Can Everton distinguish themselves from the rest of the Big Six chasing pack, or will Marco Silva's second season in charge see them plateau or decline as the last two Toffee managers did?
How did Everton look on the numbers last season?
One of my favourite ways to use expected goals these days is by using what I call a ‘Dominance Table’. It’s based on the outcomes of individual matches. ‘What? Using individual game xG values?’ I hear you cry in horror. Yes, my little Statsbombalombas, using individual game xG values! The basic premise is a side has to score full points of xG. They’ve got to do enough to prove that game dominance. It's a nice, down and dirty way to separate out significant instances of bad luck, from the larger ocean of variance.
- 0.78 plays 0.44? That’s 0-0.
- 3.99 plays 0.99? That’s 3-0.
- 2.01 plays 2.77. That’s 2-2.
Everton were absolutely hopeless in the Dominance Table last season until the end of February. Then, something happened. Suddenly, Everton won seven of the last eight games on those xG dominance scores to finish the season with a flourish. A search of my twitter timeline and you’ll see I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Marco Silva’s appointment last summer. The numbers told me that at both Hull and Watford, he couldn’t get his team to control games to save his life. In game it was a rollercoaster. From game to game it was...also a rollercoaster. With any xG for and against trendline you’ll see at least some volatility, but Silva continues to be The Tycoon: Here’s three tweets I sent in the last 12 months. One from last July, one from December and then one in April. https://twitter.com/footballfactman/status/1022586236597411841 https://twitter.com/footballfactman/status/1069268088267378688 https://twitter.com/footballfactman/status/1120295331957178368 Dominic Calvert-Lewin finally started getting regular starts and game time from March onwards. The team started to improve again in attack. It had sunk back to Sam Allardyce levels previously.
Do Everton desperately need a centre forward?
I’ve heard many Everton fans say Calvert-Lewin can’t finish, that we need someone who is going to score more goals. Everton already have a natural finisher in Cenk Tosun. He just can’t do anything else. Apparently, Everton need a target man who can hold it up, has pace and mobility and can score 20 goals a season on top of that. Well, no kidding. The thing is, Calvert-Lewin is great in the air, can hold it up, has pace and mobility (and a great work ethic) and he can finish. xG? Statsbomb say 10 over the last two seasons. Goals? 10. Maintaining par with xG over time is good. The only youngsters (below 23) in the Premier League shooting enough in open play to get more xG than Calvert-Lewin (mostly with more minutes played too)? Gabriel Jesus, Marcus Rashford and our very own Richarlison. That’s it. But Silva wants a new forward. Wilf Zaha was on on their radar before Everton acquired Italian youngster Moise Kean from Juventus for £29 million. Read my statistical profile of him here. With these type of players, and the recruitment of Richarlison last summer, it would appear Silva wants a fluid front line rather than a central focus.
What does this team need then?
Despite my criticisms of his game management, one thing the numbers make pretty clear is that Silva sorted the team’s defending out on the whole. Forget a bit of early set-piece woe for a minute, Silva’s dragged the defensive numbers back to David Moyes levels according to xG. That is damned impressive for his first 12 months in charge. Peering back into my own, pre-Statsbomb model makes it clear. Keeper spots look sorted. Jordan Pickford’s come through his wobble it seems and had a solid season on the numbers again. Everton have added Jonas Lossl (urgh) to deputise with Maarten Stekelenburg (double urgh). Neither have ever looked any good on the numbers but barring an injury to Pickford, it probably doesn’t matter all that much for now. Kurt Zouma had a very successful loan spell last season and ended up playing more than twice as much as Colombian Yerry Mina who Everton brought in permanently after an impressive World Cup. Everton appeared to want him permanently but it looks like Frank Lampard wants Zouma to stick around at Chelsea and Zouma isn’t going to upset that applecart. Mina excelled again for Colombia in this summer’s Copa America. If he doesn’t get more game time this coming season, it would seem something may be up behind the scenes at Goodison for our Yerry. Will Mason Holgate return and deputise at centre back following a pretty successful loan at WBA where he mostly played at right back? Left back looks sorted with Lucas Digne having an impressive debut season, Leighton Baines signing a year’s extension and Fabian Delph now providing even more cover if need be. The right back slot looks a weak link. Seamus Coleman has recovered from a serious leg break but doesn’t consistently look his old self. Youngster Jon-Joe Kenny has gone off to the Bundesliga on loan with Schalke after huffing and puffing but never really looking convincing. Holgate may well provide cover there too. Midfield is where Everton need a damn good revamp With Idrissa Gueye turning 30 this year, I wanted him off in January for the money PSG were willing to pay. Rumour had it that Director of Football (DoF) Marcel Brands wanted that too but Silva dug his heels in to keep the Senegalese. He must’ve been wearing fairly flat shoes, though, as Gueye’s now gone. Fabian Delph? Same age as Gueye, gain money on the transfer fees involved, lose a chunk of it on the wages Delph will command. It strikes me as a fairly pointless exercise as we’ll still be looking for replacements. It doesn’t move the team forward beyond next year. Is Delph going to come to sit more of his waning career out on the bench of a lesser team for less money? You have to assume that if Delph comes, he’s been told he’s first choice or at least getting a bundle of minutes. Is Andre Gomes good enough to challenge the top 6? Even his most ardent fans concede how badly he struggled during the winter months when the team slumped. Let’s look at what last season’s midfield two brought to the table as individuals. Greyed area is league average, blue is our player: No surprises with Gueye. A pint-sized defensive juggernaut battering about the pitch knocking guys (ahem) half his size about. There’s next to nothing between them on the ball, though. Gomes has the reputation amongst fans of being a cultured ‘baller while Gueye is regularly accused of giving it away every five seconds. The stats don’t back those eye witness accounts up. At all. Gomes has a strong beard game and is pretty much Premier League average at everything. As it stands Gomes and Delph are probably the first-choice midfield two. Delph has been trained in the art of the press by the best in the business at City. But he’s also played mostly at left back for the last two years. Everton still have Morgan Schneiderlin, James McCarthy and Muhammed Besic hanging around like bad smells, don’t forget. Hopefully, at least two will have been deodorised by the end of deadline day. Then there’s Tom Davies. The blond, curly-haired skater boi got less than 1000 minutes playing time in the Premier League last season. Rather than get Delph at the wrong end of his career I’d honestly like to have given Davies a proper chance to actually see if he has what it takes to make the grade. The outcome is still the same at the end of it if he doesn’t – an about average midfield is on the pitch for a year or two and we spend big in central midfield to replace it. Delph is a good player. But it’s more money in the Goodison Park incinerator that we’ll never get a return on. And I’m sick of that fire burning bright since Moyes’ left. Midfield is still a hot mess for me that can’t be rescued with just one, possibly underwhelming, signing like Jean-Phillipe Gbamin. It’s a unit. It needs a full overhaul.
