Can James Fill the Giant Breach?

Everton are heading towards a financial mess. Failed recruits from failed managerial stints has built a bloated squad, loaded with more misses than hits. Add the record losses of €125 million in the last financial year, it’s fair to say that their next steps in the transfer market need to pay off.

The board seem to be handing the reins to the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, whose plan to revive Everton is to bring in his rearguard. Allan has been announced, a player who offers crucial quality to the center-midfield position, but an age profile and three-year deal which may potentially aggravate the clubs’ situation.

Long-term target, Abdoulaye Doucouré, also seems close to joining, but of course, it’s the big name in the attack that offers the most excitement. James Rodríguez has reunited with his old boss, whose most memorable performances have came under the Italian’s watch.

His debut season at Real Madrid saw him directly contribute to twenty-six goals, whilst Ancelotti also brought him to Bayern Munich and attempted the signing whilst he was at Napoli. At last they can finally reconcile, but the circumstances are very different and instant results are expected at Goodison Park.

Ancelotti has deployed his trademark 4-4-2 formation at Everton, whose shape would transition into a 3-1-4-2 or 3-4-1-2 in possession. Rodríguez will more than likely be deployed as a right winger in this formation, which is good news for the Colombian, as he favors working in the right halfspace. Ancelotti likes his wingers to come inside and connect with central options.

In these situations, Rodríguez will not have many progressive options to create top chances as he has had previously. Everton miss the line-breaking passer in the center of midfield, or in defense, to put him in advanced positions often. However, there are two potential passes that he can often link with, that suit his characteristics on the ball.

The first is the switch to Lucas Digne. On the right, Rodríguez continuously drops to enable teammates to circulate the ball more efficiently, whilst drawing opponents towards this channel. As a result, more space opens down the opposite flank and the chances of completing the pass are higher.

Rodríguez drops deep to join the buildup; Real Madrid overload the right channel, to isolate the left.

Although Rodríguez receives the ball with limited pressure, he is still occupied by multiple players and Real Madrid’s overloading allows short, vertical interchanges to take place. In all these scenarios, Marcelo receives the ball in an advanced position behind the right-midfielder, which allows them to isolate the opposition full-back.

Another player feeding Lucas Digne is a very good asset for Everton. Digne has been Everton’s biggest creative threat; no player in the current squad has completed more passes in both the final third and penalty area, whilst he has produced the highest Expected Assists than anybody else since his arrival in the summer of 2018.

The second option will be the movements of Richarlison. The Brazilian is a direct, aggressive runner who often peels off the shoulder of his marker into space for attack. These movements are noticeable on the counterattack: Richarlison is excellent at creating one-versus-one situations with the defender and can carry the ball effectively before he takes a shot or waits for a teammate.

Though Richarlison makes great use of his movement on the transition, Everton’s lack of progression in the buildup has meant that his directiveness is not utilized as well as it should be. Without a player who can split lines and make key passes consistently, Ancelotti’s team are often reduced to crosses into the box as their only source of chance creation. Both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are strong in aerial battles in the box, but the probability from scoring crosses is always low, in most cases, relying on quantity over quality.

This is where Rodríguez can offer a completely new dynamic in Everton’s buildup. The Colombian excels at finding pockets of space within the final third for himself to occupy, before making a quick pass into space for a teammate. This is a trademark example, Rodríguez remains an open option, by running diagonally, away from the defensive line. A quick one-two is formed and Vinícius Júnior finishes a high-quality opportunity.

Example of Rodríguez’s movement in the final third, to evade pressure and create a high-quality chance for his teammate.

Granted, opposition blocks in the Premier League are unlikely to award such space between the defensive and midfield lines, but Rodríguez is an intelligent playmaker, both quick on his feet and decision making.

His underlying numbers, in both shooting and creating, are immaculate, but a glaring issue is the sample size. The relationship between himself and Zidane is up for debate, but his injury record is a cause for concern. Only once, in the past four seasons, has the Colombian played over half of total minutes available, and even then, he only played 53% of the season.

Knowing what he brings and accommodating a player into your plans is fine, but how often you can field him is a forgetful factor when it comes to a transfer. James Rodríguez walks into the Everton squad, but perhaps the board should weigh up the availability versus the costs behind the deal.

Everton are missing more than just an olive in the martini. They can’t afford more hits to their books, nor can their position in the standings get worse than it currently is. Will Rodríguez help bail his new bosses out of the mess, or just be another roll in the loaded dice? Time should tell quickly.

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