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Bournemouth performance brings Everton ambitions back down to Earth

Talk of top 4 seem a bit premature in light of the Blues' disappointing draw and continued inconsistency

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Perhaps the most enduring memory of Roberto Martinez's hiring in 2013 was Bill Kenwright's admission that Martinez's first words to him were "I'll get you in the Champions League". Coupled with a mostly successful first season, that ambition has firmly set the bar for this team. The top-4 talk has re-intensified in recent weeks, especially with a favorable upcoming schedule and an imperious performance against Aston Villa last week. Indeed, even the Guardian recently tipped Everton as "the most realistic hopefuls of the dark horses to qualify for the Champions League".

With this in mind, dropping two points against a relegation candidate seems to be especially damaging to Everton's top-4 hopes. This is true in the most basic sense--playing teams at the bottom of the table on average yields more points per game than playing against teams at the top of the table, and top teams in particular tend to dominate this metric. Specifically, in the Premier League over the last five years, teams finishing 1-4 have on average picked up 2.55 points per game against relegated teams, and teams finishing 5-7 clock in at 2.14 points per game against those teams. Currently Bournemouth, Newcastle, and Aston Villa sit at the foot of the table. Based on talent, schedule, and form, you'd probably put Sunderland and Norwich in the relegation mix as well. Of those sides, Everton have played only Sunderland, Villa, and Bournemouth thus far, averaging 2.33 points per game. Broadly speaking then, the Toffees are actually doing alright against the bottom, and they have plenty of chances ahead to pick up those points.

What should be concerning to supporters about the Bournemouth match is not so much the result (or the wild way in which it happened) but the performance as a whole. Looking at the most basic metrics, Bournemouth exceeded Everton in both total shots and shots and target. Adam covered Everton's second-half malaise well here on RBM, but of particular interest is that after going up 2-0 in the 36th minute, Everton failed to record another shot on target until Ross Barkley netted in second-half stoppage time, nearly an hour later. In total, Bournemouth created 3 big chances to Everton's 1 according to the FourFourTwo Statszone. Equally indicting is the paltry 306 passes completed, second worst this season only to the Liverpool match, and the 103 passes into the attacking third as opposed to 174 conceded. To put the icing on the cake, Michael Caley's expected goals model (which he explains here) indicates that Bournemouth were superior in chance creation as well.

All of this is to say that Bournemouth probably deserved at least a point from this match. While it is extremely disappointing to not win a game after being up 2-0 on 80 minutes, it's even more disappointing to fail to outperform a newly-promoted side.

This continues a worrying trend: Everton are struggling to put together complete performances. We've all seen the brilliant flashes they've shown, but they seemed to be plagued by inconsistency both on a game-to-game basis and within the ninety minutes themselves. In a way, this match is a perfect example, as it comes off the heels of a match against Aston Villa that was one of the most comprehensive victories of the Martinez era. As good as Everton can be, they've also shown us the opposite. Listless defeats against the likes of Manchester CityManchester United, and Arsenal are one thing, but the first half against West Brom, the last 10 minutes against Bournemouth, and even the beginning of the second half against Sunderland serve as reminders that this team still has a bit of work to do against inferior opposition.

So is the top 4 out of the question? With 24 matches still to play, of course not. Given that Everton are still only four matches into the "soft" part of their schedule, which runs until the end of this calendar year, we have plenty yet to discover about the true quality of the squad. Even with the recent matches against lesser opposition, the Toffees still rank first in strength of schedule according to Caley's data.

Further cause for optimism is in the form of Romelu Lukaku, trailing only Jamie Vardy in goals from open play this season. It seems no fluke either--thanks to @footballfactman aka Paul Riley's awesome public data, we see that big Rom is second only to Harry Kane in terms of expected goals and third in shots on target as well:


In other words, underlying numbers suggest he isn't merely riding a lucky hot streak. Watching the games, it would be hard not to agree; he seems especially invigorated by the emergence of Gerard Deulofeu on the right-hand side.

We know what this group of players can do, but Bournemouth once again showed us that sustainability is the key. Watching Everton at their best, you'd be forgiven for considering the top 4 as a possibility. On current evidence though, it appears that lingering inconsistencies are setting a 5th-7th finish and a Europa League place as the most realistic accomplishment this team can achieve.