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Everton named Carlo Ancelotti in December 2019 and it was a big statement from the club about their intent for the future.
Not only is the Italian a three-time Champions League winner, he was seen as an incredible manager who would attract talent for the club.
After a slow start to his time at the club, real improvements were made in the squad in the summer transfer window before the start of the 2019/20 season.
The signings of Allan from Napoli and Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford supported a weak midfield unit. While they were working, there was one more addition that would add the creative spark they were still lacking.
In September the club announced the signing of a two-year deal with an option for one-third from Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez.
The Colombian had a difficult period with Los Blancos and his path to first-team football was blocked by the depth of his talent.
The fact that he has chosen the Toffees again made the Ancelotti draw clear. The Italian had previously led James during a stint as a coach at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and they had a good relationship.
James’s addition seems to have triggered something in Everton and his creative abilities unlocked the site’s offensive potential.
Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in particular got off to a strong start to the season, and James immediately developed an almost telepathic understanding with Everton’s excellent French full-back Lucas Digne.
The purpose of this tactical analysis is to provide a glimpse of what makes James such an impressive performer before his clash with Fulham, live on talkSPORT 2 on Sunday at 12 noon.
Above is a picture showing the average positions of the Everton players in their last game against West Ham United.
The Toffees played a 4-3-3 on paper with Richarlison on the left to attack, Calvert-Lewin as 9 and James on the right. In truth, however, James was drifting into central positions, making this his standard position on the field of play.
It is from these areas that the Colombian can be extremely influential with his ability to receive the ball before attempting to play through balls that break the last line of the opponent’s defensive structure.
If James receives the ball in these positions, he can pick up the ball in tight areas when under pressure. He has the technical ability to play under extreme pressure and then still find the right pass.
We see a situation above where James comes in from the right to get the ball central.
In doing so, he allows his teammate to combine a relatively simple vertical pass with the space between the lines of Liverpool’s defensive structure.
In these areas, James has temporal and spatial skills that make him a threat in a variety of ways.
He can move towards the defensive line in possession of the ball to force the opposing center-backs to move away from their position to attack the ball. He also has the range and sight to access all areas of the field in that area, depending on the position of the opposing defenders.
In this example, Calvert-Lewin leads the line and when James takes possession of the ball, the young striker makes an intelligent double move to stay on his side and create a separation between him and the defensive players.
As he makes this move, he can safely make the run across the defensive line, knowing that James has the quality to find the run with a perfectly weighted pass.
This time, James is positioned higher and more central than in the previous example.
With the Colombian receiving the ball from the left wing, West Ham’s defense block is initially poorly positioned.
In these moments we see the value of having a player with James’ experience and composure in the final third.
While taking the ball, a defensive player immediately goes out to push the ball. In this situation, many players would panic and try to force their next action.
Even under pressure, James is calm and waits for Richarlison to make a curved run into the box. The ball is then pushed through the defensive line while the Colombian creates an opportunity to score.
While James is perhaps the most dangerous in the last third of the field, that doesn’t mean he isn’t making an effective contribution in deeper areas, especially in moments of transition attack.
As mentioned earlier, James nominally plays from the right side of the attack and falls into that area when Everton is out of possession.
This means that if the Colombian wins the ball back and tries to move from defense to attack, the Colombian will receive the ball in either the wide area or half-space on this side of the pitch.
He is extremely dangerous in these areas as he can carry the ball into space or look for either a vertical or a diagonal pass to take advantage of the spaces left open by the opposing defensive structure.
We see an example of the vision and range of passage that James possesses in the picture above.
When he receives the ball from Doucoure, he spins to a more central area and immediately tries to get the ball onto his left foot.
Although two Liverpool players are positioned right in front of the ball, the Colombian international still has time to choose the pass he wants.
This pass is often a switch to access the opposite side of the field on which Digne appears to be moving up from the left back position.
In this area of the field, as Richarlison moves in, the space opens up in which Digne can attack in the last third.
A similar situation here in the game against Spurs, when James takes possession of the ball in the right half-space.
There is less space this time as the ball is closer to the goal and Spurs’ defensive form looks good.
Once again, the exit is Digne moving forward from the left back position with a delayed run.
As the Frenchman moves towards the box, James has the quality of playing a ball with the perfect weight and trajectory to gain access to the field and drop the ball perfectly into the box for Digne.
When James first moved to England there were doubts whether he would adapt to the specific physical and mental demands of the Premier League.
His relative lack of first-team football for the past two or three seasons made some believe he wasn’t hungry Everton needed.
It only took James a few weeks to calm all of these conversations.
He has dominated and dictated the game again and again and given the impetus to attack that the Toffees need.
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Everton FC, Carlo Ancelotti, Premier League, James Rodríguez, Real Madrid C. . F.. . , Isco
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