After months of watching me being right on twitter and moaning over how we play, it’s that time of the year where we look back on the first few months of the season. 2016 has been an important year for The Ev, Moshiri taking us out of debt; the sacking of Martinez and the importance of Koeman and being introduced to a brand-new style of play, alongside an ambitious board. This time last season, Everton sat 11th on 26 points after being beaten at home 4-3 by Stoke (oh god, that actually happened). So how have we done this half of the season? Have we actually improved? Here’s my half-season review.
The summer: How did it affair?
On the 14th June, Ronald Koeman was appointed manager after weeks of negotiations. Koeman managed Southampton, leading them to 6th place finish and a Europa League spot. Considering how De Boer’s appointment at Inter Milan planned out – the only other contender for the Everton job – Koeman’s appointment was absolutely the right choice. We need a coach with ambition but can also criticize his own players; it’s as if people have forgotten just how painful it was under Martinez.
Marteen Stekelenburg was Everton’s first buy of the summer. Although we needed another choice between the sticks, for him to be our only goalkeeper throughout the window was a bit of a disappointment. Idrissa Gueye soon followed, arguably one of the league’s best defensive-midfielders, for a cheap price in a crazy market. His consistency and tackling statistics are outrageous (avg. 4.9 tackles per game) and his defensive contribution couldn’t be more important.
Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams both arrived mid-way in the transfer window. The two both provided crucial roles in their previous clubs, to make the same role at Goodison Park is an understatement. Enner Valencia was the final player (for the first-team) to come in, joining us on loan on deadline day. His impact has been a slightly bizarre one, his pressing play and tracking-back is a good watch, but anything else he seems to lack.
Pre-season doesn’t hold much relevance but from the start we could see Koeman wanting the team to press. To be honest, it was a preview of what we were going to get. Koeman fitting his ideology would take time and mistakes were expected from the off.
To conclude, our summer wasn’t the greatest, but I suppose Everton wasn’t the most convincing place for a world-class player after two woeful campaigns.
The positives: How have we improved? What are our strong points this season?
I could just type ‘Idrissa Gueye’ in this section and leave it but on a serious note, we have improved from last season and more than most of our fans think. Firstly, we’ve accumulated more points from losing positions (12) than any of team this campaign. A stat like that would be unthinkable under Martinez. Usually we’d see us bottle it straight after, but we’ve picked up important points against Arsenal, Man City and Man United this season.
On the pitch our set-plays have improved remarkably. At the same stage last season, we scored only 3 goals from a set piece, this season that’s up to 8. We’ve moved out of keep-ball mentality and more into a direct style of play. Our average possession (52% to 50%) and passing accuracy statistics (83% to 78%) have decreased whilst our chances created stats have increased massively – creating 20 chances more than last season at the same stage.
Although I still believe we are in desperate need of a creative player, it’s good to see we are actually creating more chances from different areas of the pitch, not just on the right-wing and central positions.
I think the biggest positive for me is that we are sitting in 7th place without a squad Koeman actually wants. Ok we’ve had some players come in and make effect, but the “Martinez mentality” has still lingered in the team (results against Chelsea and Watford are proof of this). Let’s admit; we are in a transition year. We are going to make plenty of transfers over the next two windows and we’ll probably see deadwood being cleared too.
The negatives: Where have we gone wrong?
Déjà vu definitely does exist. I’m not rattled by this completely, one because we all expected this, and two, Koeman seems to acknowledge how poor we’ve been and does realise the issues.
Despite this, it’s still a shame to see us have some howling performances and for it to be near enough the same thing the next week. Our first defeat versus Bournemouth was almost carbon-copied the next week against our draw at home to Crystal Palace. After being battered against Chelsea, we still saw similar, heartless, effortless and woeful performances against Swansea and Southampton.
