Everton are swooning…big time.
In fact, the Goodison crew is getting such poor results that they even have manager David Moyes worried, as evidenced by his going public that he expected to start the year better.
Early season struggles for Everton are nothing new under David Moyes whose teams routinely come out of the gate like a stud with a nail in it’s hoof.
Last night, I had a chance to discuss Everton’s plight on the Followtonians podcast with Eric Howell and Peter McPartland, an excellent group of guys.
You can listen to the podcast here and I’ll offer some background below.
This year is really no different. The Toffees have given up only seven goals on the campaign, better than all but six other Premiership squads. One problem, they’ve only deposited four in their account and the offensive problems are continually systemic of an early season Moyes-managed team.
Everton have struggled to create offense through a lack of width on the pitch, too many ‘tweeners on the team, and some poor tactics.
Quick, name the best wide player on Everton? Is it really Leighton Baines? Quite possibly.
The Toffees are loaded up the middle with the likes of Cahill, Fellaini, Rodwell and Arteta. One problem, opponents know this and hunker down in the center lane of the pitch….and Everton just kowtows to them because their key wingers (Pienaar, Osman, Bilyaletdinov) love to take the play more centrally–what they would call in the NFL “between the hashmarks.”
Not only do the wide players find more congestion when they drive inside with the ball, but they also create less space for their talented interior players to play.
Further, none of this is helped by a striker ensemble that looks lost (Jermaine Beckford), disinterested (the mercurial Luis Saha) and either pouty-or-pudgy (Yakubu) in the opening frame of the season and are failing to create space vertically.
With the Toffees attack stymied, Moyes has moved players around and up-and-down the pitch looking to create some flow. Unfortunately, those tactics have only exacerbated the problem.
The biggest transgression? Moving Marounne Fellaini into the forward role in an attempt to generate some offense off the skyscraping Belgium’s head or last-pass off his foot. This hasn’t worked.
It was the switcheroo of Fellaini moving back and Cahill moving up that ignited Everton last season as Fellaini proved adroit at controlling and containing the ball in the offensive end and the Australian’s forward movement created an opportunity or turnover ahead of Fellaini.
Why Moyes has forgotten this is anyone’s guess and Everton is left–once again at the beginning of the season–attempting to find the elusive chemistry and team movement in the attack. Everton fans have seen this drama unfold before.
With that said–and his few changes–look for Everton to start the turnaround again this year, perhaps on the road this weekend at the Cottage. Fulham is devoid of offensive talent up top and the Toffees should jump at the opportunity to play more attack-minded in London.
Here’s to hoping that Moyes and his crew come out and go for it against Fulham. The front six should be Fellaini as the holder with Arteta ahead of him, Pienaar on one wing and Leighton Baines moved up from leftback slot on the other.
Bilyaletdinov should play the forward role (as he does for his native Russia) that Tim Cahill, who has now been ruled out of the match, typically does.
Jermaine Beckford, more for his work rate, should start up top by himself. Leon Osman goes to the bench. (Seamus Coleman comes in to fill Baines’ spot at leftback).
I’m normally not one to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, but width is so critical to Everton’s attack right now that at least Baines can be counted on to stay wide and have a left foot that can cross it.
Now, if Everton are to avoid their customary early season malaise in the future, there’s a few things that they should do on personnel side starting with the January window.
First, quit making poor, but hopeful purchases. Eleven million on Yakubu and $8M on James Beattie come to mind. This for a team that perennially blames a lack of funds for their form and performance. (Even $10M on Fellaini seems a bit extravagant, however hopefully the Belgium man will start to consistently stay off the training table and make an impact on the pitch).
Next–for the love of Trevor Steven–go get yourself a winger that extends the field, an Antonio Valencia-type. Sadly enough, had Moyes and company procured the services of Craig Bellamy in August, I’m quite confident this story right here would never be written and Everton would hover around the Aston Villa-ish, Sunderland area of the table.
Of course the name Landon Donovan comes to mind, but a better option would be someone that’s going to stick around for a while.
If Jagielka or Pienaar have to be sold to make that happen, it would be unfortunate, but in my mind beneficial. (Caveat on Jagielka in that the Toffees home-grown ratio gets clipped in the process.)
Finally, whether it’s that winger or an attacker, break the bank for a dynamic speedy difference maker, if not in January, then in August before the next campaign.
If Everton need one thing more than anything it’s a scintillating attacker who can draw defenses and open up more space for Arteta, Fellaini, Cahill and Pienaar.
On the high end of the scale that’s a player like Eljero Elia; on the low end a Stephen Hunt-type.
In the meantime, expect Everton to turn it around, but don’t expect them to correct the slow starts until they address some of the pertinent issues above.