Written by Samuel Scott (@SamuelScott5).
Common football parlance says that you should only look at the table after ten games because it’s only by that time that the season has ‘settled down’. Only then will form have levelled out, and patterns are established for the season. So with it being twelve games down, and another boring international break to wait through, it seems like a good time to talk about how Everton and Silva are settling down together.
If you remember back to my article at the start of the summer, I mentioned a few things to watch out for with regards to Silva, taking patterns from his Hull and Watford teams. I talked about how his teams have strong home records with good consistent attacking performances, even though the defence might be leakier. I also mentioned how away from home we would hopefully be competitive, and that set plays may prove to be a major source of frustration. So for this twelve game review, we’ll look at how those patterns are playing out at Everton. Have we got what we paid for with Silva? And is it enough to push into the Sky Six?
Just a couple of quick disclaimers as always. Twelve games are really nowhere near enough of a sample size to use. But like I said, it’s the international break, and we need something to talk about, so we’ll do this anyway. I’m also focusing more on post-West Ham at home because since then there has been a marked upturn in our fortunes. And it’s only fair to allow that grace period to a new coach, probably. Also, all stats have to be taken with a pinch of salt. XG and xA are open to debate, but we should allow them to give us some guidance, and that’s what I’m doing here.
In short, the answer to that earlier question is yes. We are getting pretty much exactly what you’d expect with Silva. All the good, and all the bad. Let’s start with the good.
Our home form has been solid and shows signs of being strong throughout the rest of the season. Since the West Ham disaster, we have posted good numbers in attack and defence. We have rightly battered Brighton, Palace and Fulham (even though the Palace game took a bit longer). Our average xG is pushing 2 goals a game which is what you want to see from any actual good team at home. This is a big relief for me since I was really starting to sweat after that West Ham game. In that game, we posted 1.27 in attack, which against a team without any wins at the time was truly very poor. There was a lot of speculative crossing from deep fullbacks and little obvious pattern to our play. Thankfully our attack and overall home performances have improved since then. We should enjoy our home campaign this season, just as predicted under Silva.
Attacking performances have been fairly consistent too. We post average numbers of 1.33, and that improves if you take out ‘anomalies’ like penalties and games with red cards (although I’m not sure if we should take those kinds of things out as they are part of the game). It’s encouraging to see our forwards like Richarlison and Tosun have xGs of around 0.3, it shows they’re getting some decent service, rather than feeding off of scraps like Everton forwards have often had to do in the past. Just to put that into some context, it’s really quite a lot better than under Koeman and Big Sam (shock), and is as good as anything our main ‘best of the rest’ rivals like Watford, Wolves or Leicester are putting out. I for one am enjoying seeing how we have some consistent pattern to our attacking play recently and feel any half decent team and coach should display some kind of noticeable pattern.
While we’re on the subject of good attacking play, I want to point out a couple of individual players who are impressing. Individual stats can be a mixed bag in terms of reliability, but they give us some kind of indicator at least. I’m just making a case for Silva here that he is squeezing the talent and performances out of players, whereas some coaches are frankly detrimental. Digne has done really well at left back replacing Baines, giving us xA (expected assists) of 0.2, and just over 2 key passes per game, which is good for a fullback at our level I think. Gylfi and Bernard are also giving us over 0.2 xA per game. Gylfi got a lot of stick last season, and Bernard seems to get a bit too from some sections of the support, but both are doing well enough and deserve credit. The two also give us almost 3 key passes per game, which again is around what you want from your creative players. This is a marked improvement from Gylfi who was giving us 0.15 xA and 1.43 key passes per game last season. His expected goals are up 0.3 compared to 0.13 last year. Worth 45 million? Let’s just say the price tag wasn’t his fault and when he hits them like he did against Leicester, then suddenly who cares.
Another pleasing aspect under Silva recently has been that our defence is not as leaky as I thought it might prove to be. While our average xG against is 1.31, and that’s not good, if you take out the penalties and red card games we are sitting at 1.08-ish per game which is solid enough. Even more remarkable actually considering how much of that is conceded with set play problems, but we’ll get to that. I don’t think we need stats here to see how since the West Ham disaster our shape has been much better, and Keane and co. have started to find their feet much better than they ever did before. The Chelsea game also showed that the team does know how to defend, without needing the stats to prove it. I’m not saying we are rock solid, but it’s nice to see that our attacking play isn’t to the huge detriment of a decent defence, which it was under previous phenomenal coaches.
