Everton 2019/20 Season Review – By the Numbers

It’s been a disappointing year for Everton and while the team had an unfortunate combination of bad performances, significant injuries, terrible officiating decision, and a change of coaches, we at Toffee Analysis still thought it was worth taking a closer look at the squad performance to try and get past the oddities and to the root of the problems.  As a result, we took a comprehensive look at the underlying performance data from the past season.  We took a hard look in key areas of the squad and identified some obvious areas of deficiency, but also areas of improvement that we believe Marcel Brands and Carlo Ancelotti can address in the upcoming window and season.  While much of what we found will be of no surprise to Everton fans, there were a couple more unexpected results that might change some minds about the collective team and certain individuals (and yes we name names).

Expectations.  While the season performance results don’t look pretty, we believe a reasonable goal for the squad is a 6th place finish in 20/21.  Even in spite of the significant injuries and moves that sacrificed performance in the short term (i.e, the selling of Morgan Schneiderlin), the xPTS for Everton depending on the source is 8th with around 53 points.  The average points total for 6th place in the PL over the last 5 years is 64.  As a result, Everton needs to improve the performance of the squad by 11 points to have a decent chance at a 6th place finish.  That’s a tall task, but with some improvements in key areas and a little bit more luck, we are optimistic it can happen. 

Transfers.  While 11 points is possible, Everton still has some limitations in its ability to improve the squad and maneuver in the market.  The significant spending of 17/18 and the accompanying massive increase to payroll has clearly put PL financial regulation and FFP pressure on Marcel Brands since his arrival.  During his two seasons at the club, Everton has a net spend of around £100M and dropped at least £12M in salary last season alone.  Comparatively speaking, the average PL net spend over the past two years is around £88M, which means Everton is only slightly above average in net spend during that period.  Even clubs like Wolves and Leicester have spent more in gross than Everton over the past two years and Wolves in particular have spent more in net by a significant margin (approximately £164.6M vs. £100.9M).

Salaries.  In the longer run, Everton’s larger fan base should allow for more revenue than either club, but Everton needs to cut down on its wage bill as it’s around 3 times the size of PL competitors like Wolves and significantly higher than other comparable clubs.  The lower wage bill allows a club like Wolves to spend more in the market and not feel as much pressure from PL regulations or FFP.  The good news is that Everton should be able to jettison most of the underperforming contracts this offseason even in the current economic environment.  Going into the summer window, in addition to the salary savings last summer, the departures of players out of contract and the sales of Schneiderlin, Dowell, and Hornby have already cut around £13M in annual wages in net even considering the salary increases given to Holgate, Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison.  There are also several players in their final contract year that Everton should be able to move on, which would result in an additional £17M in annual wages this year.  Moving any of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bernard, or to a lesser extent, Cenk Tosun could push that number even further to over £40M in annual wages saved this offseason.  That is a massive total that is more than the entire wage bill of 7 or 8 PL teams alone. 

Financial Regulations.  The PL has not publicly announced how it is addressing financial regulations as a result of the lost revenue due to COVID, so there is still hope that a treatment similar to what UEFA did could permit additional spending by Everton this window.  In that scenario, while it would be risky, Everton could spend now and sell later, depending on the circumstances.  Obviously, that would make it much easier for Everton to improve the squad by the aforementioned 11 points and perhaps more.

xG vs. xGA.  If the goal is finishing 6th, in theory it would make sense to develop target outputs for goals scored and conceded produce  that match a 6th placed attack and defense.  As a reference, over the past 5 years, the 6th best GF & GA is 62.2 and 42.2 respectively. This past season, Everton scored 44 goals, but its xG was 48.3 (8th) and conceded 56, although its xGA was 47.3 (7th).  Everton’s xG differential was actually positive and 7th best in the Premier League, which considering the injuries and managerial changes, is quite remarkable.  In fact, it should give fans a degree of hope that Everton’s performance maybe wasn’t as bad as it seemed. 

THE ATTACK.

Starting with the attack, we decided to look at a few different components and the underlying Premier League numbers to determine how much Everton needs to improve in specific areas.  Obviously, football is a fluid game and facets of the game are usually interrelated, but for the sake of our analysis and presentation we have attempted to break things down into different aspects.  In the attack, we will look at Shooting, Passing, Possession, and Chance Creation. 

SHOOTING

Quick Take.  Everton were a bit lucky.  Several players that have strong track records underperformed, and the problem of scoring goals probably lies elsewhere.