As much as history repeats itself, we’ve also bottled some great chances for points too. Drawing to Swansea, Crystal Palace and away to Hull, that’s 6 points dropped against teams in the bottom four. If we had won those games, Everton would be well clear of 8th and could even consider challenging for a spot in the Europa League.
The amount of shots we have per game is a little disappointing too. Prior to the Leicester match, we had failed to record a single shot on target in the 1st half, 5 times in 8 matches. Although we have one of the highest shot accuracy percentages in the entire league (only Sunderland and Liverpool have higher), I strongly believe that we aren’t providing Lukaku with enough goal scoring chances.
Lukaku is joint-third highest goalscorer in the Premier League, yet having less shots than Salomon Rondon, Michail Antonio and Jermain Defoe. I big problem in my opinion is the serve lack of player’s in the squad that link with our Belgian striker. Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley are two players’ I’ve highlighted. Both are regular starters in the first team, yet have only assisted Lukaku once all season (Mirallas vs Sunderland).
I understand Barkley isn’t the creative type and personally I believe he should be starting deeper, it’s still a shocking statistic. Bolasie has made 4 assists for Lukaku this season. It shows that Lukaku can truly shine with a striker next to him or a winger that provides, Rom made Arouna Kone look good on the wing once upon a time! Lukaku’s workrate at times can go up a notch, but it’s the players around him that I believe will turn him into a top striker.
The Squad: Who have been our top performers? Who needs to be axed this window?
No two ways about it, our best player has been Idrissa Gueye. More tackles, most passes completed and most interceptions made in the entire squad, that stat speaks volumes considering how poor we have been defensively at times. Of course his offensive contribution isn’t phenomenal, but he’s been sound ever since he stepped on the pitch against Tottenham on the first day.
I’ve been a big critic of Seamus Coleman in recent times, but since December he has stepped his game up massively. His overall defensive contribution has gone up (clearances, blocks and interceptions) and even though it isn’t 2013/14 Coleman we all knew and loved; it’s good to see he’s putting in good performances for the first time since his hamstring injury against Wolfsburg.
The amount of youth players we’ve used has also been a massive positive. We haven’t lost a game when Mason Holgate is on the pitch, and that’s understandable considering how comfortable he is in possession and his ability in aerial duels. 18-year-old Tom Davies has already become a cult hero at Everton, assisting Lukaku’s goal at the weekend and has shown to be a good recycler of the ball. Finally, it’s good to see Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the team but in my opinion, he isn’t as ready as Davies or Holgate for first-team football just yet.
As there always have been, there is still a concerning amount of deadwood in the team. Around Kone, Tom Cleverley, Bryan Oviedo, Phil Jagielka and James McCarthy have all contributed little towards the Everton effort and haven’t for some time. I never thought Maarten Stekelenburg was good enough and although he’s had some good performances between the sticks, we really need to be replacing him with someone that is world-class.
The Future and Conclusion: What should we be aiming for in Window? Where will we finish?
We’ve been promised a lot from the Everton board over the past 11 months Moshiri has been in office, and this window looks the most promising yet. Today Everton announced the signing of Ademola Lookman – a deal that had been circling for weeks. It’s great Koeman and Walsh are doing business as quick as possible, bids for Schneiderlin and Depay are good signs too (despite being rejected).
I do believe we really need another centre-back alongside Williams, he rarely loses his positioning in defence but it’s often his partner that takes him a step-back from his Euro 2016 form. Another midfielder next to Idrissa Gueye would be fantastic; Schneiderlin would be ideal in my opinion. If we have the “war chest” I’d go ahead and splash the cash on a great goalkeeper in the team – amazing teams all start with an amazing goalkeeper.
There are many other positions we should be looking too but the January window is one that provides very little action most the time. As mentioned, we are in a transition year. Ronald Koeman has done a good job keeping us in seventh, but I’d take that any day as long as it means we take big steps the next season.
My Predicted Finish: 7th Place
Stats via Squawka and Whoscored.com
Up the Toffees.