Optimism Misplaced?

Each of the last few summers have seen Everton fans feeling hopeful. When Koeman first arrived, we believed that this new Moshiri character might truly bankroll a renewed push at the big time. Hopeful last summer as we saw 200 million splashed on supposedly top talent. Even as far back as when Martinez was at the helm, we went into his two last and ultimately disappointing campaigns hoping that we might see his team rediscover that initial form that took them to the cusp of the top 4.

Every time our optimism has led to bitter disappointment. In the end, Martinez’s team fell off a cliff, losing heavily to Leicester and Sunderland in the closing weeks; and by all accounts, the dressing room turned on him. Even as Koeman finished 7th in his first season, there was a feeling that our transfer activity had been underwhelming. You can decide for yourself if Bolasie, Schneiderlain and Williams have proved worthy of their combined almost fifty-five million pound price tag. In addition to that, the less said about the season just ended the better.

You’d think we’d learn our lesson; yet if you scroll down twitter today, we have once again become an optimistic bunch. Moshiri has wielded the axe. There’s blood on the floor at Goodison Park. Big Sam and Walsh have been given the boot. Several board members, supposedly inept Kenwright yes-men, all axed. Marcel Brands has arrived to a very positive reception from Evertonians and it looks as if Marco Silva is on the way by all accounts. Everyone is feeling good again.

Deja vu anyone?

Is this new optimism misplaced? I can’t speculate on board manoeuvres and I don’t know anywhere near enough about Brands to speculate. Especially after I was really quite pleased to get hold of the legendary Steve Walsh who had signed Vardy, Mahrez and Kante for Leicester. But what we can talk about is Marco Silva. Some are delighted to be getting hold of the man who transformed Watford into a top attacking force. Others are dismissing him as another Roberto Martinez. So, what are we getting with Marco Silva? Are we right to be feeling optimistic again? Or have the football gods another cruel joke in store for us 12 months down the road?

Marco Silva – His Premier League Run

Let’s start by examining Marco Silva’s time in the Premier League. First, half a season with Hull,.

I’m sure you all remember Mike Phelan’s Hull City team. Famously starting the season with a squad of about 9 players, they defied expectations by beating the defending champions Leicester on day one. For a brief time, they defied all odds and logic as they picked up some decent results.

But their luck ran out in the end. Bournemouth trounced them 6-1, and they struggled to mount any kind of meaningful offence against the likes of Stoke and Watford. It had been coming, even within their better moments, beating Leicester and Southampton, the underlying numbers were not good.

 

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Hull City before Marco Silva’s appointment (@Caley_Graphics)

 

Expected goals (xG) may have its critics, and it is far from a perfect system yet, but it is a good indicator of future goals and results. It was flashing a big red warning light for Hull from day one. Even away from home at a particularly toothless Middlesbrough team they still conceded 1.95xG, which is an achievement in being bad frankly. Even on days where they did quite well on paper, like conceding only 0.88xG to West Brom, they still lost 3-1. So for Hull, it was clear that their tactical system was not working. Even when it did, they lacked the quality in terms of personnel. Relegation loomed large at Christmas.

Then Marco Silva arrived on 5th January (too much derision, it should be noted). Maybe if he had been called Mark Silver he might have been better received. But it soon turned out that Marco Silva had some talent. In his Premier League outing against Bournemouth, he won 3-1. Not only was the result great, but the underlying numbers showed that it wasn’t just a fluke or down to the fated ‘new manager bounce’. At home they picked up a lot of really decent results, beating Middlesbrough and Watford and deserving too. Even when they dropped points at home to Burnley, the numbers showed that they deserved to win. Silva had turned Hull into a competitive Premier League team.

Away from home remained a big problem for Hull under Silva though. Despite spirited early performances against Chelsea and Manchester United, their away form is ultimately what took them down. They lost badly at Leicester and Everton. Worse was yet to come as at the crunch time in the season they suffered heavy losses to relegation rivals Crystal Palace. They conceded at least two goals a game according to xG on visits to Everton, Leicester, Palace and Stoke. They conceded a lot of shots in really dangerous areas. There was virtually no improvement in terms of results or performance away from home under Marco Silva.

In the end, Hull was deservedly relegated from the Premier League. Let’s not kid ourselves, they weren’t dead and buried when Silva took over. He had half a season. However, Hull and Silva lost the big games at the end of the season and rightly went back down to the Championship.

