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Tactical Analysis: The striker situation

The lack of a dependable striker has been hanging over Everton all season.

Laurence Griffiths

In case you haven’t noticed, the last few weeks haven’t exactly seen Everton play inspiring attacking football. Four games, one goal, not fun. As always there are lots of factors that go into these little runs over the course of a season. Quality of competition, the fact that Everton have been on the road three of the last four weeks, fatigue, it all plays a factor. But, one inescapable fact hangs over it all. Guys, we need to talk about the striker situation. It’s not pretty.

Let’s start with the big picture. Outside the city of Manchester there just aren’t that many really good strikers in England. Looking above Everton in the table, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs have all spent the season compensating in various ways for their lack of real forwards. Manchester City, despite having a strike force of Tevez, Aguero, and Dzeko are still reportedly in the market for one more (brief aside: Dzeko would be so perfect for Moyes it makes my heart hurt. He’s like Jelavic, but if Jelavic were actually really really good). Even United, who have all the forwards, and none of the wingers or midfielders are reportedly looking at bring in Robert Lewandowski. It’s a world like this where keeping Luis Suarez makes sense for Liverpool despite his insistence on doing things that get him suspended for a full quarter of the season.

The lack of really good strikers makes them expensive, and the fact that they’re expensive means they get concentrated at the top of the table. That means the rest of the world needs to prioritize what’s important to them. Teams tend to deal with this in two ways, accept a forward who is good at scoring but has some other serious drawbacks, and/or find goals from other positions and don’t sweat the forward. The first category includes a handful of different types: guys like Benteke and Lukaku who’s only real drawback is youth (they both wildly succeeded and will be on bigger teams next year, as opposed to somebody like Harry Kane who Norwich took on loan from Spurs before he proceeded to break his foot and never be heard from again), guys like Sturridge, Ba, and Remi who all have real injury concerns despite their undeniable overall talent, and the generally don’t give a rat’s ass category for Berbatov and Carroll. There’s also players who’s only skill is scoring to the detriment of everything else, like Defoe or Cisse, and, of course, the chomp category for Suarez. There’s also the, I’m definitely too good to be on this list, but nobody really pays attention to me category for Ricky Lambert (seriously Lambert is awesome) and probably Olivier Giroud as well. You get the idea, lots of talent, and almost as many reasons to say, DO NOT WANT.

The second category is basically Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Michu and all of Chelsea. These are guys that are so good at scoring in non-traditional ways, or from non-traditional positions that their teams can overcome to various degrees their striker situations (most of the time Swansea just doesn’t bother to play one at all). Although, as I mentioned, Arsenal do have Giroud in addition to Walcott, making Gooners fans the only ones that really think their team has a striker deficit. Goal scoring from the wing, or midfield means that strikers can either be carried through scoring deficits, or just be good at things other than scoring goals.

And now we come to Everton’s problems. I’ll start with Anichebe, since he's the easier case. He’s not young enough to be a prospect for the future, he’s too injury prone to be relied on, but he’s not a good enough goal scorer to consistently overcome those drawbacks. And while his hold-up play has improved this season, he remains a below average passer, and suspect defender at the front. In short, he’s not quite good enough as a goal scorer to justify his shortcomings, and he’s not quite good enough at anything else to compensate. He is what he is, a pretty good substitute.

Jelavic is the more interesting case. When Moyes brought him in, Everton was desperately in need of somebody to score goals. They were a dire offensive team, during the first half of last season, and a finisher was exactly what they needed, even if he didn’t bring anything else to the table. Now that’s not so clear. With Fellaini and Mirallas emerging as goal scoring threats, Jelavic has quickly turned into the wrong kind of non-goal scoring forward. When you’re desperate for goals it makes sense to be patient through a goal scorer’s droughts. When you have goals coming from other places it makes more sense to find a player who can contribute in other ways from the front, even if that means sacrificing some goal scoring ability. When you’re a team on a budget you need to prioritize and bring in players who have skills you absolutely cannot live without. Last year Jelavic fit that bill, this year, given the changes he doesn’t.

This issue isn’t going away. In fact, as the season ends and the rumor mills of the transfer window kick into high gear I’m sure we’ll revisit this. If (when?) Fellaini goes it will open up both the financial and tactical freedom for Moyes (if he’s still here) to once again reconstruct the team. If another imperfect striker is brought in, their relative strengths and weaknesses will tell us a lot about how Moyes intends to play. If instead Moyes looks to develop other areas, that will also speak volumes, not only about how the club feels about Anichebe and Jelavic, but about which one the team prefers going forward. Either way, the futures of Anichebe, Jelavic and the striker position will go a long way to defining what next year looks like.