Carlo Ancelotti should strive to recall James Rodriguez at home to Burnley on Saturday in a vast shake-up to his Everton midfield.
Rodriguez had helped to open the scoring at Anfield, with his perfectly weighted through ball finding Richarlison in the Reds’ box for an eighth assist in all competitions this season.
Everton have scored just twice in the top-flight affairs that Rodriguez has missed so far in March, with the Blues beating Southampton and West Bromwich Albion 1-0 before falling to a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Monday night.
Ancelotti’s side struggled to break down the Saints, Baggies and Blues’ backlines in each match played without summer signing Rodriguez pulling the strings, with Everton scoring from their only shot on target against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s St. Mary’s natives.
The Toffees struck home away to Sam Allardyce’s Hawthorns outfit from one of three shots on target, while failing to find the back of the net at Stamford Bridge last time out, with Andre Gomes’ 25-yard strike in first-half stoppage-time being their sole on-target effort.
With Everton also having lost each Premier League tie with relegation-threatened Newcastle this season, as well as dropping points to Fulham, Leeds and West Ham – who often sat back to absorb the pressure – former Blues defender Michael Ball is concerned by how Ancelotti’s men will unlock a route to goal against Burnley this weekend.
“The big question for me heading into this run of games is who is going to be the player to change the game? Who is going to be the one to unlock the opposition’s defence? And who ultimately is going to win us the game?” Ball wrote in his column for the Liverpool Echo.
“We have seen this season that we are really good at defending deep and then hitting sides on the counter-attack. But when asked to take the game to sides, we have really struggled to. However, starting this weekend, I would really like to see us take the game to Burnley and play on the front foot a bit more.”
Ancelotti can look to grant Ball his wish of seeing Everton play on the front foot against Sean Dyche’s Burnley by recalling Rodriguez to the starting line-up, should the Colombian be passed fit in time.
Rodriguez has been one of the Toffees’ most-creative players in the Premier League since moving to Goodison Park from Real Madrid in the off-season, with only Lucas Digne (6) providing more assists than the ex-Galactico (4), albeit having played 339 more minutes.
The midfield maestro also offers the highest volume of chances created per game with 1.7 key passes to Digne’s 1.4 and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 1.1, who also boasts four assists, per WhoScored.
Lining Rodriguez up centrally beside Sigurdsson and with Digne to their left and Richarlison on the right, rather than in the centre-forward role the Brazilian has recently occupied, could be Ancelotti’s best route to unlocking the maxiumum potential of his options, given he will be without Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Digne has featured on the wing six times this season in all competitions, and returned half of his six assists in the role with two chances created helping to beat Fulham 3-2, as well as playing in Alex Iwobi to open the scoring during a 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Having his most creative weapons playing further up the field together may also help Dominic Calvert-Lewin return to form, having cut an isolated and often invisible presence during Monday’s loss to Chelsea.
Much will naturally depend on Rodriguez’s fitness, but Ancelotti should not leave the £31.5m-rated playmaker out against Burnley if the 29-year-old is ready to pull the strings again.