After one of the more memorable finales in Premier League history, the 2011/12 season is now finally in the books, consigned to the archives of history. As the commotion of the closing day slowly fades, each side will begin to sift through the progress made over the past year, analysing where they advanced, and where they were lacking.
Everton were once again steered into the top eight by David Moyes, after another notoriously troublesome start. Their seventh-place finish mirrored last year’s final standing, and gave Moyes an eighth top eight finish in ten full seasons. 56 points also marked a two-point improvement from 2010/11, and there were two more wins achieved compared to last year’s 13.
–Tim Howard conceded a goal every 86 minutes, a ratio only David De Gea, Joe Hart and Pepe Reina (among starting ‘keepers) could better.
This is the only category where it is impossible to compare two players, as Tim Howard started every league game for Everton for a fourth season in a row. By appearing in the final game against Newcastle, the American equalled Pepe Reina’s Premier League record of 183 consecutive appearances for the same team. Here are some statistics from his season, compared to 2010/11.
It’s clearly not only in durability that Howard ranks among the top goalkeepers in the Premier League, as his form this season has been up with his very best. His personal highlights would be two penalty saves, and an inspired solo effort against Tottenham, where he kept a shut-out despite 24 shots being fired in. With 12 clean sheets, he finished some way short of the club record of 17 (that he set in 2009) but, as with most categories, he improved from last season’s nine. He also scored his first Premier League goal, meaning he finished the season more prolific than Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stewart Downing!
–Everton had the second best defensive record at home in the league, conceding just 15 goals at Goodison Park all season.
–With a tackle success rate of 78%, Everton were the league’s joint-best tacklers with Chelsea.
In front of Howard, Everton’s defence excelled, producing one of their stingiest campaigns under David Moyes. Only Manchester City and Manchester United conceded fewer goals all season.
116 – Nobody made more headed clearances than Sylvain Distin.
11.42 minutes – Phil Jagielka averaged a successful challenge more often than any Everton defender.
18 – Tony Hibbert was dribbled past more than any other defender at the club.
34 – Johnny Heitinga committed more fouls than any Everton defender.
The triumvirate of Phil Jagielka, Players’ Player of the year Sylvain Distin, and Fans’ Player of the Year Johnny Heitinga, were all paired together for lengthy spells at centre-back, and generally maintained a very high standard of play. Looking at these numbers, this is one of the occasions where statistics can be misleading. There is no category for how well a forward was marshalled or stifled out of a game, something Johnny Heitinga excelled at all year. Although some of his numbers do not quite match his peers’, the truly important statistic is the one that shows how many fewer goals were conceded when he was on the field.
If Leighton Baines’ statistics going forward were not quite as imperious as in recent seasons – although he still created the 11th most chances in the league – his defensive performances were excellent once again. His ability at the back is often masked by his superb contribution going forward, but few wingers ever get the better of him. Baines was only dribbled past 10 times this season, whereas Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole were both beaten 29 times. It was very fitting that he made the PFA Team of the Year. Opposite Baines, Tony Hibbert gave one of his best seasons of service, confining club captain Phil Neville to sporadic appearances at right-back.
Next Page: Midfielders and Strikers analysed in depth (click top right or bottom right for page 2 link)
–Marouane Fellaini won more tackles, ground duels, aerial duels and made more passes than anyone else at the club.
–Marouane Fellaini was also second in the league with 84 tackles, and won the ball 190 times in midfield, by far the most in the top flight.
By May, Everton’s midfield was far more fixed than at any other time during the season. Steven Pienaar would play left, Leon Osman right (although both would interchange), then Darron Gibson would feature in the middle with Marouane Fellaini and one of Phil Neville or Tim Cahill. This stability was undoubtedly a factor in Everton’s sudden sprint towards the Premier League finish line. Here are the numbers for midfielders with ten starts.
12 – Steven Pienaar attempted 4 more though-balls than anyone at the club, despite only playing 14 games.
