MARTIN KEOWN: There are issues all over the pitch for Everton but the midfield needs urgent attention - this could be when Duncan Ferguson becomes a candidate for the permanent manager role at Goodison Park

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The struggling Toffees host Aston Villa in the Premier League on SaturdayDuncan Ferguson is in interim charge of Everton following Rafa Benitez's sackingHe knows if the audition goes well he could be considered for the top job  The arrival of Philippe Coutinho has added to the excitement around Villa 

Everton have splashed out more than £500million under Farhad Moshiri’s ownership but too much of that has been wasted.

A few signings can be regarded as successful, such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Jordan Pickford, but I could fill these pages with the names of the ones that didn’t work out.

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For all that money spent, Rafa Benitez left with a 26.3 per cent win percentage — the worst of any coach in the post-David Moyes era — and Everton are managerless.

Duncan Ferguson is in caretaker charge of Everton again following the sacking of Rafa Benitez

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Duncan Ferguson is in caretaker charge of Everton again following the sacking of Rafa Benitez

Now it’s big Duncan Ferguson to the rescue again. Ferguson steadied the ship the last time he took temporary charge of Everton in December 2019, beating Chelsea and drawing with Manchester United and Arsenal.

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He took them back to basics. He fielded a 4-4-2, ensured the defensive and midfield lines were compact and looked to hit long passes into a front two of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison — both of whom are fit to start their first match together since August.

Ferguson is a proud Evertonian and a passionate man, but he knows that alone won’t be enough to drag Everton away from the relegation fight they are flirting with.

He needs the right tactics, too. It’s likely we’ll see another 4-4-2 formation against Aston Villa on Saturday. 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are fit to start their first match together since August

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are fit to start their first match together since August

There are issues all over the pitch, but the one area in particular need of attention is the midfield. Everton need organising so they can provide proper protection for their centre backs.

The last time these teams met at Goodison Park, in May, Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate were constantly pulled out of position. They seemed too keen to leave their post to go chasing in midfield.

When you’re a young centre back, you think you have enough energy to run after everyone. But as you age, you realise less is more. Often it’s better to hold your position in the back line and occupy the space.

To stop Godfrey and Michael Keane from being tempted to come out, they need at least one midfielder remaining deep and doing the running for them. 

Allan could be the shield that Everton need to protect Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane

Allan could be the shield that Everton need to protect Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane

I’d say that’s a job for Allan. That way, Godfrey and Keane don’t have to worry about coming out, only the ball in behind.

The Premier League winter break between January 23 and February 8 will give Ferguson time to work with the team. This is a critical time. 

The bottom three aren’t detached from the rest and when Everton come back from the winter break, they’ve got crucial games against Newcastle and Leeds. It’s time for the Toffees to put daylight between themselves and the relegation zone.

This could be the moment Ferguson becomes a candidate for the role full time. He may feel it’s not a certainty that he will play assistant for yet another new manager. 

But today he’ll be focused on securing victory to move to within one point of their opponents Villa.

Brazilian Philippe Coutinho has added more star quality to an already exciting Aston Villa team

Brazilian Philippe Coutinho has added more star quality to an already exciting Aston Villa team

Despite only winning one of their last five league games and going out of the FA Cup to Manchester United, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way Steven Gerrard has galvanised and created a real energy at Villa. His new team have the potential to be the best Villa side in years.

To add to the excitement of Philippe Coutinho, he’s got 20-year-old Jacob Ramsey impressing in every game. 

Ramsey’s goal against Norwich was outstanding and last weekend he scored one and made one in Villa’s 2-2 comeback draw against United, showing maturity way beyond his years.

Ramsey’s new manager has had a massive influence on his development. Gerrard has got real competition for places with Emi Buendia starting to click and the issue of who plays up top between Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. There’s a real sense that something big is about to happen at Villa.

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