In September, I did an article called The Three Trials of Sean Dyche, which basically said that the key to developing the side was:

  1. Developing the full-back play (and forming partnerships on the flanks between wide midfielders and full-backs).
  2. Get Onana and Garner playing together as a midfield partnership.
  3. Figure out who plays as the Number 10 in our 4-5-1 / 4-4-1-1 / 4-3-3 (-ish) formation.

I’m pleased to say that significant progress has been made on all of this. As things stand, Dyche has taken a rock-bottom relegation club with no money and turned it into about the 11th(-ish) best side in the Premier League.  

Mykolenko in particular is a consistent top performer (albeit not a creative attacking force like Baines or Digne).  Patterson looks close to becoming a good player and hopefully nails down that right-back slot very soon.

Onana and Garner are playing together at least – which they weren’t at the start of the season (although more of this below).

Doucouré has become our clear Number 10 and a return of 6 goals in 17 games makes him the highest-scoring midfielder of his type in Europe’s top 5 leagues.  Only Jude Bellingham and Cole Palmer have scored more from a remotely similar-ish position this season and both have a very different defensive role in their respective teams.

So, I would say that Dyche has approached his three trials well – to the point where we now have a different (or varied) set of objectives for the rest of the season. If he can rise to these further challenges, then – without the points deduction – we’d be pushing the likes of Brighton and West Ham for European spots.

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To me, the objectives are:

More goals from the centre-forward position

Just 3 goals in 16 games from Dominic Calvert-Lewin isn’t really good enough and you can see his finishing is that of a player reduced in confidence and / or trying too hard.  This is a common problem for Everton forwards over the years who are often starved of service and isolated in a very defensive 4-5-1.

To bring his goal tally up, he needs to return to being a penalty-box striker as he was under Ancelotti. Back then, we had Richarlison, Rodriquez, Bernard, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Walcott, Gomes, Digne and a younger Coleman.  Calvert-Lewin didn’t need to run the channels so unselfishly in this set-up. The chances presented to him were the sort of chances he’s good at converting (compared to the chance he got at Palace, running into the box before a really awful attempt at a finish).

Somehow, Dyche needs to find a way to vary the attack so that Calvert-Lewin isn’t just being used as the battering ram and runner of channels to create space for Doucouré.  It might come if the midfield (see below) can get a grip on a game and work better crossing opportunities for the likes of Harrison, McNeil and the full-backs – especially Patterson who shows a lot of promise in this area.

Better use of the ball in central midfield

The midfield partnership of Onana and Garner has a lot of potential but seems unable to really get a grip and control games – even against mediocre opposition.  Again, this is a long-standing Everton problem. The focus is on defensive shape and stopping the opposition, rather than working the ball. 

However, when we calm down we can look good – for example, the Beto goal against Newcastle showed we can retain possession, keep probing, and then work an opportunity.  We need much more of that and more consistency too.

At the moment, we’re going too long and too aimless too often.  I appreciate that it’s a safety-first approach and has probably avoided us giving up the soft goals you see week-in & week-out where keepers and defenders get caught by a high press – but, even so, there’s a balance to be struck.

Dyche needs to find a way to use the ball much better when in possession – especially from the central midfield players, without weakening our very good defensive shape.

Bigger contributions from the 2nd string

Apart from right-back, the first XI now probably picks itself when everyone is fit (a huge leap forward in and of itself compared with recent seasons of sheer chaos).  And hopefully Patterson cements the right-back spot too before long.

However, as we’ve seen sometimes, the set-up just doesn’t work – for example, we look much less like scoring without Doucouré.  And we may look even more toothless without McNeil. 

Although they are hit and miss, Beto, Danjuma, and even Dobbin all have something to offer. Indeed, the three of them together in a 4-3-3 would give us a much faster, more mobile front three.  In that set-up, we wouldn’t need a Number 10.  Like Liverpool who use a similar-ish forward line, we would just need three runners or sitters in midfield to allow the front 3 to stay further up the pitch together. 

