At the start of January, when Landon Donovan returned to Everton once again, supporters envisaged the American rousing a stale dressing room and galvanising performances on the pitch. Judging by results alone, this has not yet happened.
His stay has only coincided with two points from a possible 12 in the league, and his only taste of victory came in the FA Cup, after a dire 90 minute tussle against lowly Tamworth. Ninth in the table when he arrived, the Toffees have now sunk to 14th after a run of painstakingly frail showings, yet Donovan generally remains unscathed from criticism directed at players. With results nose-diving further since his move, why should Evertonians consider his presence vital in any way at all?
Individually, Donovan has quickly shown his class, integrating in well with team-mates during his second short stint at the club and often being a beacon of hope during some inept team displays. He has impressed those watching, with David Moyes quick to herald the American’s input and work ethic above his fellow team-mates. Without his recent contribution, Everton could easily be coming off the back of four straight league defeats.
As these statistics show, Donovan’s presence has clearly been felt, as he has augmented several facets of the Toffees’ game, pretty much consistently stretching the team average. A leading passer, he is one of only eight players who currently pass at over 80% in an Everton jersey. In contrast, all 27 of Manchester United’s outfield roster used this season pass above 80%. Everton have 18 players below that number.
Donovan is also Everton’s most accurate pass finder in the final third of the field, an area where he actually raises his overall passing accuracy to 83% and crushes the team average of 65%. This is where the Toffees have often struggled to find chemistry and subsequent penetration this season, with several attacks breaking down after a poor decision, or lack of imagination. Only Royston Drenthe, Seamus Coleman and Magaye Gueye manage to pass at over 80% in the final third of the field, perhaps a reflection on Everton’s sagging goals tally, and lack of calculated though balls.
With Leighton Baines – the Premier League’s most persistent crosser, peppering the box from the left – since Donovan’s arrival, the American has provided a fresh crossing alternative from the right. His 36% accuracy is 5% better than any other player who has sent in at least 10 deliveries, and the Toffees should be benefiting now that more persistent production is arriving from both wings. Of course, strikers still have to get on the end of these deliveries or – should defenders intervene the way Aston Villa prevented Louis Saha connecting with a precise Donovan centre – referees need to deliver the right verdict(!).
Not solely just a calculated passer or measured crosser, but with the ball he has so far maintained possession far better than all offensive players. Dispossessed only twice in four league games so far, when compared to others in his position – Leon Osman (38), Seamus Coleman (26) Royston Drenthe (21), all approaching, if not over twice a game – his return so far is exemplary.
Once his creative numbers are then digested, it becomes clear just how rounded and impressive Donovan’s short influence has been. Hardly being scrupulous to score these impressive statistics, the American has been serving up chances more frequently than anyone else. Since his arrival, attacks have pretty much been via Donovan, or not at all.
Outgunned against Blackburn, it was Donovan’s crafty chip that lead to Tim Cahill’s goal, whilst it was his pin-point through ball that provided Victor Anichebe with a finish at Aston Villa. Both goals secured points.
Apart from Tim Howard’s freak goal in defeat against Bolton, Everton have not scored another league goal during his stay, so it truly has been created by Donovan, or not at all. The fact he has fashioned a chance every 33 minutes trumps all other Everton ratios and the Toffees’ goal-shy strikers would do well to feed off his greater production while it is in supply.
As these, otherwise striking statistics illustrate, the one area Donovan has not yet chipped in with is goals. He brought two last time, and should have had a third at White Hart Lane against Spurs. Having just come off his joint second most lethal season in the MLS, where he registered 12 strikes in 23 games, Evertonians will certainly hope this column, above all the others, improves in the second half of his stay.
As sterling as these statistics are, they do not reveal other central assets to his game, such as his pace, his tireless work-rate and his unerring devotion to tracking his opposite man, traits fully appreciated by fans, team-mates and David Moyes alike. The Toffees’ form has dipped so much in recent games that, without Donovan, it is sobering to consider just how abject results could have been. Based on his instant production, surely enquiries need to be made about the possibilities of hiring his services full-time?
If there was ever going to be a moment Donovan would move away from America, it would be know. After securing the MLS title, would he not want to prove his ability in the English Premier League? Possibly so, but sadly for his many Evertonian admirers, the Toffees are unlikely to be able stump up the required cash to make this dream a reality. Not only would a fee burden them, but the player holds many off-field rights and connections to the MLS and LA Galaxy, all of which complicate any potential deal further.
In a side currently bereft of confidence, Donovan has clearly been the stand-out performer despite his very recent arrival. Many will say it is only four league games, but on a short term deal you have to bring it all and produce immediately, something he undoubtedly has. Halfway through his spell already, his contract is a sprint, and should be judged accordingly.
On the pitch, Donovan is already eclipsing many of his team-mates’ feats and with his pace, direct approach and whole-hearted commitment, and he has once again been a breath of fresh air at Everton – if only more could follow his lead. Judging by his demeanour, his constant banter with team-mates on Twitter and his general persona in interviews, Landon Donovan clearly feels at home in and around Everton’s dressing room. If only there was a way to make him stay there.