Everton travel to an in-form Newcastle on Saturday having suffered a testing early season stretch of games. Defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United in four out of the last five games have left the Toffees precariously placed in the league.
This weekend, one would think Evertonians may be encouraged facing a supposed lesser foe in Newcastle, however the Toon Army have been inspired so far this campaign, enjoying their best start to a season for over a decade. Alan Pardew’s side currently lie third in the table, undefeated, and with the Premier League’s best defence who have only shipped seven goals.
If Newcastle avoid defeat against Everton they will equal their own Premier League record of 11 games unbeaten at the start of a season. On paper, Saturday’s encounter appears a cast iron Newcastle win. The Toon Army are rampant and full of confidence, whilst Everton have recently struggled in Newcastle, with last season’s win their first at St James’ Park since 2000. However, delving through a selection of statistics, there are still a few reasons for Toffees to be hopeful.
What is surprisingly evident is that, disregarding the essentials, Everton surpass Newcastle in several key statistical categories. So far they have a greater pass completion rate, they reel off more shots, deliver more crosses and prevent their opponents shooting on goal more than the Geordies. Of course, crucially the Magpies have accrued more than double the points the Toffees have, which at the end of the day is all that is important, but clearly most of what David Moyes tactically plots is working. Everton are perhaps just not capitalising on moments of supremacy.
These discrepancies can be linked to a few things. Everton have faced higher calibre opposition so far this term, who have generally been far more ruthless in front of goal than the teams Newcastle have battled. The Magpies have played seven teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the table in their first 10 games and themselves face a daunting trio of fixtures against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea after Everton’s visit.
Another factor is that, by creating all these chances and crossing so much, there needs to be quality on the end of the final ball. Newcastle took a punt on Demba Ba when others were put off by some ambitious wage demands and this faith has spectacularly paid off. Ba has 15 EPL goals in 2011, and only Wayne Rooney (19) and Robin van Persie (28) have more. He already has eight goals this term, just two less than Everton have managed all together.
Having been unable to invest themselves, the Toffees do not have a striker who has scored more than two goals this season. The usually reliable Tim Cahill is also enduring a wretched run in front of goal, whilst Mikel Arteta’s contribution is sorely missed. The chasm between the sides is still peculiar, considering the similar statistical production. Given Everton’s position, one would expect them to be greatly behind the Magpies in each column, but Newcastle are clearly taking their chances and crucially seem to have more quality in the final third.
One interesting side note is Everton’s meagre tally of through balls, something surely attributed to the loss of creative gurus Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar. This is something the needs to be rectified. The Toffees also now have to grow accustomed to sides paying special attention to Leighton Baines, with David Moyes unable to deploy many other creative linchpins. The left back has not been at his most potent yet this season, yet to register an assist, and with no Arteta and Pienaar he has found the extra workload challenging.
Against Manchester United, with Baines struggling to get past some industrious markers, Everton were at times able to shift the ball and present Tony Hibbert in space, overlapping on the opposite flank. He crossed five times, more than any other player managed in the match, the trouble was he never found an Everton player with those attempts. If the Toffees are going to find Baines more suppressed, other players will simply have to produce.
On Saturday David Moyes will be without the talismanic Marouane Fellaini, who is suspended, although he should welcome back Royston Drenthe. The Dutchman has quickly adapted to the Premier League, and with Everton’s midfield struggling for creativity he is already becoming pivotal for Moyes. Impressively, and thanks goes to the excellent @executionerbong for this fantastic statistic, with Drenthe on the pitch Everton have scored every 36 minutes (six goals), yet without him they have only scored every 149 minutes (four goals).
Saturday will be another stern test for the Toffees, but a challenge they can rise to. Newcastle are one of the few Premier League sides committed to a rough 4-4-2 system. So often competing against five man midfield set-ups, one would think there would be times teams could overrun and expose them at the back. They have indeed presented opponents with more chances than Everton have, possibly attributed to this attacking set up and more open midfield, but so far they have negated this by some exemplary defending.
The midfield battle should prove central to determining the result on Saturday. If Everton can nullify the dangerous Yohan Cabaye, make their extra man count and convert some early chances that Newcastle do seem to present their opponents, then they have a decent chance of walking away with at least a share of the spoils.