It looked like it was set to be 270 minutes without an Everton goal in the Premier League before Romelu Lukaku came onto the field and showed what having an out-and-out striker can do for a team. Give us a goal. It took Rom just 20 minutes to bag and in the final 10 minutes the team looked like they were invigorated. There’s no hiding the fact that we have struggled without a ‘proper’ centre forward. We played really well at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, before the final third that is. It looked like the attacking three players behind the striker couldn’t muster up any chances for our makeshift striker Naismith, and it was hard to tell if this was down to them, our opposing defences’ strength or down to no movement in and around the box. Getting Lukaku back will hopefully be vital to our end of season hopes, both in the League and the Cup. He first and foremost provides the natural goal scoring talent. He provides a presence in the box, he harries defenders and while sometimes it looks like he can’t hold up the ball, he’s still our most talented player in the squad to do this.
But what about the player behind him?
Steven has gained more and more plaudits in his time filling in as a first teamer. He’s showed us his finishing ability, which is very strong, and showed us his graft, which earned him a standing ovation in our most recent victory over West Ham. It can’t be denied that he still has technical issues and fans that get on his back because of this. When he has time on the ball, it seems his touch and his passing completely evades him. His quick, first touch duties seem a lot more controlled however. This is common in a lot of players over the time of the game, some players are just more apt at doing things with the ball before they think, and when they do think, they choose wrong. Pienaar is another good example of this. As well as finishing, graft and quick interplay, Naismith offers an aerial threat also, he does seem to win a lot of the balls lumped up to him, which is incredible for a man of shorter size than his challenging defenders.
So why should they be played together?
It wasn’t actually anything between the two in the West Ham game that gave me the idea these two could link up in future. It was a picture that has been screencapped and posted on Twitter and our Forum, where it clicked for me that this could work.
The caption for this photo on Twitter and our Forum was “Look how West Ham had every player in the box when we scored”. I noticed something different however. Firstly, we as a team have a perfect balance of players in and outside of the box. We have our two fullbacks as the wide men in the box. We have two midfielders in space and we have two strikers. We have a midfielder lurking in great space just outside the box and of course we have the rest of the team set up to deal with any possible counter attacks.
Secondly, West Ham are defending dreadfully in this screencap. To have 11 players in the box, but 9 of those in a straight line, is not great by any means.
Last but not least, I noticed our striker’s positions. West Ham aren’t defending well, but looking at Naismith, the Scot is occupying both central defenders by placing himself between them. This gives Lukaku space, and while a midfielder should be tracking him, midfielders aren’t always as defensively minded as centre backs and more often than not, this should give Lukaku some chances in every game. With his finishing ability, that would hopefully mean goals for the men in Blue.
Whether the pair can link up passing wise in games is yet to be seen, but it is something that could surely be worked upon. I just feel that Naismith’s instint to pretty much run straight at goal every time we have an attack gives Lukaku his preferred attacking weapon of pulling back into space in the box.
From his Everton goals video below (excuse the music), 4 of his 9 goals in the League have been from coming into space in the box. The West Ham game has added to that making it 5 in 10 that have come from rushing onto the ball in the box near the penalty spot. Is this the best way to make use of our main man?
Finally, what about our kid Barkley?
This is a tough one. Clearly better technically than Naismith and he needs game time to improve and become the player we can all see is there. After his injury though it looks like he’s still finding his feet, and maybe it’s time to get him back to the bench and introduce him slowly over the following month. Sorry to mention them, but Liverpool did it brilliantly with Raheem Sterling. He was shoved in the spotlight and he was the media’s next big thing, before a slight dip in form. Rodgers dropped him and has brought him back since Christmas and he’s been a different player once again.
There is no doubt for me that Barkley will be ahead of Naismith once again soon, but I’d love to see Roberto give Naisy a chance to strike up a partnership with Lukaku over the next few games. Plus, it’s not a bad sight seeing Barkley as an option on the bench if it doesn’t work!