How Bad Was 2017/18 (and why is it important to look back on?)

I have maintained that one of the biggest problems with the fans perception of the job that Marco Silva has done and of this current Everton team (last year’s team in particular) is that the team in 17/18 finished 8th.  I personally believe that has clouded the judgement of many that believe Marco Silva inherited a decent team, when in reality he did not.  For some reason, many still believe Silva did very little to improve the team from the prior season, when it seemed to me the teams were VERY different.  I read things online about how Everton has not progressed or that the team last season was 8th just like the year before.   

As a result, I took a closer look at the 2017/2018 side and its performance to determine if the team was truly the 8th best team in the PL or were they what I suspected – lucky. In looking at the 17/18 table, Everton finished on 49 points with 44 Goals for (11th), 58 Goals Against (14th), and a Goal Differential of -14 (11th).  That would be the first rather obvious indication that Everton were fortunate to finish 8th and that somewhere in the 11th through 14th range was more appropriate.  Still, that’s a very simple viewpoint and based on the incredible frustration of watching that team, I suspected a closer look at peripheral stats might give more insight into the actual performance of the side.

THE ATTACK

Think I’ll just leaves these numbers here without preface – taken from Whoscored & Wyscout:

  • GOALS:    44 (12th), xG (10th)
  • SHOTS:    9.4 pg (19th), SOT 3.2 pg (16th)
  • 1 v 1:         Dribbles pg (19th), % of success 48.3% (19th) key passes (18th)
  • PASSING: 74.3% (15th), 19th in key passes, 3rd long balls pg, 19th in long ball accuracy, 20th in crosses pg, 15th in through passes & 20th in accuracy (21%)
  • MISC:       31% of the time in its own third (19th), 19th in “bad touches”, 19th in corners, 14th in touches in the box.

Damn.  About the only positive I could find was that Everton was 1st in xG per shot.  So while Everton created very few scoring chances, they were often in better positions that other teams.  Perhaps the most mind boggling of the numbers is that Everton had only 32 crosses into the six yard box, yet led the league in crossing accuracy!

Based on the above, I have no idea how Everton managed to score 44 goals.  It’s clearly a relegation level attack.  The team couldn’t take care of the ball and generated very few chances.  It’s worth noting that Oumar Niasse somehow had 8 goals to his name.

THE DEFENCE

More numbers without comment from the same sources:

  • GOALS AGAINST:  58 (14th), xGA 54.77 (13th), 46 GA from open play (20th)
  • SHOTS AGAINST:  12.96 pg (16th)
  • MISC:  13th Duels success rate (61.2%), 4th in “Challenge Intensity” (Duels/tackels/interceptions per opposition possession), 2nd in interceptions per game, 1st in fouls per game (by quite a bit), 14th in PPDA (pressure applied), 18th in aerial success rate (43.1%), 9th in save percentage.

Not real good, either.  Everton sat back, conceded possession, and were STILL the worst team at GA in open play.  They did play physical, had a bunch of interceptions, but ultimately, they rarely had the ball and gave it away when they did. 

Comparatively speaking, the defense in peripheral metrics was not quite as bad as the offense, but any defense that concedes THAT many shots and gives up THAT many goals simply cannot be considered anything but bottom third and perhaps even relegation level.  It’s also worth noting that the team led the league in fouls per game and didn’t give up a free kick goal.

PERFORMANCE SUMMARY

How on earth did that team finish 8th?  A bottom third / relegation level attack AND defense is simply not an 8th placed team without a lot of luck.  Thus, I thought it would be interesting to look at expected goal differential and expected points over the season.    

Thus, we calculated expected points from expected goal differential using a simplified translator.  It’s not quite a Monte Carlo simulation, but our method actually put Everton on 40.8 points, less than 49 points, and would’ve put Everton back at 15th.  That number is in line with the past ten years, where 40.8 points would’ve been anywhere from 13th to 17th with an average position of 15.4.  Realistically, with the peripheral numbers noted above, a 15th table position would probably be much more deserved than an 8th place finish.  So there’s some good reason to suggest an 8th place finish was VERY fortunate and that the team was actually much worse than that.

SAM ALLARDYCE IMPACT

Everton’s results “improved” in the second half of the season and there are still many out there that believe Sam Allardyce was responsible for this “improvement”.  There are even others that believe he did a good job at Everton and stabilised the team.  However, a closer look at the numbers suggests otherwise.  

