Everton’s home defeat to Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday revealed a side devoid of ingenuity or invention on the field and, most worryingly, from the manager, David Moyes. Everton have played largely the same way since 2004 and Moyes has welded himself to those same tactics despite a series of home results that leaves it unlikely Everton will achieve more than mid-table mediocrity this season. The question has to be asked, as Moyes approaches his 10th anniversary as Everton manager: How much longer can he work the minor miracles of the past?
That eye for talent, while it did occasionally go blind – Per Kroldrup, for example – was widely commended, but less obvious and therefore less complimented was Moyes’ tactical nous. The Everton that qualified for the Champions League played a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Bent willing and able to work the channels and Cahill the dynamic support into the box, allied to a hard-working midfield and Thomas Gravesen in place to provide the creative spark. Moyes later turned his hand to a 4-4-2 formation but never did Everton look as comfortable as with Cahill supporting a lone striker.
Rarely since 2004 has Moyes deviated from that one-up-one-off system, but against Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday he, on paper, chose to, selecting both Louis Saha and Denis Stracqualursi in a 4-4-2 formation. Moyes has lately been criticised by unsettled Evertonians for persisting with a lone striker, but the performance against Bolton should put that argument to bed. Everton were hopeless in attack – barely any better in defence – and could not better Wanderers’ game plan, of which every visiting player seemed fully familiar. Owen Coyle utterly out-thought his compatriot as Everton muddled along.
The problem with Everton this season has never been the number of strikers on the pitch but rather the inadequate supply getting to them. When Arteta and Pienaar were feeding Everton’s solo forward playing one upfront was not an issue. Now the side has been robbed of its creativity the lone striker is on a starvation diet, and a midfield with Phil Neville and John Heitinga in the centre is never going to satiate the hunger of any amount of attackers. Moyes appears lacking in how to correct this fault devastating his side.
Players the calibre of Arteta and Pienaar cannot be turned up at bargain prices forever. In their absence, tactical innovation the likes of which took Everton into the top four in 2005 can help breach the gap. Both have gone missing. Moyes is instead trying to shoe-horn players into his formation rather than re-build the formation around the players at his disposal. If Moyes cannot re-invent himself and his ageing team, March’s 10th anniversary of his appointment may also be his swansong.
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