Key Stats. 

  • Non Penalty Goals – Non Penalty Expected Goals (np:G-xG) = -6.5 (18th)
  • Shots on Target Per 90 Minutes (SoT/90) = 4.08 (9th)
  • Goals per Shots on Target % (G/SoT) = .26 (16th

Analysis.  Other than Richarlison and Bernard, no Everton player beat their xG numbers by more than .5.  The biggest culprits were Gylfi Sigurdsson (-2.4), Moise Kean (-2.2), Mason Holgate (-2.2), Lucas Digne (-1.5), and Alex Iwobi (-1.3).  Of the players with the most touches in the box, Richarlison (+4.0), Dominic Calvert Lewin (-.9), and Theo Walcott (- .7) finished at an acceptable collective rate.  While there is some doubt that Walcott or Gylfi Sigurdsson will be with the club next season, players like Sigurdsson, Moise Kean, Lucas Digne, and even Alex Iwobi had bad finishing seasons relative to their historical performances and we don’t likely see a repeat.  Still, Everton could stand to generate more shots on target, but we will address the other components of the attack below.

PASSING

Quick Take.  Everton were a poor passing side with a success rate that is unacceptably low considering how few passes were made under pressure and how few passes were made into the opponent’s penalty area.

Key Stats. 

  • Pass Completion % = 77.1% (11th)
  • Total Pass Attempts = 17,177 (11th)
  • Progressive Passes = 1,638 (6th)
  • Progressive Distance of Passes = 100,651yds (6th)
  • Short Pass % = 28.8 (20th)
  • Crosses to the Penalty Area = 85 (8th)
  • Passes to the Penalty Area = 297 (10th)
  • Passes Under Pressure = 2,853 (16th)
  • Passes Blocked = 540 (3rd)

Analysis.  A team that made so few passes under pressure and passes into the penalty area should absolutely not have a pass completion rate as low as Everton did. While Everton did make a decent number of progressive passes, it doesn’t make up for the difference.  The high total of passes blocked is also remarkable considering how few passes Everton made to begin with.  The short pass % is an interesting number and while it may not mean a lot, it can’t be ignored that these are normally made by attacking players and might explain some part of our struggles in the final third. 

Press Resistant Players.  In terms of individuals, the only two individuals that had high pass completion rates and made a high number of passes under pressure p90 were Fabian Delph and Yerry Mina.  Lucas Digne also had the highest total number of passes under pressure in the side and while his completion rate wasn’t impressive, the number and progressive passes he made was significant. 

Poor Performances.  There are few excuses for Gylfi Sigurdsson who faced low pressure and had an average completion rate.  Same for Bernard who faced some pressure but had a low completion rate.   Theo Walcott in particular faced low pressure and had a low completion rate.  Theo also had the worst short pass complete %, although Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman weren’t much better. At least Bernard had the most passes into the penalty area p90 (1.83) and had solid creation stats.  But overall, Everton has to do better passing the ball.

POSSESSION

Quick Take.  Similar to the issues above, but probably the biggest concern, Everton were a poor possession side that had trouble receiving and controlling the ball despite not being under significant pressure or playing aggressively.

Key Stats. 

  • Possession % = 77.1% (11th)
  • Passes Under Pressure = 2,853 (16th)
  • Passing Rate Per Minute of Possession = 13.8 (11th)
  • Passes Allowed Per Defensive Action (PPDA) Against = 11.24 (10th)
  • Touches in Attacking Penalty Area = 889 (9th)
  • Touches in Defensive Penalty Area = 2,699 (6th)
  • Passes Received Success % = 82.5% (11th)
  • Miscontrols = 490 (17th)
  • Dispossessed by Tackle (not attempting to dribble) = 472 (15th)

Analysis.  Much like the passing stats above, it’s unacceptable for a team to be so poor in possession when it’s not under pressure or playing with urgency and aggressiveness.  Teams did pressure Everton at times, but Everton was clearly not well equipped to handle it.  Everton didn’t receive passes well, but the biggest indictment is the number of miscontrols and times Everton players were dispossessed relatively to its level of possession.  This has been an issue for Everton for several years and it simply needs to be rectified. The team is not taking players on or carrying the ball extensively.  Passing frequency isn’t high.  In fact, the team has around 3 times as many touches in its penalty area as it does in the opponents.  It would be one thing if that was some tactical decision, but it is clearly not.

