As Everton prepares to face Manchester City on Saturday the return of Tim Cahill to the Toffees’ starting line-up against Wigan Athletic has again raised questions about the composition of David Moyes’s best side.
The inclusion of the Australian saw Leon Osman shunted out of the position he had greatly impressed in over recent weeks, sitting just behind the striker and to the right of midfield. Although Osman is capable of playing on the right flank it is not his best position. He lacks the burst of pace needed to escape the attention of the opposition full-back and his quick feet and delicate touch are too far away from the lone striker to create shots on goal.
A left-wing post is occasionally given to Osman and he performs better on that side. Working in tandem with left-back Leighton Baines he is able to wander in-field while Baines provides width on the overlap. However Mikel Arteta, who also started against the Latics, was chosen there instead after performing admirably in that position before getting injured against Birmingham City in March. Osman, Everton’s standout performer for the last six weeks or so, suddenly appears to be a square peg in a round hole.
Cahill’s contribution to the Everton cause since joining from Millwall in 2004 cannot be underestimated or forgotten, but it is not a basis to judge whether or not he still commands automatic selection. The Australian made his return from injury as a half-time substitute for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov against Manchester United and deposed Osman on that occasion as well – Osman being the positional replacement for the Russian winger. What followed was telling. After providing the brightest attacking spark of an Everton performance already heavy on the defensive in the first-half, Osman was anonymous in the second. Cahill covered every blade of grass and pressured the United defenders relentlessly but, without the same vision possessed by Osman, the Toffees’ attack went from slim to practically non-existent. That may have happened regardless of the respective positions of the two players but, as a sign of Moyes’s thoughts, it does not bode well for Osman.
Moyes’s team selection for the visit of City will reveal his thinking further. Cahill is likely to continue supporting a lone striker as the manager seeks to combat City’s midfield strength at the risk of reducing Everton’s own creative capacity. With an all-round striker such as the injured Louis Saha – one capable of creating his own sights on goal – the presence of Cahill makes for another potent weapon. When paired with a more limited striker such as Victor Anichebe or Jermaine Beckford the creative onus falls on Cahill and, despite his four assists this season, only one fewer than Osman, laying on goals for others is not Cahill’s speciality.
Selecting Osman in his best position either off the striker with Cahill in midfield, or as a genuine centre-midfield player, would be a statement of Moyes’s intent to attack City – the same game plan that has brought three wins from three games against the FA Cup finalists. Making it four from four will be a tough challenge but using Osman to his fullest may boost Everton’s chances.