1%/5% – From last season Everton improved their passing from 76% to 77%, and their tackling from 73% to 78%.
88 – Only Grant Holt conceded more fouls (89) than Marouane Fellaini in the Premier League this season.
29% – Seamus Coleman passed the highest proportion of passes backwards out of any midfielder or defender at Everton.
It is impossible to sieve through these results without highlighting Fellaini’s impressive year. The Belgian was inspirational, starting the campaign as a deep-lying ball-winner, having a phase as an archetypal box-to-box midfielder, before finishing in imposing form, playing just off Nikica Jelavic.
His success as a second striker raised a debate among Evertonians about what his best role is. It may simply be the case that he is such an important factor; he makes an impact wherever he plays, and is missed wherever he does not. Personally, his ball winning numbers sway my verdict. He is the Premier League’s best ball winner. He won possession 190 times in midfield, 26 times more than his nearest challenger (Alex Song, on 164). Only Fulham’s Moussa Dembele (with 86) won more tackles and none of this season’s top ten tacklers (in terms of quantity) could match Fellaini’s success rate of 85% – incidentally, just nine players attempted more tackles than his 99, and all of those nine players lost far more tackles than him. In short, these remarkable numbers convince me he is more effective when played deeper.
As good as Fellaini was at the start of the season, when he was paired with Gibson he seemed to find a new gear. The Irishman’s exceptional ball retention skills, and calm, uncomplicated technique – magnified by the rare amount of times he was dispossessed or lost possession – allowed Fellaini to play his natural, more frantic game of harassing ball carriers all across the pitch.
Elsewhere, Leon Osman produced another fine term. Creatively he was the Toffees’ second most consistent avenue of production, and was one of the tidiest passers. The amount of times he loses the ball will always peeve a selection of supporters, but he was one of Everton’s better contributors. Returning to Goodison Park, Steven Pienaar’s 14-game loan spell was his most productive form at the club. He recorded a joint-best goals tally of four (in the league), and incredibly led the team in assists. His creative nous, vision and intricate passing ability drastically augmented the Toffees’ game. His inclusion significantly upgraded and sped up the passing game, making his side far more able to pass through a side, instead of overly relying on Baines’ crossing.
Whilst the four players covered enjoyed strong seasons, the remaining five had a more arduous time. Tim Cahill had his least effective season at Everton, with a poor return of just two goals. He still gave his all, regardless of form, playing in many differing roles and actually ended the season playing in as deep a berth as he has occupied under David Moyes. Uncharacteristically, he was even the Toffees’ deepest lying midfielder for a few games. Phil Neville also struggled for consistency in his first season where he was not guaranteed automatic selection. Towards the end of the year, when playing in midfield, he did contribute some solid passing performances, producing an accuracy of above 90%.
For Rodwell, Coleman and Drenthe, it has generally been a year to forget. Drenthe actually had a very fine season on the pitch, but his off-field antics exasperated Moyes one too many times, and he won’t be back. Coleman possibly suffered a little from second season syndrome, unable to catch his opponent quite as unaware as the year before. For Rodwell, it was a tale of more injury woes, after such an encouraging start had culminated with a first England cap in November.
–Only Papiss Cisse (with 11) has scored more league goals than Nikica Jelavic since he scored his first goal for Everton.
Up front, Everton’s fortunes could not have contrasted more before and after the end of the January transfer window. Before, Saha, Stracqualursi and Cahill all battled away with limited success, until Nikica Jelavic arrived and couldn’t stop scoring. Apostolos Vellios and Victor Anichebe also played (and added seven league goals between them), but neither was on the pitch enough to call for meaningful analysis alongside this quartet.
4 – Victor Anichebe scored more goals as a substitute than anyone else in the league. It was also his best scoring season at Everton.
33% – Apostolos Vellios’ chance conversion rate (3 goals from 9 shots) was the best at the club. He also hit the target with 6 of his 9 shots.
43 – Denis Stracqualursi was caught offside every 43 minutes he was on the field.