CF Ball Control Issues.  The ability to receive and control a ball is partially the issue of the passer, but it’s an obvious issue with the side.  Some of the possession problems actually reside in the attack.  Dominic Calvert Lewin, while difficult to dispossess, had the 3rd most “miscontrols” in the league and his receiving % was one of the worst as well.  Richarlison also made the top 10 for “miscontrols” and was 3rd in being dispossessed.  Moise Kean didn’t fare any better and Bernard, considering how often he played deeper, was in many ways worse.  Many of these numbers are magnified by the lack of midfield support.  Everton’s forwards were isolated too often.

More Midfield Issues.  In the midfield, Tom Davies and Andre Gomes were significant problems.  Neither played high up the pitch or carried the ball any significant distance.  Yet Davies was poor at receiving passes and both he and Gomes were equally poor at controlling the ball and were disposed way too frequently.  While I expect Andre Gomes to have the ball taken from him, he usually shows an ability to beat players off the dribble and make passes under pressure, which are both traits Everton could use and currently lack.  How much of his significant drop off from last season can be repaired through improving health is unsure, however he cannot take those kinds of risks in a two-man midfield.  Again, Fabian Delph leads the midfield with a 96.5% receiving rate, but it’s also worth noting that JP Gbamin has a history of high rates and solid possession numbers that could help next season at some point.

CHANCE CREATION.

Quick Take.  Everton did not put enough pressure on defenses from open play.  The team did not get the ball into the penalty area enough and didn’t create scoring opportunities via the pass or the dribble.  Most of the attack also came from one side.

Key Stats. 

  • Shot Creating Actions (SCA) Dead Ball Situations = 83 (2nd)
  • SCA Live Ball Passes = 457 (13th)
  • SCA via Dribble = 46 (12th)
  • SCA via Shot Attempt = 54 (2nd)
  • SCA via Foul Drawn = 43 (7th)
  • Dribble Attempts = 633 (15th)
  • Dribble Succ Rate = 61.8% (9th)
  • Crosses to the Penalty Area = 85 (8th)
  • Passes to the Penalty Area = 297 (10th)
  • Passes that resulted in offsides = 48 (18th)

Analysis.  While it’s lovely to see that Everton created a lot of chances from dead ball situations, the team was poor at creating chances from live play via pass or the dribble.  The team lacked individuals that were willing to take on opponents and did not effectively get the ball into the penalty area often enough.  Obviously, lack of possession or passing ability contributes to the lack of volume as well.

Best Performers.  Individually, Bernard led Everton in SCA via Live Passes at 2.75 p90 and is second in SCA via Dribble at .35 p90.  However, in the 8 games after the break, he showed little creative output to make up for his continuing possession issues.  Moise Kean led Everton with a stunning .85 SCA via Dribble.  He clearly has the ability to create his own shot and his total SCA p90 of 2.85 is 3rd on the team. Lucas Digne had the 2nd highest overall SCA and while much of that is driven by set pieces, he had a respectable number from live pass situations as well.   

Open Play Potential.  Alex Iwobi was second in SCA via Live Pass at 2.32, but that number pales in comparison to his last two seasons at Arsenal where he was at 3.3 SCA via Live Passes per game.  In his last season he also averaged 4.25 dribble attempts p90, but has dropped to 2.26 this season even though his success rate was 67.5%, highest of any attacking player.  Part of this was due to having close to half the number of touches p90 in the Penalty Area and Final Third as he did at Arsenal.  Iwobi has shown consistent ability to create from open play in the past – his Live SCA numbers at Arsenal would put him in the top 15/10 of all qualified players in the PL.  If Everton can improve its passing and possession play and get Iwobi (and perhaps others) the ball in more dangerous positions, it seems logical that Everton will create a lot more chances to score. 

Lack of Creative Players.  Unfortunately, there were too few players outside the aforementioned that created scoring opportunities for others.  Tom Davies (.76) and Seamus Coleman (.78) created very little from live play and Gylfi Sigurdsson wasn’t much better (1.13).  Richarlison showed the ability to create his own shot, but didn’t do much for his teammates, although neither did Theo Walcott.  It’s also obvious that Dominic Calvert-Lewin needs to improve his ability to create via the pass and the dribble.  However, it would be helpful to have more players in the box and others putting pressure on defenses.  The lack of passes into the box is also a concern with Iwobi & Bernard having been the two best with 1.81 and 1.83 passes into the box per 90, but may be the byproduct of several issues and needs to be higher across the board.  Obviously, one could make an argument that Everton deserved more than a single penalty awarded in their favor, but part of the issue is the lack of opportunities to do so as well.

