Well…one great season, one bad season so far for Roberto Martinez. Which means the jury’s firmly out on the man who had a dream to build a football team.
A 72 point haul followed by a 47 point haul. It’s a monumental drop-off, but the underlying xG numbers suggest that Everton under Martinez is a 55-60pt team. Which is exactly the same level the club was at under David Moyes.
It shouldn’t be surprising considering 10 of the 15 players that played over 1000 Premier League minutes last season played under Moyes too. The differing styles perhaps means Moyes steady, structured, percentage football regularly got you those steady 55-60pt seasons, whereas Martinez’ ocassional football jazz mixed with sterile possession is capable of searing heights but also some minging lows.
The graphic below shows all the shots on target Everton took last season (blue) as well as the ones they conceded (red). The bigger the circle, the bigger the chance of scoring:
The black rectangle pinpoints Everton’s main problem last season – simply conceding more high quality chances than it created. As discussed here at Statsbomb last summer, Everton got away with conceding these high quality chances in 2013/14 but it was never going to continue. The 50 goals shipped last season was more like (although still not quite) the horror show some were fearful of when Martinez arrived at the club.
But the volume and quality of shots faced are pretty constant over the last 5 years – the Catalan has kept Everton’s xG against numbers stable. I’ve simulated the shots conceded over the last two seasons 10,000 times. The most likely outcome was to concede 85 goals. Therefore 89 goals against all told is only slightly below par but does tally with Martinez’s overall lack of efficiency in sorting out defence.
The big question is whether he can continue to keep the lid on the number and quality of shots against. I’m not sure he can. My reasons are not on tactical or style of play grounds. Ultimately, how Everton managers approach the game on the pitch will not define their stay. How they spend limited resources will be. My twitter followers will know that I’ve been a huge critic of Martinez’ squad building since day one.
For several years, the centre back pairing Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin were excellent but relied a great deal on their mobility to hold a high line before dropping back to defend the scoreline late in games. Jagielka was approaching the age of 31 and Distin was 35 when Martinez arrived. You didn’t need a crystal ball to think one of them might fall off a cliff sooner rather than later. You certainly didn’t need one to see that a bad way to deal with this was to sign a slow, injury-prone, 30 yr old Antolin Alcaraz.
So now with both Distin and Alcaraz having gone to the great mobility scooter in the sky, Everton find themselves with just two first team-ready centre backs. And Chelsea want to get their mitts on the youngest one. Martinez has had two years to prepare for this but here we find ourselves.
On top of this you have 34 yr old Gareth Barry hubbing in front of them. He’s signed up until he’s 36. Again, Martinez has had two years to sort out this position for the long term but reports are that Darron Gibson (Barry’s direct replacement) is in line for a contract extension. Gibson is possibly the best midfielder at the club and certainly the most progressive passer, but he is also completely unable to stay fit (again, no crystal ball needed to figure this out).
Muhamed Besic was signed last summer but has been unable to nudge out Barry or James McCarthy. He’d played just a handful of senior games as a defensive midfielder at that point. He’d played most of his football as a centre back or full back for Ferencvaros.
According to a Tim Lewis piece in The Guardian: ‘Martínez, and his chief scouts Reeves and Brown, find the suggestion that they would buy a player because of their numbers pretty funny. “You need to see a player and fall in love with a player,” says Martínez. “When you see a player, you’ll watch his warm-up, the way he speaks to the referee, the way he speaks to other team-mates after missing a chance, the way he celebrates a goal, the way his team-mates react when he scores. Data might help you narrow the margin of error, but the decision is still a feeling. It’s a gut instinct.”‘
Now, I’m no fan of judging players by bog standard on-ball stats at all, but wow, I hope Martinez was playing to the crowd with some of the sentiments in that statement. I’m not convinced he was. Had Besic been thoroughly scouted beforehand, or did Martinez fall in love with him on the back of one overrated performance against Argentina? Whatever the situation, Besic found himself out of favour at Everton by March. His manager at first club Hamburg reportedly tried to strangle him due to his indiscipline. Having continued to watch Besic play in midfield, I can see why. While centre back is an issue, why not try him out there again? His centre-back style fits what we think Martinez is all about.
