Everton‘s 2-2 draw at Fulham signalled the ten game point of the season, generally the time managers and players finally deem it acceptable to begin judging their work. Sitting fourth in the table, the Toffees have started unusually well. They are playing some attractive football and dominating most games, although four consecutive draws have slightly checked their recent progress.
In terms of performance, Everton‘s play has evolved into a more possession-heavy, pass-friendly system that has seen the Toffees become masters at carving out chances in the final third. According to WhoScored? they currently lead Europe’s major leagues, averaging 20 shots per game, and in every single match this season they have managed more attempts at goal than their opponents and never created fewer chances. Despite so many openings, Saturday’s display highlighted some recurrent recent issues – a commanding, imposing performance, frustratingly marred by the lack of a result.
This analysis is not intended to purely delve into Everton‘s stylistic or tactical progress, especially after Luke O’Farrell’s excellent piece last week, instead the aim is to assess the individuals in the Toffees’ early season form, identifying the key contributors, and those yet to perform.
Tim Howard has been the only goalkeeper to feature for Everton in the Premier League for the past 194 games, so there is not exactly competition to judge him against. Here is a look at some of his relevant statistics over the past five years.
Howard would probably be the first to admit he hasn’t enjoyed a vintage start to the season. So far, the American has made more errors, conceded more and been noticeably less efficient dealing with crosses than he has ever been for the Toffees. A few times he’s conceded when supporters would have expected him to make a save, against Aston Villa and Newcastle for example, and he will need to improve if Everton are to prolong their European challenge.
He has also been far busier than in the last few seasons, although that’s more a reflection of what’s in front of him and the particularly attacking brand of football being played this year. An interesting side-note to his goalkeeping is the clear upgrade in his passing accuracy, by 6%, reflecting the club’s emphasis on maintaining possession and starting from the back.
Howard was integral to Everton‘s excellence in defence last season, where only the two Manchester clubs recorded better defensive records. He will be desperate to recreate that sort of consistency and judging by his recent form, there’s nothing to suggest he won’t soon be excelling once again, although perhaps it’s time a younger prospect started challenging for his jersey.
Individually Everton have had some impressive performances at the back. Phil Jagielka has been strong, replicating his best form of 2009, and Leighton Baines has maintained his continually excellent standards. Others have stood up at key moments too, however, as a unit, the side have perhaps not been cohesive enough. Part of this may have been due to the frequent rotation of Johnny Heitinga and Sylvain Distin, but also because of Everton‘s aggressive set-up and an often higher line. With full-backs up the pitch, the central defenders have frequently been left man-for-man at the back, especially with the Toffees falling behind in so many recent matches, something that has certainly tested them.
Heitinga particularly comes off poorly in these numbers. Not often a statistical wonder, as few categories portray his excellence at marshalling an opponent, yet the Dutchman will still be disappointed at his lack of success in the challenge. He has also been far less prolific at clearing his lines and given his lack of pace compared to Distin, these numbers certainly point at the Frenchman’s inclusion being the wiser choice of the two. The fact Heitinga‘s passing accuracy of 91% is the highest at Everton, and Distin‘s of 74% is the third lowest, may often have a bearing on the selection, especially with David Moyes keener to bring the ball out from the back.
It’s still premature to get an overall picture of the unit’s progress, at least until every opponent’s been faced, but the challenge area is certainly something that can be improved. Everton were the Premier League’s joint best tacklers last season, at 78%, but only Coleman and Baines have impressed in this department so far.
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