The temptation after last night’s gruelling and sometimes gruesome win against Ruzomberok, a place no one knew existed until a week ago, is to leap to conclusions. That would be the way of many a fan, but probably especially Evertonians. As if. But we do seem to have an issue at Full Back.
There has been many a tweet, podcast, article and beer-infused comment focused largely on Rhu-endly Aurelio Jean-Carlo Martina, thankfully abbreviated to Cuco. By common consent he had a bit of a shocker on Thursday night, and the more generous supporter will allow him this as it’s his first ever game. Er, for Everton I mean. Honest.
But whilst it’s easy to focus on one man, the reality is that we’ve had a bit of an issue in the Full Back area for a few seasons now, not just the last 90 minutes we’ve played. You don’t need that long a memory to remember that the marauding full backs Coleman and Baines were a key source of ammunition for Martinez’s first season when we finished 5th, and most media outlets sung their praises, especially when operating effectively in tandem with the likes of Steven Pienaar. But equally, you will also remember that strength was then turned to an obvious weakness the next season as opposition teams crowded out the full backs, recovered the ball, and then knocked it in to the spaces vacated, which became one of the many sources of goals against us, and we end up mid table. What’s happened since is a bit confusing.
Rather than dwell on what was wrong with the Martinez tactical plan, even assuming you agree that he actually had one, let’s look at what Ronald Koeman has done. It appears that the tactic is that you get the ball out wide to the full back, but the well known 11th Commandment of ‘Thou Shalt Not Go Past Your Opposition Full Back’ seemed to kick in. I’m honestly struggling to think of many occasions last season when Baines took on and beat his man, and even swinging balls in with his trusty left peg to the lurking (never running of course….) Lukaku seemed to be a thing of the past. Coleman, it has to be said, was used as more of a threat on the right hand side, and he certainly never stopped trying to get forward, until he nearly lost his entire leg in a horror tackle for the Republic of Ireland. But perhaps he had that permission because Gana or Schneiderlin seemed more comfortable shuffling across to the right to fill the space. But on the left? Not so much. And on the right without Coleman? Again, much less, and Holgate is no Coleman offensively.
So we may all have a view on what personnel are used, but what comes first, the players or the tactics? I’m pretty sure Cuco is more than capable of knocking the ball past a static League 1 standard full back and then trying to cross, even if we lacked a target man most of the time. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t. But every time he got the ball, he seemed to stop, cut inside, and pass sideways a yard, or backwards for ten. Not what we wanted to see. Add to that his poor positioning which cost us the knock back at the far stick for the scuffed second shot the Slovaks should have scored, and unconvincing tackling, poor old Cuco made a passable impression of Coco, not Cuco, and certainly not an Everton full back. Coco as in the Clown, not as in the Pops. Look it up kids.
Holgate a better option? Surely. Jonjoe Kenny? Well, yes for me, but Ronster is the manager and he and his coaches watch the players day in and day out, and he doesn’t seem to trust JJK for the full back berth just yet, and we have to trust that judgement. But I for one would be terrified at the prospect of Shaqiri running at him on 12th August, let alone Sane or Sterling the week after, or Hazard, Martial, Rashford and the like.
We need to decide who is Number One Right Full Back and fast. We even need to decide how best to use Baines; it seems a limited version of what we’ve had in the past, and part of that is tactical I suspect, and part of it may be the lack of a Big Lump in the box to cross to. Perhaps we should buy Vellios back……