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Delay shouldn’t translate to denial for Iwobi under Ancelotti

10:11 am AEDT 1/2/20
Cenk Tosun & Alex Iwobi of Everton
The playmaker's teammates have had a head start under the Italian manager, but the Nigerian’s skillset ought to earn him a place in the side soon

Alex Iwobi’s injury a few days to Christmas was hurtful for two reasons: it came against old club Arsenal, where he would have been desperate to have made an impression, and his withdrawal saw him lose the immediate chance to impress new head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Since that encounter with the Gunners on December 21, the attacking midfielder has missed six Premier League games for the Toffees, seven in all competitions if their FA Cup defeat by Liverpool is added, and the fear of dropping down the pecking order may be worrying.

Ancelotti, however, has stuck to the 4-4-2 utilised by Duncan Ferguson in his brief spell in charge with an even greater emphasis on possession. Under the Scot, the Merseyside club averaged 36 percent possession in the league but that figure has risen to 53 percent under the former Chelsea and Real Madrid trainer.

Admittedly, the teams Ferguson went up against – Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal – gave Everton little chance of having a higher share of the ball, but their season average of 49 percent shows a higher emphasis under Ancelotti on retaining possession.

The Italian manager wants his creative players to have the ball and play on the front foot, which will be music to the ears of players like Iwobi, who thrive in possession.

“At this moment we are not playing vertical, we are playing a lot of balls back, instead of playing forward, that is how we can improve. We can play more vertically,” Ancelotti stated after Everton’s recent 1-1 draw with West Ham United .

"We want to build up but when you have the possibility to play forward you must play forward quickly.”

Given Iwobi’s adeptness in possession, adapting to the former Napoli manager’s philosophy shouldn’t be challenging in theory, but displacing in-form Bernard may be a challenge.

While the Nigeria international’s versatility makes him capable of playing on both flanks and in the hole, he does better on the left side currently occupied by the Brazilian.

His tendency to drift in-field and either link-up play with the forwards and overlapping full-back is an underrated strength of the former Arsenal man.

The progressive nature of his passing also suits what Ancelotti is trying to achieve at Goodison Park and his return to fitness is timely as his new manager seeks to slowly evolve the style at Finch Farm.

While a 3-4-1-2 has been utilised in a couple of games since the change of regime, the default formation has been a revised version of what ‘Big Dunc’ used in his three games in charge.

In possession, the widemen have tended to tuck in and find space between the lines, which will favour Iwobi as he’s more effective in those areas, as opposed to playing as an old-fashioned hug-the-touchline winger.

With Bernard in fine form, the Nigerian may have to make do with a role in the right side of midfield, in place of Theo Walcott, who has had an underwhelming year.

The Englishman’s yet to open his account for the season, and finds himself in the unwanted category of players to have taken the most shots without finding the back of the net. 

Walcott has taken 26 shots this season without finding the back of the net, 10 behind the worst offender David McGoldrick who’s taken 36 shots without finding the back of the net.

Thus, as Iwobi regains his form, he may replace his former Arsenal teammate in the Everton XI, provided Bernard maintains his current level in the coming weeks.

His better all-round game gives Ancelotti’s side that extra bit in the final third too, and while Walcott’s superior finishing could’ve been an argument against the Super Eagle, his lack of goals this season kills that argument.

Ancelotti’s confirmed the playmaker’s availability for Saturday’s clash with an in-form Watford side that have picked up four wins under Nigel Pearson’s management since December. The Hornets’ revival under the Englishman has given fans in Hertfordshire renewed hope of beating the drop after a poor start that saw them win just once in the first few months of the season.

What ought to worry Iwobi and co. is their opponents’ recent upturn in form at Vicarage Road, which reads three wins and two draws in five, further confirming the daunting task facing Ancelotti’s men.

Pearson’s men have conceded only one goal in that time too, and only a missed Troy Deeney penalty against Tottenham Hotspur’s prevented the aforementioned run on home turf reading four wins from five.

Everton, for their part, don’t travel well; evidenced by a run of one away win in five on their travels. Admittedly, when put into context, three of those games were against Liverpool and both Manchester clubs, so perhaps recent form on the road shouldn’t be harshly scrutinised.

Be that as it may, a meagre two wins in 12 away from home this season makes Watford slight favourites to win on Saturday, a result that should take them out of the bottom three for the time being, and four points adrift of Everton on 30.

For Iwobi, his Everton colleagues may have had a month’s head start on him, but the playmaker’s skill set, endeavour and ability in possession means he’ll likely be a mainstay in Ancelotti’s XI before long.