Considering Everton’s patchy start to the Premier League season, and the lack of funds that means new faces are unlikely as the transfer window draws to a close, David Moyes will now be faced with the task of getting more from the players he has at his disposal.
The 2004 signing of Tim Cahill heralded the arrival of a 4-4-1-1 formation to Goodison Park, and Moyes has largely stuck by the same system for the last seven years. That Everton was a hard-working unit with more graft than craft, well-suited to a scheme that primarily set out to frustrate the opposition. A gradual evolution took place, with the distinctive skills of Thomas Gravesen finding space to blossom as the side’s creative hub before being whisked away to Real Madrid in January 2005. That same transfer window saw Mikel Arteta move to Everton and, eventually become the Toffees’ creative inspiration.
In the years that have passed since Moyes has had players the calibre of James Beattie, Andrew Johnson, James McFadden and James Vaughan at his disposal, with Victor Anichebe, Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford the current senior strikers available to the manager. Various combinations of those forwards have been tried but Moyes has always returned to a lone striker with Cahill in support, and with an average final position of seventh and an average goals-per-season record of 50 in 38 league games since 2004/05, the formation can be said to have worked reasonably well. The make-up of the XI has changed from the Dogs of War re-incarnate that toiled into the Champions League to a line-up containing the more delicate gifts currently in the squad.
Everton’s recent seasons have, despite the upgrade in technical ability, followed a predictable trajectory. The first half of the campaign sees the side flounder, struggle to break teams down and be firmly lodged in mid-table by Christmas. With the unrest such disappointment generates from the stands and the media, a siege mentality envelopes the club as the players resolve to do better in the New Year, and a few excellent results are then ground out against the odds, catapulting the side into an excellent spring run and a late surge up the table. The 4-4-1-1 system plays into this pattern perfectly – it does not allow enough players forward to overcome stubborn opposition in the autumn, but by winter, when less is expected, the same formation provides a solid base on which to build. By spring, confidence has returned and momentum pushes Everton towards a decent finish.
Reverting to two strikers – perhaps with a midfield diamond in support to account for a lack of natural wide players – could help Moyes avoid following the same course this season. Beckford and Saha rarely played together last season but there were encouraging signs when they did, while Anichebe would be greatly helped by some close support. With some young strikers to call on as well, Moyes may have the tools to break his seven-year single-striker itch. Unable to buy to improve his lot, Moyes at least needs to consider every option to find improvement.
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