Concerns at RB.  It is worth noting that with the loss of Sidibe, Everton has some concerns about creative output from RB. Seamus Coleman has shown a decline in production the last 3 seasons and Jonjoe Kenny hasn’t shown much ability to create at Schalke, although he can serve a ball and get forward off the ball.  Over the season, Everton had actually attacked as often from the right as the left, but with mixed results.  But again, without a stout midfield that can control the ball, it’s very difficult for fullbacks to get up the field to support the attack.  

THE DEFENSE.

Similar to the above and with the acknowledgment again to the fluid nature of the sport, we took a critical look at the defensive aspects of the team.  Everton had some obvious deficiencies, but has opportunity to make big improvements with the proper recruitment.  In the defense, we look at Goalkeeping, Takeaways, and Aerial Ability.

GOALKEEPING

Quick Take.  Everton showed a significant deficiency in its goalkeeper’s ability to stop shots and prevent goals.

Key Stats. 

  • Post Shot Expected Goals Allowed – Goals Conceded = -5.1 (18th)
  • Save % = 63.4% (19th)
  • Shots on Target Against = 145 (13th)

Analysis.  There’s not much analysis necessary.  Everton didn’t concede a ton of shots, but conceded a lot of goals.  In fact, it’s a supportable conclusion that Jordan Pickford was largely responsible for a majority of the difference between expected goals and actual goals conceded.  It’s also not a stretch to suggest that an above average shot stopper playing behind the current Everton defense could’ve resulted in anywhere from a 9 to 15 goals defensive improvement.

Potential Improvements.  While Jordan Pickford was undoubtedly a big part of Everton’s high number of goals conceded, there is some hope that he can perform better.  Statistically, Pickford had a much better season last year in terms of xGA vs. GA (+4.3) to put him 5th in the PL, but his save % still was low at 65.6% (16th).  The year prior he was slightly below average.  Regardless, there is some hope with the push for him to retain his status as England #1 going into the European championships, that he will perform better next season.  But Everton simply cannot have another performance from their goalkeepers like this past season if the club has any intentions of finishing 6th or higher.

TAKEAWAYS

Quick Take.  Everton showed significant deficiency in stopping the dribble, winning tackles, wining the ball back, and applying pressure as a team.  However, most of the problems lie in midfield.

Key Stats. 

  • Fouls Committed = 472 (2nd)
  • Tackles Attempted = 739 (4th)
  • Tackles Won = 423 (9th)
  • Passes Allowed Per Defensive Action (PPDA) = 11.29 (7th)
  • Tackles vs. Dribbles % = 33.3% (10th)
  • Number of Times Dribbled Past = 490 (15th)
  • Successful Pressures % = 27.3% (14th)
  • Pressures in the Attacking 3rd = 1,364 (11th)
  • Blocked Passes = 457 (18th)
  • Interceptions = 410 (10th)
  • Recoveries = 3,599 (7th)

Analysis.  Many of the defensive action stats are dependent on possession.  However, the inefficiency is striking.  The fact that Everton committed the 2nd most fouls with 4th most tackle attempts, yet only won the 9th most tackles while being middle of the road in possession says it all.   Everton’s defense was aggressive at times, but ineffective at winning the ball back.  The poor dribbling defensive numbers could’ve been predicated just by watching teams glide by Everton midfielders, in particular at the end of the season due to the losses to the only 3 capable defensive midfielders in the team (Schneiderlin, Gbamin, Delph).  Blocked Passes numbers are usually low with the best teams that dominate possession, but Everton are not one of those team.  Regardless, it speaks to serious deficiencies, but thankfully these are not all over the pitch.

Midfield Challenges.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of these defensive deficiencies are the result of poor midfield play.  Andre Gomes in particular has never been a good defensive player.  He usually registers high totals in fouls p90 (2.35 in 2019/20) and was yet again amongst the worst in the league in times dribbled past p90 (3.46) and tackle success against dribbles (11.1%).  Even worse, Gomes averaged .43 Interceptions p90 and had one of the lowest pressure success rates on the team (25.3%).  While it would seem obvious that he is ill-equipped to play in a midfield with any defensive responsibility, it’s worth noting that Tom Davies had a worse pressure success rate (23.2%) and almost as bad a tackle rate against dribbles (15.7%).  At least Davies picks off a pass occasionally (1.53 Int p90), but both are well below average defensive players in midfield.  The only other option at the end of the season, Gylfi Sigurdsson, was just as bad in pressure success (25.3%) and only 10 others were dribbled past more often in the league.  The good news in all this is that none of these players would play ahead of JP Gbamin or Fabian Delph (or Morgan Schneiderlin) in a two man midfield and were only playing due to injury.  When played in a deeper role two years ago at Mainz, Gbamin put up impressive defensive numbers and Fabian Delph had considerably better defensive numbers in his appearances as well.  Regardless, Everton will likely be acquiring at least one midfielder that should improve defensive production across the board. 

