It was a rough start to 2018 for Everton Football Club. An absolutely horrid January featured losses to Manchester United and Tottenham in the league, along with a FA Cup loss to rivals Liverpool. The summer signings which Everton paid good fees for weren’t working out either. Things were teetering at Goodison, to the extent that all it took was one more bad result to send the club into free fall.
The breaking point was reached on February 3, when Arsenal paid a visit. Ronald Koeman’s men needed a good result not only to lift morale but to save the Dutchman’s job. What ensued was one of the worst results of the season. The Gunners came in and put four goals past Jordan Pickford in the first half alone, en route to a 5-1 drubbing at Goodison. Koeman’s fate was sealed, the rest of the season went up in smoke, and Everton once again found themselves back to square one.
The hiring of Marco Silva ignited hope into the Everton fanbase, and for good reason. Watford had done fairly well under his tenure, and it was also true Silva wanted to come to Merseyside for quite a while. There was a big cloud looming over Watford’s heads for the season about his eventual departure.
After a promising start to the season, Everton had a woeful spell of form over the Christmas period, with just one win in 11 games, leading to Silva’s sacking on January 21. However, Watford blamed Everton’s approach for Silva as the “catalyst for this decision,” and surely enough, in May, Silva was announced as Everton’s new manager. After shaky times under Koeman, as well as torrid football under Sam Allardyce, Silva was seen as a breath of fresh air for the fanbase.
After some good results in pre-season, the beginning of the 2018/19 season got off to a decent start for the Toffees. There were a quite a few matches where Silva’s men walked away with a point, but you felt as if though was more two points lost than one gained. Everton squeaked by some wins in the first couple of months to keep them in the hunt for the final Europa spot. Victories like the 1-0 win against Cardiff City or the 2-1 win against Leicester were signs that despite getting the 3 points, nothing was going to be easy.
A 1-0 loss to Liverpool in the Merseyside was heartbreaking, one in which Everton played well enough to get the draw, only to be ruined by a careless Jordan Pickford error in the 96th minute. It started a five-game winless slide for the Blues featuring some of their worst performances. They were beaten 3-1 by Manchester City and suffered a 6-1 drubbing by Tottenham in consecutive performances.
Those performances capped off a horrible Christmas period for the Blues. A 5-1 win against Burnley seemed to get them back on the right track but two straight 1-0 losses to Brighton and Leicester quickly wiped that away. It was a disastrous month for Everton, especially in defense, and the numbers showed. They conceded 15 goals in the league in the month of December, second only to Bournemouth, who conceded 20.
Everton walks into 2019 with more questions than answers, and some of them are the same ones which showed up at the start of 2018. When looking at their performances on the pitch, it’s clear that Marco Silva has a style of football he wants to play. With a 4-2-3-1, Silva has made it clear he wants as much attacking fluidity up top.
By using Gylfi Sigurðsson as the link between attack and midfield, Everton has a solid playmaker who can create chances for not only himself, but others as well. Along with Richarlison cutting inside from the wing, the Icelandic midfielder has been Everton’s best attacking threat this season. Richarlison and Sigurdsson have combined for 51% of Everton’s goals scored in the Premier League this season (17 out of 33). There is just one slight problem: Everton are struggling to capitalize on those high-quality chances.
Looking at the screenshot of Everton’s xG chart (via Understats.com), which is separated by the top goal scorers in the club, there are some evident takeaways from the chart. It’s clear that Richarlison is one of Everton’s best goal scorers and has been their most dangerous attacking threat up top. But they must find ways to help him generate better chances.
Richarlison has been Everton’s best threat in front of goal with an xG per 90 value of 0.39. He’s outperforming his expected goals value by nearly two and while it’s good to see him finish difficult chances, there’s a chance he won’t be able to keep this production up like this. Especially if you look at how the second half of his season at Watford went.
Theo Walcott, who is usually situated on the opposite wing, is not performing up to his xG value, and if there is a player who needs to step up it’s him. With Richarlison and Sigurdsson attracting plenty of attention from defenders, and with the central forward dropping back to receive, the opposition defense is often bunched together, leaving plenty of space in wide areas for Walcott to exploit.
The same would go for Bernard (who is not pictured in the screenshot) who has zero goals in the Premier League as well. He has the quality to take defenders and his 3 assists in the PL are tied with Sigurdsson for highest on the team. The more Silva begins to play him in the league (currently Bernard has only played 1020 minutes) the better. Everton’s quality down the wings has increased when Bernard is on the pitch.
Everton also needs better production from their strikers. Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have split time up top, but neither has been bagging in goals for the Toffees. While Tosun is outperforming his expected assists, he just doesn’t fit the style of play in which Marco Silva wants to implement. This has forced Silva to play the likes of Richarlison up top. Calvert-Lewin is also a choice for Silva when it comes to strikers, but apart from a few late goals, he hasn’t been making enough of an impact up front.
Calvert-Lewin’s pace can be of use in attack, and it can come in handy when Everton try to hit opponents on the counter, but DCL certainly has work to do when it comes to his link-up play. Still, at 21, he has plenty of potential, as he showed in this month’s 2-0 win against Bournemouth, where he sealed the victory by sliding his shot past Asmir Begović in the bottom left corner.
The defensive side of the ball has also struggled. Their 31 goals conceded are tied for 10th-highest in the Premier League. Injuries all around have forced Silva to switch between a back three and a back four constantly. The young guys really haven’t stepped up yet and as a result, the likes of Mason Holgate have been sent on loan again. With Phil Jagielka now on the wrong side of 30, the likes of Kurt Zouma, Yerry Mina, and Michael Keane are all now Everton’s future moving forward at the center back position, even if Zouma is still owned by Chelsea.
The right-back position will look to be upgraded in the summer as Seamus Coleman is getting up there in age, and failing to impress under Silva. Everton seems to have Coleman’s replacement lined up in Jonjoe Kenny but at 22, you have to wonder how ready he is to start for the Toffees. It would behoove Everton to look into the transfer market and sign a right back.
On the other flank though, Lucas Digne has been a solid replacement for Leighton Baines. The Frenchman has been a constant attacking threat down the left flank, generating high-quality chances with his dangerous crossing. Digne has had expected assist total of 5.57, so he’s certainly putting in quality chances. Now it’s on his teammates to finish them.
Everton’s real defensive force in the midfield is none other than Idrissa Gana Gueye. He’s been exceptional in his time at Goodison since leaving Aston Villa, screening the backline, snuffing out any threat in front of him, and hustling back to regain possession. His 4 tackles per game are second-highest in the Premier League behind Leicester City’s Ricardo Pereira (via Whoscored.com), and rarely is his importance more evident than when he is not on the pitch.
Everton don’t have a single player on the bench or the reserves that fits Gueye’s description, and as sporting director Marcel Brands seeks to reinforce the club’s squad and defenestrate transfer flops from the Steve Walsh era, such as Morgan Schneiderlin, he should look for a defensive midfielder, especially with Gueye approaching 30. Whether it comes in January or in the summer, it’s obvious that Silva needs more players suited to his style.
While Silva deserves time to work out the kinks, patience is hard to come by in the Premier League, especially after spending £90 million the previous summer. Everton currently sit 10th in the table, and they’ve taken 1 out of a possible 18 points from their fixtures against teams in the top 6. If Silva doesn’t turn things around, sooner or later, Everton will find themselves where they were last season: staring into the abyss of mid-table mediocrity despite spending massive amounts of money.
(Stats via understat.com and whoscored.com)
By: Vijay Vemu