Over the past few seasons, Everton’s striking core has become feather light in terms of personnel. Yakubu seemed to lose interest at Everton and, along with Jermaine Beckford, never quite contributed enough to warrant continual selection. Both began the season at the club, but have recently departed. Louis Saha remains the Toffees’ senior striker, but has spent more time injured or on the road to recovery than actually playing at peak fitness.
That has left few alternative options for David Moyes. Apostolos Vellios, who has flirted with the first team and impressed, is still young and extremely inexperienced at Premier League level. Aside from him is only the perennially injured Victor Anichebe or the mysterious newcomer, Denis Stracqualursi.
This feeble depth at the top end of the field has left Tim Cahill appearing almost solely as a striker this season, something he has done in extreme situations in the past. He has already contributed two vital assists this campaign, and every fan would surely agree he has worked tirelessly each game, but as of yet there have been no goals. So is playing him as a striker nullifying his threat slightly?
These statistics magnify his current scoring decline. Admittedly in a great number of these 18 games without a goal he has still been playing in midfield, however the talismanic Aussie has not scored in 2011 for Everton, a startling fact given his prestige in the game. He is actually experiencing his longest drought as a professional footballer, so where have his goals gone and is this linked to the increasing minutes he plays as a striker?
He certainly has all the attributes to succeed up front. He is gifted in the air, with a spring that elevates him above most challengers. He has always had a rapacious appetite for goals and a feisty on-pitch personality that thrives on personal duels. His 65 goals for Everton in just over 240 games gives him a superior strike rate to several well respected strikers such as Kevin Davies, Bobby Zamora, Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch.
Reviewing his statistics from the past four seasons suggests that he is still performing on the field at a similar level. He is still unleashing a shot roughly twice a match, his shooting accuracy is par for his game, but he is just not being as clinical. This may well be because he now has one or two central defenders permanently accompanying him in a game and, as a lone striker, he unable to roam freely between midfield and attack? A lot of his on-field aura has been created by his undetected runs into the box, so playing up front and being monitored all game is certainly a new scenario for him. He cannot drop deep to shake off these markers, which so far this season seems to be hindering his and Everton’s goal return.
During the last three seasons, after 450 minutes of football, Everton would normally expect Cahill to have contributed two goals by now. Significantly they would also expect the striker who has played with him to have hit perhaps three or more goals by now. As a striker this season, Cahill is not the only player to find hitting the net so arduous. Apostolos Vellios is the only forward to have scored. Everton have only scored five goals so far, with nobody yet getting two. Not only are the Toffees currently missing goals with Cahill playing up front, but they are also losing the goals he would normally supply from midfield, which is a double blow.
Positionally, Cahill has been Everton’s most advanced player in each game, apart from against Liverpool and QPR, two games where he had decent chances. Most fans, and probably Cahill himself would agree he is far more effective just behind a target man, linking up play and drifting into the area unmarked. When you also consider how 13 of his past 17 goals have been with his head, often ghosting into the area unnoticed, the extra attention strikers receive has seemingly caused Cahill some difficulty.
On viewing these statistics, it seems that Everton need to get Louis Saha onto the pitch, or integrate one of their newer strikers into the first team as quickly as possible. When Tim Cahill plays, augmenting the midfield, he is at his best and has always brought goals. He has contributed between eight to 1o per season playing behind a striker who would presumably contribute the same amount of goals, if not more. As mentioned, moving Cahill up the field seems to not only negate some of his potency, when if anything he would be required to score more as a striker, but it also removes a guaranteed haul of goals from Cahill’s midfield position.
As for Cahill himself, this article is in no way meant to undermine one of the Premier League’s most lethal attacking midfielders. He should remain a burden for defences for a number of years still as he is unlucky to lose any vital facets of his game with age. The real worry comes when a player is not getting on the end of chances or contributing in other areas of the game, something Cahill most certainly is. The fact that he is still shooting at a similar rate, providing goals for others, getting chances and generally leading the line impressively suggests his game is in tact. Now he just needs a break to go his way, or preferably a few games working off a striker instead of leading the line, then the goals should begin to flood in once again.