50 – Louis Saha scored 8 goals in his final 50 league games for Everton. Jelavic came in and scored 8 in his first 10 league games.
Clearly the signing of Jelavic was one of the buys of the season, and is already up with the craftiest punts in Moyes’ transfer history. His rapacious, clinical streak in front of goal is something Everton have long been craving, and his unerring movement and intelligent link-up play makes his all-round game as good as Evertonians have had up front for several years.
Elsewhere, it was a case of bad, and simply awful. Saha plugged away, but had to try to revitalise his flagging game somewhere else, as it was not working in Everton colours. Stracqualursi could never be accused of not giving every ounce of energy to the cause, but he is not a player of Premier League calibre. Supporters will also be intrigued to see if a fitter Anichebe can come back and keep up his return to scoring form, and many will hope to see more of Vellios next year too.
Next Page: Overall Squad Comparison – Analysis of the squad as a whole looking at stats for the Top 3 in each category. (Top right/Bottom right for link)
Select Overall Final Numbers – Best/Worst
Here is a final look at some of the leading contributors for Everton this season, mixed in with a few that will be looking for improvement next year.
Best Passing % (+100 passes) – Rodwell 87%, Gibson 84%, Pienaar/Osman/Coleman 83%.
Worst Passing % (+100 passes) – Anichebe 62%, Jelavic 69%, Distin 72%.
Best Crossing % (+30 crosses) – Bilyaletdinov 30%, Coleman 30%, Donovan 29%.
Worst Crossing % (+30 crosses) – Hibbert 20%, Pienaar 23%, Osman 24%.
Best Tackle % (+20 tackles) – Drenthe 88%, Fellaini 85%, Cahill 84%.
Worst Tackle % (+20 tackles) – Osman 69%, Pienaar 70%, Jagielka 71%.
Defensively is where Everton shone most this season. They were one of the most uncompromising units to face, shipped the third fewest goals, were the league’s best tacklers and only a handful of sides allowed their opposition fewer chances. Aptly, the main contenders for Player of the Season were all defensively-minded, with statistical marvels Baines and Fellaini narrowly missing out to the consistent excellence of Distin and Heitinga.
Yet as gritty as the defensive side was, the other half of Everton’s game fluctuated, thankfully ending on a high. Everton’s passing rose from 76% to 77%, but that was still only the joint 10th best percentage in the league, something Moyes will feel can be improved on. Elsewhere, the loss of Mikel Arteta and half a season without Steven Pienaar certainly had its repercussions. The Toffees carved out 41 fewer chances than last season (420 to 379) and until the turn of the year seemed far too predictable going forward, looking for Baines to cross at every opportunity – possibly a reason for the team’s crossing accuracy dropping from 26% to 24%, as teams were prepared for this.
One alarming facet of Everton’s game was their lack of penetrating through-balls. Steven Pienaar’s return drastically improved this, for before his arrival, there had been times when only Stoke City had achieved fewer through-balls than Everton. With Pienaar on board orchestrating things, the Toffees’ rose to eighth worst, yet a sobering fact is that Alex Song (with 24) still made more successful through-balls than the entire Everton squad put together (21). This is certainly an area that must be addressed this off-season.
What resurrected this faltering campaign more than anything else, and turned the season into a success, was undoubtedly an unusually fruitful January transfer window. Moyes’ purchases were inspired, with Pienaar, Gibson, Jelavic and Landon Donovan all making a huge impact. The composure, fluidity and scoring ability this foursome installed invigorated the dressing room, excited the fans and established some much needed momentum.
After finishing so well, the challenge is now to maintain that drive until next season. Moyes will have his hands full trying to keep the likes of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini away from any interested admirers, whilst once again trying locate some cut-price talent to strengthen his squad. If he can successfully juggle that, if his squad is not too disrupted, and if the Toffees can for once start a season with just an ounce of momentum, it could end up being an exciting 12 months at Goodison Park.