Since making his first Everton start just 46 days ago, Nikica Jelavic has wasted little time proving himself to be not only an astute buy, but arguably one of the signings of the season. With six Premier League goals, and another two struck in the FA Cup, the Croatian has finally given the Toffees that craved cutting edge in the final third of the field, a facet emphatically absent from so many of their displays during the past few seasons.
Initially hampered by a groin injury at the time of his transfer, February saw Jelavic limited a couple of late cameo appearances as a substitute. He was unable to partake in full training and question marks even rose in some quarters about a possibly rushed and potentially botched medical. However, since finally making that first start against Tottenham in March, and scoring, he has become an instant revelation on Merseyside.
In truth, it is not only Everton, but the entire Premier League who are now recognising his seamless transition into the English domestic game – especially after his weekend brace at Old Trafford. Since his first goal for the club, on the 10th of March, only Wayne Rooney and Papiss Cisse have found the net more in that time.
Everton’s issues at the start of this season mirrored the struggles they have experienced in several other recent campaigns. They would often control matches, and create the majority of chances, yet never have the ruthless attackers capable of making their dominance count.
For example, the 22 chances crafted against Norwich in December, and the 17 made against Aston Villa in September are the most creative Everton have been all season, yet criminally neither result ended with three points. Just three of those 39 chances made in those two games were goals – and one was a penalty – numbers that drastically highlight the toothless threat the Toffees deployed.
With Jelavic spearheading the attack, Everton look a far more dangerous and complete unit. Fans and team-mates alike finally feel confident that – should Everton manage to dictate a game – they are now infinitely more likely to finish off their opponents thanks to their new signing. Even if they do not dominate, his predatory instincts leave the Toffees far more competitive, as Sunday demonstrated.
For a number of seasons, Everton’s ambitions have been largely checked by their lack of firepower. For sides with a limited budget, finding that affordable player capable of regularly finding the net can be the most challenging task for a manager. Not since Yakubu’s inaugural campaign has David Moyes been able to field a team that has appeared confident in their front man, a time when the Nigerian’s form mirrored what he is currently producing at Blackburn this season.
Last season Yakubu, Jermaine Beckford and Louis Saha were tasked with finding David Moyes’ side goals, and to get an idea of just how augmented Everton’s attack is with Jelavic now on board, here is his current return pitted against last season’s trusted trio.
Jelavic considerably trumps all three. Despite playing over double the amount of game time, Beckford and Saha narrowly eclipse the Croatians’s goal tally, but that is about it. They are far less accurate and clinical. Yakubu’s transformation at Blackburn is even harder to fathom considering what he produced last season.
Back to the present, and after six starts, and nine games in all, remarkably Jelavic is already the team’s leading scorer. This is a testament to his fine acclimatisation to the Premier League, but also a portrayal of just how inept Everton had been up front. As he arrived, the club were struggling to even maintain a one-goal-per-game ratio. Indeed, by the start of February, only Stoke and Wigan had scored less in the division. Enter Jelavic and, in terms of goals scored in the league, Everton are now sitting far more comfortably in 10th, surely only likely to rise further.
More on page 2….
Next Page: Jelavic compared against all those that have played as striker for Everton in 2011/12 (click bottom right/top right)
This next chart investigates Jelavic’s numbers against all those who have occupied a striking berth at some point this season. Victor Anichebe and Tim Cahill are included, but it must be remembered that large chunks of their season have been spent roaming different areas of the pitch.
In terms of out-and-out strikers, Jelavic has so far been in a different class to Louis Saha and Denis Straqualursi during his brief career at Everton. His conversion rate of 30% will surely dip, but even so, it trounces the lowly 3% and 6% figures mustered by Everton’s two alternative front-men this season. Tim Cahill’s under-par goals return is also reflected by some poor numbers, although as usual the Australian has played in many differing roles for the team.
A curious by-product here is how perennial substitutes, Victor Anichebe and Apostolos Vellios, seem to have been severely underused. Vellios has been absent for the entire second half of the season and, despite Anichebe recording his best scoring season in the Premier League, Moyes has been reluctant to start the fiery Nigerian. When he has featured it has often been from a wide area.
It may well be that the manager feels they need further time to hone their overall games. At just 20, that is quite understandable for Vellios, although Anichebe may well feel slightly aggrieved at not being thrust into the fray a little more frequently. The fact he has one of the poorest passing rates at the club (63%) could also factor into it, although an inquest into their omission is a topic for another article.
Jelavic’s all-round contribution to Everton has been both timely and significant. Off the field his signing galvanised the club, pouring confidence and momentum into the dressing room whilst bringing excitement to the stands. On the pitch, apart from obviously bringing goals, his presence has added a new dimension to Everton’s play. He is not only a natural finisher, but he is instinctive in front of goal. There has been a statistic bandied about Twitter for the last few days claiming 41 of his past 44 goals have been scored with a first-time shot, and all of his past 27 have been with a first touch.
A staggering return, although perhaps not as startling to those who have monitored his game whilst at Everton. Certainly all of his finishes for the Toffees have been prompt, instantaneous strikes, and each indeed hit off a lethal first time shot. Above all else, it seems his priority in the box is to unleash a shot as quickly as possible.
This impulsive shooting leaves goalkeepers taken by surprise at how quickly a shot is coming towards them, perhaps expecting Jelavic to steady himself with an extra touch. Something Louis Saha was prone to doing towards the end of his time at Everton was either hash wildly at an opening first time, or take far too many touches to set up the perfect shot. So far Jelavic has generally been clinical and composed.
That characteristic is perhaps reflected by the fact that only three of Jelavic’s 23 shots have been blocked this season, around 8% of his strikes. Defenders have not had time to act. This season Saha had 34% of his shots blocked when playing for Everton, and last season an equally suppressing 30%. Those numbers are not necessarily meant to taint Saha’s effort, but instead promote Jelavic’s swift natural finishing. As a team, the Toffees have had 27% of shots their shots blocked, so Saha’s return is not too dire. It seems that opponents have been caught out by Jelavic’s abruptness in front of goal. The quicker you hit an effort, the less time a defence and goalkeeper has to react and ready themselves.
Signed for just over £5 million, in terms of value in today’s inflated market Jelavic seems to be a genuine coup, and a steal at that price. Moyes had to be bold, throwing what little funds he had at Jelavic, but the early signs suggest this could massively pay off for the Toffees.
True, it is not even two months since he regained full fitness, and time will suggest if his game has the longevity for the Premier League, but the early signs show the Croatian international to be a huge upgrade from what has been on offer at Everton for the past few seasons. With six goals already this term, how many could he grab in a full season? In the Premier League era, 16 is the record haul of an Everton front man, achieved by both Andrei Kanchelskis (1995/96) and Tony Cottee (1993/94). Certainly defences will have the summer to decipher how they can better stifle his game, but do not be surprised if these tallies come under direct threat next season from Everton’s newest striker.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.