Whilst I don’t think that should be Plan A, I do think it’s worth deploying that (or some variation) as a Plan B.  Dyche needs to figure out how to get the most out of these players.  The goal contribution from these players may well be critical.

Reader Comments (22)

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Simon Harrison
1 Posted 06/01/2024 at 19:38:54
A very enjoyable read that, Rob, many thanks for taking the time to write both articles this season.

I'm just watching the Chelsea v PNE game (delayed) on the iPlayer, but I'd like to come back to this later on.

Personally, I'd like to put into words what I've been thinking about our team since the introduction of McNeil and Harrison post-injury.

I'll leave you with a teaser though, a fluid 4-1-2-3 formation (inverse X-mas tree in modern parlance allegedly?)

This has the option to morph through the following:

4-1-2-3… 4-1-4-1… 4-5-1… 4-4-1-1… 4-3-3.

Plus, I believe, bar one component, that we have the players with the ability to make this work.

Anyway, later, Rob, and thanks again.

Andy Crooks
2 Posted 06/01/2024 at 23:48:12
Good article, Robert.

I agree about Calvert-Lewin; he's being played like Marcus Bent who was excellent at being Marcus Bent.

Calvert-Lewin patently isn't.

Jim Wilson
3 Posted 06/01/2024 at 00:09:29
Great article Robert. Totally agree with almost everything.
The defence picks itself now and McNeil (before injury) was forming a good understanding with Mykolenko. Hopefully Harrison will do the same with Coleman. I also like the idea of Patterson playing in front of Seamus.

Onana still hasn't won me over I'm afraid. He does some good things in games but never really gets a grip on a game. Against Palace, he was okay… but when we play a team who are really aggressive in midfield, he vanishes.

I still like the idea of Gueye for his tackling but, in view of his limitations in other areas of the game, I would love us to find a midfield general on a free or on loan as I don't want to go into the second half of the season worrying about our midfield. Any suggestions?

Another left-sided midfielder and full-back would be very handy and if we could find a goal poacher from somewhere, bingo.

With the Premier League's clear intention to work us over, we need to win as many points in the remaining 18 games as we did in the first 20 (before deduction of 10). Saying the obvious, I know!

I would also like to say I am in despair about what happened against Palace. I lost the plot watching it on TV when Dom got the ridiculous red. Nothing for the bad foul on Onana, no VAR review of any substance for the foul on Beto. It tells me the officials want to get us — on and off the pitch.

My wife has never been a football or Everton fan but she sees the clear injustice of what is going on and is now a staunch blue!

Keep up the great work, mate, and that goes for all the Blues too!

Alex Kociuba
4 Posted 07/01/2024 at 01:00:32
Calvert-Lewin starved of service?!

The service he is getting isn't optimal by any means, but he's missed half-a-dozen sitters this season and as many half-decent chances where you'd, at the very least, expect him to hit the target or test the keeper. It is also disappointing to see him routinely fannying out of 50/50 challenges.

Beto doing the rough work and feeding Calvert-Lewin would be an interesting experiment but it doesn't look like Dyche fancies trying it.

Danny O’Neill
5 Posted 07/01/2024 at 06:54:20
The defence is fine with the young full-backs shaping up well. I've liked Mykolenko from the start even though some had him written off after two games. Patterson has potential. We don't need to say any more about Branthwaite.

The midfield is hit and miss although both Garner and Onana put in very good performances against Palace. But I am in agreement that we lack consistency in that department. We miss Gueye doing the dirty work. And despite Garner's instinct to want to go forward, we still lack creativity. But he's young and will develop.

I feel for Calvert-Lewin on two counts.

The tactic of going long and direct, which he can't do a lot with. It reminds me of my observations of us not using Duncan Ferguson properly. Get the ball wide, keep him in the box. Otherwise, he is just going to get battered by centre-backs who will just eat up the second ball.

And don't do a Moyes and turn our strikers into corner flag chasers. They need to be in the box. Let the wide players do that.

We have missed Doucouré. He isn't necessarily a modern Number 10. He is just Doucouré, full of energy, but get him higher up the pitch. He appears from nowhere and scores goals.

