Unable to find that elusive bargain of a striker in the summer, mainly due to the paltry scraps of cash their bleak bank balance forces them to barter with, Everton have unsurprisingly struggled in front of goal this season. In fact, only Swansea and Wigan – both pre-season favourites to be relegation fodder – have scored fewer than the 18 strikes the Toffees have registered so far.
On countless occasions Everton have dominated games, carved open opponents, sent in lavish crosses and served up stellar chances, yet whatever the opening, these opportunities have been consistently blown all season. Tim Cahill has attracted a major portion of criticism due to some anaemic finishing throughout 2011. After hitting 16 goals in the calendar year of 2010, this year has seen him unable to find the net even once in Everton colours.
However, pinning the blame entirely on the shoulders of a man recognised by most as a goal scoring, attacking midfielder, who can occasionally do a job up top, seems a tad unjust. Louis Saha, a player of high calibre, held in lofty regard by many throughout the game, has been similarly sterile in front of goal. Cahill’s deficiencies have seemed to mask some of the Frenchman’s flimsy showings.
Looking at his Everton career so far, considering there have been large chunks where he has been returning from injury – a phrase associated with Saha for large quantities of his career – his record is fairly decent, without being spectacular. However this season, with other strikers leaving the club, and when perhaps Everton have needed him most, he has produced his worst scoring ratio. To highlight his contribution in the final third, here are his vital numbers from 2011/12.
The most alarming feature is how Saha is missing the target so frequently, only reeling off one effort on goal every 90 minutes. Similarly, with almost 50% of his attempts being taken from outside the box, he is taking far too many pot shots. Of these 19 long range strikes, only two tested the goalkeeper. This eagerness to shoot is probably Saha trying to rectify his poor form the best way he knows, but his keenness to score will be hindering his team’s forward momentum. He should instead be looking to up his movement and get into better scoring positions inside the box, instead of wildly rifling shots at goal and breaking down so many attacking forays forward.
One goal, is obviously a primary concern, but history reveals this lull in form goes back further. Last season’s tally of seven goals in 22 games looks steady enough, but analysing that a little closer, four of those goals came in a single game against a Blackpool side whose defensive schemes proved greatly inept at Premier League level.
As is shown, other than that he struck just three times in 21 games, illustrating just how patchy Saha’s form has been over the past 18 months. In truth, he has always been a player who goes through varying phases of form, but locating the last plush period is troublesome. If that Blackpool game is excluded, his record stretching back to February 2010 is four goals in 41 league games, over an entire Premier League season in terms of fixtures. Even with that Blackpool fixture, eight in 42 is a pretty slack return.
It is not just statistically that his form has been worrying, but on the eye too. Watching his past few outings, he has seemed less encouraged to sprint, reluctant to make any sort of incisive or canny run, entirely pessimistic about even competing for an aerial duel and his general on field attitude and work ethic have often seemed lethargic and very languid to the viewer. He also seems quite detached from his peers. This assumption on his overall showing is backed up by this next set of data, analysing his general contribution, as he is certainly not benefitting the team in the scoring department.
His passing mirrors the team average, of 77% and the 11 chances he has created is a handy input, although he is yet to actually create a goal. However, the real striking numbers are the bottom three, which enhance concerns over Saha’s current on-field commitment. Apart from worryingly being dispossessed 22 times this season, his success in 50/50 duels is lousy. Naturally 50/50s are challenges a player is expected to win half the time, but with Saha, both ratios are in the thirties. He is tied (with the miniature Leighton Baines) for poorest return in the air – emphasising just how futile any strategy of lofting the ball forward to him is, and he has also only won 39 of the 99 ground duels he has contested this season.
All in all this is sombre reading for any devoted Louis Saha fan. The Frenchman has, at times, demonstrated exquisite skills, lighting up many Premier League encounters with some unique touches of class. Sadly, as these statistics seem to indicate, not only has a lot of that suave and panache been missing around the pitch as of late, but crucially, so has any kind of key contribution over the past couple of years.
Perhaps highlighting his energy and effort is unfair. Injuries have played such a central role in his career, who knows how high his stock could have risen were he to have remained off the treatment table for longer periods of his career. Yet now, at 33, despite enjoying better fortune with injury at Everton, the plethora of strains, pulls, tears, tweaks and operations may be affecting his endeavours on the field more than we, and possibly he, realise.
What has kept Saha (and Cahill) in the team so often has been the lack of ammunition behind them. Apostolos Vellios has recently caught a wave of support, thanks to three substitute strikes that currently see him joint top scorer with Leighton Baines and Leon Osman, but at 19, he is still in need of careful tutelage from David Moyes. Denis Stracqualursi is the only other alternative, and despite a couple of positive looking cameos, his work on the training ground must be the reason why Moyes seems to prefer holding him back. Everton will undoubtedly seek fresh product in January and, although financial constraints will prevent them obtaining too many prominent names, should they acquire a couple of new faces with even a vague potential of goals, Saha’s place would come under immediate scrutiny, if it is not already.
With his performances declining over the past couple of years, and with a deal set to expire in the summer, unless his form drastically reverses soon, his time at Everton may well be drawing to a close. With David Moyes already stating how Saha needs to score far more to earn a new deal, even with the Toffees’ pressing flaws up front, he may well become available to move on as early as January and at this rate, chances of a new deal seem very remote.