EPL 2014-15 Season Preview - Everton
At £4m, Muhamed Besic comes in as a low-budget, high-potential signing to 'bolster' midfield and defence. Flying wide-forward Gerard Deulofeu returns to Barcelona to be replaced by another loan - Chelsea's Christian Atsu who played at Vitesse last year. Moves for last year's loanees Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been made permanent. Everton has splurged about £30m (the majority of the budget) to keep hold of players already embedded in the side.
How did Everton line up last season?
The graphic below shows the main first XI and passing networks. The bigger the circle, the more touches the player had. The thicker the arrows, the more passes in that direction. For scale purposes, it's all per 90 mins:
It's pretty clear how Barry became the hub of the side last season and why Martinez sought to make the move permanent. The player wasn't short of offers it seems, which is presumably why Everton had to suck up a 3-year deal to secure the 33 year-old.
The build up is much shorter these days. Howard is as likely to distribute to the centre backs as he is to lump it. McCarthy is the continuity man, content to knock the ball sideways to Barry and Coleman who work the ball forward.
Also apparent is that the left hand side is still pretty huge. Where the left side is often intricate, the right hand side is more crash-bang-wallop with moves often ending at the feet of Barkley and Mirallas. Watching games last season you'd often see Lukaku's frustration at these two (especially Barkley) failing to spot runs and going it alone. More on this later.
Will the line-up change with the new boys?
It'll likely be as you were to begin with. But with League Cup games and Europa fixtures to negotiate in the early months both new boys will be featuring if fit. Martinez was very comfortable rotating players in and out last season. What with injuries, suspensions and loan restrictions none of the midfield or forwards were overworked minutes-wise. I can see the burden being shared around again.
People were worried that the defence wouldn't hold under Martinez. How wrong were they?
Yep, only a goal a game conceded was in line with the previous few years. However, here at Statsbomb we're dedicated (ching) to bringing you the underlying numbers that are more meaningful in the long term. The graphic below shows the the increase in total shots conceded and Expected Goals Against last season. This is almost always bad news:
Thanks to the work of Colin Trainor and Constantinos Chappas, we're able to compare defensive actions visually. What we saw under Moyes was a super-concentrated effort to defend central 'prime' areas. Content with a draw or a 1-goal lead Everton would often shell defensively in order to see the game out. It was uncomfortable edge of the seat stuff.
That hasn't been the case under Martinez. There was a willingness to go toe to toe at the end of games last season using the likes of Mirallas, Barkley and Deulofeu to counter. It was a lot easier to watch. As we've seen , the underlying numbers suffered for this more open style. I've written previously about Tim Howard's huge performance last season. Unfortunately for the Blues, history shows that such over-performance isn't sustainable. Howard was undeniably good last season, but luck also played a huge factor. His save% from the prime Zone 1 area was 57%. League average is 44% - a keeper has more chance of callling heads or tails on a coin toss than saving a shot from here. Basically, the numbers suggest it's far more likely that more of the same next season will result in nearer 50 goals conceded than 40. Unless the shot count goes down, expect Everton to get stung a little more often.
What about the attack?
Lukaku is a huge signing. The indications are that he's on an upward slope. However, with Kone still yet to play a game since his knee injury in November, the only contingency at present is Steven Naismith. Naismith's brain makes up for a lack of footballing aestheticism. His movement and finishing is good. I really like him, but he's not up to being a starter for any length of time if Everton have serious pretensions of kicking on. That said, if I was in charge he'd be getting good minutes as a substitute on an almost weekly basis.
Everton's other problem is what to do with Mirallas and Barkley. Both are super talented, but neither has the final output that marks them out as super special. A goal tally of 14 goals between them last season just doesn't seem enough.
I read somewhere that at the press conference announcing Barkley's new contract, the youngster stated he wanted to play more games in central midfield. Martinez apparently raised his eyes skyward. The kid might actually have a point. Here's Barkley's shot chart for last season. Yellow dots are goals, blue dots were saved, black dots were off target:
His shot on target rate was fairly abysmal. Too often for Barkley, shooting is a last resort when he's off balance, out of ideas and the chance to play a team-mate in has gone. On top of this, he is still yet to record a Premier League assist. For someone in 'the hole', this simply isn't good enough. The problem is that every now and then he goes and does something so ridiculously good (Swansea, Newcastle, Man City) that a lot gets forgiven and forgotten. Martinez needs to work out the pay-off between allowing time for potential to develop and pushing the team on results-wise.
The shooting story for Mirallas is a similar one. The Belgian blazes away with a scatter gun approach. Nominally stationed on the right, Kev's best creative work is done out there. But being on that side creates problems with shooting angles for a right footed player:
At Olympiakos he scored bags of goals while mostly stationed out left or through the middle. Everton still haven't found Mirallas' best fit. He'll flit left or sometimes go through the middle to varying success.
I like the signing of Atsu. He profiles a lot like Deulofeu. He can beat players, and likes to take a shot but unlike the boy from Barcelona, he also has the ability to look up from his boots every now and again. Note the higher pass completion rate and key pass numbers:
Unless Everton stem the tide of shots then defence is going to get worse. Factor in the ageing of Jagielka and Distin who rely so much on mobility to do their thang, then look at the possible replacements. Alcaraz isn't mobile, is the wrong side of 30 and is rarely fit. Stones, generally excellent on the ball doesn't look like he can defend well enough yet at this level. Let's cross our fingers and hope for a Coleman-style overnight transformation on that score.
Barry is 33. Is he going to be able to get around the pitch to the same effect? Besic is beautiful on the ball and loves getting a challenge in but looking at him here, he's suspect positionally. McCarthy has got a lot of defensive work on this season unless Gibson can get his arse off the treatment table for a spell.
Positively, I do expect the attack to pick up the defensive slack but that would rely heavily on Lukaku staying healthy. Getting Kone back ASAP would be a major bonus, especially if he can retain mobility following this his second major knee injury. Don't rule out a move for a striker on deadline day, though.
5th-7th again. Probably 6th.