Ashley Cole may have helped Everton become better at defending set-pieces but he is well aware of what needs to come next – scoring from them, writes the LiverpoolEcho.
The Blues are yet to get a goal from a corner, the only set-piece strike so far coming when Conor Coady finished from an Amadou Onana knockdown from a free-kick at Southampton.
That frustration has been offset by the vast improvement at defending set-pieces – corners in particular. But with goals hard to come by in the opening 15 games of the league season, all potential sources need to explored.
Cole took the lead on set-pieces over the summer, taking over from fellow first-team coach Paul Clement. His work was immediately put to the test when the Blues were the subject of an onslaught of 16 corners in the opening game of the season against his former club Chelsea.
They were rarely troubled across those balls into the box, however, Mason Holgate the stand-out defender as Everton repeatedly cleared their lines. That has been a theme for the season, Vitaly Janelt’s late equaliser at Brentford one of few blots on the record so far. Janelt’s goal came from a corner while at Bournemouth, in the final game before the World Cup break, Jaidon Anthony scored the hosts’ third goal as he headed in from a free kick.
Defensively, it is a far cry from some of the low points of the last campaign during which 11 goals were conceded from corners and a host of others from free kicks and recycled set-plays. Cole points to the mixture of man-marking and zonal marking used, one which sees some of the club’s best aerial defenders attack the path of the ball and others focus on the opposition’s biggest threats. Going forward though, he is keen for improvement.
He told the ECHO : “Paul Clement did a fantastic job last season in terms of goal output but, as a group, I think we were a little bit weak defensively. We’ve added a different style of player and stuck to zonal and marking. I think defensively we’ve been solid. I think, of course, the Bournemouth game was a little bit disappointing, from a collective point of view.
“I think the output for scoring goals – we are one of the only teams that have not scored [from a corner] – so we’re trying to make a machine and get all the elements working. And there’s so many elements to that – delivery, timing of movement, trying to really create space to attack. I analyse the opposition and see their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, the opposition do that to us.
“I don’t think the rub of the green has gone with us where we’ve had any little bit of luck, or kind of the half chances have gone our way. But we are working tirelessly to try to improve that. Defensively, we’re doing well, but now it’s time to start scoring some goals.”
Like so much of what manager Frank Lampard and his coaching team are trying to do with Everton this season, set-pieces are a work in progress, improvements sought but lessons being learnt in the furnace of the Premier League schedule. The same is true for another area Cole has a degree of influence over – the full-backs.
Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson remain relatively new to the league and Patterson, who has impressed since making his debut on the opening day of the season against Chelsea, has also had his development hit by injury.
Before the match with Crystal Palace, Lampard detailed width as being key to the Blues posing more of an attacking threat. This, he explained, meant his full-backs overlapping as the likes of Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon move inside from the flanks and the team works as a unit to create and exploit space. There have been teething problems on that front as Lampard attempts to build Everton into a more progressive force, but in that Palace game Mykolenko showcased how the plan looks when it works, the Ukraine international a constant threat down the left and creating the second goal after bursting forward before seeing his shot spilled into the path of Gordon.
Cole said the development of the full-backs was an area Clement was having a significant influence and pointed to the need for patience as styles change and young players gain experience. Cole said: “Again, we can’t change overnight, you know.
“For Vitaly he has been playing in a team that sat back in a low block for a while so it takes time for us to give him the confidence and the responsibility to know yes – you can go, we need you, you are the width, when Demarai and Ant come inside and play between lines, you’ve got the licence to bomb and be creative. Now, we know the full-back has evolved. And now you’ve got to start contributing at the other end with goals, crosses, assists, so we’ve been pushing them [Mykolenko and Patterson] to do that.
“And of course, Patts is unlucky with the injury because he was really starting to turn a corner as an individual. I think defensively he was getting better. We started to see his attacking prowess and how effective he was at getting forward. Again, that’s going to take time, confidence and belief in himself.”
Cole, one of the most decorated left-backs of the Premier League era, added: “They show great enthusiasm to want to learn. They have the willingness and I think having Tarky [James Tarkowski] and Conor [Coady] around them helps with the confidence and the togetherness and in terms of their recognising and understanding as a back four, back five including the goalkeeper.
“We need that unity, that willingness to put your body on the line to stop crosses, not to be played through, and I think they’ve improved and I think that also improves with games. They need the games to experience and make mistakes, then we can rectify that and change that within the training.”
For Mykolenko and Patterson in particular, they don’t just have Cole to turn to. With Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines also at Finch Farm, no full-back in the country has a better support network. Cole said : “Leighton Baines is doing a great job with the Under-18s, Seamus has been a great captain and leader, someone who’s always willing to share information and help, whether he’s playing or not. So that’s a group environment we have tried to build and create, and it needs players like that as well.”