut inside. I have wondered if he could play on the left of a 3 man midfield in a 4-3-3 but I've never actually seen him play there.

I think we can expect to see Doucs continue in the No.10 role with McNeil, Dan and Harrison rotating the wide positions.

The thought of DCL and Beto up front together is appealing but we'd simply get overrun in midfield and pinned back. The only other way is to play 3-5-2 but that doesn't fit the players we've signed like Dan and Harrison so I really can't see that happening.

We haven't been bad this season, Villa aside, could easily be on 7-9 points with better finishing. Hopefully we'll soon start climbing the table now we have Beto and Dan fully fit.

David Bromwell
8 Posted 15/09/2023 at 08:44:10
Well we all like to do it, and playing ' Everton Manager ' has seldom been an easy pass time. Just two thoughts from me, Lee at 7, " we haven't been bad this season " not sure that I can agree with that. Too much kick and rush, very poor and predicable corner routines, dreadful passing and finishing, would be my summary of the season so far. I just hope that the Manager and his experienced staff can manufacture a team that plays better and more effective football. Obviously it will be difficult on Sunday, but if we can stay in the game we now have a number of players who will trouble any defence, and in the end when we get chances we just have to take them. But please, goalkeeper and corner takers vary the big boot option, it can be effective but not every time.
Rick Tarleton
9 Posted 15/09/2023 at 09:15:17
For a long time now, certainly since Gareth Barry moved on, we have not had a balanced midfield. To state the plainly obvious, the midfield unit, note that word "unit", should assist the defence and support the attack. In order to do that they need a sitter, a playmaker, a man to operate the flanks and a number 10.
Everyone of the contributors above has said who might do those jobs, but every time they have also stated the problem with each individual. Onana lacks discipline, Doucoure is more of an athlete than a footballer and Garner tends to fade out of games.
It is this midfield unit that is at the heart of the problem. They don't really defend or support the attack well enough.
I haven't got an answer given the personnel involved. Unfortunately, Mr Dyche seems to be in the same predicament.
Brian Harrison
10 Posted 15/09/2023 at 09:27:46
Sean Dyche doesn't usually divulged much at his press conferences, and seems to use the same 3 phrases to describe the fitness or otherwise of the players. When asked about the possibility of new owners he will say there is a lot of noise about but it doesn't concern the players. When asked about the fitness of players his reply is either he is back on the grass but training alone to build up his fitness or he is back with the group or he is miles away from being ready. So don't suspect we will be any wiser what his team will be for Sunday.
Robert Tressell
11 Posted 15/09/2023 at 10:12:09
Rick # 9, absolutely right. My hope though is that Onana and Garner's weaknesses may just be resolved by time. Both good young footballers, they might just need a run of games together to build up a rhythm.

What we wouldn't give for a Baines, Coleman, Barry and Fellaini now though, right?

Dave Abrahams
12 Posted 15/09/2023 at 10:49:41
I hope you are back on your feet soon Rob and thanks for your positive article.

I'm staying positive with you and think we will score more goals, the central midfield is the main problem, I'm hoping McNeil will have a good season possible playing inside rather than on the wing.

Onana is an interesting one, lots of fans think he should be played in a mainly defensive roll, maybe that's where he will function better doing the job he apparently does very well for Belgium so I'm laying off him.

Beto is the one who could revitalise our whole playing structure with him holding the ball up and letting the opposition know they will have to work hard instead of just strolling through the game and marking a non existent striker, not having a go at Dominic, when he's fit he's an handful for the best defenders, he can play his part while not having to play every game battling away on his own.

The main thing is, as Robert says, staying up, now maybe we can go to more games knowing we have a good chance of winning rather than going with little pleasure or joy and with our nerves shredded for most of the game waiting for a goal and then holding on for the points. I'm looking for a much brighter season.

Jim Bennings
13 Posted 15/09/2023 at 10:57:47
The axis and backbone of a good solid team is exactly that, a good solid spine.

Think a good goalkeeper.

Think a Jagielka in central defence.

Think Baines left back.

Think a midfield of Cahill, Fellaini, Arteta.

Wide players that at least had a football brain like a Pienaar, or Leon Osman.

A striker capable of producing goods.

That's what we should be aspiring to reach once more

Hugh McKillop
14 Posted 15/09/2023 at 13:25:39
Understand the premise but some of this is nonsense.