Brent Stephens
6 Posted 07/01/2024 at 07:09:33
Robert, a good article. Short and to the point – sometimes less is more.

Perhaps, on the first two objectives, the question is still in search of a response, but on the third objective, I really agree about trying a front three as a Plan B. Who knows, that might morph into Plan B becoming more of a Plan A? It also gives more playing time to those three that you mention, with all the advantages that brings.

I also feel that bringing subs on to just play the same formation can make it easier for the opposition. Changing the formation at the same time as bringing on subs presents the opposition with two challenges to work out simultaneously.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 07/01/2024 at 09:32:27
Brent, if I read what you are saying correctly, that's suggesting a 4-3-3?

I don't like over-analysing football too much but, with the players with have right now, I think that's a good shout.

Robert Tressell
8 Posted 07/01/2024 at 09:37:45
Danny, if we're to play as long and direct as we are – to me, it's not a bad idea that we have the likes of Dobbin, Danjuma and Beto chasing the ball together as a trio. You then have Garner, Onana and Gueye or Gomes in midfield to protect the defence. This avoids the need for a Number 10.

It's not rocket science as it's exactly how the RS have played under Klopp.

Danny O’Neill
9 Posted 07/01/2024 at 09:43:14
Robert, I've been at a lot of matches this season.

It rarely comes off.

Most of those around me on Thursday, myself included, were bemoaning us not keeping it on the deck.

The boys done well, but we played into their hands.

I get your point about the red cousins. But they have runners.

My point is that we are punting it up to a solitary striker with no runners off him.

Phillip Warrington
10 Posted 07/01/2024 at 09:56:32
If you could get Onana physically fitter – at the moment he is in and out of the games.

If we could get him involved 100% and running the midfield, what a player we would have.

Robert Tressell
11 Posted 07/01/2024 at 10:07:45
Danny # 9, agreed. I'm not saying we do this to Calvert-Lewin as a lone striker – I'm saying you use Dobbin, Danjuma and Beto together. Or some variation on that theme.

Not a Plan A. But a Plan B perhaps.

Completely agree also that we wasted Duncan Ferguson playing football the way we did. I used to watch players like Vieira, Jan Koller, Carsten Jancker, Oliver Bierhoff and other big target men used so much more intelligently in the same era. Frustrating.

It's okay sometimes and I understand why we do it. But a bit less of Calvert-Lewin chasing corner flags like Marcus Bent (and what Moyes foisted on Beattie and Johnson and others) and a bit more variety. That's what Dyche needs to figure out to get us to another level (and to get taken more seriously as a coach).

Rob Dolby
12 Posted 07/01/2024 at 10:39:15
Good post, Rob.

You must have a crystal ball as the first 3 objects have almost been met.

Patterson for me is very much a work in progress. The lad can't defend, his positioning and decision-making need to be improved otherwise Coleman will be picking up his bus pass and still getting a shirt ahead of him.

Mykolenko had a similar start until Ashley Young developed his defensive game.

As for formations, I am a great believer in playing a shape to suit the players available. Dyche has hit upon 4-4-1-1 and it works. It does mean we use the striker to hold the ball upfield rather than create chances for him.

We have created lots of chances this season mainly for midfielders, and time and time again, it's the lack of quality in not taking those chances which is punishing us.

Playing 5 at the back needs to be binned off until we get quality full-backs.

I think 4-3-3 works for Liverpool because they have lads who can score goals and plenty of them; do they have 6 players available for the 3 forward roles? Whereas we are nowhere near that strength in forward areas.

Beto is whole-hearted and is a physical handful, Danjuma doesn't do enough off the ball, and Dobbin looks very lightweight but I would persevere with him as I think he can develop strength.

We need a couple of midfielders in this window. The squad is threadbare as it is. Fine margins at this level between 10th and 20th. We can't afford any more injuries.

Losing McNeil is massive for us, you only have to look at the results at the start of the season without him.

Our only sellable assets without impacting the first 11 are Godfrey and Holgate and I can't see anyone queuing up for either of them.