So what can we learn from that from an Everton point of view? Can we really compare what was ultimately a hopeless Hull team to a more established and talented Everton squad? Probably not, so we’ll move on to Silva’s time at Watford before drawing any conclusions.

His time at Watford

At Hull, we saw Silva get good results at home, and putting up some more than decent attacking numbers in the process. This trend mostly continued at Watford. They deservedly got a 3-3 draw with Liverpool first day of the season and went on to rightly beat West Ham and draw with Spurs.

Even when the result was disappointing, such as the 1-0 loss at home to Stoke, the numbers showed that Watford played well. They were unlucky to concede a special goal to Fletcher in that case and spurned a number of good chances.

Another two results to look at are the 0-0 draw and 6-0 defeat to Manchester City. In the case of the Brighton game, an early red card makes it hard to judge, whilst what can we say about Pep’s City team? For the first third of the season, it felt like they were knocking five or six goals past everyone.

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Overall at home, the results were solid and the attacking play seemed fruitful. Similar to Hull.

Away from home, it’s not so impressive. Now, the results or performances are certainly not as bad as they were at Hull, but they were average still at best. They did deserve to beat Bournemouth, and probably rightly beat Southampton, though it took two long-range hits to do so. There’s also a very impressive 3-0 win at Newcastle in there too.

But at the same time, we saw them draw 2-2 at what proved to be a really poor West Brom team; conceding three or four big chances from set plays. We also saw them throw away a good lead at Chelsea to lose 4-2.

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Everton 3-2 Watford xG plot (@x_metrics)

 

The big game for Silva at Watford ultimately happened at Goodison Park. Two up and cruising, yet somehow Watford conspired to lose 3-2 to what was a truly awful Everton team at the time. Again, giving up big chances defending set plays.

As we know, this was the game that saw Everton take an interest in Silva. And suddenly his head was turned and results went into freefall. He was sacked on 21st January.

Results were poor in the run-up to his sacking. In particular, losing 4-1 to Huddersfield. Their performances in defeats to Burnley, Brighton and Palace were all decent on paper. But the losses kept coming.

Was this down to the distraction of the Everton approach? Or was it simply luck balancing out after a good start? Probably both are true to a degree.

Let’s remember how this Watford team had downed tools before mid-season. They finished 17th the season before, to be top half never mind top 6 was a great achievement.

Let’s note now too that Silva’s replacement never recaptured that initial form in his time. He never got Watford’s attack going again, and the results and performances away from home arguably got much worse.

Overall I think Silva deserves a lot of credit for the work he did at Watford. It’s clear why the hierarchy at Vicarage Road was so angry to see Everton come knocking.

Everton and The Managers after Moyes

So what can we actually learn from all this with regards to Everton? Well, hopefully, you can see a general shape of Marco Silva teams is taking shape.

But before we say any more about Silva and Everton, let’s take the previous coaches under consideration. Briefly, we’ll look at how Everton performed under Martinez, Koeman, and Big Sam. And then compare their output to what Silva has done in his previous work in England. And then we might have a clearer picture as to whether or not our optimism is misplaced.

Roberto Martinez

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A lot of people have compared Silva to Martinez. On the surface, I get it. Young coaches. Attacking football. Reputations for leaky defences. Both have relegations on their CV. But when you look closely they are different in many ways.

Under Martinez, Everton was massively inconsistent. We looked decent on the ball, but we didn’t always put up good attacking numbers. A lot of the time, even in our best season, the xG numbers were close and the result could have gone either way. When it went our way, we had the potential to finish 4th, but the reality was that we deserved our mid-table finishes.

Compare this to Silva though who at home at both Hull and Watford has consistently put up good numbers.

Martinez is famous for being flexible in his approach to games (that’s if I’m being kind). A lack of any real game plan is closer to the truth. But the word you keep hearing about Silva from former players is ‘structure’. Detailed and busy training sessions. Demanding that his players do exactly what he wants how he wants on the pitch. Martinez bought into spontaneity, Silva demands order. With that in mind it should be no surprise that while Martinez gave us a sometimes fun but always inconsistent team, Silva produces similar stuff no matter where he is.

Comparisons between the two are not totally without foundation, but Silva is far from Martinez Version 2.

Ronald Koeman

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Koeman came with a lot of fanfare. It certainly was fun to poach him from angry Southampton fans and after that cringe-worthy kit reveal video for the previous season they deserved to have a bad year. But the reality was that the joke was on us.

