It’s taken me a day or so to get past the debacle at Chelsea, as Everton reverted to the type we’ve seen far too often and produced a truly abject performance on Sunday going down 4-0 at Stamford Bridge.
I am loathe to make any criticism of a manager with Ancelotti’s pedigree. After all I’ve never ever been a top-flight coach let alone won the number of prizes he has accumulated!
But having said that, it does seem to me that the Blues are not showing enough tactical flexibility, especially away from home. As well as that he persists with playing certain players out of position, despite the obvious problems that leads to.
Of course the 4-4-2 that Ancelotti is using, was first tried by Duncan Ferguson when he took temporary charge in December.
This led to victory against Chelsea in his first match, and then points gained at Manchester United and then at home to Arsenal where Ancelotti was announced as Toffees boss.
The Italian has stuck with this as his basic formation since joining Everton and indeed during much of his time managing across Europe. This is in part due to his own experience as a player in the eighties and nineties under the great Arigo Sacchi at Milan.
Sacchi was strongly influenced by English football and was impressed by the success of English clubs in European competition in the late seventies and early eighties.
In particular he saw how well those clubs, playing in a 4-4-2 formation, pressed and harried often technically superior continental sides and forced them into mistakes and errors, wining many games that perhaps they shouldn’t have on paper.
Sacchi realised if he could combine that English pressing and work rate with European technical ability he would have a world-beating team.
And that’s exactly what he produced with his Milan sides of the mid to late eighties. He combined the technical ability and tactical nous of Italian footballers such as Ancelotti, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini with the pace and power of the great Dutch superstars Frank Rjikaard, Ruud Guillit and Marco van Basten.
Milan generally played in a pressing 4-4-2 when most Italian teams still preferred some sort of sweeper system, which was fundamentally defensive in nature. This changed the tactical landscape in Italy, then Europe’s premier league, and winning the Scudetto and two back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990 were the result.
This is the tactical background that Ancelotti comes from. Since becoming a coach he has used variations of this system regularly.
Now at Everton he is once again using this formation. However while 4-4-2 was certainly the vogue back in the eighties and nineties, the game has evolved again. I’ve said many times that I think on balance a 4-3-3 is the best base formation for the modern Premier League.
One of the primary reasons why using a 4-4-2 was effective, was the plethora of genuine wide players or out-and-out wingers in the game at that time. For example, the majority of English clubs then had at least one of these players whose main job was to get on the ball, look to beat their opposing full-back and put in quality crosses.
Today though there are very few of these footballers around. Ironically since the inception of the Premier League, the English game has become more like European football and the decline of the traditional winger is one indicator.
Now it’s generally full-backs who provide a team’s width. And many of these full-backs contribute little defensively as they are actually primarily attacking players, look at Djibril Sidibe or Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
This brings us to one of the major deficiencies in the current Toffees team; that lack of options out wide. For Ancelotti’s system to work he needs highly effective wide players on both flanks and at the moment he doesn’t have that.
So that is I think, why he persists with using players like Gylfi Sigurdsson out wide and chops and changes who is playing in those areas. Doing this also indicates he doesn’t think much of his existing wide options such as Alex Iwobi.
If Ancelotti wants to persist with this formation, he needs to find players with the pace, creativity and goals that are necessary to make it work. There aren’t too may of these players around and anyway, most of those who have been linked, however tentatively with Everton, are probably financially out of the Blues league.
More from Prince Rupert's Tower
But rather than searching for the ideal wide players for this system, why not look at adapting the formation to best suit the available talent? I believe it will be easier to find central midfield options who would allow the Blues to play a 4-3-3.
This formation is also more flexible as you have three players to contest the middle of the pitch, so important for how most matches unfold (look at Sunday’s game!), and it gives full-backs more freedom to attack and overlap. It also allows you to press more easily higher up the pitch.
Furthermore a team can easily drop into a 4-4-2 if needed. Richarlison, with his work rate, would be an ideal player to drop back into midfield if Ancelotti wanted to shift to this during a game.
Will Ancelotti consider this change? We can only wait and see how the rest of the season unfolds and who he looks to bring in during the summer.