Onana is the best player we have in middle at turning and attacking with ball - he is always on the front foot and generally looking to go forward. Doucource can run, but hasnt the same level of ability on the ball, nor an eye for a through pass - Onana will not stay with us past this season as other clubs will buy him

Obvious choice for No.10 is Danjuma - he has an eye to goal, can link up play and is a willing runner in behind, but can spot a pass quickly.

I am not struck on McNeill, he still has head down and runs with the ball when passing options to strength defence are better choices. Take last game when he came on - 90% of time he dribbled with ball and was driven across the pitch. Still more to come from him, but head down.

Last note and not related to this thread - but Moshiri should go down in Everton history as the man who delivered on new Everton stadium. He wasnt a football man and put his money and faith into the wrong people. The fact it wasnt used well, can be blamed on him, but in my view more on the people he trusted. Dyche is the man to keep us up and hoping he has the squad to do that.

Jim Wilson
15 Posted 15/09/2023 at 15:30:58
As usual a very interesting article from Robert, full of good points.

I agree that hopefully with settled wide men in front of them the full back positions will be ok and hopefully Seamus will be back in contention in October.

Branthwaite and Tarkowski look like they can be a steady centre back partnership.

We are looking stronger in the forward positions.

And it is the midfield that needs sorting. For me it should be Gueye Garner and Doucoure or Gueye Garner with Onana being used as the number 10.

A midfield with both Onana and Doucoure in it does not seem to work for us. Doucoure's passing is unreliable and Onana is just not in the game enough. This puts too much pressure on Gueye and his game then suffers.

I rate Garner highly, he is a good passer, can tackle, has a good work ethic and is only going to get better with games. Gueye looked so much better when Garner came into the midfield last season culminating in the impressive 5-1 win against Brighton. And Doucoure's game improves with Garner playing in centre midfield too.

The Brighton team should be our template, at least for now.

We need the manager to do the right things now and we desperately need some luck and fair refereeing. And an injury free run!

Rob Dolby
16 Posted 16/09/2023 at 09:51:38
It's all about the quality of what we have and depth of squad. Dyche has his hands tied behind his back the same as Thelwell.

The takeover will be a drawn out affair which will probably impact the January transfer window.

The remit should be to play as ugly as possible and make it hard for opposition. We cannot play open football as the midfield gets exposed which then exposes the weak defenders.

I thought Patterson had his best offensive game for us v sheff utd but still looked terrible defending. I would play Garner at right back and put him on the set pieces.

Mykolenko has to start at left back for me. Young has done nothing in a blue shirt and looks worse defensively than myko.

The GK and CBS pick themselves.

Onana, gana and Doucoure all have to play. Doucoure is key to Dyche's formations up to now. It will be interesting to see who he slots into the role whilst the afcon is on, maybe O'Neil?

Wide positions are for Danjuma, Harrison and O'Neil to fight over.

I wouldn't be surprised it we did play beto and DCL at some point with DCL playing in a wider role.

Who else from the squad is going to break into the team? It's no wonder we don't fill the subs bench.

Eric Myles
17 Posted 16/09/2023 at 10:39:15
Jim #13, it's just like you're describing a Dour Davey Moyes team!


Jim Bennings
18 Posted 16/09/2023 at 15:42:56

What I'd do to have those days back now though eh?

We can't even keep it tight and nick one anymore, it's the other way around if anything.

Jim Lloyd
19 Posted 19/09/2023 at 11:44:16
Christy (265) Interesting, your point about Gomes. He, along with Dele has the brains (not sure about the stamina) of a creator and proved in in the first season he played with us.

He's probably given up and is just collecting his money awaiting the end of his contract; but he can certainly create chances (re his man of the match against liverpool at anfield 1st season.)

Dele may or may not make it back, but these two are by far the most creative players at the club, with Harrison, McNeill and Garner equal third.

I can understand Dyche trying, as a first priority, making us a hard to beat team, seeing as we're in a perilous situation, both on the field and off it and every point is precious. However, we now have one definite goalscorer in Beto, and two others in McNeill and Danzuma, with Harrison a creator and scorer.

My view, is we should use them all in 1st team or as subs. Also, I'd think that the occasional spark from Onana, then daydreaming, and the stumbling feet of Ducoure and the occasional cracking goal amongst the gallery of sitters he's missed,. aren't the best candidates for our midfield. I also think Guaye is now too slow and either gets caught or gives fouls away, and would make a good rugby goal scorer.

Depending on the opposition, we could set up defensively or more offensively. I think the first three games, showed up our very poor organisation with the midfield neither supporting the defence, or the attack quickly enough, so we let goals in and get beat because we don't score.

