Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure faces a three-match ban after he was sent off in last night’s 1-1 draw between the Toffees’ and Tottenham Hotspur.
Doucoure’s red card was the turning point in yesterday’s game and it was swiftly followed up by the opening goal as the Spurs’ player involved in the incident, Harry Kane, scored a penalty to further rub salt into the home side’s wounds.
Although Everton ultimately recovered and grabbed a share of the points with Michael Keane’s spectacular equaliser, this was a match that had proved very costly for the Toffees’.
That’s because the Blues’ might well have won the game had they not lost Doucoure so early in the second half.
Certainly, Everton had enough chances in the first-half before the sending off and actually after going down to ten men they were the better team, pushing forward with determination and energy.
The Toffees’ only have three more matches at Goodison Park before they take on Bournemouth on the last day of the season at the Grand Old Lady.
Yesterday, was one of the critical games for the Blues’ to secure three points. Their next home fixture is against Fulham before two Goodison matches with Newcastle United and Manchester City.
While beating Fulham is very possible (indeed now surely essential) the other two games are tough ones for sure.
Given how strong Newcastle and especially City are, it would be a confident person who predicts Everton will certainly get any points from those matches.
I am not that confident.
Now, another major spanner has been thrown into the works with Doucoure’s sending off and it will force Sean Dyche into a major revision of his team selection and also perhaps, his tactics.
It is a headache Dyche could obviously have done without.
He has to somehow find a way, if possible, to bring the energy and box-to-box workrate that the Mali international midfielder has offered recently.
Doucoure isn’t the most skillful of players it’s true and at times he still gives the ball away too easily, but he has been something near his barnstorming best for Everton under Dyche.
He has chipped in with several important goals as well, an aspect of his game I’ve been advocating Everton make better use of for a while.
Moreover, he has been integral, alongside Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana, to enabling the manager to play his three-man central midfield.
The 4-5-1 formation Dyche adopted has worked well and that midfield has offered solid protection to the back four as well as support to the lone forward.
As a result, the Blues’ have gained twelve precious points since the former Burnley boss took over.
So, will the Everton manager now have to change his system or can he find someone to replace Doucoure?
There isn’t another player who can come in and exactly replicate Doucoure’s strengths. The probable first-choice to come in would seem to be James Garner.
The summer signing from Manchester United has hardly been seen because of injury since he joined the Toffees just before the end of the transfer window last year.
Garner doesn’t offer the same athleticism and box-to-box contribution as Doucoure. He is a player who’s qualities centre around his defensive work and progressive passing ability.
Perhaps then, Gueye and Onana can step up and provide enough to cover for Doucoure’s industry.
Another possibility is to shift Alex Iwobi back into a central position as Frank Lampard did. He was doing well enough in that position until Lampard was sacked and Dyche moved him back to a wide midfield role.
The only other alternative is Tom Davies. However, he has struggled to find a place in this Everton team for a long time now and his future seems elsewhere.
Dyche also hasn’t given him many minutes on the pitch since becoming manager and so I don’t imagine he will be the immediate choice.
The other alternative is to revise the tactics and perhaps revert to a 4-4-2 with just Gueye and Onana, but Dyche has always picked a side with the extra man since becoming manager and I imagine he will want to stick with it.
And, there is another factor to consider here too. That is whether Dominic Calvert-Lewin returns to fitness anytime soon.
If he does, then Dyche might have been prepared to consider a change his formation to try and get the centre-forward into the team.
Losing Doucoure for the upcoming games against Manchester United, Fulham and then Crystal Palace, might not prove pivitol to the Blues’ chances of staying up.
But, if Dyche cannot find a way to replace his contribution or successfully adjust his tactics, it could in the end be a significant factor in deciding Everton’s ultimate fate.