COVID-19 has been the biggest spanner in the works to ever hit the world of football. Regardless whether the season is declared null and void, or the FA finds a miracle safety plan, the period between now and our last game at Stamford Bridge has been incredibly long.
It has been two months since the match versus Chelsea, a game which felt like was as far back as the David Moyes era. With this in mind, now seems a good time to look at how this Everton team has developed throughout the 2019/20 campaign, even if it ends nine games less than usual. At the time of writing The Toffees sit in 12th position in the Premier League, three managers through the course of the campaign and what has felt like yet another transitional season after a failed project.
The management of the squad has been called into question on numerous occasions this season. Many fans have called for playing time for the likes of Tom Davies, Anthony Gordon and Moise Kean, due to injuries and other issues. Players with minimal minutes won’t be included, but lets have a look at how this Everton side have developed through the Silva sacking to the amelioration under Ancelotti.
Troubles Between the Sticks – Jordan Pickford
Jordan is an interesting one as he is clearly our best goalkeeper, but he has struggled since he signed the contract. His confident demeanour has often backfired and that has been even more evident this season, as the horror show at home to Newcastle and away at Anfield in Marco Silva’s farewell game have showcased.
Despite a minority calling for him to be dropped earlier in the season, Carlo Ancelotti expressed his faith in Pickford, who said “In my opinion he is the best English goalkeeper.” A very flattering comment from Ancelotti, who has worked with incredible goalkeepers during his time, yet Pickford’s performances have hardly improved under the new boss.
An incredibly poor error at home to Crystal Palace was followed by a long shot from Bruno Fernandes a few weeks later; one which, arguably, he should have saved. This has raised eyebrows towards his positioning in shooting situations, moments when Pickford reduces his chances of making a save. A goalkeeper with moments of brilliance, but they are cancelled out by the errors he is prone to making.
Unremarkable Full-Backs – Seamus Coleman, Djibril Sidibé, Lucas Digne and Leighton Baines
Sadly, it is clear to see that the confident, marauding full back we saw score 17 goals over the course of 4 seasons, has been gone since the horrendous injury he suffered playing for Ireland. Coleman started the season as undisputed first choice but when it became clear he was underperforming; it still took until he was sent off and subsequently suspended for him to be replaced in late September. Ancelotti looked to have found him a new lease of life on the right of the back three, but he has played little in the role since.
The reason Coleman had started as many games as he had this season owes largely to the inconsistency of his competition. Djibril Sidibé showed great attacking qualities at certain points but he has also been wildly caught out of position on numerous occasions. His delivery is infinitely better than Coleman’s however, producing a few fantastic crosses for Richarlison waiting in the centre. On the whole he has enjoyed a much better season at right-back, if he was three years younger I’d trust him to iron out his many flaws, but at the age of 27 I personally wouldn’t take up the option to buy.
On the opposite flank, another Frenchman remains one of the best left-backs the Premier League has to offer. Despite that, Lucas Digne has experienced quite a considerable drop off in his performances this season, compared to his first on Merseyside. Creatively he still challenges Europe’s elite full backs for chances created and still leads the way for Everton in terms of Expected Assists.
Unexpectedly, Leighton Baines has formed quite the renaissance throughout the course of the season. Undeservedly dropped after a couple of decent performances against Manchester United and Leicester, during Duncan Ferguson’s brief stint in charge, Baines has shown he still has what it takes to fill in if there is ever an injury or suspension to Digne. I sincerely hope we have not seen the end of Baines in blue, hopefully we can squeeze one more season out of one of Everton’s greatest ever full backs; especially when performing at a decent level.
Finding the Best Centre-Back Partnership – Yerry Mina, Michael Keane and Mason Holgate
Yerry Mina has made the position at the heart of The Blues defence his own this season, forming a well-balanced partnership with Mason Holgate. The Colombian has not only been commanding in the air but has also shown confidence on the ball, completing quite a nice number of long passes for a centre half – 4.27 per game. Under Silva, Ferguson, and Ancelotti, he has been undisputed first choice.
My choice for our player of the season has been the other half of the centre-back partnership. Mason Holgate’s transition from an undeveloped but confident centre back, to a shaky right back, into an exciting ball-playing defender has been brilliant to watch. His assist for Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal at Brighton optimised what he has too offer, capable of taking the ball out of defence, moving towards the final third before picking out the young striker inside the penalty area.
(remind me to make a gif of this goal, I love watching it)
He has even been deployed in the midfield, where he has not looked out of place. Overall, the introduction of Holgate to the first team has been one of the only bright sparks of our season. The performances of Mina and Holgate has left Michael Keane out of the picture in the centre-back roles. The truth is that in a team playing on the front foot, he’s neither quick enough nor expansive enough, dropping him for Mason Holgate has resulted in the latter establishing himself in the first team. A major indicator of Everton’s dreadful recruitment a few years back.
