Everton have made impressive moves in the transfer window this year. They have acquired some brilliant talent to improve Ancelotti’s midfield and set their sights on the top six.
If Everton fans were expecting a newfound attacking verve from Carlo Ancelotti’s first half season in charge, they were to be proved wrong.
The Italian has managed some truly brilliant attacks, 2005-2007 AC Milan and 2009-2011 Chelsea to name but two. However, the scale of the task facing him upon arrival at Everton demanded more than liberating a forward line.
With only three centre backs at his disposal, and a porous midfield, Ancelotti set the side up in a rigid 4-4-2. Hardly the by-word for expressive forward play.
The club have made significant inroads this summer however, signing three high quality midfield players to improve an area of weakness. The nature of these signings could even see Ancelotti revive one of his great systems; the midfield diamond of his great AC Milan side.
Why the diamond?
Ancelotti’s famed midfield diamond is among the greatest midfields ever assembled. It matched tenacious defensive grit, with stamina and energy, and with creativity and goals. What it lacked in width, it made up for in obscene central quality.
At the base of this tiered diamond was Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo is arguably the greatest deep-lying playmaker to ever play, manipulating space and manoeuvring the press to start attacks and pick ranged passes. Few can ever replicate such a player, yet he set the template for how a creator can dicatate play from deep.
The east and westerly points of the diamond were occupied by Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso. Seedorf was one of Europe’s great journeymen, playing for great sides of Ajax, Real Madrid, Milan and Inter across a twenty-year career at the top of the European game. His was a game of physical and technical prowess, matching an intense work ethic and stamina with excellent dribbling and ball progression.
Gattuso was the most defensive minded of the four. A fiery and angry competitor, he would collide into challenges and press ferociously in a one man whirlwind. Typically this type of player would sit deepst in the diamond, but this would have detracted from Pirlo’s ability to play as the orchestral conductor.
The tip of this system was that of Kaka. An elite creator and goalscorer, and the lethal final touch to Ancelotti’s system.
Few sides could ever replicate this assembly of talent. However the business done by Everton this summer might just see a revival of this iconic system. This is how these three signings will assimilate the roles within the midfield quartet.
Like another of these new recruits, Allan has played for this manager previously. He featured prominently under Ancelotti during his one year at Napoli.
However it was under Maurizio Sarri that Allan blossomed into a top level defensive midfielder.
Energetic and defensively astute, Allan can occupy positions both deep in the diamond or as the flanking players. His passing and movement in tight spaces make him an asset in each of these areas. However it is his ball winning ability that make him most suited to being the deepest player.
At Sarri’s Napoli he would play slightly advanced of the deepest midfielder, Jorginho. This is because Sarri’s system relied on Jorginho to dictate play from deep, with the more defensive players to press the ball either side.
Everton do not have this type of player. Nor is it likely that Ancelotti would play in this manner without Pirlo. Therefore Allan will likely guard the centre backs in a similar manner to Idrissa Gueye in his years at Goodison Park.
The Toffees have been desperate for such a player, to bite and hound the opposition, as well as merely to protect their back line. Too often the likes of Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson were walked through by attacks last season. Allan will not allow for that. His positioning is impressive, and his tackling technique make him a vast upgrade on the previous players in the role.
In his four years with Watford in the Premier League, Doucouré established himself as a fine box-to-box midfielder.
Capable of playing deep in a defensive pivot, and carrying the ball up field and scoring goals, Doucouré had been touted for many a Premier League side.
For him to be snared for £20 million, almost half of Watford’s asking price last year, is very impressive work.
Without being a prolific creator, the twenty-seven year old is a physical presence both offensively and in defence that will make the side more robust. He is safe, if unspectacular, in possession, albeit with a driving power to dribble up field.
Like Allan, this is a profile that Everton have needed for a long time. To merely add physicality and height to their midfield will increase their resilience and propensity to defend deep. His best role could see him play either side of the diamond, replicating Seedorf in breaking the lines from deep and supporting the attack.
The marquee signing. Since his breakthrough at the 2014 World Cup Rodriguez has won four league titles and two Champions Leagues. For a club trying to elevate themselves to a higher level, a player of such pedigree will bring mentality as well as technical brilliance.
Rodriguez is undoubtedly wounded. Despite a strong start at Real Madrid (under Ancelotti), he failed to establish himself. Zinedine Zidane in particular failed to find a place in his 4-3-3 for the Colombian, nor fellow playmaker Isco. This saw him loaned out to Bayern Munich between 2017 and 2019, to once again link up with Ancelotti.
The Italian has always enjoyed deploying creative midfielder, including the likes of Kaka, Angel di Maria and Rodriguez. Many in England will have doubts over the player. They will ask why a player who was supposedly at the top of his field has signed for under £20 million for a side outside the top half of the table. However Ancelotti has always been the coach to get the best out of him.
Rodriguez is most dangerous picking the ball up between the lines to shoot at goal or to slide passes through to the striker. An underrated aspect to his game is his defensive work. Rodriguez is a clever presser, and as the attacking midfielder behind Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin gives Everton an excellent counter pressing attack.
This is the type of player Everton’s fans have been crying out for. A player to bring not just excellent ability, but also to make a statement as to the club’s intentions. Rodriguez more than does that. If Ancelotti had approached his first half-season with pragmatism, aware of the limited resources available to him, Rodriguez single handedly transforms his manager’s tactical outlook.
It might have ‘only’ been Everton that snared Rodriguez, but it is highly likely that others would have been interested. It is testament to Ancelotti and Everton’s vision that such a player arrives there to revive his career.
Everton’s long term prospects?
These three signings are all aged between twenty-seven and twenty-nine. Whilst this does not represent long-term squad building, Everton already have a core of young talent to build around.
The likes of Mason Holgate, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin all performed admirably in a dysfunctional unit. Adding experience will only benefit their development, coupled with the quality and talent brought by these three players.
Especially in the cases of Allan and Rodriguez, these are players that are no longer at their peak. Two seasons ago both were being linked to the biggest sides in Europe. Everton are not at this level, however players of this magnitude are dangerous beasts when they are written off.
Both will be hungry to prove themselves once again after a barren season. Add the league experience of Doucouré and the side’s midfield is elevated dramatically.
Ancelotti is not a miracle worker. Last season proved that. Giving him these significant tools however will allow him to mould the squad to his image. This will give them the best shot at moving towards the status they desperately crave.
Everton have made impressive moves in the transfer window this year. Not only have they spent moderately, they have also acquired some brilliant talent to improve Ancelotti’s midfield.