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Adaptable Rooney a better tactical fit for Everton than hopelessly vague Lampard

10:00 SAST 2022/01/22
Wayne Rooney Frank Lampard Derby Chelsea GFX
The former forward has yet to establish a clear philosophy at Derby County but he has proven over the past year that he is capable of evolving

Looking at the chronology of previous Everton managers, there is perhaps no Premier League owner less interested in the tactical side of the game than Farhad Moshiri. 

Lurching erratically from the firefighter Sam Allardyce to the attacking ambition of Marco Silva to the broad-strokes individualism of Carlo Ancelotti to the deep-lying pragmatism of Rafael Benitez, there is a distinct absence of joined-up thinking at Goodison Park.

This tactical inconsistency, coupled with the control Moshiri gives his managers (the director of football, head of recruitment, and star left-back all departed Everton after losing a power battle with Benitez), explains Everton’s confused squad and the mess they are in both on and off the pitch. 

And Moshiri, judging from the disparate names on the shortlist to replace Benitez, still hasn’t realised the importance of a coherent or streamlined approach.

Duncan Ferguson and Frank Lampard could hardly be more different, Fabio Cannavaro is completely unproven, while Wayne Rooney has impressed at Derby County without an obvious tactical identity emerging.

Rooney’s success at the interview stage won’t be determined by the tactical nous he can convey, nor a sense of DNA or identity, but nevertheless supporters will be keen to know exactly what the former forward could bring to Goodison Park.

It’s a little unclear, such is the enormous gap between stoically putting out fires at a Championship club in administration and attempting to transform a mid-table Premier League side into European contenders.

The only real similarity is that both Derby and Everton are cash-strapped, and both require a manager able to squeeze the most out of a crisis situation.

On that score, there is no doubt Rooney is a good choice.

His man-management skills have kept chins up at Pride Park against all the odds, as Derby somehow remain unlikely outsiders to survive relegation despite two points deductions.

A club in administration, and with no sign of the nightmare ending, have no right to pick up 13 points from their last five Championship games.

But keeping up morale in the trenches is not what Everton fans are after.

They need a tactician as well as a leader, and although we only have a small sample size to work with, supporters can be encouraged by the adaptability and pragmatism Rooney has shown over the course of the 2021-22 campaign as he moves towards a more conservative brand of football.

During his first half-season at Derby, after the honeymoon period was over and results turned sour, Rooney was criticised for chopping and changing too often, with his anxiety allegedly unsettling the players.

However, this season, a more grounded Rooney has emerged. Whereas at first he seemed committed to high pressing and expansive football built slowly out from the back, this has gradually become less dogmatic with time.

These days Derby are more about defensive solidity. 

Derby tend to sit off their opponents in a mid-block, refusing to drop too deep but ensuring there are small distances between the players.

Keeping the ball away from goal, but conceding possession, is their main way of playing – which is why Derby have the sixth-highest PPDA (11.24) and attempted the fifth-fewest tackles (13.6 per game).

The high pressing has gone, and while the careful build-up play largely remains, Rooney has, again, given concessions to a less progressive approach.

The basic system is still a 4-2-3-1, with Ravel Morrison dropping from the No.10 position to dictate the game and Tom Lawrence still the creative force dipping inside from the flank.

However, Derby are happier playing longer balls now – and winning ugly.

A case in point was the 1-0 win over West Brom at the end of December, when Rooney deployed a much deeper 3-4-3 formation to grind out the three points.

This was a classic example of the former England captain switching systems to exploit opposition weaknesses and conceding the upper hand, a sign he has developed from a more idealistic coach to a reactive tactician – which is hardly a surprise given that Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes are his two biggest influences.

How this would translate to managing Everton is difficult to predict, although it seems Rooney would be closer to Benitez or Moyes than Silva or Roberto Martinez.

Fans might prefer something more attacking, more concerned with detailed and stylish football, but considering just how deep the crisis runs at Everton, employing a motivator is probably just as important as a tactical heavyweight.

And besides, tactically speaking, there is no better option on the Everton shortlist. 

Duncan Ferguson impressed by winning seven points from matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal as caretaker manager in December 2019, although he benefited significantly from facing Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Freddie Ljungberg.

It won’t be so easy this time and Ferguson’s old-fashioned approach – a deep line, a solid 4-4-2, long balls up to the target men, blood-and-thunder challenges – won’t ruffle feathers as it did in 2019.

Of course, in the short term, Ferguson’s motivational qualities could give Everton a bounce (in his 3-1 win over Chelsea, Everton recorded the most tackles – 37 – of any Premier League club that decade) but the system would be found out long term.

Cannavaro is such an unknown we cannot even guess at his tactical identity, while Lampard showed in two years at Chelsea that his philosophy is hopelessly vague, built on a free-for-fall adventurousness that made Chelsea very easy to counterattack.

Where Rooney has shown adaptability and a willingness to learn pragmatism over the last year, Lampard showed no such humility at Stamford Bridge. 

Rooney, then, is the best of the bunch, even if his reactive tactical setup at struggling Derby offers little insight into how he would navigate the Everton job.