Even in his promising first season, Koeman’s Everton was not producing convincing numbers. Our xG showed that we were far from outplaying teams below us, but rather, we just had Lukaku, and they didn’t. We did pick up good results at home over the second half of the season. But the warning signs were there for what would come in Koeman’s second season. Once we sold Lukaku, the decline was inevitable.

In the season just past, Koeman’s Everton was mostly poor. I hardly need to tell you that, but let me reopen those wounds.  At home, we posted attacking xG numbers of roughly 0.9. This is in games against Stoke, Burnley and Bournemouth. Hardly elite teams. Very little for the crowd to get behind and evidence of a totally disjointed team. Yes, we did keep a nice tight defence and concede roughly only 0.33 xG per game in those games. But considering Stoke and Burnley barely even try to score away from home, this is hardly something to be too pleased about.

When actual good teams came to town, namely Spurs and Arsenal, we were rightly battered. Nowhere near the standards required to get close to the Top 6.

Away from home, it was truly awful. We were comfortably seen off by what was an ordinary Chelsea team and conceded huge numbers against a stale Manchester United attack. Even in the spirited draw against Man City, the underlying xG showed that if we played that game another 10 times, we’d likely lose every one.

Sam Allardyce

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So Koeman gave way and the media narrative will tell you that Big Sam steadied the ship and saved the day. Admittedly, there is some truth to that.

But while results initially improved under Big Sam, performances did not. We beat Huddersfield 2-0, but the underlying xG numbers were no different to what Koeman was getting in his time. 0.82 only in attack against a team at the foot of the table. In a 3-1 victory against Swansea, the xG says we got 2.02. But on closer inspection, we had a penalty and a rebound which made up the most of that 2.02. Even our draw against Chelsea saw us post a shockingly bad 0.34 xG at home and we were fortunate to take anything from the game. We might have beat Leicester, but the xG said we were fortunate. Palace too deserved more than they got. West Brom also outplayed us, twice, which is really saying something.

Away from home things got nasty. We might have deservedly beaten Newcastle and Stoke, but we were outplayed by the likes of Bournemouth, Spurs, Burnley and Watford.

In truth, there’s virtually no difference in performance stats between Koeman and Big Sam. He simply had the rub of the green when he first took over. Where Koeman went down 1-0 at home to Burnley and struggle, Big Sam saw his team score off a rebounded penalty against Swansea.

In the end, neither Koeman or Big Sam could give us an Everton team that could excite or get close to the promised land of the Top 6. Both gave us ugly teams where the only difference was Lukaku. Once he left, the decline was inevitable. Even though we would have still finished seventh without his goals…

Compared to Silva

So finally coming back to our purpose, how does this compare to Silva?

We’ll continue to have a good home record. If anything we’ll see better football and more goals at home. Though the defence might become a bit leakier, overall I think the signs point to the home faithful having much more to cheer under Silva. Under Koeman and Big Sam more than a few of our home wins were based more on luck or expert finishing from either Lukaku or Tosen, but even Silva’s Hull team deservedly won a few home games.

Our attack will absolutely function better. Koeman and Sam could barely muster above 1 xG in most games. Really, it’s hard to see how Silva could do much worse. The evidence suggests he’ll do much better.

Away from home, we were awful under Koeman and Big Sam. The jury is still out on how Silva’s teams might perform away from home. At least we can say that it can’t get much worse? Watford was usually competitive away from home, so hopefully, that proves to be hopeful news for us.

We will hopefully be more consistent under Silva. As I said, he is a man apparently obsessed with structure and that means we should know what we’re getting when we turn up on match day. We’ll hopefully be watching a team with an actual game plan, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that.

Conclusion

At the start of this article, we asked if we Everton fans had cause for optimism with the appointment of Silva. It proved to be misplaced under Martinez and Koeman.

But I think we can be pleased that Silva’s team number stack up much more favourably than any of our last three coaches did. I remember reading that the best coach can get an extra 5% of output from his players, while a bad coach will see his team drop 30% below their output. Now those numbers are pretty vague frankly, but there’s some wisdom there. I think it’s at least clear from Silva’s track record that he is a coach who gets a lot out of what’s available to him.

Time will tell what this new board and Brands will offer up for Silva to work with. We have been a long way from what a Top 6 team should be for years now. There will be no quick fix I suspect.

But maybe, just maybe, this time our optimism will not be misplaced. At least our Oumar might actually get a locker this season and if seeing Niasse’s beaming smile more often isn’t cause for optimism, then I don’t know what is.

 

This article was written by Samuel Scott

(Follow him on twitter here)

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