As Everton prepare to host Arsenal in a key match in the battle for Champions League spots, Michael Cox champions the Toffees' flying fullback...
Shortly after Roberto Martinez was unveiled as Everton manager, supporters started to consider how he would transfer his Wigan blueprint to a superior side. Many came to the same realisation – his system would suit Everton’s full-backs perfectly.
After all, Martinez often used a 3-4-3 system at Wigan, which involved his full-backs becoming wing-backs and pushing on aggressively into the opposition half, getting themselves into crossing positions without the need to quickly retreat and defend the wide areas. Martinez experimented with this kind of system with Everton in pre-season, dropping Johnny Heitinga into the backline from midfield to allow Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines to push on.
As it happens, Martinez has actually used a 4-2-3-1 formation strictly throughout this campaign, but that doesn’t mean Coleman and Baines have played restricted roles. Instead, they’ve been given license to advance because of the fact Martinez keeps a defensive-minded square in position at all times. Gareth Barry and James McCarthy protect the two centre-backs, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka (or John Stones, who has impressed in recent weeks).
Barry and McCarthy only join in attacking play sporadically, and instead remain in positions to cover the runs of Coleman and Baines. The full-back duo have taken full advantage – from the opening weeks of the campaign it was clear the duo were being allowed to attack simultaneously, whereas they often took it in turns under David Moyes. Therefore, the width provided from these players enables the wingers to drift inside – and that’s where the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar are happiest.
Baines is regarded as one of the Premier League’s finest left-backs, but he probably hasn’t reproduced his excellent form from last season. On the opposite flank, Coleman has been even better. While not as good at crossing as Baines, Coleman is more of a direct goal threat in open play – he’s found the net six times in the league this season, as many times as Mirallas, and more than the likes of Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres or Mesut Ozil. Not bad, for a right-back.
Coleman has demonstrated both his attacking and defensive capabilities in the past few weeks. In the narrow 2-1 win over Cardiff, when Coleman hit the winner, he was a constant attacking threat throughout the contest, regularly receiving possession inside the opposition half and creating three chances...
His stoppage time winner was something of a poacher’s goal, getting to a cross from the opposite flank. The style of the goal was interesting, as it was completely different from the previous time he found the net – he scored against Southampton after a long mazy dribble, having received the ball on the halfway line.
Coleman’s offensive qualities are clear, but unlike other attack-minded full-backs, he’s also a very competent defender. In the recent 3-0 win over Newcastle, for example, where Everton sat reasonably deep and played primarily on the counter-attack, he was instructed to play a defensive-minded role against Yoann Gouffran.
Therefore, he barely ever received possession in the final third, nor did he pass into that zone of the pitch particularly frequently.
However, Coleman was effective in a much more reactive role. He was successful with six of his seven tackles throughout the game, and played narrow enough to make two crucial blocks inside the box, too.
Coleman’s role against Arsenal this weekend will be particularly interesting. In last weekend’s home draw with Manchester City, Arsenal suffered in their left-back zone because of Lukas Podolski’s lack of defensive ability – but they took advantage of his attacking mentality, and were a constant threat down that side with the German’s crossing and shooting.
Coleman must attack Podolski this weekend, however, and push him back into deep positions. He has the pace to recover his defensive position if needed – and more crucially, the ability to hurt Arsenal in the final third.