Beckford partnered Louis Saha against the Black Cats and the two dovetailed neatly. Their partnership was not fluid – it was only the third time they have started together this season – but there were enough signs of understanding to cause Sunderland’s defence problems throughout the game. Beckford himself, despite taking the headlines for his two-goal haul, still lacks the finesse of a Premier League striker. Two scuffed finishes tell that tale, but with a legitimate partner alongside him – as opposed to Tim Cahill sitting just behind – the former Leeds United striker can focus on troubling defences with his pace and power.
Saha tended to drop deeper than Beckford against Sunderland, not only to account for the visitors’ extra man in midfield, but also to enable him to pick the ball up from deep positions and push forward. When Saha leads the line on his own he is unable to do that. With Cahill already in that position the pitch becomes too compact. It also leaves Everton short on numbers in the penalty area. By having Saha and Beckford both playing as out-and-out centre-forwards, Everton was rarely lacking in players ahead of the ball, and the midfielders had plenty of options in front of them to build attacks. With support in front of him if perhaps explains why Mikel Arteta drove forward to the byline in creating Beckford’s second goal and did not lay the ball off as he would have through most of the season.
But what Everton gain in numbers in an attacking sense, they lose out defensively. As noted, Saha had to drop into midfield to prevent the Toffees being overrun, at times sitting on the edge of his own penalty area as Sunderland stepped up the pressure. The extra midfielder a lone-striker formation gives the Blues means a more cautious player than Saha would be aiding the defence in such situations. Cahill may primarily be a great attacking force but he can also be a colossal defensive presence.
A permanent switch to 4-4-2 would cast doubt on Cahill’s role in the side. Arteta and Marouane Fellaini are Everton’s prime midfield duo and even in Fellaini’s possible absence – the Belgian was withdrawn before half time with an ankle injury – Jack Rodwell should be the replacement if the youngster is to ever realise his potential on Merseyside.
It is a dilemma Moyes has faced at many times in his Everton tenure, and likely will continue to face as long as he is in the Goodison office. Everton’s success under the Scot has been built on playing with a lone striker, but there comes a time when a change has to be made. For Moyes, that time may be now.