To top it all off, the club is wrangling with James McCarthy, its most reliable defensive midfielder (and a solid Martinez signing) over an improved contract. Meantime, the media continually link him to Spurs. Once again, despite the ridiculous amount of money flowing into the Premier League from television, Everton don’t appear to have a pot to piss in.
All in all, alarm bells should be ringing on the defensive side of things. It’s difficult to see how those stable underlying expected goals against numbers continue to remain steady without new signings. Get yer cheque book out, Bill.
As Bobby Gardiner suggested a few weeks ago, Everton’s attack went missing last year. In a Roberto-esque show of positivity I was confident in the preview last summer that Everton would continue to do well going forward. Despite all the evidence I was still thinking it would get better in November. Well, that’ll teach me. Everton have a major creativity problem. I picked on Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley last year regarding their output. Time to do so again. Below are graphics (Everton attacking left to right) showing where every successful open-play pass made by these two last season in the Premier League ended up:
Between them they made well over 1600 successful passes, yet look at the lack of penetration into the box. Watch Everton for any decent amount of time and you’ll see Romelu Lukaku arms outstretched pleading to be played in. He rarely is.
Martinez made public his desire for a new No.10 about 5 minutes after he declared that No.10 was Boss Ross’s best position. Martinez insists on playing with a No.10 despite not having had a real one at his disposal for two years. We’re still waiting.
What he has signed is yet another player who overruns the ball, doesn’t look up enough and frustrates as much as he delights. To come up with a comparable graphic for Gerard Deulofeu I had to bolt both his seasons in senior football together:
You’ll see that Our Ged is different to the other two. He’s taken less than 400 passes to match Mirallas and Barkley’s combined passing penetration into the box. Despite Deulofeu frustrating the hell out of coach Unai Emery at Sevilla, he actually started to walk into some increasingly successful output.
To the eye, this kid doesn’t look up from his boots and he’s the greediest player you’ve ever seen. But 8 assists in 1700-odd minutes of senior football across two top leagues is crazy for a 21 yr old. The probability of the average player doing that is miniscule. Like less than 1% miniscule. Over time, that’s going to regress.
But when I watch him play I don’t see a Barkley-esque ‘never going to truly get’ it lack of football intelligence. Deulofeu seems to display a willful lack of obedience, like he’s conciously revelling in showing off what he’s capable of. I’m not sure Barkley could conciously do anything on a football pitch if his life depended on it.
The other thing to like about Deulofeu is his shooting. His xG90 is 0.30 so far in his career. Last season, Mirallas was at 0.19 and Barkley was at 0.09. This is despite the fact it’s harder for him to create good shooting angles due to being a right footed player mostly playing wide right.
Maybe even better still for the coming season, Deulofeu only has 4 career goals when xG says he should have 6. In fact, there’s a 58% chance the average player would have scored 6 or more by now so I’m pretty hopeful of some ‘good’ regression here. If he was English, there is no way on earth Everton would have got their hands on a young player with these numbers at a price of around £4m.
Talking of chance creation and xG90s brings us to nicely to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian scored 10 league goals last year and was only assisted for 3 of them. The other 7 were from penalties or shots that deflected into his path.
It seemed like Martinez was trying to turn him into a more all-round striker, and more of a target man. The graphics show the volume of passes Lukaku has received in each area of the pitch in the last two seasons. First 2013/14, then 2014/15. You can see the increase in Lukaku coming short into the left hand channel to receive the ball:
Lukaku’s non-penalty xG was down from 0.58 in 2013/14 to 0.32 last season. On average, each shot on target has gone from a 1-in-3 chance of going in to a 1-in-4 chance. To put this in perspective, both he and Hary Kane took a similar amount of shots (105-112) and shots on target (42-47) but the simulation for each players set of shots say that Lukaku had 15% chance of scoring 15 goals while Kane had an 80% chance of scoring 15 goals. Clearly, Lukaku is suffering from spending the extra time in non-threatening areas and from the lack of creativity around him.
Based on last years numbers, the model says Everton will finish 7th. But this means the defence has to hold up its side of the bargain. As discussed above, I can’t see how this happens unless the squad is improved. Cleverley and Deulofeu are decent business – good ages, sell on value, and first-team ready but they don’t help here. They should help improve that creativity problem, though.
My best guess is that Everton finish about 10th or 11th again. Depending on ins and outs between now and the end of the window, it could be a bit better or a whole lot worse.