Midfield Malarkey – Morgan Schneiderlin, Fabian Delph, Andre Gomes, Tom Davies, Gylfi Sigurdsson
Morgan Schneiderlin gets too much stick; the only one of our midfielders who can recreate some of Gareth Barry’s passing traits. However, he is a limited player in plenty of departments and his lack of pace leaves him incapable of defending the space behind him. For a player who was an integral part of aggressive, high intensity systems at Southampton, it is a damn shame we have not got a player who looks even half of that quality.
Fabian Delph was one of two midfield additions in the summer window. A seemingly astute signing at the time, the England international has had a nightmare spell to date, struggling to impose himself on an already weak midfield. An own goal at Bournemouth and a needless sending off at Watford have been his lowest on pitch points, while arguing with a disgruntled fan on Instagram also was not his proudest moment. Regardless of this however he should have played more than he has, but his prone to injuries was well documented before he signed. Hopefully, a good run of games can help him become the player Marcel Brands initially brought in.
Though playing just eleven times, André Gomes has failed to be the Pirlo or Xaxi that a lot of supporters seem to think he is. A game at Villa Park earlier this season sticks out as one of the worst performances I have seen from an Everton player, totally incapable of making a pass forward or into space. Gomes quickly become a fan favourite in his debut season, thanks to be a midfielder who could actually run with the ball once or twice, but injuries and no competent midfield partner have hindered him this season.
Our only midfielder capable of creating chances, Tom Davies, has played twenty-one times this season and has largely been our best centre midfielder. However, his lack of pace and lack of defensive awareness expose him massively, something which a playing a three-man midfield could help him with in midfield. The 4-4-2 formation does not suit him, a player who should be a lot further forward in his development than he is right now.
Last season, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s goals and set pieces covered up a very average season. This campaign, the goals have dried up and he has been a shadow of the player who we broke our transfer record for in 2017. Recently he has been deployed out wide, largely owing to his delivery still being of relatively high quality, but under both Silva and Ancelotti he has averaged a shockingly low number of touches and passes received for someone who’s been deployed in the positions he has.
Likeable Wingers – Theo Walcott, Bernard and Alex Iwobi
Walcott remains our only natural right sided player, I actually don’t mind Theo and feel the criticism he gets is a bit underserved. He is another player who isn’t really involved in our play but he undoubtably makes the best runs behind the defensive line in the team. His time at the Toffees will soon be up but for now he is our best right sided player and at least we’ll always have Watford away.
Another fan favourite, Bernard has seen an upturn in form since the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti, thriving in the central areas he finds himself in as a part of our 4-4-2. His assist for Moise Kean in the 2-2 draw at home to Newcastle was a great example of this, plucking a pass out of the air he drives at the defence before lifting a beautiful pass into the path of Kean. Bernard has suited a lot better under Carlo Ancelotti, in comparison to both Silva and Ferguson.
Sadly, Everton’s biggest disappointment has been the misuse of Alex Iwobi. The poster boy for people who say “stats mean nothing” but they do, and they indicate that Alex Iwobi is one of the best young progressive passers in Europe. He has only played as a number 10 twice in the league this season, six times on the right(!!) and the rest on the left. Another player who would benefit from a three-man midfield, Iwobi has struggled to make an impact due to injuries, position changes and no prolonged spell in the starting eleven. Ideally, he should be deployed on the left of a midfield three but playing him on the right of a 4-4-2 has zero benefit.
An Exciting Striker Duo – Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Moise Kean
Kean should’ve played a lot more, albeit Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are both enjoying great seasons, but he’s hardly been seen from the start this term. Silva played him on the right against Watford in the Carabao Cup and dragged him off at half time; then Ferguson brought him on only to take him off 17 minutes later at Old Trafford. A talent massively rated in his native Italy, the arrival of Ancelotti was seen by many as a new start for Kean, but it’s been the same old story, few minutes to impress and maligned by fans eager to see an instant return on the near £30M we paid Juventus for the young striker.
Granted, the main reason why Kean has been left out of the team is the fantastic performances of both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. DCL has the best of both worlds now, quality link up play with Richarlison and also starting to bang the goals in on a regular basis. A lot has been made of how much a two striker system suits him, but the key for me is how it allows him to stay more central and also has to press less than he would on his own, under Silva he’d run himself into the ground every game and now he finishes games still looking sharp.
Our most effective player in any system, Richarlison has put in great displays for us on the right, left and in the centre. He’s two footed and great in the air, but also incredibly fast and physical, directness which offers something new. The switch to a 4-4-2 enables him to feed off flick ons and the havoc DCL creates has allowed him to do what he does best, finish, quickly and impeccable. A great example of this linkup came against Crystal Palace earlier this year. He is our most valuable player and Ancelotti seems to be getting the best out of him, long may it continue.