After a 3-1 to Newcastle United, Everton sit 16th in the Premier League, and only two points ahead of the relegation zone. This is not good. The defeat to Newcastle, and the 4-1 win against Brentford in the FA Cup are juxtaposing displays and score lines, in new manager Frank Lampard’s first two games in charge.
An optimistic appointment, Lampard was brought in after Rafael Benitez’s departure, and then in came both Donny van de Beek, on loan from Manchester United and then Dele Alli, on a free from Tottenham Hotspur.
Both are marquee signings, and both were in need of fresh starts – van de Beek has only made four Premier League starts since leaving Ajax for United and has only played 106 minutes of league football this season, and although Alli was very good in one of the games of the season between Spurs and Liverpool, he has failed to fully rectify good form from a few seasons back.
So both were valid in their aims to relocate, but, given they are quite similar players, should Everton have signed either, let alone both? Was Everton the right environment for those needing to revitalise their careers? And now that they are here, can they both fit into the same XI?
Given the in-game similarities of both players, it can be argued that if both van de Beek and Alli were high on Everton’s radar, they may have been fine with signing one of them. van de Beek can play in deeper midfield roles, but he is by trade a no.10, and in that role van de Beck’s adeptness at finding space in and around the box and keep up momentum of attacks really does shine.
Alli is broadly like van de Beek, in that he is more of a forward than a midfielder, but he does like to advance into the box via late runs, and play off of the main centre-forward, In this sense, both van de Beek and Alli are decent competition for each other, but they could well be trying to do the same things in in-game situations, possibly leading to less directness – neither is particularly quick, and balance in attack.
Competition perhaps isn’t what either player needs; instead they may need to have consistent game time. That is unless van de Beek is played in midfield, and Alli is played further forward. Both made their debuts off of the bench against Newcastle, with Alli brought on after a first-half injury to Demarai Gray, whereas van de Beek replaced Andre Gomes after an hour.
These were two like for like changes, and although both failed to have a withstanding impact on the game, van de Beek, playing in midfield, showed both good ball retention, and good range of passes, whilst also arriving in the final-third. If both are to feature regularly in upcoming games, including against Leeds United on Saturday, this may be the way to fit both in and allow for consistency.
Hopefully for Everton’s sake, Lampard doesn’t try to cram in too much at once; playing both van de Beek and Alli in midfield, for example. But if work with Mason Mount, another no.10, another mobile “space invader” of sorts, is anything to go by, at least one of the two should settle in well under Lampard. But now Alli especially is seemingly there to fill out an attacking role in a set-up which would arguably still be better off with a profile like Richarlison, Gray, or Anthony Gordon.
In his first two games in charge, Lampard has deployed a 3-4-3, but there is a possibility that, in due time, he will switch to his more accustom 4-3-3, which would suit van de Beek even more than playing in a two-man midfield, and still allow for two attackers alongside a centre-forward.
It does need to be accounted for that Lampard, given that he was appointed on January 31st, the last day of the January transfer window, was not given too much time to assess the squad at his disposal and what he felt was truly needed. These signings were made quickly with not too much time to spare. Everton have brought in two admirable options, but you may wonder what Everton’s recruitment process actually is.
This could very well be either a good or bad platform for both new signings. van de Beek could very well thrive in the latter months of this season, and go back to United in good stead, or make this move permanent. Crystal Palace were also linked with van de Beek, and tactically that did feel like the more suitable club, given the consistent use of 4-3-3 and progressive switch to playing a more possession-oriented game under Patrick Vieira. But at Everton he still has a point to prove. And although not at his best against Newcastle, there is more time to work on how Alli can properly fit into the side.