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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Everton's mismatched squad present opportunity for Unsworth

Current pool of players represents a case of untapped potential, writes Richard Jolly

David Unsworth's immediate challenge would be to get his team right. John Sibley / Reuters
David Unsworth's immediate challenge would be to get his team right. John Sibley / Reuters

Everton’s last two managers did not really understand Everton. Their caretaker manager is getting a crash course in the 2017/18 Everton.

Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Leicester City showed that, with or without Ronald Koeman, Everton have three defenders with a combined age of 100 and the commensurate slowness. They have the bluntness in attack of a team who enter November with only two scorers in the Premier League.

Like the dismissed Koeman, David Unsworth resorted to half-time changes of system and personnel. It was another indication that finding the strongest side from an unbalanced squad is no simple task.

Everton’s plight may not be temporary.

They need a striker and cannot sign one until January, at the earliest. Unsworth conceded Everton are in a relegation battle. Which, after spending £144 million (Dh695.9m) in the summer, they really should not be.

And yet, mismatched as Everton’s strangely assembled group are – shorn of a direct replacement for the sold Romelu Lukaku, overloaded with No 10s, featuring too few key players between the ages of 25 and 29 – they also present an opportunity, whether for Unsworth or the next permanent manager.

The time has long passed when Jose Mourinho could wind Koeman up by suggesting Everton ought to be pushing for a top-four place. But patently neither should they be in the bottom three.

If the immediate priority is to achieve results, and that is rendered harder by the absence of a high-class striker, the current pool of players represents a case of untapped potential.

Get Ashley Williams and Morgan Schneiderlin, two of the major underachievers this season, performing to their past standards and Everton will immediately be better. Restore Michael Keane’s confidence so that the defender resembles the footballer who was regarded as a Rolls-Royce at Burnley and they should be more secure at the back.

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Build a side around Gylfi Sigurdsson and he may again be one of the most productive, creative midfielders in the division, as he was at Swansea City. Show faith in Tom Davies, as Unsworth is doing, and he could display the dynamism that was such an asset in the second half of last season.

Unsworth’s initial choices have been defiantly different from Koeman’s. They have been both political, positioning himself as an antidote to the increasingly unpopular Dutchman by promoting youth and dropping summer signings, and tactical.

He has brought back wingers, who were overlooked by Koeman when Everton lacked pace and width.

While Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon were hauled off at half time against Leicester, the marginalised duo could offer another dimension. Mirallas scored 34 league goals in his first four seasons in England: few wide men contributed more.

Factor in Ademola Lookman, another Koeman ignored but who produced a bright cameo at Chelsea on Wednesday, and there are options.

They should expand when Ross Barkley is fit. Koeman suggested he would never play for Everton again. Unsworth hopes, probably in vain, that another Evertonian will sign a new contract.

While Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie are sidelined for longer, and badly missed, James McCarthy should be available again soon. This is a squad with scope.

It offers the luxury of choice in plenty of positions. The harder element may be who to omit.

Unsworth has taken the simplest and most populist moves by demoting Koeman’s ineffectual allies Cuco Martina and Davy Klaassen. He seems to have concluded that only one of the No 10s can play at any point.

Wayne Rooney, right, is one of Everton's ageing players at Everton. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Wayne Rooney, right, is one of Everton's ageing players at Everton. Michael Regan / Getty Images

He might be advised to reverse his decision to put Wayne Rooney ahead of Sigurdsson. It could be construed as favouritism towards another Evertonian. Localism is not always the answer.

But any manager would have the chance to shape his side and a campaign that has gone badly wrong. “We are where we are,” Unsworth said simply.

But Everton could be so much higher. The task is to assemble a coherent team with clinically excellent decision-making.

It proved beyond Koeman this season but it is not impossible.