Wednesday’s sobering 2-1 home reverse at the hands of a then, rock bottom Bolton, signalled the half way mark of Everton’s season. With 19 games completed, believe it or not, the Toffees are actually two points better off than last year, and their overall haul of 24 is their best return since 2008/09 at this stage. By dissecting the team into various categories, the 50% mark is the perfect time to monitor several aspects of the Toffees play so far, and assess the main contributors.
Defence and Goalkeeper
-Only four teams have conceded less goals than the 22 Everton have shipped so far this season-
With Everton stuttering so consistently up front, the errors in the final third of the field have often masked some stout defensive displays. Tim Howard has, in essence, been under-worked so far due to some resilient work in front of him. On average he has only being forced to make a save once a game.
A lot of this has to do with the fact Everton have tended to concede early, and then spend the majority of games passing laterally outside an opponent’s heavily cordoned penalty area, unable to penetrate. Despite dominating several matches, the Toffees have frequently been unable to kill off teams. However, the way David Moyes’s defence is nullifying opposition has generally been overlooked, and deserves a tad more recognition.
-Phil Jagielka leads the team in Total Clearances (155) and Headed Clearances (75)-
-Marouane Fellaini has won 81% of his 53 Aerial Duels this season, and leads the team with 33 Tackles won from 38 (87%) and 100 Ground 50/50s won from 197 (51%)-
If anything, this highlights how statistics are not always so integral to success. Despite Sylvain Distin eclipsing his fellow centre-backs with the more rounded numbers, he has been present when far more goals have been conceded, which is surely the vital statistic?
Johnny Heitinga is the player present when the least amount of goals have been let in, although his general 50/50s are rather weak and uninspiring, though they are possibly slightly tarnished due to the several games he has spent sauntering around midfield. There is obvious room to improve these digits during the second half of the season, something the Dutch international will more than likely do.
Phil Jagielka, now out for 6 weeks with medial knee ligament damage, will obviously be a great miss for the Toffees. The England hopeful is a front runner in most categories and, from the statistics this season, it seems he has been fairing better when paired with Johnny Heitinga, instead of his regular partner, Distin.
Leighton Baines brings up the rear in many categories, but his numbers are generally solid. His contribution, as we shall see, is felt further forward and Everton compensate for his attacking forays forward. For his many well documented attacking limitations, Tony Hibbert is as robust and committed in the tackle as they come. Few have overcome him in that area so far this season.
-Top 3 EFC % Passers (with at least 100 passes): Jack Rodwell 88%, Leon Osman 83%, Seamus Coleman + Royston Drenthe 82%-
-Worst 3 EFC % Passers (with at least 100 passes): Sylvain Distin 72%, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 73%, Phil Jagielka 73%-
As more advanced positions are analysed, the results tend to become less complimentary, although – on the surface – Everton’s passing looks solid enough. The team average is 77%, compared to 76% for the last two years.
For many seasons, Evertonians were privileged to gaze down upon Mikel Arteta orchestrating attacks with the ball seemingly magnetised to his feet. The Spaniard would top passing statistics by miles and most of the Toffees’ strategies involved him. Since Arteta’s departure, Everton appear to have given a portion of this mantle to Jack Rodwell. However, considering the England international has only created seven chances this season, he is hardly a like for like replacement.
Everton’s passing game may have been more accurate, but it has become glaringly slow and predictable, void of crafty through balls and intricate, incisive first time passes. With Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, or even Johnny Heitinga and Phil Neville occupying central midfield, the Toffees have struggled for inspiration. All four of those are combative midfielders, who enjoy a tasty tackle over a lavish through ball. When two of them are paired centrally, not through lack of effort, there is simply not enough passing depth in the Toffees’ arsenal.
-Seamus Coleman has only passed the ball forward 30% of the time, the lowest percentage at the club-
-Leighton Baines has created 16 more chances this season than Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell, Phil Neville and Johnny Heitinga combined-
Considering the role Rodwell has generally been occupying, one of he and Fellaini should be seen as a creative element, but neither would consider a creative streak to be an obvious facet of their game. Imitating the lethargic passing game originating from central areas of midfield, creativity has similarly been missing from the middle of the park.
A reason Everton’s passing may have been more successful on paper may be because nobody is willing to take that risk and make a telling pass, which obviously has a knock on effect on creativity. The Toffees are not creating as much, find themselves crossing from harder positions and, after losing patience with uninspiring passing, players are too eager to set off on an ambitious dribble and end up squandering possession.
-Leon Osman has been dispossessed 38 times, far more than any other EFC player this season (over twice a match). He only lost the ball 50 times in total last season-
With no Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar to rely on, Everton have had to find alternative creative outlets. Leighton Baines has maintained his production, but has often struggled for support and found opposition hassling him far more than in recent seasons. A culprit for losing possession far too often this season, Leon Osman has at least been a more creative asset than in recent campaigns.
As shown, Leighton Baines is clearly the hub of Everton’s creativity, crossing, and is even the club’s most successful dribbler. Although he is yet to rack up the assists he assembled in recent seasons, that has been more due to Everton’s finishing woes rather than any decline in his contribution. His crossing accuracy has remained at 28%, mirroring his accuracy of last year and, having created 74 chances last season, the 46 he has already posted at the half way mark suggest he will greatly surpass that tally by the end of this campaign.
-Top 3 EFC Crossing % (with at least 10 crosses): Seamus Coleman 31% of 39, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 29% of 28, Leighton Baines 28% of 162-
-Worst 3 EFC Crossing % (with at least 10 crosses): Tim Cahill 0% of 15, Magaye Gueye 14% of 21, Tony Hibbert 16% of 63-
This is where it has all gone wrong for Everton this season. Deprived of any funds to freshen up and energise their roster, David Moyes has had to make do with a drastically faltering Louis Saha, an untried Denis Stracqualursi, an encouraging, but frightfully inexperienced Apostolos Vellios, and the makeshift striking skills of Tim Cahill, who is enduring the longest goal drought of his career. Victor Anichebe has only just returned from yet another injury.
-Joint top EFC scorer in the EPL with 3 goals, Leighton Baines has the second best chance conversion rate at the club this season and has also hit the woodwork 3 times-
As is plainly depicted, Everton have clearly regressed in front of goal since last year, which was also a season where many considered the Toffees to be strikingly frail in attack. Tim Cahill has played spells of the season deeper, even back as a traditionally positioned midfielder at times, however he and Saha are very much the main perpetrators, as illustrated below. Each needs to register a glut of goals in the second half of the season to make amends for their current shortcomings.
-Apostolos Vellios is the only player at the club averaging at least 1 shot on target every 90 minutes-
With a fit again Anichebe scoring on his return against West Brom, perhaps he deserves a run in the team over Louis Saha. As assessed previously on this site, the Frenchman’s scoring trajectory has been ominously nose-diving for well over 18 months now.
In recent years Everton have tended to enjoy an upward shift in momentum during the second half of the season. However, with unrelenting financial concern, and a wafer thin squad that is currently haemorrhaging casualties to the treatment tables, David Moyes will need to implement some of his finest work to keep the Toffees competitive in 2012.
Fans have become desperate for new faces, but for several seasons now, the board have been unable to provide David Moyes with any resources. With a bit of luck, hopefully a couple of loan additions can be introduced and can possibly invigorate the current dressing room as well as galvanising the on field progress.
On paper, the team Moyes has available is still a top half side. To finish there, many players – particularly those more at home in the attacking third of the field – will need to produce form more paralleled with their perceived reputations.