You haven’t mentioned our Icelandic friend?
Gylfi Sigurdsson plays more as a second striker than attacking midfielder or No.10. He still only touches the ball the same amount as the wide forwards and centre forwards. He still doesn’t dictate play. What he does bring to the side off the ball is an enormous penchant for closing down opponents. It’s damn useful and in tandem with fellow attackers Richarlison and Bernard’s work ethic it’s clearly gone a long way to helping keep xG against down. Every time I watch, however, I can’t help but think the sum of this team’s parts would be higher without Sigurdsson. I’d like to see a ‘link’ player, or Everton setting up with a more orthodox central midfield three that can work physically closer together on the pitch. Watch Everton and see how they struggle to build through the middle of the park. See how far away options are. The team still plays a relatively much higher % of longer balls then any of the sides they’re chasing. It ain’t great in possession. The midfield needs a full overhaul (sensing a theme).
I don’t much like the structure off the field either
In Farhad Moshiri’s time at the helm Everton have gone about things entirely backwards - hiring managers and then hiring Directors of Football. First time round was bad enough with Ronald Koeman and then Steve Walsh coming in. But then doing it again straight away going hell for leather for Silva months and months before appointing Brands was just…wow. For me, a DoF runs the show and is the direct link between board and the football side. He should be deciding how the team plays, who the players are to play that way and who the coach is to coach that way. Responsibility. I’ve already talked about friction over Gueye to PSG in January. Whose idea was it to bring Luis Boa Morte in as first team coach? Do we really think that’s Brands? Is Duncan Ferguson, a relative novice, the best man for handing out bibs and cones at training? For a club with a billionaire at the helm, is this really nil satis nisi optimum behind the scenes? The new stadium proposals look the absolute business, but they’ve been put together by an outsider being hired in. Let’s make the football club structure the absolute business too, please. Keith Harris and Jon Woods have gone from the board so that’s a good start. But not so long since, Brands became a member of the board. He may have to decide on whether to sack himself if it doesn’t work out. How’s that conversation supposed to go? Since last summer Everton have made some astute purchases that even I can’t moan about, but the players we’ve been linked with this summer still make me question the relationship between manager and DoF.
Make a prediction for next season, then
7th to 10th. Again. The attack has been strengthened by Kean’s arrival but the team still struggle to create from further back. Thankfully the individual talent is there to get points when they’re not deserved, but some damn cohesion would be nice. I have my doubts we’ll get it but there’ll be some moments of brilliance along the way. Sign a ‘proper’ midfielder that can do everything well and we’ll get nearer to 6th both positionally and points-wise. Sign a younger, rawer version of Gueye, and it’s positive for the medium to long term but perhaps not the short term unless we get really lucky. If Silva does go for that fluid forward line rather than using DCL or Kean as the focal point, with Gueye gone, will the defence be protected enough in front? We may see that xG against creep back up. The earlier deadline day looms large and there’s still so much work to do before Everton can realistically start challenging the big boys. A squad heavy in age and wage makes maneuvering the transfer canvas an awkward, lumbering process. The longer it goes on the more you worry about having to swing a desperate haymaker for a knock-out blow. If it lands then boom, if it doesn’t…well, you’re even more out of shape than ever. I’ve made my own version of Arya Stark’s list that I repeat every night before bedtime. It contains every player at Everton that constantly feeds that money burning incinerator. All of them at the old man end of the age-curve and some of them are even brand (Brands?) new fuel: Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas, James McCarthy, Oumar Niasse, Maarten Stekelenburg, Morgan Schneiderlin, Yannick Bolasie, Cuco Martina, Cenk Tosun, Theo Walcott, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jonas Lossl, Fabian Delph. Lose most of these in the next 12 months and I’ll be predicting a much brighter, much more flexible future. Header image courtesy of the Press Association