Ten minutes into Everton’s first preseason friendly against Blackpool the scoreboard already read: 3-0.
Unfortunately for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, it was their Tangerine-clad hosts who had knocked in an early trio of strikes having sliced through a hole-ridden midfield.
The perennial danger of the footballing offseason is reading too much into club friendlies. However, Everton’s woes in the centre of the park are nothing new (although the fact that a mid-table League One side could exploit them is added cause for concern).
Last season, Everton’s midfielders were all too often unable to either decisively contribute to the team’s play going forward or prevent the opposition ploughing past them in the other direction.
Ancelotti has edged towards addressing this gaping issue with the imminent arrival of Napoli’s Brazilian midfielder Allan. The pair spent 18 months together in Naples as Ancelotti steered the Partenopei to a respectable runners-up finish in 2018/19 before parting ways at the turn of the year.
Allan’s unquestionable strength revolves around his tireless and dogged work out of possession. When in full flight for Napoli, the 5’8 Brazil international is blur of blue and white, haring across the grass to snap at the heels of any opponent unfortunate enough to be in possession of the ball on the same pitch as Allan.
The rate of tackles and pressures Allan registered last season (which have been consistently high over recent years) could be bettered by few players in Europe and comfortably outstripped the figures produced by his potential teammates at Everton.
Under Ancelotti, Napoli often started with a 4-4-2 system and even though the team was fluid when in possession, there is an obvious role for Allan at Everton, where the Italian coach has used a similar set up.
Despite being the more defensively minded of the midfield pairing, Allan also offers the threat of incisive passing and chance creation. This has been desperately lacking at Everton from the likes of André Gomes, Tom Davies and even Gylfi Sigurdsson since the Icelander was shoehorned into an uncomfortable central midfield role.
While Allan’s ability to play in Ancelotti’s system of choice is not in doubt, the midfielder arguably enjoyed an even more prosperous period at Napoli under Maurizio Sarri in a 4-3-3 – bringing all his hustle and bustle to the right-side of a midfield trio, slightly in advance of the holding player.
Even if Ancelotti sticks with the 4-4-2, Allan’s experience (and success) in a different system gives his former – and potentially future – coach a little wiggle room.
The former Udinese midfielder is a similar player to the new Tottenham arrival Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The Dane was a long-term target of Everton which points towards the promising sign of some clarity in the club’s recruitment.
However, at 29 years of age, Allan is an arrival with a focus very much on short-term success. But he may very well need a period of adaptation.
Allan has spent the past eight seasons playing and thriving in the engine rooms of Serie A sides and the last half-decade at a Champions League-tier team in the form of Napoli. Joining Everton in the Premier League sees Allan arrive in a division played at a much faster tempo and at a team of lower quality than he has been previously accustomed to.
While his performances on the field have only taken a slight and expected dip after another year closer to his 30s, 2019/20 has been a testing season off the field for Allan. Amid the threat of the entire Napoli squad going on strike and uproar from the fans, Allan had his house – with his seven-month pregnant wife inside – burgled while at training.
Ancelotti’s replacement Gennaro Gattuso accused the Brazilian of ‘walking’ through training and Allan struggled with the most persistent – but still relatively sparse – injuries of his career.
Nevertheless, if the powers that be can secure Allan’s services, he should prove to be an excellent addition to Everton’s anaemic midfield, putting a swift halt to opposition attacks while providing some service for those at the sharp end of the pitch.
However, as good as Allan may be, he is not the divine solution to Everton’s extensive midfield woes and can hardly be the only addition the club make in this crucial area.