Lastly, for positives, we are competitive away from home, even against the Sky Six, which was pleasing despite the poor results. I don’t have much to say about our away performances (nor do we have enough of a sample size) other than they aren’t as woefully bad as in the last two seasons, and we should see some decent results.
Now let’s talk about the bad that we predicted and are getting with Silva. You already know what I’m going to say. Set plays. Corners. Bad bad bad. We have given up big chances against almost everyone we have played. You could argue that we have improved a bit, and I would argue that to a point, because the big chance we gave up against Leicester was a last minute scramble, and the Brighton goal was more down to an error from Zouma in my opinion than down to team shape and maybe with Keane’s recent improvement and the introduction of the giant Mina we will get better. But that’s only really trying to gloss over what is a big problem for us. And it is a mark of Silva teams, I can’t tell you that it’s going to go away any time soon. And don’t get me started on our attacking corners.
I want to talk a little about the bad aspects of individual performances too. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know what’s coming here. Walcott. I mentioned how Bernard is giving us an xA of 0.24, well, Walcott is offering 0.13. Even Keane gives us an expected assist of 0.11 (yes I am going to argue that Keane is as effective an attacking force as Walcott, fight me). Lookman is offering 0.35 xA per game. Now fine, Lookman has the benefit of fewer appearances and a smaller sample size. I’m just saying that I personally would prefer to see Silva give Lookman a few starts ahead of Walcott. I certainly don’t want to see Bernard getting hooked on the hour mark and Theo staying on in tight games. I am not entirely convinced that Silva couldn’t be more proactive in his team selections and substitutions. That’s a personal bugbear of mine though I will admit, I’m a big believer in making subs and that those who are more proactive and ruthless with their changes see better results.
So in the end, the question is worth asking, are we heading in the right direction? Will Silva see us challenging the Sky Six? Despite all the good aspects of his job so far, there needs to be a fair bit of improvement. I mentioned how Richarlison, Tosun and Gylfi have xGs of around 0.3. If you want to push for a high placed finish then you want your best attacking assets to be up towards 0.5. Expected to score a goal every other game, as opposed to one in three. Even Koeman’s Southampton team before he left for Everton had Mane, Rodriguez and Long hitting those numbers. So while our attack has been good enough and consistent enough, we do need to provide a bit better for our forwards. And with regards to defence, you want to be under 1 xG against you. And frankly, if you’re giving up a chance from a corner that ranks around 0.5 every week, that just isn’t going to happen for Silva. You don’t need stats to see that. Look at the likes of Liverpool (can’t believe I’m saying that under Klopp) and Spurs this season, and you’ll see how the best teams can win 1-0 regularly by giving up virtually nothing even when their attacks aren’t fully functioning. At the moment under Silva, we have to function really well in attack if we’re to win. If we go on a run of ten games where we don’t give up big chances at set plays then maybe we can have cause for optimism here, maybe. Certainly, we defended really very well against a strong Chelsea side who major on set plays.
In conclusion, I’m saying that Silva is certainly not doing a bad job. He’s absolutely a better appointment than Koeman, and even Martinez. But despite all the good, I can’t yet tell you he’s doing an outstanding job and that a Sky Six finish is just around the corner. What Everton are this season is acceptable, in my opinion. We have a pattern to our play, we put up a decent attack and we are never embarrassed away from home. That’s the bare minimum for me if you play in the Premier League. I mean, I know it’s not, but it should be, hence the name ‘Premier’. But look, I’ll choose to be optimistic. Silva has improved us, credit to him. I like him in many ways. He is definitely a coach who will get good baseline performances out of the talent available to him, as opposed to those coaches (Hughes) who drag down their players. With Brands backing him up he will hopefully have more talented personnel coming in to see those numbers reach where they need to be. Certainly, Silva seems to have been a big factor for the likes of Richi and Gomes coming to the club. In the end, for this season, and probably next, we’ll have to content ourselves with the ‘best of the rest’ trophy. At least we can enjoy going to Goodison Park again, and let’s not allow ourselves to forget where we were just twelve months ago.