Second in the table with four wins from six, an impressive 12 point haul at this stage represents the Toffees’ joint best start under David Moyes. Over recent campaigns Everton have struggled to find consistency at this time of year, often under-performing, but it finally seems Moyes has been able to coax some early-season form from his men. The last time he saw his side with a dozen points from their opening six games, the Toffees upset the odds and went on to finish fourth. This season, the price for them to do so again has been rapidly plummeting.
It’s early days, but this form is no sudden spurt. In a 2012 Premier League table, Everton currently sit third after 27 games, highlighting just how prolonged this successful transposition has been. At the heart of these results have been two hugely successful transfer windows. David Moyes has essentially swapped Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Jack Rodwell for Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith, and all of these transactions only look cannier by the day.
On the pitch, these arrivals have helped refine and evolve the Toffees approach. With better players at Moyes’ disposal, his side have adopted a far more dominant brand of football with more of a stylistic identity than has been witnessed for many seasons. Scoring 12 goals in the first six games, for only the second time in 47 years, and with more shots (124) than any side in most of Europe’s major leagues, Evertonians are naturally revelling in their side’s newly found potency up front. Another clear change and improvement has come in Everton’s significantly upgraded passing game, as the subsequent control this has afforded them has led to the excessive amount of openings created.
As these statistics depict, there has been a deliberate shift to a constructed, more possession-absorbing, passing-heavy formula, which has evidently contributed to the Toffees’ improved fortunes. It’s worth remembering these early numbers are also distorted by this season’s opening clash with Manchester United, where Moyes varied his tactics and saw his side only register 275 passes at 71% accuracy, with just 31% possession. Excluding that and these early numbers become augmented even further.
In the five matches since, Everton have continually been the aggressor, passing more often and better than their opponents in every single game. They have also had more possession in each match. In truth this has been something Moyes began emphasising towards the end of last season, ever since his January purchases became acclimatised and began gelling with his original roster. Over the final eight games a similar pattern was being formed, with Moyes’ side achieving a greater volume and accuracy of pass in most contests, passing above 400 times in seven out the eight matches.
–Everton’s average passes per match at this stage last season: 360 (currently 422)
–Everton’s average passes per match over past 14 games: 460
The extra passing make Everton a less direct threat, yet allows Moyes’ side to take better command of a match and attack in a far more calculated manner. With better passers available, the Toffees are far more confident maintaining possession, shifting the ball and moving players, before identifying an area to suddenly overload the opposition and penetrate. This is also reflected in how much the Toffees have been shy to aimlessly fling the ball forward. They are now more content to pass laterally, waiting for their opponents to be pulled around out of position, before identifying the opportune moment to strike.
This focus on passing has clearly been a factor in the Toffees scintillating form of 2012. Moyes has always been renowned as one of the most reactive managers in his profession, constantly adapting his approach and happy to jazz up a system in retaliation to an opponent. With greater tools at his fingertips he is now able to formulate more of a consistent identity for his team, focusing on their strengths instead of pondering how best to negate and stifle an opponent. This continuity in a system will have also bred confidence throughout the dressing room, as players begin to see it succeed.
It is still early days in the season, but so far this considered, concise approach has been on display during most of Everton’s games. Saturday’s match against Southampton was a clear test of its foundations and the players’ faith in it. Down to a surprise early goal, the Goodison Park faithful demanded an instant riposte, yet although the atmosphere was bordering on hostile, the Toffees stuck to their game-plan, patiently passing around in deeper areas, waiting for an opening. Thankfully one wasn’t long coming, and the 3-1 victory will only bolster the squad’s confidence in enforcing this approach.
Since January, Moyes has been left in an unfamiliar position of emerging from the past two transfer windows with a notably strengthened squad. Better players have been more successful implementing Moyes’ instructions, enabling the Everton manager to concentrate on what his own personnel can do on a pitch rather than the opposition. As the season develops, and opponents have more opportunity to study the Toffees, it will be interesting to measure how sides look to counter them, and to see if Moyes continues to expand this passing approach.