Gomes unfortunately still has a part to play due to Afcon and injuries. I would also try and extend Gana's contract on lesser terms.

Jim Bennings
13 Posted 07/01/2024 at 13:44:08
I've said a few times before.

Calvert-Lewin is getting chances every game, not great ones and not loads, but he is most definitely getting good presentable chances and he's not making enough of them.

I think we need more pace in the side, be that on loan or whatever, and I think we need to find a solution to when Doucouré is out – he is 30 years old after all and we have to expect that injuries will happen here and there.

Ray Said
15 Posted 07/01/2024 at 16:10:40
Another thought-provoking article, Robert, so thanks for that.

I think we have hit our loan limit so smart use of the limited squad will be needed unless we can make a sale to buy.
I think Harrison is the best stand-in for Doucouré – he is a much different player but can hit the target and has good movement in the box.

I would like to see Calvert-Lewin play off Beto but I doubt that's going to be tried. Calvert-Lewin is being wasted as a target man or running channels but Beto seems to enjoy that aspect.

It may be worth playing a few of the away games with Young and Patterson playing ahead of Mykolenko and Coleman to give some cover and to avoid playing a back three.

Joe McMahon
16 Posted 07/01/2024 at 16:51:27
Dobbin needs to be used more and certainly Beto. Danjuma can strike a ball also.

Let's not write them off please, as Calvert-Lewin has been given years (and if we are being honest, he's not very good at this level).

Tom Davies was given years and he is seriously dreadful.

Danny O’Neill
18 Posted 07/01/2024 at 17:23:52
Fair points, Rob @11.

It was even done to Jelavic who was clearly an effective in-the-box striker, yet eventually ended up chasing corner flags.

Jerome Shields
19 Posted 07/01/2024 at 20:54:54
Robert, you were spot on in your original article.

I would fully agree with your three objectives.

Anthony Hawkins
20 Posted 08/01/2024 at 11:47:22
I thought Danjuma was brilliant in pre-season and the early games but was benched, presumably to let Beto focus on getting in the right spaces.

I can't help feel this has been detrimental to both as it was exciting to see the front line so fired up and pretty sure they would have worked it out together.

Jay Harris
21 Posted 08/01/2024 at 15:55:08
Great article, Robert.

I have always said football is about partnerships, especially up front, and with a settled side when Doucoure was fit, nobody was complaining about Calvert-Lewin because we were winning games and scoring goals.

Now we have had some enforced changes, certain players are not familiar with the runs being made.

The other thing is that for years we have bought players who don't score goals, Onana and Garner being prime examples. In fact, the only person besides Doucoure that carries a regular goal threat is McNeil and it looks as if he may be out for a while.

I think Danjuma should be used more often as he has more of a goal threat than anyone except McNeiil and Doucoure. Calvert-Lewin has never been a prolific scorer but he does hold the line well and creates chances for others whereas Beto is more of a nuisance factor but both keep the opposition on their toes.

I also think we should make more of corners. Earlier in the season, we had Tarkowski winning almost every corner to create goalscoring opportunities but teams have caught on to that so we need some variety and creative thinking there.

Robert Tressell
22 Posted 08/01/2024 at 21:17:52
The points deduction means we're still in the shit but the fact is we've come a long way in the past year.

We have a settled XI, settled tactics, team spirit, fitness, work ethic, partnerships emerging across the pitch and some good players.

If Dyche can get more goals and variety in our play that will be a remarkable turnaround with a net spend as bad or worse than the leanest Moyes years. Probably too much to expect this season but it's a good platform for the future.

Danny O’Neill
23 Posted 09/01/2024 at 06:57:13
Barry, it should be the Premier League under scrutiny.
Kevin Molloy
24 Posted 09/01/2024 at 10:36:36
I've got three more trials for Sean Dyche:

Keeping hold of Onana Branthwaite and Pickford this month.

We are extremely vulnerable, it seems to me, to low-ball bids. The world knows we are desperate for cash, and Farhad aint the sort of chap who strikes a hard bargain (as we know).

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