Everton appointed Carlo Ancelotti in December 2019 and it was a big statement from the club on their intention for the future.
Not only is the Italian a three-time Champions League winner, he was also seen as an incredible man who would attract talent to the club.
After a slow start to his time at the summer club transfer window before the start of the 2019/20 season saw real improvements in the workforce.
The signings of Allan, Napoli, and Abdoulaye Doucoure, Watford, consolidated a weak midfield unit. While they were functional, there was yet another addition coming that would add the creative spark they still lacked.
In September, the club announced the signing, on a two-year contract with an option for a third, of James Rodriguez of Real Madrid.
The Colombian had endured a difficult time with Los Blancos and his path to first-team football was blocked by the depth of talent that awaited him.
The fact that he chose to switch to the Toffees again highlighted Ancelotti’s draw. The Italian had previously coached James during a spell as a coach at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and they had maintained a good relationship.
The addition of James seems to have sparked something in Everton and his creative ability has unlocked the attacking potential on that side.
Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in particular got off to a good start to the season and James immediately developed an almost telepathic understanding with Everton’s excellent French full-back Lucas Digne.
The goal of this tactic analysis is to provide a glimpse into what makes James such an impressive performer ahead of their clash with Fulham, live on talkSPORT 2 Sunday at 12pm.
Creativity in the last third
We should start by looking at the specific role James plays in this Everton team.
Above is an image showing the average positions of Everton players in their recent game against West Ham United.
The Toffees, on paper, played a 4-3-3 with Richarlison to the left of the attack, Calvert-Lewin like the 9 and James playing from the right. In truth, however, James has drifted into central positions to the point that it has become his default position on the pitch.
From these areas, the Colombian can be extremely influential with his ability to receive the ball before looking to play with balls that cross the last line of the opposing defensive structure.
When James receives the ball in these positions, he has the ability to accept the ball in tight areas when under pressure. He has the technical ability to play under extreme pressure and find the right pass.
We see a situation above with James moving to the right side to receive the ball in the center.
In doing so, he allows his teammate to connect a relatively straightforward vertical pass to the space between the lines of Liverpool’s defensive structure.
In these areas, with time and space, James possesses the range of skills that make him a threat in many ways.
He can lead in possession of the ball towards the defensive line in order to force the opposing central defenders out of their position to engage the ball. It also has the reach and the vision of passage to access all areas of the field in that area, depending on the positioning of the opposition defenders.
In this example, Calvert-Lewin leads the line and when James receives possession of the ball, the young striker performs a smart double move in order to stay in play and create a separation between him and the defensive players.
By making this move, he can secure the run over the defensive line knowing that James has the quality to find the run with a perfectly weighted pass.
This time, James is positioned even higher and more central than he was in the previous example.
As the Colombian receives the ball from the left wing, West Ham’s defensive block is initially poorly positioned.
It’s in those moments that we see the value of having an experienced and poise James player in the final third.
When taking the ball, a fielder immediately comes out to press the ball. In this situation a lot of players would panic and try to force their next action.
Even under pressure, James is calm and he waits for Richarlison to make a curved run into the penalty area. The ball is then slipped through the defensive line as the Colombian creates a scoring chance.
Range of passes to change attack
While James may be at his most dangerous level in the final third of the pitch, that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective contributor in deeper areas, especially in moments of offensive transition.
As we saw earlier, James nominally plays on the right side of the attack and he falls into that area when Everton are out of possession.
This means that when they get the ball back and look to move from defense to attack, the Colombian receives the ball either in the wide zone or in the half-space on that side of the pitch.
In these areas he is extremely dangerous with the ability to carry the ball into space or seek a vertical pass or 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 passing that James has in the image above.
As he initially receives the ball, from Doucoure, he spins into a more central area and immediately seeks to put the ball on his left foot.
Even though there are two Liverpool players positioned right in front of the ball, the Colombia international still has time to choose the pass he wants.
This pass is often a switch to access the opposite side of the court where Digne is looking to move high from the left back position.
In this area of the pitch, as Richarlison moves inside, space opens up for Digne to attack in the final third.
A similar situation here in the game against Spurs as James takes possession of the ball in the right half-space.
This time around, there is less space as the ball is closer to the goal and Spurs’ defensive form looks good.
Once again, however, the selling point is Digne who advances with a delayed run from the left rear position.
As the Frenchman heads to the penalty area, James has the quality of playing a ball with the perfect weight and trajectory to access space and drop the ball perfectly into the penalty area for Digne.
When James first moved to England there was doubt as to whether he would adapt to the specific physical and mental demands of the Premier League.
His relative lack of first-team football over the past two or three seasons has led some to believe he doesn’t have the hunger Everton needs.
It only took James a few weeks to put an end to all this talk.
He dominated and dictated the game over and over again and provided the attacking momentum the Toffees need.
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