Should Everton stick or twist with Marco Silva?
It took some time, but Everton got exactly the manager they wanted.
It’s fair to say Farhad Moshiri didn’t entirely know what he was doing when he bought the Blues. Transforming things from the kind of old fashioned outfit Bill Kenwright ran to a thoroughly modern football club was obviously the aim, but it was tough to figure out where to start that transition. Perhaps lacking in good advice, he went straight in for Ronald Koeman, with Steve Walsh brought in as director of football, a position he had no real experience in. After significant investment in the first team, it became apparent that Koeman was not the man for the job, and he got the boot. Walsh eventually got his preferred coach in Sam Allardyce, but the mere fact that this was his preference showed his unsuitability for the role at Everton, and both were kicked out before too long.
Throughout most of this, there was a certain Portuguese sparkle in Moshiri’s eye. Marco Silva was who the owner craved. He had to wait, but eventually Moshiri got his man. Alongside actual director of football Marcel Brands, Silva was deemed the person to build the kind of football, and results, Moshiri felt was befitting of his considerable investment in the club. It took some time, but this was the Everton he had envisioned. All plain sailing from there, right?
Well, not exactly.
Everton currently sit in the relegation zone in the Premier League table, having picked up just 7 points from 8 games and lost all of the last 4. It was in October 2017 when the club sacked Koeman with the side in the bottom three, so it’s hardly a surprise to see the vultures circling at Goodison Park again. But should they be?
A basic glance at the expected goals at least paints a better picture than the league table. On the attacking side, Everton have created 10.39 expected goals, ninth best in the league, but found the back of the net just six times. It’s much the same story at the back. Everton’s 10.55 xG conceded is a hair above league average, but chances have been finished at a better than usual rate and the Toffees find themselves having conceded 13.
So the xG suggests Everton have performed like a midtable side so far. This is obviously better than results, and Silva’s job presumably wouldn’t be in such danger if the club were sitting in tenth. But at the same time, it’s still short of what the club have been aiming and spending for in recent years. xG isn’t going to save Silva’s job, so we’ll have to look a little deeper for redemption.
The main thing Everton do in the numbers is press. The Blues allow the opponents to have fewer passes before attempting to win the ball back than any team other than Leicester. StatsBomb contributor Paul Riley’s personal research found Everton to be the highest pressing side in the league in his own numbers. Their defensive distance, how high up the pitch they attempt to win the ball back, is only fifth best, but some of that is likely because they are not able to pen teams into their own half the way Liverpool and Manchester City do. Everton certainly set out to press early and press often. The main aim of this, at least in a defensive sense, is to suppress shots, and Everton are successful in this. Their 9.63 shots per game conceded is the fourth best in the league.
The trick, of course, is to make sure the shots you do concede aren’t horrific ones. If teams are able to break through the high press, they might find plenty of space in behind to really cut you open. And it does look like Everton are finding it difficult here. Their xG per shot conceded of 0.13 is fourth worst in the league and 30% worse than last season. When you look at the shot map, what stands out is the number of chances against that come from throughballs. Teams are able to play incisive passes through Everton’s defence and produce some very good scoring opportunities from it.
In terms of what has changed, it’s hard not to point towards the sale of Idrissa Gueye. The Senegal international was one of the better ball winning midfielders in the league without costing Everton too much on the ball. Injuries and perhaps genuine questions over personnel have meant that Everton haven’t quite had an obvious first choice midfield pair this season. The past four games have seen Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin selected to less than ideal results. Schneiderlin has never been able to recreate his aggressive defensive output from his Southampton years at Goodison and his limits are fairly well known at this point. With Jean-Philippe Gbamin’s injury, Delph has really been asked to take up the role as the Gueye replacement. Delph has shown a lot of tactical intelligence and flexibility throughout his career, particularly in his ability to seamlessly adapt from a box to box shuttler to an inverted left back under Pep Guardiola. He can be an excellent utility option, but he’s not a specialist for the defensive midfield role. Looking at his radar, it’s obvious that he just doesn’t actively involve himself in defending the way Gueye does.
There’s not much that’s particularly special about Everton’s midfielders when they have the ball, either. Recently injured Andre Gomes is the player expected to really progress the ball in central areas, but he’s never really shown much in that regard through the numbers. He’s not moving the ball into the final third at a notably better rate than Schneiderlin or Delph. What this does is put more pressure on the fullbacks, with Seamus Coleman leading this stat. To be the side’s leading ball progressor without significant protection from the midfield is something of an impossible task, so it’s not shocking that there are some frustrations here.
Everton don’t have a clearly defined plan once they get the ball into the final third either. The two ever presents here are Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison. Both press well and take shots of questionable quality, but offer little in terms of really moving the ball into dangerous areas. In terms of offering creative passing, it seems to be a competition between Bernard and Alex Iwobi to fill that role. Bernard offers virtually nothing in terms of goal and assist threat, so it seems likely that Iwobi should take over in due course. A combination of Iwobi, Sigurdsson and Richarlison behind either Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Moise Kean depending on the opposition could potentially be a flexible and fluid attack, but we’ve yet to see any real evidence of it.
It’s not really clear what this Everton squad is built to be doing. Silva wants to play a high line, aggressive pressing style, but this requires fast centre backs capable of covering a lot of ground, while Michael Keane is a regular fixture at centre back. The midfield contains a selection of players who offer flexibility and a solid range of skills, but no one who is truly outstanding at anything. The attack has various different options, but no clear hierarchy. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise after four different managers and two directors of football in the last two years.
The most important job for Everton, ahead of dealing with the manager question, is for Brands to move towards a coherent squad where everyone is suited to playing the same kind of football. Considering he has a seat on the board, his job is almost certainly safe for the foreseeable future, so this will be a squad very much shaped by the Dutchman. If the club truly believe in Silva, the squad certainly needs more overhauling to fit his “press high and play nice football or death” approach.
But there’s also not a lot of evidence that this would be an especially good idea. Silva is at his third Premier League club and at no point has he coached a particularly solid defence. He can make excuses in terms of the players he had available, but there’s slim evidence that he’s more Mauricio Pochettino than Roberto Martinez. Changing the manager has its obvious risks, and would require serious thought in terms of what Everton’s long term strategy should be. The priority, though, is ensuring that there is a plan, with or without Silva.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association