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Seamus Coleman was one of many stand-out performers in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Southampton and the young Irishman may finally be coming of age in an Everton shirt, with the team also complimenting his attacking instincts.
As Mike’s excellent analysis showed, Southampton came to Goodison with a plan to stifle both the height of Fellaini and the productive Baines/Pienaar axis on the left wing.
But in what is an exciting sign of Everton’s development as an attacking force, the three goals all stemmed from the opposite flank.
Kevin Mirallas will rightly take plenty of plaudits, directly setting up two of the goals, but it was the performance of Coleman that also caught the eye.
His driving run into the penalty area midway through the first half is a familiar sight, but what was encouraging to see was him looking up and assessing his options before planting a perfect cross onto the head of Nikica Jelavic for the third goal.
In the past he would often cross blind, head down focused on the ball. Indeed the stats show he created a further three attacking chances in the game, his best ever offensive performance.
Coleman has always been a marauding full-back; it was what caught the eye in his home debut against Tottenham Hotspur in late 2009.
A loan spell at Blackpool, taking in a Wembley play-off final, gave Coleman the perfect platform upon which to build his senior career and he began the 2010/11 season as an established member of the Everton first-team.
Given Everton’s lack of width on the right, Coleman was pushed forward by David Moyes to try and take advantage of his attacking instincts.
His displays during the campaign earned him a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and a call-up to the Republic of Ireland national side. That was despite the fact he was never really a natural winger, playing out of position consistently at a young age is a tough ask (he made his debut at left-back away at Benfica, the 5-0 defeat proving a real baptism of fire).
But like many young players, ‘second season syndrome’ hit Coleman hard, but not as hard as a vicious tackle by Villarreal’s Carlos Marchena in the final pre-season match of the summer.
Scans revealed ankle ligament damage, meaning he would miss the opening months of the season. Returning mid-season after injury is bad for any player, but even worse for a youngster and the 22-year-old never got to the pace of the game upon his return.
Doubts were also raised as to his defensive instincts, a lack of positioning sense, naivety and awareness chief weaknesses – who can forget his silly foul given away late on in the FA Cup semi-final, directly leading to the winning goal.
He was also accused of being ‘found out’ going forward, with his head-down attacking runs often blocked by savvy Premier League defenders.
The tactics and team selection didn’t help either. As winger he never had the support from either Phil Neville or Tony Hibbert, who are more defensive full-backs. That meant he was often isolated, making it easy for the opposition to double up on him.
When playing as a full-back he was often in front of Leon Osman, another player cursed by his apparent versatility. Osman has never had the pace to be a winger and so he would never get into the right positions in order to allow Coleman to roam forward.
In Leighton Baines, Everton have the complete full-back. Sound defensively, he also offers a potent threat going forward, with his partnership with Pienaar one of the most fruitful in the league.
Over on the other flank Everton have always struggled, with both Hibbert and Neville significantly weaker in the attacking third.
However, between those two and Coleman, Moyes has all bases covered. And, like many Everton players this season, the added attacking players brought in by Moyes suits, compliments and indeed enhances Coleman’s game.
Everton’s flying start to the season is not going to go unnoticed and soon so called lesser-sides will come to Goodison (or even on their own turf, see West Brom) and seek to defend first and foremost, squeezing the play and generally making it difficult for Everton to break forward.
Much of the focus, as we saw on Saturday, will be on ‘Bainarr’ and Fellaini, but if Coleman can get forward to compliment Mirallas, keeping his head up and delivering more pinpoint crosses, then Everton have genuine options on both flanks.
What do you do when a team gets behind the ball? Stretch the play and use the full width of the pitch. Everton can now do that.
Conversely, when Everton play the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea, it will be they who do the defending, looking to escape on the counter attack.
Coleman’s recent display against Leeds, mirroring some of his performances last season, showed his continued defensive naivety and he struggles when the team has to do more defending than attacking.
Its lucky then that Moyes has Hibbert to call on, a player who loves to tackle and has a much better positional sense than Coleman.
Defensive skills appear easier to coach than attacking ones (hence Hibbert’s continued inability to cross well consistently, despite 10 years of trying) so Moyes would do well to rotate his full-backs, for the short-term at least (Colebert? Hibbman?) depending on how much attacking Everton will be doing in the 90 minutes.
It is that ability to be able to adapt to whatever opposition Everton are playing that makes them such an improved team this season. Previous Moyes sides often had one way of playing and if that failed they had no alternative.
Coleman is playing his part in an exciting array of tactical plans that should ensure the Toffees are ready for whatever opposition lies in front of them.