Garner is athletic and can create and can tackle at either end of the field, as can McNeill (when he's fit!)

We can't afford to get beat by teams we should beat. There's no guarantee of course, but if we don't put the ball in the net we're on a hiding to nothing and the best we can get, is a draw.

We've got players in the team who can't or won't,either run back in time to prevent their midfield from supporting their attack, or get up in support of our attack. Where quite often our single forward is playing the Lone Ranger shouting, where the efck is Tonto?

Jay Harris
20 Posted 20/09/2023 at 05:18:10
I've always said football is about partnerships. Young and Vernon, Bainsey and Pienaar, Inchy and Sharpy, Rideout and Stuart, and so on.

This current squad is like a bunch of strangers and,as soon as we have some success with Iwobi linking up play, we sell him.

As most have already pointed out, our midfield is the most disjointed with Garner, Onana and Gueye being similar but with different strengths but still not one of them is capable of scoring goals so one of them has to be canned for me.

Most teams cope with one defensive midfielder – why can't we?

It's okay saying Garner and Onana are still learning the game but can we afford that luxury.

Dyche has some difficult decisions to make and imo we may see some squad realignment in January if we survive that long.

Ian Jones
21 Posted 20/09/2023 at 06:46:31
Sorry to put this comment here as it's not entirely relevant to the thread.

It appears contrary to popular opinion, we're not the only team to buy players who are injured.

Leicester City boss Enzo Maresca says the club signed striker Tom Cannon knowing he had a stress fracture in his back.

Interesting to note that he came on for us against Wolves a few days before he signed for them.

Derek Thomas
22 Posted 20/09/2023 at 07:43:40
Jim @ 13;

Jeez mate I remember that and I also remember how many thought it...'Just isn't good enough' blaming Kenwright and Moyes in various ratios.

I've still got my old MOB uniform in the back of the wardrobe somewhere.

Christine Foster
23 Posted 20/09/2023 at 08:57:13
Quite honestly, the three midfielders, Gueye, Onana and Doucouré all need replacing, none of the are good enough to command a place.

Why? Gueye can't shoot or pass, Doucouré is a headless chicken and Onana believes his own hype. But in truth none of them are frankly good enough.

Too often Onana goes missing, Gueye caught in possession too often and Doucouré is too often anonymous.

Clive Rogers
24 Posted 20/09/2023 at 10:47:22
Christine, correct.

I said the same on another thread. You have to question the summer signings. It was obvious we were weak in centre-midfield last season. I wasn't an admirer of Iwobi but he needed replacing.

We have ended up with three centre-forwards and four wide players and no options for the engine room (Dyche doesn't seem to see Garner as good enough).

Eddie Dunn
25 Posted 20/09/2023 at 11:02:34
Christine, spot-on.

Our problems are numerous and Dyche is no doubt as aware as anyone of what we lack.

Onana might become a decent player but partly because he has been asked to sit, he looks lazy. When he first came, he made a break froward, looked promising but lost the ball and the opposition scored. He has got the skills to play further forward.

Although Doucouré often puts in a huge shift, his terrible passing lets him down and Gueye is simply older and slower than when he topped the ratings for tackles.

Garner might be the answer but he too is young and prone to lapses in concentration. But Dyche must try Garner or we will never know.

Robert Tressell
26 Posted 20/09/2023 at 11:12:09
Clive # 23,

I'm sure Thelwell and Dyche would have loved to sign players like Ward-Prowse or Maddison – or, say, Sangare and Dominguez who have both joined Forest.

Unfortunately we didn't even have enough money for Blackburn's Wharton in the end. Midfield (and full-back) will have to wait until next summer. In the meantime, I think Dyche will play Garner in the centre much more as the season unfolds - especially once both Harrison and McNeil are fit to play on the flanks.

Clive Rogers
27 Posted 20/09/2023 at 11:40:16
Robert, 25,

In our position, I think it was a mistake to sign Chermiti who may take a couple of years to be Premier League ready.

Mike Doyle
28 Posted 20/09/2023 at 11:45:19
Jay #19,

My wife doesn't really like football – but has shown a bit more interest since she recently discovered she was at school with the mother of Spurs defender Ben Davies.

She watched the Arsenal game with me and made the same observation as you – that our players looked and played like strangers, while Arsenal looked like they knew what they were doing and had a plan.

Actually she went further and observed that our players just didn't look very good – with their poor passing and control and tendency to wack the ball upfield being similar to the standard of the primary school kids she used to teach.

Her assessment was, in the words of former "Anfield Iron" Tommy Smith, hard but fair.

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