Everton’s New-Look Midfield Hands Carlo Ancelotti Greater Scope for Tactical Variation



James Rodriguez joins Carlo Ancelotti at Everton | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Only in the Premier League could you see Carlo Ancelotti the manager and James Rodriguez his destined star turn out for a side that finished 12th the previous season.

It’s an exciting time for Evertonians, with the arrival of Ancelotti last December seemingly laying the foundations for an enthralling new dawn at Goodison Park.

Nevertheless, despite Carletto’s presence, the summer window following an unprecedented delayed end to the 2019/20 campaign was undoubtedly key in the Toffees’ long-term direction under the Italian.

?? | And another one… Bienvenue, @abdoudoucoure16! ?#BienvenueDoucouré pic.twitter.com/pHYJ0w2b86

— Everton (@Everton) September 8, 2020

And it’s fair to say they’ve smashed it thus far, seemingly learning from previous failed forays into the transfer market.

Following the confirmation of Abdoulaye Doucoure’s arrival on Tuesday evening, no more than £58m has been splurged by Farhad Moshiri and co. to bring in three talents who immediately improve Ancelotti’s side.

Joining Doucoure (£25m) and Rodriguez (who the BBC reports cost the Toffees a mere £12m!) is Napoli midfielder Allan (£21m), who put pen to paper on a three-year deal on Saturday.

Yannick BolasieYannick Bolasie is just one of Everton’s may transfer flops in recent years | Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Unlike the big-money acquisitions of Yannick Bolasie, Davy Klaasen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Cenk Tosun, etc, the signings of the aforementioned triumvirate represent deals of minimal risk; either as a result of their skill sets, profile or fee. The upside is gargantuan, especially regarding Rodriguez.

The final showpiece in the second galactico era at Real Madrid is in desperate need of a renaissance to reinvigorate his stuttering career, with Ancelotti and Everton providing the Colombian with the perfect escapism from Zinedine Zidane’s freezing cold shoulder.

The Italian was the man who helped Rodriguez to his finest season post-World Cup superstardom in 2014/15, and he’ll be the savvy string-puller to kickstart a South American remontada on Merseyside through his notoriously relaxed and impressive man-management skills.

The Colombian just needs to be loved, and providing he stays fit – he hasn’t managed over 2,000 minutes in a league season since his superb debut campaign at Madrid – we should see the very best out of an undoubtedly talented footballer in the Premier League.

? @jamesdrodriguez ?#AlóJames pic.twitter.com/vVrMsm6Bap

— Everton (@Everton) September 8, 2020

But it’s not just qualitative superiority that Everton’s new-look midfield provides, they also supply Ancelotti with greater scope for variation and tactical flexibility.

Following his appointment in December, it was 4-4-2 all the way for the Italian as he emphasised a ‘structure over stars’ approach to round off the 2019/20 season. The system got the very best out of strike partners Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, but it was clear that none of his central midfield options were cut out to excel in Ancelotti’s pivot.

The majority lacked grit and intensity, while the pairing often lacked balance and a cutting-edge.

But the additions of Doucoure and Allan should signal a significant change in midfield fortunes.

In the former, a dynamic dribbler capable of contributing in all phases and thirds, and the latter, a supreme ball-winner capable of circulating possession efficiently and playing the more positional pivot function, Everton have a pairing built to shine in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2.

AllanAllan was in the stands for Everton’s pre-season friendly against Preston North End | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Rodriguez’s impressive versatility, meanwhile, means he could serve as the right-midfielder in this formation – one that’ll shift to a 4-2-2-2 with the wide men occupying the half-spaces to facilitate the advancement of the Toffees’ aggressive full-backs.

The 4-2-2-2 is a system adopted by plenty of coaches who’ve come out of the Red Bull machine. It helps bring their principles to life due to the compact nature of their midfield and forward lines, with the shorter distances between players leading to more effective counter-pressing.

So, what else could Ancelotti try out with his fancy new toys next term?

Well, a 4-3-3 with the trio of summer signings occupying the midfield slots may be an option. Rodriguez shone under Jupp Heynckes at Bayern playing on the left side of a three, serving as the ‘link man’ between defence and attack.

Nevertheless, with questions over Allan’s ability to play as the single pivot and Doucoure’s capacity to provide enough cover for Rodriguez’s playmaking forays, this is an idea which is unlikely to be at the forefront of Ancelotti’s mind but an option nonetheless.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN MUNICH-REAL MADRIDJupp Heynckes got the best out of Rodriguez at Bayern, utilising him in a number of roles in his 4-3-3 | JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

Rodriguez, though, was also used on the right-wing of a 4-3-3 during his time in Bavaria – and this is certainly a possibility for Ancelotti once Jean-Phillipe Gbamin returns from injury.

The 29-year-old and Richarlison serving as a pair of inside forwards behind Calvert-Lewin has the potential to be a deadly dynamic.

Similarly, a 4-2-3-1 with the Colombian in a number ten role and the other two summer signings making up the double pivot is certainly an intriguing one. Doucoure could even play the more advanced role – as he did under Nigel Pearson at Watford – if Ancelotti is keen on Rodriguez functioning as a wide man, where Everton distinctly lack quality and depth at the moment.

Overall, though, there’s no doubting Everton’s superb triple dip into the midfield market hands Ancelotti much more freedom in regards to his tactical approach.

It shouldn’t be a rigid 4-4-2 from here on out, but it’ll be interesting to see where the 2020/21 Everton side falls on Carletto’s ‘structure or stars’ continuum.

Ancelotti rejected the chance to sign Roberto Baggio - regarded by many as the best player of his generation - while manager of ParmaAncelotti rejected the chance to sign Roberto Baggio – regarded by many as the best player of his generation – while manager of Parma | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Will we continue to see Parma-esque stubbornness which just couldn’t allow Roberto Baggio or Gianfranco Zola to be apart of his plans? Or has Everton’s impressive summer work convinced the Italian to drift away from his throwback 4-4-2 – akin to his majestic Milan side or title-winning Chelsea outfit?

That remains to be seen, but what can’t be questioned is that Ancelotti’s Toffees should be a much trickier and unpredictable proposition for the rest of the Premier League this time around.





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