Backline Tactical Limitations.  Another area of lesser concern is in the backline.  In central defense, while there aren’t many obvious performance differences between the center backs, the disparity in defensive pressures in the attacking third was concerning.  While Mina and Holgate averaged .55 and .57 pressures p90, Michael averaged only .18.  That seems to support the idea that Keane cannot player farther up the pitch.  While it’s not a defensive stat, the significant difference in Progressive Carries Distance between Keane (101.3 p90) and Mina (133.7) as well as Holgate (127.5) also seems to support that idea.  Michael Keane just appears uncomfortable playing higher or moving forward, which impedes Everton’s ability to get up the pitch when either Holgate or Mina are out.  In the wider defensive positions, Djibril Sidibe led Everton in Tackles + Interceptions p90 by a significant margin (6.16) with only Morgan Schneiderlin over 4 p90 (4.77).  That should be a significant concern going forward.  While both Digne and Coleman showed solid tackling numbers and had a healthy number of duels, Digne showed a more frequent ability to pressure further up the field (2.7 attacking 3rd pressures p90) than Coleman (1.08) and just pressure in general.  While some of that is tactical, it also is a warning sign that perhaps Everton needs someone more active on the right.

AERIAL ABILITIES

Quick Take.  Everton had a lot of aerial duels and won them at an average rate, although they are likely to expect a natural increase in performance in the upcoming season.  Everton were a threat in the air on set pieces, but also a concern in defense, although the net balance seemed to improve under Carlo Ancelotti.

Key Stats. 

  • Aerial Duels Won = 836 (3rd)
  • Aerial Win Rate = 50.5% (10th)
  • Goals Scored via Header = 15 (2nd)
  • Shot Creating Actions (SCA) Dead Ball Situations = 83 (2nd)
  • Goals Conceded via Header = 8 (15th)

Analysis.  Everton have several individuals that excel in aerial situations.  In attack, Dominic Calvert Lewin won almost 6 headers and had over 11 attempts p90.  Only 6 players won more in the PL and his win rate of 46.4% was respectable for a target forward. While Richarlison isn’t dominant in the air, he did score 5 headed goals this season and can be a tough matchup for most fullbacks.  Moise Kean has never shown much aerial ability and when Calvert Lewin is out of the game, Everton is forced to play differentially, for better or worse. 

High Performers.  In defense, Keane, Mina, and Digne all were in the top 25 of aerials won and had solid win rates of 63.3%, 64.0%, and 67.5% respectively.  Even Mason Holgate had a respectable win rate of 57.5%.  While he won less that 2 aerials p90, it’s hopefully reflective of improvement in an area of past deficiency.  Seamus Coleman has always been adequate even if he isn’t always actively attacking the ball in the air.  Keane and Mina especially are handfuls on set pieces and it’s not unreasonable to suggest a performance improvement from both next season, assuming they are both still at Everton.

Potential for Improvement.  While some individuals are simply never going to be outstanding like the vertically challenged Bernard (6.3% rate), he along with others should expect a natural improvement.  Andre Gomes is normally well above 50% and JP Gbamin has shown past ability to use his superior strength and size to win aerials at a high rate in midfield and even adequately at CB.

OVERALL.

Upon review of the analysis above, there are clear deficiencies across the board, but believe Everton can expect some natural improvement in finishing, goalkeeping, aerial ability, and perhaps a slight natural increase in chance creation with improvements elsewhere.  However, the biggest areas of concern in our opinion is the basic ability to pass and possess the ball as well as the ability to take it away from opponents.  With a formal bid already made to acquire Pierre Højbjerg, who was in the top 10 in the PL in both Passed Under Pressure and Successful Tackles, we believe Everton is looking at the right player profile.  The return of Gbamin could help as could a healthy Fabian Delph assuming he is not persona no gratta at Everton.  We hope Everton will also look at players with the same characteristics at other positions as well as consider in any CB acquisition the ability to pay higher up the field.

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