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.
- Only five players have blocked more shots (11) than Phil Jagielka in the EPL this season.
- Of players with +550 minutes on the pitch this season, no player has headed clear more often than Sylvain Distin (11.7 mins).
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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- Only three players have won more free-kicks than Steven Pienaar (24) in the EPL this season.
- Only Kevin Nolan (34.3%) has a lower ground duels % than Kevin Mirallas (34.8%) and Phil Neville (36.1%).
The first thing that is obvious here is the change in certain passing accuracies, which is entirely down to Everton‘s shift in approach. The Toffees’ two central midfielders, most often Neville and Osman, have a job to simply recycle the ball. They spread it around as quickly as possible, moving the team up the field, before eventually landing it at the feet of one the wider players who’s then tasked with creating an opening. As the creative numbers depict, Everton are generally not making their chances from the middle, they are waiting for an opportunity out wide, with Baines and Pienaar on the left or Coleman and Mirallas on the right.
Since Neville stepped in for the injured Gibson it’s been a contrasting tale for the central pair. Although the Toffees’ captain fulfils his passing duties well, he is limited in most other capacities, especially the challenge area where he has clearly struggled. In contrast, Osman has shown some of his best form, fully justifying yesterday’s surprise England call-up. His passing in the final third has been especially crafty. Of players with more than 120 passes in that area of the field, only three record a higher accuracy than Osman’s 86% – none of whom are English.
What is most surprising is his contribution in the possession battle. Perhaps he has needed to compensate for Neville’s meagre contribution, but in the Premier League only six players have won the ball back more than Osman this season, not something most familiar with his game would have ever predicted. Over the past few years, he’s spent too much of his career doing a job for his team on a flank. Now given a central berth, at 31 he is enjoying one of his most consistent spells in an Everton shirt and once Gibson returns to full fitness, Everton‘s core will be much stronger.
As mentioned, the more offensive midfield trio have been tasked with the creative duties and all three have played well so far. Last season Fellaini was a ball-winning deity and whilst Everton miss his influence in deeper areas, he has been causing havoc playing just behind the striker. His chest control gives the Toffees the option of a long ball and instant possession up the field, something that’s less of a gamble due to his ability to bring the ball down and play it, instead of just flicking it on.
Outside him Pienaar and Mirallas have then been productive via differing methods. Mirallas leads the team in dribbles, enjoying the more direct, attacking route, while Pienaar leads the team in final third passes, preferring to unlock a defence with an intricate move generally involving an over-lapping Baines.
- Nikica Jelavic has been caught offside (12) more than any other player in the EPL this season.
- No EPL side have hit the woodwork more than Everton this season (11).
Up front, it has only really been Jelavic, with Anichebe occasionally deputising. Fellaini often drifts in and out of forward zones, as does Mirallas, but both have spent far more time performing midfield duties instead of leading the line. Jelavic had such an outstanding beginning to his career as a Toffee he’s found hard to reach the same level. However, he is still finding space to shoot just as much and is creating more for others thus far. Everton went over half of last season without a player scoring four goals, which Jelavic already has after just a quarter of the season, so there can’t be too many complaints just yet.
Anichebe‘s numbers highlight his continual struggle to maintain fitness. The few times he has been on the pitch over the past two seasons he has made significant contributions, the only problem is they have been ridiculously rare. A player averaging almost one goal per game over two years needs to feature more than just 650 minutes. With so little to compare, last season’s attacking statistics are also shown to highlight just how Everton are currently excelling in the final third.
- Leighton Baines has created more chances this season (44) than any other player across Europe’s five major leagues.
- Heitinga, Naismith and Mirallas are the only EFC players to have started a game in the EPL and not receive a booking.
To finish this review, here is a look at some categorical leaders in key areas, along with some top individual performances.
- Most Chances Created in a games this season – Baines 8 vs. Aston Villa.
- Most Shots in a game this season – Anichebe 10 vs. Swansea.
- Most Passes in a game this season – Baines 73 vs. Aston Villa.
It’s impossible to talk about the side’s creative form without mentioning the remarkable contribution of Baines, who breaks all the boundaries for a left-back. He currently leads the Premier League charts with 44 chances created with his next closest challenger nine behind, not only in England, but across the major leagues of Europe.
Baines not only excels in creation, but he has also scored two, made more passes than anyone else in the team, crossed more than three times as much – with at least 8% better accuracy, and tackled far better than most. He is sixth in the league in terms of final third passes, with 234, some 20 places and almost 100 passes more than the next defender on the list. He is a statistical marvel and a fantastic player and how Everton have not had an intense bidding war for his services remains a mystery. Baines perhaps more than anyone has particularly shone during the Toffees’ opening ten games, with honourable mentions also going to Fellaini, Jagielka and Osman.
The next set of fixtures sees clashes with Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City looming, but if Everton maintain their current approach, they should be confident of making enough chances to trouble anyone. Given the pedestrian pace so many recent campaigns have started in, supporters must surely be revelling in their current form, regardless of some missed opportunities in the previous draws.
A total of 17 points greatly tops the returns of 10, 13, 12, 12 and 13, mustered at this stage over the past five years. If elements of their trademark end of season sprint can be replicated, the next 30-odd games could prove a particularly pleasant ride for those connected with the Toffees.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.