First of all, he took over a team that was tied for 12th in points and 2 points out of 9th (and no he doesn’t deserve credit for sitting in the stands in a single game against West Ham at home, that’s ridiculous).  Second of all, Allardyce had a much easier schedule than Ronald Koeman did.  Koeman not only had to deal with European and Cup matches, but of the 9 games he managed, 5 were top 6 sides (56%) as opposed to 7 of Allardyce’s 24 matches (29%).  Beyond that, when we took a closer look at expected goal differential, a strong case could be made that Koeman was rather unlucky, while Allardyce was remarkably lucky.

In 7 of Koeman’s 9 games at the helm, the xGD was better than the actual result, which could indicate Koeman’s team were unlucky.  Upon closer examination, however, there really weren’t many games that would’ve made much of a difference, with the exception of a very unfortunate Burnley loss that Everton probably deserved a better result.  This isn’t a defense of Koeman or a suggestion he shouldn’t have been removed, but with the schedule and the significant number of injuries he had to deal with, he definitely had a difficult situation.

In Sam Allardyce’s games, it was quite the opposite.  14 of his 24 matches had a better result than the xGD indicated, indicating his team was lucky.  His Everton team got 34 points where the xPoints total was just over 25.  A strong case could be made that when Allardyce took over, the team should’ve been in a better position and the performance of the team under Allardyce should’ve resulted in a drop in table position rather than the opposite. 

Allardyce also had quite a few benefits that Koeman did not.  We already noted the easier schedule, but Everton spent 50M in the January window to bring in Cenk Tosun, Theo Walcott, and Eliaquim Mangala on loan.  Allardyce also got several key players back from injury including Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Yannick Bolasie, and later Ramiro Funes Mori.  Objectively speaking, the Team under Allardyce even with the benefits noted above, were very fortunate to have the points total they had, and didn’t improve much on the pitch from the previous managers.

DOES THIS MATTER NOW?

The idea that the 2017-2018 Everton team was more like a 15th place team that was more likely to battle promotion than contend for Europe does matter in terms of how Marco Silva’s performance is viewed. To me, it seemed pretty obvious that the Everton team of 2018-2019 was massively improved from the previous year.  Statistically speaking, Silva’s team in 2018-2019 had much better peripherals (as we’ve addressed in previous articles) with a strong case to be made that Everton had a top 5 defence and a top 8/9 attack.  Marco Silva deserves credit for much of that as does Brands for bringing in better players.

Nevertheless, some still maintain that the “table doesn’t lie” and that points – also a stat I might add – tell the whole story.  Even under that failed logic, the point total was still better from the year before.  Unfortunately, it’s that sizeable portion of the Everton fan base that believe Marco Silva should be on the hot seat or don’t give him or Marcel Brands the credit they deserve from transforming a very poor team into a squad that had no business finishing 8th, into a squad that was unfortunate to not finish 7th and in a European spot. 

There are also confusing reactions asking to have Silva removed when players, many from that 17/18 squad, make mistakes or don’t perform.  Neither Silva nor Brands picked these players and under FFA, they cannot replace every player in one or even two or three transfer windows.  In some cases, more affordable stopgaps are also playing to bridge the gap to the proper team of the future under a competent management staff.

CONCLUSION

Based on what I’ve noted above, the 2017-2018 was a very bad team, was fortunate to finish 8th, and was closer to a borderline relegation team.  My eyes saw what a bad team it was and certainly the peripheral numbers support the claim as well.  I do believe that if they finished 15th like they should have, more fans would believe Marco Silva did indeed do a good job last season and have more faith in him moving forward.  I also believe Silva would get more credit for the improvements he’s made to some of these players, even though they are likely not good enough for the team to go forward. Regardless, perhaps some of us should just cut Marco and Marcel a break, realise how bad things were, and appreciate that it’s going to take time to turn a truly bad team into a top 6 squad. 

One thought on “How Bad Was 2017/18 (and why is it important to look back on?)

  1. Great breakdown. I remember it never felt like the team was trying to do much of anything on attack under Allardyce. and I don’t want to think about who was playing on the back like. Under Silva, last year the squad has definitely improved. Not sure what’s going on this year. The defensive lapses wouldn’t be as troubling if they scored two a game

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