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)