“I think there are more serious problems in the world, than making a big story out of a #ChristmasTree” – tweeted Everton manager Ronald Koeman a few days before his team were going to host Manchester United at Goodison Park. It was a response to being slammed on Twitter for the red-colored (or Liverpool themed) Christmas tree that Mrs. Koeman had decorated.
Looking at his tweet, one might think that he is pointing to general problems in the world – poverty, hunger, terrorism and other such issues. But perhaps he was talking about something more closer to home. After a pretty confident start to the league campaign, so much so that many Everton fans would be forgiven for heading over to bestbettingwebsites.org.uk and putting down a wager on the Toffees making the top four come the end of the season.
Koeman’s Everton side have run aground and no matter what he says to the players or the press, his side appear stuck both in the league table, as well as on the field. So it is completely possible that he was talking about the serious problems that ail his team.
After collecting 13 points in the first five games, Everton have collected just 7 in the next ten matches. In their last game on the Sunday, they allowed the generally dismal Manchester United to dominate and were only saved when their ex-midfielder Fellaini committed a stupid mistake and handed them a penalty. In the game versus Southampton on the previous Sunday, Everton allowed Saints to score within 41 seconds. In 2/3rds of a minute, the Toffees had lost possession, Southampton had completed two shots, and scored a goal. Then in the ensuing 90+ minutes, they were unable to muster a response against Saints’ resolute defence.
It is clear that something is wrong at Goodison Park. Some say that the Everton veteran players have not adjusted to Koeman’s style and system, some say that the squad is an aging one, and others say that Koeman’s system is flawed. Whatever the reason for their poor performances, the stats suggest that Everton are struggling and if Koeman does not address them quickly, he will definitely have much more dire problems on his hands than a mis-coloured Christmas tree.
Everton have had a Jekyll & Hyde like season over the first 14 matches. In the first five matches, they dropped only two points, winning four games and a couple of them quite handsomely. But in the last nine games, Everton’s game has been lacking the quality required to pile up points.
While Everton’s game has worsened on almost all the metrics in the last nine games, some of them do stand out quite prominently. I have collected the per 90 minute stats for the most prominent stats.
Nothing highlights the drop in Everton’s game more than the drop in number of touches and successful open play passes. Combined with number of times they lose possession, these stats do point to lethargy or fatigue in the team. To understand the actual impact of these three stats consider this:
Everton are taking almost 90 touches fewer per 90 minutes, compared to their early season form. They are playing 104 fewer successful passes per 90 minutes, and they are getting dispossessed 12 more times. In all, that means that the current Everton team has 116 fewer opportunities to create something productive than the team that started the league campaign.
These 116 fewer productive opportunities translate into 3 fewer shots and almost 4 fewer shots on target. In the first five games, Everton scored 2 goals out of 7.4 shots on target per 90 minutes. On the other hand, in the last 9 games, they have scored at a rate of 0.8 goals out of just 3.8 shots on target for every 90 minutes. That translates to 7 goals in nine league matches.
It is clear that Lukaku is not getting the service he was in the first five matches. It is also clear that his own finishing has dipped a bit. But the main source of trouble seems to be that Everton are not taking charge of the ball in the midfield nearly as many times as they used to, and that is translating to reduced service to their key target man. McCarthy has taken a knock on international duty and has been absent in Koeman’s plans, while Bolasie, who was inspiring hope for Lukaku over the last few games has been hit with an ACL injury that requires surgery.
I also looked at the defensive stats for the Toffees across these two periods and these stats do not show as much divergence. They are tackling and duelling a bit less but are intercepting more, possibly indicating a deeper defensive line. Stekelenburg in goal continues to keep the ball out of his net heroically and his numbers have not changed much.
So the problem indeed lies with the midfield and the forward line and not as much with the defence. Now, Koeman has to decide how is he going to iron out these troubles – by bringing in more youngsters in the team, so that they can get more involved and hopefully create more scoring chances. Or perhaps by tweaking his system to ensure that even with this reduced level of involvement, his forwards get more shooting opportunities.
Whatever he wants to do, he will have to implement it faster, otherwise Everton fans will be slamming the team’s league position and not to the colour of his Christmas tree.